Cats may have a reputation for being independent, but separation anxiety in cats and kittens is real. That said, all cats have different personalities, and some cats are more sensitive to separation anxiety than others. Keep reading to learn how to tell if your cat has separation anxiety and how you can help.
Signs Your Cat Has Separation Anxiety
While each cat is unique, there are common symptoms of separation anxiety which can include:
- Meowing & yowling
- Refusing to eat
- Eating too quickly, then vomiting
- Retreating & hiding (more than usual)
- Relieving themselves outside the litter box
- Scratching up furniture (or other destructive behavior)
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Escape attempts
- Unusually hyper, clingy or aggressive behavior when you return home
Some of these can also be signs of an underlying condition, so if something in your cat’s behavior suddenly changes, it’s always best to schedule a wellness check with your veterinarian to make sure.
Why Cats Get Separation Anxiety
There are many reasons why cats and kittens can develop separation anxiety, including a predisposition to anxiety as well as environmental factors. Separation anxiety can be more common due to these factors:
- Breed – According to this study, certain breeds such as Siamese, Burmese and Tonkinese are more likely to have separation anxiety
- Gender – Female cats are more prone to separation anxiety than males
- Kittens that were orphaned or separated from their mother cat early
- Cats that live only with their human and no other people or animals
- Cats that only spend time indoors
- Not receiving enough mental enrichment, attention, or affection
- Learned dependence – this can happen if you constantly engage your cat’s attention
- Schedule changes that make you spend less time around your cat
Any change in your cat’s routine can trigger separation anxiety, including moving to a new home, a person or pet joining or leaving your household, or starting a new job.
Senior Cats & Separation Anxiety
Senior cats can develop clingy behavior (including separation anxiety) which is often related to getting older. If your cat feels more vulnerable because their sight and hearing isn’t as sharp as it used to be, or if they’re experiencing cognitive dysfunction associated with aging, they’ll want to be around their caregiver and protector more often. Learn how to care for your senior cat to help them live their best life during their golden years.
How to Help a Cat or Kitten with Separation Anxiety
If your cat or kitten is anxious when you leave, here are some tips to help manage their anxiety:
- Stay calm and collected when you leave and come back home – making a fuss over leaving and returning usually makes things worse.
- Reduce or avoid separation anxiety triggers by doing things like putting your keys in your pocket 30 minutes before you leave, instead of right before you walk out the door. You can also try picking up your keys when you have no intention of leaving, and setting them back down. Over time, this can help desensitize your cat to the sound of keys.
- Give your cat or kitten a safe space they can always retreat to when feeling stressed
- Provide plenty of safe toys & activities for times when you’re away
- Leave an item of clothing or a blanket with your scent on it near your cat’s favorite napping spot
- Make sure your cat has a perch where they can look out the window
- Leave music or the TV on if there’s a playlist or channel your cat likes
- Give your cat some affection & playtime every day
- Other times, encourage your cat to play with a toy by themselves or just hang out in the same room without needing constant attention (to discourage clinginess and overdependence)
- If there are multiple people in your home but your cat is only anxious when you leave, get other members of the household to help care for and play with the cat to reduce their attachment to you and you alone.
- Use positive reinforcement training and reward your cat when they’re relaxed.
If your cat has severe separation anxiety, you can help them learn to tolerate your absence better by planning a series of short outings and gradually increasing how long you’re away. This can help them learn that you’ll come back when you leave. You can also try having a friend, family member or pet sitter come over to play with your cat during longer absences, then reduce the length and frequency of these visits as your cat gets more comfortable being home alone.
If nothing seems to work, your vet might prescribe medication to help your cat relax, or suggest over the counter products such as calming pheromone sprays or plug-ins.
What to Avoid if Your Cat Has Separation Anxiety
Sometimes things that seem like they might help could actually make the situation harder for your cat. For example, bringing another cat into your home might sound like a good way to prevent loneliness, but that’s a big change to your cat’s environment and will more likely add stress if they’re already experiencing anxiety.
Never punish your cat for unwanted behaviors stemming from separation anxiety. Your cat won’t understand why they’re being punished and it will undermine your relationship.
Don’t confine your cat to a crate or a single room while you’re away – this will only increase their stress and can lead to even more destructive behavior such as clawing at doors and windows.
How to Prevent Separation Anxiety in Cats
Here are some tips you can use to reduce the chances of your cat developing separation-related problems:
- Create a balanced relationship with your cat – don’t give them too much or too little attention. Let your cat develop a healthy sense of independence by not calling to them or seeking them out whenever they’re out of sight.
- Provide plenty of mental stimulation & enrichment activities for your cat
- Monitor for signs of cat anxiety and take early action to manage it
- Keep up with regular wellness checks
If you’re considering becoming a cat parent but worry about separation anxiety, here’s how to avoid it:
- Pick a well-socialized cat or kitten. Look for a cat that’s comfortable being touched, is used to spending time indoors and has a relaxed posture around people.
- Steer clear of cat breeds with a reputation for clinginess, like Siamese, Burmese, Sphynx & Ragdoll.
- Ask for information about the cat’s history and previous environment.
- Use a trial adoption to see if the cat you are thinking of will be a good fit for your lifestyle.
- Get two cats at the same time – ideally littermates or a bonded pair of adult cats.
Remember: any sudden changes in your cat’s behavior warrant a conversation with your veterinarian to rule out possible medical reasons. Keep reading to learn more about how long it’s safe to leave your cat at home alone.
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