Does Your Cat Have Separation Anxiety? How to Spot the Signs
As we continue to weather the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our pets have gotten used to more face-to-face time at home. If you’re wondering if your cat has developed separation anxiety, know that it can be tricky to diagnose. Here’s everything you need to know about the signs of separation anxiety in cats.
Can Cats Have Separation Anxiety?
The answer is yes, cats can miss you when you leave. “Cats may become anxious when separated from a person or animal whom the cat is fond of or socially attached,” says Kenneth Martin, DVM, Diplomate, ACVB at Veterinary Behavior Consultations, LLC in Spicewood, Texas. But what causes separation anxiety in cats? The answer isn’t clear, but experts think it may be genetic.
Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety in Cats
Does your cat display any of the following symptoms of separation anxiety? If so, it might be time to see the vet.
- Inappropriate elimination of urine or feces
- Increased vocalization (meowing or crying)
- Destructive behavior
- Excessive grooming
- Increased activity
Because cats are good at hiding it when something is wrong, it can be helpful to keep an eye on your cat when you’re not home to see if he or she displays any of these indicative behaviors. According to Martin, “Video camera recordings can be instrumental in diagnosing separation anxiety in cats, as some clinical signs may be missed or go unobserved when the owner returns to the cat.” Martin recommends Blink cameras for this purpose, as batteries can power the device for two years and they can be moved easily around the home.
If you notice any of the common signs of separation anxiety, don’t assume it’s an automatic diagnosis, as these symptoms can also potentially arise from other health issues. Martin recommends contacting a veterinarian to rule out other medical causes of anxiety and get guidance on a proper treatment plan.
Treating Cat Separation Anxiety
“Treatment may include changes in owner-pet social interactions to help foster independence,” Martin says. “Environmental enrichment and meeting the cat’s needs can be helpful in treating feline separation anxiety.”
According to a recent study, cats that don’t have other animals in the house to socialize with, are left alone for a frequent number of hours daily, and don’t have access to toys are more likely to experience separation-related problems. So stock up on pet gear like interactive enrichment toys, scratching posts, and puzzle feeders to give your kitty something to keep her mind busy throughout the day and alleviate some of her anxiety.
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While you should always discuss changes to your cat's routine with your vet ahead of time, there are some supplements that can help treat cat separation anxiety symptoms if you’ve exhausted other options. “Supplements such as l-theanine (Anxitane, by Virbac), alpha-casozepine (Zykene, by Vetoquinol), and conventional medications such as fluoxetine are sometimes used with treatment,” Martin recommends.
Other methods you can try at home to help a cat with separation anxiety include:
- Adding a perch to your window sill so your cat can experience the outside world
- When leaving and returning from home, don’t react or make a fuss
- Do pre-departure cues when at home (picking up your car keys, going out the door and coming back in, etc.) so your cat doesn’t associate these cues with the stress of you leaving
- Offer a food dispensing or catnip infused enrichment toys to give your kitty something to explore and keep busy as you leave
- Start leaving for a short period of time and build up on it over time so she gradually gets used to your absence
- Keep the TV, radio, or music on while you’re away
No matter what, make sure to talk with your cat’s vet about your cat's habits and behaviors. They can help you create the best treatment plan for your individual feline!