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We often think of cats as detached, independent animals that don’t mind spending time alone. In reality, cats tend to form strong bonds with people and, just like dogs, can develop separation-related problems. So what exactly is cat separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is an emotional response pets have when a person they are attached to is absent.
Although separation anxiety is commonly associated with dogs, research suggests that as a result of a close relationship they build with their owners, cats can have it too.
Cat separation anxiety is difficult to identify, so we’re here to help!
Some of the signs your feline companion may show include excessive vocalization, overgrooming, destructive behavior, and eliminating in inappropriate places.
In this article, we’re going to explain the signs of cat separation anxiety and what you can do to make your pet less nervous and stressed while you’re away.
Can cats have separation anxiety?
A 2019 study evaluating attachment security in kittens aged 3 to 8 months found that 64 percent of cats were described as securely attached to their owners. These cats were less stressed when they were near their caregivers.
So far, research supports the claim that cats can develop separation-related problems, especially if they are left alone for long periods of time.
Some cats deal well with their owners being away for shorter periods of time during the day but struggle to cope with longer absences such as vacations, changes in work or school schedules, or the loss of family members.
Signs of separation anxiety in cats
Cats are skilled at hiding illness and pain, so it can be difficult to notice that something is wrong. The degree of distress can range from mild to severe, and early signs are subtle, often easy to miss, or mistaken for something else.
Here are ten signs of cat separation anxiety to look out for if you suspect something is out of the ordinary.
1.) Excessive vocalization
Cats can show distress by being more vocal than usual, This includes loud, persistent meowing, crying, and even yowling. Some cats may carry a favorite toy in their mouths while making these noises.
2.) Not eating and drinking while you’re away
A change in your cat’s eating habits could be an indicator of anxiety. Your pet may start overeating to the point of becoming ill or stop eating and drinking altogether while you’re away.
3.) Pooping and peeing outside the litter box
Cats that suffer from separation anxiety may start peeing and pooping outside the litter box.
Most cats that urinated outside the litter box did so exclusively on their owner’s bed.
Cats may also start pooping outside the litter box, on your bed, your clothes, or in your shoes.
In such cases, the important thing to remember is not to punish your pet, as they aren’t being spiteful. With this anxiety-driven behavior cats are likely trying to mix their scent with yours to “help” you find your way back home. It’s important to note that this behavior is not the same as a cat spraying to mark its territory.
Cats may experience stomach upset and frequently throw up while you’re away. If it’s separation anxiety-related, you’ll notice food, rather than hair, in the vomit.
5.) Excessive self-grooming
When stressed, cats can start licking themselves excessively, to the point that it causes skin damage or hair loss. If your cat is overgrooming, it will lick the same spots repeatedly for long periods of time. You’ll notice bald patches on their coat as well as redness, rashes, or scabbing on their skin.
Grooming may become so excessive that it starts interfering with your cat’s daily activities.
Excessive grooming due to separation anxiety is more common in female cats.
6.) Destructive behavior
If your cat is experiencing emotional distress because of your absence, they may start destroying things around the house. Your cat may begin shredding curtains or furniture and knocking over objects. Destructive behavior caused by separation anxiety is more common in male cats.
7.) Withdrawing or hiding
Many cats like to hide, so it can be hard to tell whether it’s normal or indicates an underlying issue. However, if your cat is so reclusive they refuse to come out even during meal times, this could be a sign that they’re suffering from separation anxiety.
8.) Increased activity
If your cat is suffering from separation anxiety, you may notice that they are being more physically active than usual. Your cat may follow you from one room to another or move between you and the doorway.
9.) Hyper-attachment to you
Cats that suffer from separation anxiety may express hyper-attachment to their owners. Clingy and needy, your cat will likely seek attention and constant contact while the two of you are together. In addition to persistent meowing, your cat may follow you from one room to another or move between you and the doorway. They react to actions such as you grabbing a purse, picking up keys, or packing a suitcase if you’re going on a trip.
10.) Exuberant greetings when you come home
In addition to hyper-attachment, your cat may make a big deal out of you returning home every day. If you notice your cat is overly excited every time you come home, it may be struggling with separation anxiety.
Use technology to stay aware
Your cat will display the majority of these behaviors while you’re away, so it may be a good idea to keep an eye on them via video camera recordings or other technology devices to make sure they are dealing well with your absence.
What causes separation anxiety in cats?
Some professionals believe that it may have to do with genetics and environmental factors. Although any cat can suffer from separation anxiety, orphaned kittens may be more prone to experiencing it, as do kittens that were bottle-fed or weaned too early.
Handling and socializing kittens during the ages of 3-12 weeks of age positively affects their wellbeing and helps keep stress and behavioral issues at bay.
