Does Your Cat Have Separation Anxiety? How to Spot the Signs
Cats are known for being mysterious. Independent. Aloof. But the truth is cats do love us—so much so that they sometimes miss us. And while the symptoms may not be obvious, cat separation anxiety is real.
If your feline friend is suddenly acting out when you pick up your car keys or return from a long day of work and you think she's developed separation anxiety, know that it can be tricky to diagnose. Here's everything you need to know about the signs of feline separation anxiety and how to treat it.
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 [to]," 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 genetics may play a part.
Like separation anxiety in dogs, a cat's anxiety may develop or worsen when the routines they're familiar with change. So if you're moving, changing your work schedule, or experiencing a death in the family, your cat is likely feeling those changes, too.
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.
- Peeing or pooping outside the litter box
- 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.
"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.
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 (Zylkene, by Vetoquinol), and conventional medications such as fluoxetine are sometimes used with treatment," Martin says.
Other methods you can try at home to help a cat with separation anxiety include:
- Add a perch to your window 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 you're not really leaving 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 with as you leave
- Start leaving for short periods of time and build on that 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!