Though not often talked about in cats, separation anxiety can occur just as it does in dogs. This can prove quite traumatic for both the owners and the feline involved.
Why do cats get separation anxiety?
While it is true that many cats are ‘lone rangers’ that quite enjoy their own space, this is not true for every individual. There are certain contributing factors that can make it more likely for a cat to become affected. These include:
- Certain breeds, for example, are much more reliant on humans and this is especially true of Burmese and Siamese cats.
- Early life. Those who were weaned or re-homed early can lack confidence and independence.
- Lack of stimulation. This is especially the case for indoor cats who require plenty of both mental and physical stimulation within the home to stave off boredom.
- Clingy parents! Some owners may not realise that they are actually making the problem worse when constantly reassuring their cat and spending all of their time around them.
Signs of separation anxiety can be quite subtle in felines. They may include vocalising, refusing to eat, grooming excessively or toileting outside of their litter tray. These cats typically follow their owner from room to room and are depressed when their owner goes away on holiday.
TOP TIP: Some owners mistakenly believe that a cat who pees on their bed or carpet when they’re out is ‘punishing’ them, when in reality, there is no malice behind their action. They may be feeling anxious, or they may have a urinary issue. In any case, it is best to seek veterinary advice.
How to help prevent separation anxiety in your kitten
To prevent our kitties from going on to develop this behavioural disorder, there are a number of things that we can do, such as:
- Sourcing them from a ‘happy home’ where you know they have been well socialised. They should never be re-homed earlier than nine weeks. It is a red flag if you are offered a kitten younger than this.
- Giving your cat lots to do. Encourage your cat to play with laser pointers, wind-up mice and pole toys. Cat trees and scratching posts are a great addition to any home. They provide an opportunity to exhibit natural feline behaviours.
- Engaging their brain. Cats are clever critters who love a new challenge. Stimulate their brain by hiding treats around the home for them to find or by giving them their meals in a feeder puzzle.
- Allowing outdoor access when possible. Cats who go outside are more easily able to express their natural behaviours and to get their daily exercise.
- For some, a pheromone releasing plug-in such as ‘Feliway’ can help to keep them calm and content.
Is there any Treatment?
Once a cat starts to show signs of separation anxiety, it can be difficult to cure. All of the methods listed above that help to prevent the condition from occurring in the first place should be implemented if they haven’t been already. On top of this:
- Routine is key and it’s important that cats lead predictable lives and there is not too much disruption.
- Owners should be conscious to act as calmly as possible when both entering and leaving the home. Avoid making too much fuss of the cat on either occasion.
- A ‘safe place’ should be provided where cats know they can spend some time alone without being disrupted. This may be the bed on top of a cat tree, or perhaps a high-up shelf in a laundry room.
- Consider using a calming supplement; at least in the short term to keep them as relaxed as possible while we work on the other methods discussed.
- Hiring a professional feline behaviourist who can come to your home to assess your kitty in their own environment is never a bad idea. They can provide you with a tailored and specific plan for your bundle of fur.
A Word of Warning
Some medical conditions can be confused for separation anxiety in cats so it is advised for all kitties showing symptoms to have a nose to tail check from their vet. For example, over-grooming may be linked to stress but can also be seen in those with allergic disease or parasitic infestations. Similarly, leaving a ‘surprise’ on your pillow could indicate anxiety but is a behaviour that is also seen in cats suffering from cystitis.