Separation Anxiety and Your Cat
Contrary to popular beliefs, cats can and do suffer from separation anxiety. When you’re away at work, doing errands or taking a vacation, your cat may become overly anxious and stressed. You know you’ll be back soon, but your cat doesn’t.
How do you know if your cat is suffering from separation anxiety? Some signs include:
- Urinating/defecating on bed and clothing
- Scratching furniture
- Inappropriate chewing
- Damaging planters
- Excessive self-grooming
- Refusing to eat while you’re away
- Increased vocalization and clinginess before you leave and after you return
Some guardians think their cat is mad and getting “even” or is mean-spirited. No such thing! Cats are incapable of such feelings. They misbehave in an effort to “soothe” themselves and find relief from the stress of your absence.
What to do? First and foremost, please do NOT punish your cat. It’s undeserved and only makes things worse. Instead, here are some easy training exercises that will help your cat cope better whenever you’re away:
- Pick up your car or house keys and leave the house, just for a few minutes, and then come back inside. Do this several times daily, gradually increasing the amount of time you spend outside. This teaches your cat that no matter how long you are gone, you will always come back. Be sure to reward your cat with a small treat and lots of praise whenever he stays calm during these exercises.
- Don’t make it a big deal when you leave. Just give him a small treat and then quietly leave. Keep calm, as your cat can sense your energy. If you are calm, he will be too.
- Play soothing or ambient music whenever you are home with your cat, then put on the same music whenever you are gone. The cat will associate the music with your presence, which will help the cat to relax. Another bonus—ambient music also covers scary noises, such as thunder or loud construction.
- Leave an article of your clothing, like a sweatshirt or t-shirt, in his favorite place. When you’re away, he can lie down on it and feel reassured by your scent.
- Keep him entertained with interactive toys and puzzle feeders.
- If you’re planning a vacation, leave your suitcase open for a few days prior to your trip. Put a treat in it or a catnip-filled toy for him to find. This helps your cat associate suitcases with something good, not with your absence.
- In extreme cases, you might try natural herbal drops that are specially formulated for stress, a prescription-strength medications and/or the help of a certified feline behaviorist.
The good news is, your cat loves you and misses you when you’re away. Be patient with your furry friend and best of luck!
Mirian Hasani is a Certified Feline Trainer and Behavior Specialist based in Santa Monica. A longtime friend and supporter of FixNation, she spends a generous amount of time at the clinic working with frightened homeless kitties in need of some extra TLC.