Do Cats Get Separation Anxiety? 8 Ways to Help
Yes! While you may hear more often about dogs experiencing separation anxiety, cats are just as susceptible to feeling anxious when their owners leave. Learn about what causes separation anxiety in cats and how to calm an anxious cat.
Why Do Cats Get Anxious?
There’s a theory that some early life situations can make cats more likely to experience separation anxiety; for example, cats that were orphaned or kittens that weaned too early. But it’s also possible your behavior is encouraging cat anxiety. When your cat’s only source of fun, comfort, and confidence is you, it makes sense that he would worry when you’re gone. One common issue for cat owners is inadvertently rewarding needy behavior, which reinforces it instead of encouraging cats to feel confident on their own!
Does Your Cat Suffer from Separation Anxiety?
An anxious cat doesn’t suffer silently. Keep an eye out for these common signs of cat separation anxiety:
– Doing his business outside the litter box while you’re gone
– Being excessively vocal while you’re gone
– Vomiting while you’re gone
– Clawing and scratching at his surroundings while you’re gone
– Not eating while you’re gone
– Greeting you enthusiastically when you return
– Eating too fast when you’re home
– Acting distressed as you prepare to leave; for example, clinging to you or hiding
– Weight loss
– Excessive grooming
Vet Tip: It’s very common for cats with separation anxiety to eliminate outside the litter box, and sometimes they do it on your bed or clothes! This is not a sign of a spiteful cat, getting back at you for leaving. It’s his way of self-soothing by mixing his scent with yours. He’s also using his scent to help you find your way home.
8 Ways to Help a Cat with Separation Anxiety
1. Visit the Vet!
This should be your first step. Your veterinarian needs to determine whether your cat’s symptoms are truly anxiety-related. For example, elimination outside the litter box could be a sign of urinary tract disease, and excessive grooming could be due to allergies or fleas. Once your vet determines these are cat anxiety symptoms, they may prescribe medication to help, although this is usually a last resort. They’ll typically suggest behavior modification and changes to your cat’s environment before they suggest medication.
2. Practice Leaving
This is helpful if your cat is new to you or if you’re working on changing the behavior of a cat you’ve had for a while. It allows your cat to get accustomed to and become more comfortable with the process of leaving, which may be triggering his anxiety.
Step 1: Pretend to Leave
Perform a behavior associated with leaving, but don’t leave the house. For example, pick up your keys and put them down. Walk to the door, then away from it. Once you do a few of these behaviors, add them together. For example, pick up your keys and purse and walk to the door, but don’t go out.
Do this a few times a day for about a week, or as long as it takes for you to notice your cat acting more relaxed when he sees you doing them.
Step 2: Leave for a Short Time
Once you’ve done Step 1, try leaving the house but returning immediately. Slowly build up the time you’re away from a few minutes to an hour to a few hours and then to a day.
Vet Tip: If you notice that certain items trigger your cat’s anxiety, like picking up your keys or putting on your jacket, carry these items around the house for a while each day, but don’t leave. Your cat should eventually stop associating them with the act of you leaving.
3. Keep Your Cat Enriched While You’re Gone
Your cat may exhibit destructive behaviors while you’re gone because he’s bored! There are lots of things you can do to keep him busy and enriched:
– Provide a perch by a window, so he can observe the outside world.
– Give him an elevated area(s).
– Set up a hideaway.
– Leave out some toys.
– Put his food allocation into a puzzle feeder for him to work on while you’re gone.
– Turn on the radio for some ambient noise, which can be comforting.
– Turn on the television or computer – You can use this for ambient noise or as actual entertainment for your cat. YouTube has lots of videos your cat may love! Just search “videos for cats.”
– Purchase a cat tree – He can climb it, sit on it to look out a window, nap on it, and scratch it.
Encourage some of these things—playing, puzzle feeders—while you’re home, so your cat knows what to do with them. Then save certain toys and feeders as special treats for when you’re gone.
4. Play with Him!
Cats need to play to satiate their prey drive, but play also helps tire them out and should be done at least once a day. It may be especially useful to play with your cat right before you leave.
5. Don’t Get Emotional
Don’t make leaving or coming home a big deal. Say goodbye and hello casually, so your cat doesn’t pick up on heightened emotions.
6. Provide Comfort Even When You’re Gone
Besides things to keep him busy, your cat will probably appreciate a bit of you while you’re gone. Lay out a shirt or blanket that smells like you in a spot he frequents.
7. Reinforce Good Behavior
You may be encouraging cat anxiety without meaning to by petting and praising your cat when he’s being needy—meowing, sticking close by your side, following you from room to room. While this behavior is cute, it can make your cat overly dependent on you. Instead, pet, praise, and reward your cat when he behaves the way you want him to, like entertaining himself with toys or his scratching post.
8. Use Pheromones
FELIWAY® is a product that distributes cat “happiness” pheromones throughout your house. These can’t be smelled by humans, but they mimic “natural feline reassurance messages” that can help calm your cat. FELIWAY sells diffusers that you just plug into outlets around your home, as well as sprays.
Your cat loves you! It makes sense that he feels a bit anxious when you leave, especially if your routine changes and he isn’t expecting it. Encouraging healthy behaviors while you’re around and when you’re away can make a big difference, helping him feel better and behave better. If you have questions about your cat’s health or behavior, let us know! We’re available Monday through Saturday at 2519 Cinco Park Place, Katy, TX.
The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital
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