Separation Anxiety in Cats

Picture of a cat on a sofa

Even though they seem to be pretty resilient pets, cats can develop anxiety for a number of reasons, many of which pet parents might not even consider. From changing homes to their owners not being able to interact with them for a period of time, there are many causes of anxiety in cats.

In today’s article, we’re looking at everything you should know about feline separation anxiety. Read on to find out more!

When can separation anxiety in cats occur?

The causes of this condition remain relatively unknown for now. Although there have been many veterinarians and researchers who studied separation anxiety in pets, the truth is that no one knows whether there is one specific thing that can trigger an episode or a series of symptoms. 

Even so, it’s not far-fetched to assume that separation anxiety can occur, as its name suggests, when a cat’s owner can’t spend enough time with their pet. 

On the other hand, it can be challenging to tell just how much time is enough. As you might know by now, cats have very different personalities. Therefore, some can be needier than others and might expect their owners to spend as much time with them as possible. 

The biggest issue with this condition is that people tend to think that cats are self-sufficient animals. While that might be true to one extent or the other, they are unique, and as such, they have unique needs. They also don’t tend to do well when a significant change has happened, whether in their living environment or in their routine. 

Clinical signs of separation anxiety in cats

Separation anxiety can happen gradually or all of a sudden. If you have been working from home for several years and your feline friend is accustomed to you being around almost all the time, being away from home for more than nine hours a day can be a shock for your cat. 

In general, most cats that have a separation anxiety episode can vocalize a lot when their owner has left, they might either eat too much food or, by contrast, not eat enough, or they can start marking their territory even though they’ve never done it before. 

Furthermore, some cats that have this condition are known to vomit in their guardian’s absence, although due to stress, this can also happen when they are home. 

It is also not uncommon for some animals to begin grooming themselves excessively to the point that they develop dermatitis. Cats tend to get bored when they are left by themselves for many hours every day, so they might also show destructive behavior such as scratching the couch or even pawing at the door until they damage it. 

Finally, one of the classic yet endearing symptoms of separation anxiety in cats is the way your pet greets you when you finally come back home. Your feline companion can be extremely enthusiastic when you return to the point that he or she stays glued to you for several hours until they calm down and are convinced that you aren’t going to be leaving again too soon. 

What can you do about it?

Although it might seem to be an impossible task, there are some changes that you can make to minimize separation anxiety. One of the best ways would be for you to start missing from home for short periods of time and gradually increase the number of hours you are away. 

Providing as much care, attention, and affection to your cat when you return can be paramount in preventing much more severe symptoms such as the dermatitis that we have already mentioned. 

Most cats tend to have favorite spots or places where they feel safe, so make sure that your cat always has access to them. 

If you believe that your cat can handle it, it might also be a good idea to get them another feline friend. Adult cats tend to react better to this change if the second pet you get is a kitten — since they don’t feel threatened by them. 

Since boredom can be at the root of destructive behavior, make sure that your cat has plenty of entertainment opportunities when you are out of the house. This means getting some scratching posts or a cat perch, which your pet can use to look at birds outside your building, for example. 

You can also leave the TV or radio on as the voices will partly soothe your feline friend. Some cats actually like watching TV. 

Diagnosis and treatment

You might end up at the vet clinic for a check-up because your cat might have developed actual, physical symptoms. A detailed anamnesis can sometimes give the veterinarian a clue about what your cat is experiencing, but if you aren’t particularly straightforward about your cat’s behavior, the vet will run several tests to find out if your cat doesn’t have a disease. 

More often than not, the blood tests aren’t going to reveal anything in particular if your cat only suffers from separation anxiety and not another condition besides it. 

But once the diagnosis becomes clear, your veterinarian can recommend some of the measures that we have mentioned, but also some products that can calm your cat down. These are usually products that contain pheromones and that work in some cases, but they’re not universal, meaning that some animals might not react to them at all. An example is Feliway.

There is also the option of anti-anxiety medication, which can consist of either synthesis drugs or natural alternatives, such as those containing valerian. CBD oil can be another option these days. 

Final thoughts

Prevention is worth a pound of cure, they say, and we couldn’t agree more. Making sure that your cat remains independent is the best way to make sure that separation anxiety is never something that she is affected by. 

As difficult as it might seem, not spending all the time with your feline friend can have a beneficial effect on her development. Mobile toys, a pet camera, or climbing frames can make your cat spend her time alone in a more enjoyable way. 

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Cristina Vulpe PhD

Cristina Vulpe PhD

With a PhD in Veterinary Oncology, Dr. Cristina Vulpe loves researching and writing about the things that she’s passionate about. These range from animal nutrition and welfare to pet behavior, infectious diseases, and parasitology. In her spare time, she’s always in the company of her cat and a good book.

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