Separation Anxiety in Cats
Does your cat start to pace anxiously when you get your keys/coat/shoes? Don’t fret, you aren’t the only one! Keep reading to learn about signs and treatments for separation anxiety in cats.
This article was written by a FirstVet vet
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These days, many people have security cameras in their homes, enabling them to inadvertently discover that their pets have separation anxiety. Although this is a commonly discussed topic when it comes to dogs, many people aren’t aware that this can occur in cats as well. Some cats have a mild case that only rears its ugly head when you’re gone overnight or for a long weekend, others may howl and yowl at the door the second you leave the house on a daily basis.
Why do cats develop separation anxiety?
Cats are social creatures, not loners. Female feral cats typically live in groups and males wander through when they’re interested in mating. But no cat lives solo for life by choice. Some cats are extremely bonded with their owners and become stressed out when left alone.
What are the signs of separation anxiety in cats?
Many of the following signs can occur in cats when you arehome (caused by other types of anxiety or illnesses), and it’s important to distinguish that in separation anxiety, these occur only or mostly when you are not home.
Here are some signs that your cat may be stressed out and lonely when they’re home alone:
- Psychogenic alopecia (excessive grooming) - Is your cat obsessively licking all the hair off his belly?
- Vocalizing, yowling, persistent meowing - Does your security camera catch your cat singing the song of its people when you’re not home?
- Destructive behavior - Does your cat knock things off the counter only when you aren’t present? Are they using your couch and curtains as a scratching post, but not when you’re there to see it?
- Inappropriate urination - Is your cat peeing outside the litter box, on your pillow, or in your laundry basket when you’re not around?
- Appetite disruption - Does your cat stop eating when you’re away, or eat too fast?
- Vomiting - Are you greeted by piles of vomitus or foam/bile when you get home from work?
- Overly excited upon your return - Is your cat waiting for you at the door when you walk in, meowing a loud and long story at you about your temporary disappearance?
How is separation anxiety diagnosed in cats?
First, it’s important to rule out any medical conditions with your vet. There is a long list of possible illnesses that can cause vomiting, increased thirst and urination, overgrooming, anorexia, vocalizing, and inappropriate urination. It’s imperative to make sure that your cat isn’t suffering from something that needs to be medically diagnosed and treated before attempting to improve/correct their behavior.
Second, consider whether or not your cat is spayed/neutered. An intact female cat may display altered behavior when in heat, such as increased vocalization, signs of false pregnancy such as carrying toys around the house, and more. An intact male cat may pace, mark, urinate inappropriately, and more.
If you and your vet have determined that there is no underlying medical condition(s) affecting your cat, and your cat is already spayed/neutered, your vet may be able to help you or may recommend consulting a board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
There are many questions your vet may ask you, or you can ask yourself, to rule out or rule in the cause of the behavioral changes. Bring a list to your vet, it will be extremely helpful!
- Are there other pets at home? Do they all get along?
- Is there a new pet in the house that has caused a change in your cat’s behavior?
- Did you recently lose a pet that your cat was bonded to?
- Do you have children, and if so, does your cat get along with them, or hide from them? Are your children gentle and calm with your cat or do they bother it day and night?
- Do you currently or perpetually have a lot of chaos and noise in or around your home? Is there construction next door, are you repainting your house, are workers coming and going?
- Are there any recent major changes in your home, such as rearranging furniture or new furniture, kids home from college, a newborn baby, a change in what room(s) your cat is allowed in?
- Do you have enough litter boxes in your home? Ideally, the “rule” is one more litter box than the number of cats (1 cat = 2 litterboxes, 3 cats = 4 litterboxes)
Things that you can do at home:
Feline pheromones (collars, diffusers, sprays) that calm your cat
- Plug-in diffusers you can place in whatever rooms your cat spends time in
- Sprays for couches, curtains, carriers, beds, litter boxes, scratching posts
- Collars that they wear 24/7
- There are many cat-calming musical albums out there, but the author of this article has personally found that playing any type of relaxing spa music does the trick
An environment that provides stimulation
- Hiding places - cats like to be high up
- Make sure your cat has a place to feel safe, such as the top of a cat tree
- If your cat is not using any of the cat trees in your home, rearrange their location and sprinkle them with catnip
- You can program the precise amount and time at which your cat gets fed while you are away.
- It is advised to use these first when you’re home to make sure your cat adjusts to them. It can help calm down a cat who isn’t sure where their next meal is coming from when you’re out of town.
- Feed your cat via the use of foraging toys to make life more interesting for them. Cats are predatory species that love to hunt, so indoor cats may get bored!
- Cats love flowing water and water that makes noise. These are also nice when you’re away for the weekend to keep the water fresh and flowing, and not stagnant.
- Place these in front of the areas where your cats are destroying your couch, spray them with feline pheromones and sprinkle them with catnip.
- Then you can gradually move them to a different location so they’re not in the middle of your living room and your cat will likely choose the scratching post over the couch.
- Do you have a giant basket of toys that your cat never plays with? Remove them from sight and only introduce a few at a time, changing which toys you give your cat every week.
- They like new things and variety just like we do! Sprinkle them with catnip to engage them in play.
Have more questions about separation anxiety in cats?
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