Understanding your cat’s separation anxiety

Stressed cat

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Separation anxiety is commonly seen in cats, occurring when a cat is separated from their owner or another pet with which they have a strong bond. A cat with separation anxiety might insist on being with their owner at all times, even following them from room to room. Cats who suffer with this form of anxiety may even sulk and hide when their owner gets ready to leave the house, sometimes even trying to get between their owner and the door. It’s not uncommon for the cat to then show an abnormally enthusiastic greeting when the owner returns.

What can cause separation anxiety?

There are no definitive answers, and it’s not known for sure what causes separation anxiety in cats. There has been speculation that both genetic and environmental factors can be involved. One of the best methods of prevention is to ensure your kitten is well-socialized, and so less likely to develop behavioural problems as they grow.

Signs of separation anxiety

  • Over-attachment to the owner, following from room to room
  • Distress when the owner prepares to depart
  • Crying, moaning or meowing right after the owner has left
  • Anorexia – the affected cat is often too anxious to eat when left alone
  • Inappropriate elimination in the form of urine marking, though faecal marking may also occur
  • Stress can be a factor in the development of recurrent cystitis, so it’s important to visit your vet if you notice your cat urinating little and often, or urinating outside of their litter-tray
  • Vomiting, but only in the owner’s absence
  • Excessive self-grooming that starts as a displacement behaviour, but can progress to compulsive self-grooming when unchecked
  • Destructive behaviour like clawing and scratching door edges in an attempt to escape from their solitary confinement
  • Exuberant greeting behaviour

What should I do if my cat has separation anxiety?

You should seek veterinary advice to make sure that your cat’s behaviour is not due to an underlying physical problem. Enriching the cat’s environment may also help if no medical problems can be found. To achieve this, you can try the following suggestions:

How can separation anxiety be treated?

It’s possible to make the time surrounding your departure less stressful for the cat by introducing some changes to your routine. Before leaving and upon returning, try to ignore the cat. As unusual as this may seem, because it is the removal of the owner’s attention that causes the stress, being focused on the cat 100% of the time will only worsen the problem, rather than make the cat feel more secure. Making the cat’s environment as stimulating as possible might also help, such as providing a comfortable sleeping area with a view from a window as entertainment, especially if there is a bird feeder in sight. You can also leave the radio or TV on, providing comfort and eliminating the silence.

If your cat’s anxiety persists, it may be necessary for your vet to recommend medication, or refer you to a specialist behaviourist

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