The Hervey Foundation for Cats
Separation Anxiety in Cats

Separation Anxiety in Cats

Separation anxiety is defined by the Mayo Clinic as: “recurrent and excessive distress about anticipating or being away from home or loved ones, and constant worry that something bad will happen causing separation from parents or other loved ones.”

It seems like separation anxiety can be pretty complex in people, so is it even possible for animals, or more specifically, cats, to have it? The answer is a resounding yes. It’s quite common for cats and other pets to experience separation anxiety.

A Lack of Understanding

Domesticated animals form extremely close bonds with their owners and when they’re left alone it can be very stressful for them. When we leave the house, we know how long we will be gone, and if we live with other people, we often inform them of when we plan to return. 

Animals, being unable to understand us, have no idea when we’re planning to come back, if at all. In some cases, if we’re gone overnight, they might start to worry we’ve left them for good!

Cats are very independent animals, especially when compared to dogs, but that doesn’t mean they’re exempt from having these feelings as well.

How Separation Anxiety Manifests in a Cat

Domesticated cats can be very loving creatures, especially when they spend a lot of time around their humans. The pandemic, for a lot of people, increased the amount of time they spent at home – also increasing the bond they share with their pets. In some cases, individuals went out and adopted a pet since they were under the impression they would be home for the foreseeable future.

So, what happened when those people were called back to the office? In some cases, animals living with them experienced a sudden change from spending all day together, to just the evenings and perhaps a bit of the morning. Animals like routines, as they help them and their humans understand each other better. But what happens when the human drastically breaks the routine? In some animals already prone to separation anxiety, it can be heartbreaking.

This is where it can become a problem. It can be difficult for a cat to understand why their routine is changing and how to change with it. Without knowing the why, they might start to assume the worst – that you have abandoned them. They might think something is wrong, or worse, that they are trapped in a home, alone, and they might never eat again. 

Some of the more common signs your cat is suffering from separation anxiety include:

  • Behaviour issues when you are leaving the home
  • Behaviour issues after an audio trigger (keys, the door, doorbell, etc)
  • Excessive meowing
  • Excessive grooming
  • Excessive eating
  • Urinating on pillows, laundry and beds
  • Hiding
  • Withdrawing from Interaction

Trying to Help a Cat with Separation Anxiety

Cats with separation anxiety might respond to certain triggers negatively. Things like the sound of you picking up your keys, putting on your shoes, reaching for your purse, or putting on a jacket can all be things that trigger them. 

When you notice your cat’s triggers, try to break them out of their triggered moment by taking your time. Perhaps when you pick up your keys, don’t leave immediately. Don’t let the sound always pre-empt you leaving if it bothers your cat.

Another thing you can do for your cat is not making a big deal of leaving. Cats rely on our energy to read the situation and if you make a big deal of them every time you leave, they might just start to associate affection with your leaving – thus making the situation worse. 

The best thing you can do is remain totally calm and act like nothing unusual is occurring. Calmly prepare yourself to leave then make your way out the door. If your cat sees you are calm, there is a stronger chance they will remain calm. 

Healthy Distractions

There are some other great ways to distract your cat and keep them from feeling their anxiety triggers. The following can be of great use:

  • Food puzzle toys
  • Pheromone diffusers
  • Hidden toys for the cat to find
  • Radio or TV on a familiar station
  • Calming treats (talk to vet first)
  • A window with a view
  • Hidden treats for the cat to find
  • Playtime

The most important item on the above list is the last one: playtime. Tuckering out your cat with healthy play is the best way to get them to live a more ‘normal’ life if they are afflicted with anxiety. Exercise and interaction with their owner are the kind of enrichment that can break a cat out of a nervous routine. Cats need enrichment to stay sharp and form bonds with their owners, and this can only come from intervention by the owners themselves. We, as humans, have brought cats into our world, and now it is time to help enrich theirs. 

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, if your cat is struggling with separation anxiety, talk to your vet. It might sound like easy advice, but they will have the experience and knowledge to help your cat overcome their issues. It might take a mix of medication and owner intervention, but no cat is unsavable. They all have their own little personalities, just waiting to shine, and if we can help them overcome their hardship, life gets better for both us and them!


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