Cat separation anxiety is defined as “dislike of and discomfort with solitude.” Separation anxiety in pets is a serious behavioral issue that warrants quick and adequate professional attention.
According to Today’s Veterinary Practice, there are many misconceptions about separation anxiety. Before diving into the topic, let’s clear those misconceptions: “The owner should understand that his or her pet is not acting this way out of spite or anger; that the pet owner did not cause the behavior by loving the pet too much, spoiling it, or not being dominant; and that the pet is not bored and getting another pet will not help.”
Separation anxiety in cats is a serious issue that can be caused by many different factors. In general, the factors leading to separation anxiety are as follows:
- Genetics. Certain cat breeds are more likely to exhibit separation anxiety issues. For example, Burmese and Siamese cats are more frequently diagnosed with separation anxiety.
- Loneliness. Loneliness causes separation anxiety. Orphaned, early-weaned, and store-bought kittens are more prone to separation anxiety. Separation anxiety is more likely in cats living in a one-pet household, cats that lack toys, and cats that spend long periods of time alone.
- Change in Living Conditions. Cats are creatures of habit and have a hard time adjusting to changes. Even simple changes, like a new family member or rearranging the bedroom furniture, can cause the cat to experience separation anxiety.
While dogs with separation anxiety bark and try to demolish the house, cats with separation anxiety can demonstrate more subtle symptoms. Here are some signs of separation anxiety in cats:
- Unusual Vocalization. Excessive vocalization, such as extra meowing, crying, or moaning, is a red flag for separation anxiety. However, increased vocalization is hard to notice because the cat becomes chatty only after the owner leaves the house. You can set up a voice recorder to monitor your cat’s behavior while away.
- Overeating or Anorexia. Extreme appetite changes are another sign of separation anxiety in cats. Some cats will refuse to eat for the entire period they spend alone, while others will be obsessed with eating.
- Excessive Grooming. Excessive grooming is a displacement behavior (behavior unrelated to the actual situation) that is commonly seen with separation anxiety in animals. Excessive self-grooming is a severe issue that may lead to skin sores, infections, and patchy hair loss. Interestingly, excessive grooming triggered by separation anxiety is more common in female cats.
- Inappropriate Elimination. If a house-trained cat starts avoiding the litter box, consider separation anxiety as the culprit. Anxious cats will start urinating and defecating literally everywhere except in the litter box.
- Destructiveness. Clawing, leaving scratch marks, or pushing objects from the table can be a cat’s way of getting your attention. This destructive behavior is not out of spite – it is a coping mechanism. Separation anxiety-triggered destructiveness is more common in male cats.
- Overly Happy When the Owner Returns. If a cat that couldn’t care less when its pet parent gets home suddenly starts jumping to the roof and being extra cuddly, it has separation anxiety. This sign is hard to spot with cats that are generally affectionate and eager to display feelings.
- Vomiting When Left Alone. Cats are notorious for their vomiting – they can vomit for no apparent reason. However, a cat with separation anxiety will vomit because they’re anxious. Separation anxiety-induced vomiting usually occurs when the cat is alone.
- Escapism Efforts. A cat with separation anxiety sees the environment as confinement and is willing to do everything in its power to escape. Separation anxiety-triggered escape attempts in cats are accompanied by biting and scratching at doors and windows.
According to PetMD, a vet will start by giving a cat a full medical examination to eliminate any possible medical conditions or health issues. They will conduct a physical exam, take blood or urine samples, and ask questions about the cat’s behavior.
It is helpful for a pet owner to videotape or record a cat’s separation anxiety symptoms and show the vet.
Mild cases of cat separation anxiety can be treated with supplements and environmental enrichment. However, in more severe cases, you should consider behavior modification and even anti-anxiety medications.
Here is a detailed review of the cat separation anxiety treatments pet owners can try.
Supplements for Cat Separation Anxiety
Supplements are a natural and efficient way of managing separation anxiety in cats. Here are some of the supplements we recommend:
Always talk with your vet first before giving your cat a supplement.
Anti-Anxiety Medications for Cat Separation Anxiety
Anti-anxiety medications are a more serious approach to treating separation anxiety in cats. These medications are available only with a veterinary prescription. Your vet will recommend which anti-anxiety medication is most appropriate for your cat.
Here are some anti-anxiety medications that can be prescribed for cats with separation anxiety:
Behavior Modifications for Cat Separation Anxiety
Behavior modification is the pet equivalent to cognitive therapy in humans – it teaches the cat coping skills and changes its emotional response to the stress trigger (being left alone). Behavior modification for separation anxiety includes two techniques:
- Systematic desensitization. The cat is gradually exposed to the trigger in order to associate it with a positive experience. Desensitization is a slow process, and owners must be careful not to exceed the cat’s threshold during exposure.
- Counterconditioning. Counterconditioning involves changing a pet’s response to a situation. For example, giving a cat its favorite treat or toy as its owner leaves the house can change its response to being left alone.
Toys for Cat Separation Anxiety
Toys are more beneficial than you might think. However, you need to find the right type of cat toy for your feline friend. Here are two toys we find to be perfect for managing cat separation anxiety:
Environmental Management for Cat Separation Anxiety
Managing the cat’s environment is a good way of stopping separation anxiety. Here are some tips on environmental management:
- Make a Schedule. Create a fixed schedule with your and your cat’s routines, then stick to it every day. Cats with separation anxiety find comfort in patterns and consistency.
- Provide Enrichment. Make the cat’s environment a safe place that offers plenty of opportunities for mental and physical activity. Provide your cat with different toys and energy outlets to keep them busy when you’re not at home.
- Use Pheromones. Make the environment more relaxing for your cat by using pheromones (such as Feliway). Pheromones are chemicals that are produced and released by the body. They are available as sprays and diffusers.
- Get Help. If your cat spends long periods of time alone, consider asking for help. Have a neighbor visit the cat often or hire a professional pet sitter.
Cat separation anxiety is not something that cannot be completely prevented. However, some things can help decrease the risk of developing separation anxiety in cats. Let’s take a closer look at those things:
- Practice Low-Key Departures. Do not make a big fuss about leaving the house – avoid emotional farewells, and do not come back to kiss your cat goodbye. If a spectacle is not made, a cat will not feel like leaving is a big deal. Keep the departure cues at a minimum.
- Encourage Your Cat’s Independence. Do not support a cat’s clinginess. The cat needs to understand that there will be parts of the day when the owner is away. Spend lots of quality time with the cat when you are home to make up for when you’re not at home.
- Invest in Environmental Enrichment. Enriching your cat’s environment will help your cat stay happily entertained when you’re not at home. Consider getting toys like puzzle feeders, scratching posts, and cat trees. Playtime provides physical and mental stimulation and prevents behavioral issues.