A 2020 study, which researched the occurrence of separation-related problems in cats, found that domestic cats that lack environmental enrichment and other animal companions are more prone to developing separation anxiety.
Another interesting conclusion the study reached is that cats that have more female humans in the household are more likely to struggle with separation-induced anxiety.
The same study found that the most common signs of cat separation anxiety include destructive behavior, excessive vocalization, inappropriate urination, and depression-apathy.
Other factors that could make a cat more susceptible to developing separation anxiety are living strictly indoors and breaking away from a routine, such as moving to a new home or getting a new human roommate. Switching from remotely working from home to commuting to a physical workplace can also trigger an emotional response in cats.
How is separation anxiety diagnosed in cats?
If you notice some of the common separation-related signs seek professional help and take your cat to the vet.
Signs of separation anxiety can also indicate underlying health issues so your vet will perform a physical exam to rule out any medical issues.
After that, they’ll ask you detailed questions about your cat’s behavior. Providing your vet with video recordings of your cat being left alone can be very helpful in making a diagnosis.
How to reduce cat separation anxiety in cats
If your cat is diagnosed with separation anxiety, there are several strategies you can use to reduce their stress levels.
Cats thrive on predictability, so it’s a good idea to create a daily routine for them, with set times for meals, exercise, and play. Here are some tips and tricks for alleviating separation anxiety symptoms in cats.
Practice shorter absences
Cats can feel stressed if they are suddenly left alone for long stretches of time, especially if they’re used to having people around them all throughout the day.
Practice by leaving them alone for shorter amounts of time first.
For example, you can do some yard work or go out for a walk. If you notice your cat is feeling nervous or you find a mess when you come back, you can decrease the time you spend outside.
If a cat behaved well while you were away, you can reward them with a treat.
As your cat becomes more accustomed to you leaving, you can gradually increase the length of your absences to make the transition less abrupt.
Keep arrivals and departures low-key
The ultimate goal is not to make a fuss about your time spent away, so you should treat arrivals and departures as regular daily things.
Don’t spend too much time saying goodbye, as your cat may sense that you’re upset and become anxious. If you act casual about leaving and returning, so will your cat.
Remove departure cues
If your cat reacts to particular items, like your keys, put them in your pocket a few minutes before you leave the house. Also, you can carry them and other items, like your coat or purse, around your house for a little while every day so that your cat doesn’t associate them with you leaving.
Provide perches and retreat spots
Be sure to provide your kitty with a safe, cozy spot, where they can feel comfortable and relaxed. You can make use of window perches or cat trees. Building a catio, an enclosed patio for cats, is a great way to provide a safe retreat for your cat while still enjoying the outdoors.
Provide a variety of toys and food puzzles
Mental and physical stimulation is essential for your cat’s wellbeing and it will keep your cat occupied while you’re away.
You can provide your cat with engaging toys like automatic bubble blowers or perpetual motion toys. Use food puzzles to provide a cognitive challenge and channel their prey instincts.
Leave out little reminders of yourself
While you’re away, you can leave out a little reminder of yourself to put your cat at ease about being alone. This could be anything with your scent on it, like a pair of your socks or one of your blankets.
Keep the TV, radio, or music on while you’re away
It’s a good idea to leave the radio or some soothing music on while you’re away to provide auditory stimulation. There’s a lot of music out there that is composed specifically for cats! You can also leave the TV on. Some cats enjoy watching shows that feature animals.
Try cat calming products
You can try products that are designed for calming cats, like the pheromone spray Feliway. You can spritz it or install it in rooms where your cat spends most of its time, or in places where your cat has peed or engaged in destructive behavior to remove the negative associations.
Ignore attention-seeking behaviors
It’s a good idea to try ignoring attention-seeking behaviors whenever you can. Instead, you can give attention when your cat is calm and doesn’t act needy. You can offer praise or treats when your cat stops meowing for attention or when they are resting in another room.
Find a reliable cat sitter
If you plan to travel or be absent for a longer period of time, you may want to consider getting someone to take care of your cat while you’re away. Learn more about it in our article on how to find a reliable cat sitter.
Give them cuddles and play with them once home
Be sure to spend plenty of your time with your pet once you’re home. You can take part in interactive games and give them plenty of physical affection like petting, cuddles, and even brushing them.
Key takeaways on cat separation anxiety
Cats are social beings that form close bonds with people, and they can experience separation anxiety just like dogs do. It’s important for cat parents to take cat separation anxiety seriously and create a balanced relationship with their pets.
If you suspect your cat is suffering from separation-related problems, it’s essential to take your pet to the vet. They will be able to examine your cat and provide the necessary treatment, as well as give advice on best practices for reducing your cat’s anxiety levels.
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