Cat Separation Anxiety: What Are The Symptoms And How To Help
There are ways to make her feel better 💕
Have you ever wondered if your cat has separation anxiety?
While being home all the time with your cat is obviously the ideal lifestyle, it’s just not realistic. And unfortunately, some cats struggle with the thought of you not always being around.
The Dodo reached out to Megan Young, a certified feline behaviorist and enrichment coordinator at Animal Rescue League of Berks County in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, to learn more about separation anxiety in cats and how to help.
Do cats have separation anxiety?
Yes, cats certainly can experience separation anxiety, which is when they express feelings of panic and stress when left home alone.
Your cat might also start getting these anxious feelings before you even leave the house just in anticipation of you heading out.
You’ll see separation anxiety in dogs a lot more frequently, though. “It's seen less commonly in cats than it is in dogs, but [it’s] still a very real behavioral obstacle, and one that can be difficult to treat,” Young told The Dodo.
What causes separation anxiety in cats?
Unfortunately there’s no real way to pinpoint exactly what causes separation anxiety in cats, but there are some theories.
“There is no specific cause for feline separation anxiety,” Young said. “Much like in other species, genetics and environment can play a large role, and it's thought that perhaps orphaned kittens or those weaned too early may establish such close bonds with their human companions that they are more prone to experiencing such phenomenon.”
Does my cat have separation anxiety?
If you’re wondering if your cat has separation anxiety herself, it’s good to have an idea of what to look for.
The signs of separation anxiety in cats can vary from cat to cat. “All cats are individuals and will express their distress differently, but typically you will see some of the most commonly expected behavioral problems,” Young said.
Some of the most common signs of separation anxiety in cats includes:
- Rhythmic vocalization
- Destructive behaviors, like scratching and chewing inappropriate objects
- Inappropriate elimination
- Spraying/urine marking
“They may even begin to attack near the door,” Young said. “I have seen instances where they will latch onto and bite the guardian's leg as they attempt to leave the environment.”
Other signs of separation anxiety include:
According to Young, cats can also turn inwards when it comes to signs of separation anxiety. Yours might start doing self-destructive behaviors, like over-grooming or avoiding normal activities (even vital ones like eating).
Changes in body language
These are some changes in body language to look out for that indicate separation anxiety:
- Twitching of the skin
- Tail swishing
- Ear flattening
Interrupting your routine
Your cat’s very observant, so over time she'll know the moves you make before leaving the house. She may even relentlessly reach out for attention and interrupt the activity you do before leaving (like taking a shower), and over time this might escalate to attacking when that activity takes place.
“There's a video circulating on the internet right now of a woman putting on makeup, her cat yowling and batting at her makeup brushes the entire time. [The woman] says she's just minding her own business and doesn't know what's wrong with him, but she did figure it out,” Young said. “He is triggered by the act of her putting on makeup as it signals to him that she is about to leave for work, which is stressful for him. He latched onto that specific activity and is trying to communicate his distress. That is separation anxiety.”
How to help a cat with separation anxiety
If your cat experiences separation anxiety, that doesn’t mean she has to always feel that way.
When you’re first trying to get her to feel more comfortable with you being gone, try taking some practice trips just for short periods of time, increasing the time spent out a bit as you go. This will build her confidence that you’ll always come home.
Here are some other ways to help her cope better when you’re gone:
Provide positive distractions
When getting ready to head out, try to give your cat plenty of distractions so that she doesn’t take notice of your routine. “Setting out a feeding puzzle or hiding treats around the home so that the cat may forage rather than remaining focused on the guardian's act of leaving,” Young said.
Give her more enrichment
“Activities that expend energy and make them problem solve will, in turn, help to reduce stress in most instances,” Young said.
Leave her favorite games out
Leave entertaining, fun items out for your cat to interact with. “You may even begin to rotate the cat's toy collection [and] invest in interactive, battery-operated toys,” Young said.
Use a sound machine
Leave on a sound machine or set a streaming device to play music designed for cats. “Videos of birds, squirrels or aquariums [can help distract her],” Young said.
Set up window spaces
Set up window spaces up high where your cat can observe and relax, like hammocks or cat trees. These will help your anxious cat feel a little better while she checks out all the cool things happening outside.
Don’t give her extra attention
Don't shower your cat with attention before leaving, but also don't totally ignore her.
“Give them consistent and predictable attention at all times, and don't switch up that routine just because you're leaving,” Young said.
Give her her own room
“You might set up a sanctuary room for the cat with items that smell like the guardian — pre-worn clothing or used blankets, comfort items, food, water, littering spaces,” Young said. “A smaller area the cat can retreat to to feel safe in these times of stress.”
Try calming aids
There are tons of different over-the-counter (OTC) calming products you can try out to see which works for you and your cat.
Consider prescription anxiety medication
Depending on the severity of your cat’s anxiety, your vet may prescribe anti-anxiety medication. Reach out to yours if you think your cat might need a little extra help.
“While behavioral medication is helpful, it is not a treatment for behavior, but an aid,” Young said. “We start these protocols with the goal that they will be temporary, and that the guardian will continue utilizing other methods to hopefully break the behavior, the medication making it easier, and eventually being able to be stopped.”
While separation anxiety can be heartbreaking, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to fix. With these tips, you should be able to help your cat feel way more confident when you head out the door.
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