Separation Anxiety in Cats

sad cat

sad cat

Many cats suffer from separation anxiety at some point in their lives, especially indoor cats with a strong bond to their owners.

It’s thought that some cats are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety, especially those that are prone to anxiety genetically. For example, Siamese and Burmese breeds are believed to have a greater chance of developing separation anxiety compared to breeds with a stronger personality.

However, environmental factors are usually the key factor. Here is our guide to separation anxiety in cats.

 Spotting the Signs of Separation Anxiety

Whereas dogs with separation anxiety will often howl, bark and engage in destructive behaviour, affected cats can be far more subtle in demonstrating their distress at being left alone.

Separation anxiety can sometimes be obvious due to signs such as:

  • Obvious distress when you prepare to go out, including sulking, meowing, hiding and “slinking” away.
  • A strong attachment to members of the household, including following you around the home.
  • An exaggerated greeting on your return home.

However, many cats will not openly display their distress in front of you and may instead wait until you have left to do so.

Less obvious symptoms can include:

  • Crying, meowing and moaning after you have left the home (this one may need to be highlighted by a neighbour or by setting up a recorder to see how your cat reacts while you are out).
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation – often around the door or on your clothes and other personal belongings .
  • Anorexia (caused by a refusal to eat while you are not in the home).
  • Excessive grooming that initially takes place only while you are out but later begins to happen more frequently.

If your cat is displaying symptoms such as these, speak to your vet to rule out the possibility of any medical conditions being the main culprit. After this, you can be much more confident that separation anxiety is the real problem.

These signs can also be part of normal cat behaviour so may not necessarily indicate anxiety in their own right.

 Tackling Separation Anxiety

If your cat has developed separation anxiety, you will often need to adapt their behaviour and desensitize them to your absence.

Your cat will often recognise the signs that you are getting ready to go out, which will then make them nervous. This can be anything from brushing your hair to finding your keys. Get into the habit of doing these things throughout the day so that your cat becomes less anxious on seeing them. These actions will then have less of a hold over your cat.

Once your cat is less distressed about the prospect of you leaving the house, take things a step further by actually going out. Gradually extend your time outside of the house, starting at just a minute or two and staying out a little bit longer each time.

It is important not to punish your cat for any inappropriate elimination. This will only make them scared and fearful. In the majority of cases, it is not meant as a way of paying you back for going out.

Make sure that your cat has a stimulating environment with plenty of playtime opportunities. This can include toys, cat towers/perches and hiding treats throughout the home. Once your cat becomes less apprehensive about being home alone, this can help to prevent boredom and frustration.

Feliway diffusers can help to create a calming and more relaxed environment for stressed cats. These work by mimicking cat pheromones. Zylkene can also be a valid option, and is non-prescription.

In severe cases, your vet may recommend a course of anti-anxiety medication. This is usually only advised if behavioural treatment has had no effect. Specialist training with a feline behaviourist may also be another option.

Has your cat suffered from separation anxiety? How did you cope with it? Let us know in the comments section below!

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[Photo Credits: olivierbxl]