You may have heard a lot of talk on the grapevine about dog separation anxiety, but what about the sassy feline in your life?
Your cat may pick and choose when they want to be fussed, but they can also feel separation anxiety, just as much as their canine counterparts. They enjoy their routine and can feel all out of sorts when this is shaken up and disrupted. FirstVet vet Dr Jessica May helps you learn all about cat separation anxiety, including how to prevent it and how to deal with it when needed.
What is cat separation anxiety?
Cat separation anxiety is a behaviour where your feline feels stressed and worried when they’re separated from you. Although they are well known for their independent personalities, some cats form a strong attachment to their pawrent and always want to be around them.
If they have to be apart from their owners for an extended amount of time, anxious behaviour can appear, often within minutes of an owner leaving. Felines of all ages can show separation anxiety, from kittens to older cats.
What causes cat separation anxiety?
The smart humans in the lab coats don’t know the exact cause of cat separation anxiety (and why some cats suffer while others don’t). It’s believed that a mixture of the cat’s genes, their environment, and how they’re looked after can affect their likelihood of developing the behaviour.
- Being taken away from mum too soon, resulting in a lack of key skill development and behavioural problems.
- Getting a furr-midable amount of constant attention and affection from their owners without allowing for time apart.
- Not being given enough toys or enrichment, leading to frustration, stress, and boredom.
- Being the only feline in the household and staying indoors, possibly resulting in more dependence on their humans for stimulation.
- Change to routine/environment such as losing another pet or family member, or moving to a new place.
- A history of trauma from living in different homes before joining your family.
> Cat breeds prone to separation anxiety
It’s also believed that some cat breeds may be more prone to separation anxiety than others.
These are exotic types like the Burmese and Siamese, which are known to have higher social needs and a strong desire for attention. Bred as indoor domestic cats, Burmese and Siamese felines can get very attached to their owners.
What are the signs of stress and anxiety in cats?
There are numerous signs of cat stress and anxiety, and these can make an appearance both during the day and at night. Some indicators that your cat could be suffering from separation anxiety include:
- Destructive behaviour like scratching and clawing fabrics and furniture.
- A persistent desire to always be close to or in physical contact with their parent.
- Excessive meowing, yowling, or crying.
- Longer periods spent sleeping or feeling lethargic.
- Being aggressive towards other members of the household.
- A change in eating habits, such as refusing to eat when alone.
- Spraying around the house or going to the toilet outside of their litter box.
- Excessive grooming (or not grooming at all).
These anxiety indicators can sometimes be more obvious at night when the house is quiet. Cats can sometimes also show separation anxiety from other cats, not just their humans.
> Monitoring for distress
If your cat seems happy or you’re not picking up on any obvious signs, it can be tricky to know if they are suffering from separation anxiety. One option to try and suss this out is to use pet cameras to monitor them. You may be able to see if they’re showing any distress while you are out.
How to prevent cat separation anxiety
Here’s a few things you can do to help prevent your kitty from developing separation anxiety:
- Create a routine for your feline so they know when they can expect to be fed, when you will head out to work, when they get dedicated playtime, etc.
- Build up the time that you leave them alone, starting with a few minutes and gradually increasing this up to several hours. From there, give them regular alone time so they don’t become dependent on 24/7 company.
- Provide entertainment with toys and scratching posts to stimulate their minds and encourage their natural predatory behaviour. Fast-moving toys, ones with fur and feathers, puzzles, tunnels, and those that crinkle and squeak can give a variety of stimulation.
- Try to not give your cat constant attention or petting/cuddling, particularly if they are starting to constantly come up to you. Divert them with a toy some of the time instead.
- Dedicate predictable play and attention time with your feline so they have pawsitive and consistent interaction. This can also include grooming.
- Create several safe and quiet covered spaces where your cat can hide if the hustle and bustle of a busy household gets overwhelming.
- Encourage their hunting instincts by hiding treats around the room or by putting them in a food puzzle. You can make an inexpensive one using a toilet roll filled with treats thats folded at each end and place several around the house.
- Create elevated areas such as window bays and cat trees where they can observe the room and the outside world.
- Encourage your cat to spend time with all members of the household so they don’t become overly attached to one specific person.
- If your cat is used to lots of noise, turn on the radio or create a dedicated cat playlist for when you leave the house so they’re not left in silence.
- Stay calm and don’t fuss them when leaving and returning home. The aim is to stop them associating your coming and going as an event to get worked up over.
- If they are an indoor cat, set up a secure outdoor space where they can get fresh air, exercise, and unleash their natural instincts.
- Cats are hygienic animals, so keep their tray clean with fresh litter to avoid any unwanted toilet situations elsewhere. Place it far away from their eating area and toys and, if possible, have an extra tray that’s partly covered.
- They are also sensitive to smell, so be respectful of this in your home and avoid strong air fresheners and perfumes, as well as leaving bags and shoes by the door.
- Supplements are also available to help with relaxation when you leave the house. Speak with your vet for recommendations on which ones to get.
How to calm an already anxious cat
If you’re noticing signs of separation anxiety in your cat, there’s a few things you can do to try and help calm them down immediately while you get in touch with a vet:
- Use a dedicated cat room spray (also available as a diffuser or plug-in) to release calming pheromones into the room.
- Take them to a dark and quiet space where they can wind down.
- Distract them with a toy or a puzzle.
- If given medication by a vet, follow the course exactly as prescribed.
Consult with your vet
If your feline isn’t showing their normal cat-titude or you notice any changes to their behaviour, consult with a vet. FirstVet is available 24/7 for video appointments with trained UK vets and can provide advice and recommendations for your cat’s wellbeing.
The symptoms of separation anxiety can be similar to other conditions, so seeking out purr-fessional advice is important for getting the right treatment. For example, your feline peeing outside of their usual spot can be a sign of anxiety, but also indicate a possible urinary infection.
Other questions about cat separation anxiety
> Do cats miss their owners when they go on holiday?
Some cats can miss their owners if they go on holiday as they don’t like to spend extended time apart from them. This is not true of all cats though, as some felines are purr-fectly content to hang out with other humans in the household or at a cattery. Getting your cat used to spending time with other people or at boarding facilities from a young age could help to prevent anxiety if you go away on holiday.
You also have the option of bringing in a cat sitter, though you will need to think about how much time they can spend with your cat and how safe they will be, for example being able to get out of the house.
> Do cats grow out of separation anxiety?
With time and persistence, you could help to lessen your cat’s separation anxiety. Follow any guidance provided by a vet or behaviouralist and take things at a slow pace.
Cats deserve all the love and support, from supporting them through periods of anxiety to giving them the right cover for their needs. That’s why we offer comprehensive lifetime cat insurance.