Cats are usually very independent creatures and owners often find it hard to believe that they can get separation anxiety. However, cats are social beings who form strong relationships with their humans just like dogs and are equally as susceptible to separation anxiety.
Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, our best feline friends will be used to having us around all the time. Cats don’t like change and now that lockdown measures are being lifted in some parts of the world, how will our cats take to the transition?
Symptoms of cat separation anxiety are more difficult to spot than dog separation anxiety, but there are still many tell-tail symptoms to look out for:
Vocalisations – Excessive and loud meowing, especially when you go to leave the house, can be a sign of a stressed and anxious kitty.
Urinating outside of the litter box – if your cat urinates outside of its litter box, especially on your clothes or your bed whilst you’re away, don’t assume they’re getting back at you for leaving them alone. They might be trying to self-soothe and help you find your way back to them.
Destructive behaviour – Cats might not trash your entire home to the extent dogs can, but destructive behaviour is not uncommon. Felines like to knock things over and scratch furniture. This behaviour is more common in male cats.
Clinginess – Cats with separation anxiety can become noticeably clingier, especially just as you’re about to leave, and often have hyper-attachment to their caregiver, seeking constant contact when they are together.
There are a few more subtle signs of anxiety in cats that should not be ignored;
- Excessive licking and self-grooming, especially in female cats
- Refusing to eat or eating too fast
- Hiding as you’re about to leave the house
- Vomiting and diarrhoea
All these signs can mean that your pet feels neglected, depressed or anxious. It may be that your cat displayed some of these behaviours before lockdown began but now that our feline friends are used to having us around more than usual, our absence is felt more than ever.
If your cat is exhibiting one or more of these signs, here are a few tips and tricks to help reduce separation anxiety in cats and keep them safe and happy:
Visit your vet – Your first port of call should be with your veterinarian. Your cat needs a medical check-up to ensure there isn’t anything physically wrong with them that could be causing them distress. You can’t treat this problem behaviourally if they have a physical illness, and your vet will be able to help you rule out illness or injury.
If you’ve had the all-clear from the vet, your pet is most likely worried and anxious. The following techniques should help get your cat off the worry train and back onto a more peaceful track:
Ensure enough playtime – Play with your cat two or three times a day. Include different toys in your play sessions and allow your feline to satisfy their prey drive. Give encouragement when your kitty starts to play alone.
Provide a safe and stimulating environment – Consider getting a cat tree and vertical scratching posts. Cats love high places because they make them feel safe. If your cat can also watch birds from their post, that’s even better!
Desensitize anxiety triggers – Start preparing to leave the house without actually going. Pick up your keys and then put them back. By practicing leaving cues throughout the day, your cat will get more comfortable with you leave.
Get your cat some interactive toys – While you’re gone, your feline can enjoy puzzle feeders, bird watching, and watching TV. Leave vibrating toys, ping pong balls or catnip around the house. You can also put on soothing classical music.
Ignore attention-seeking behaviours – Try to ignore attention-seeking behaviours whenever possible. Instead, provide attention when your cat is calm and shows signs of independence. For example, you can praise or toss a small treat to your cat when they are resting in another room or when they stop meowing for attention.
Relaxation exercises – One basic technique you can use is a relaxation exercise. This is where you consistently reward your cat when they show signs of being in a relaxed state, such as lying down, sighing, having a loose and still tail, and closing their eyes.
Create and maintain a consistent routine – Consistent routines are very beneficial for pets with anxiety disorders. Keeping to the same schedule as much as you can is good for them.
And lastly, try, try and try again! If none of these separation anxiety tips work for you and your cat the first time, it doesn’t mean they won’t work the second time around. Experiment and try out different techniques – remember, patience is key.
If nothing seems to be working, your cat may have a more severe case of separation anxiety. In this case, it’s best to work with a professional trainer or behaviourist or seek further advice from your vet.
- Tamara Peco – www.petcube.com – 2018
- Krista A. Sirois – www.petmd.com – 2020