• Dr Grant Hampson

Cats and Separation Anxiety



One bonus we’ve found from the pandemic, is the extra quality time we’ve been able to spend with our cats. Many welcomed a new kitten or cat to our family and had the opportunity to settle them in properly.


As we all start to get back to normal and we spend less time at home, there may be a period of anxiety for your cats and maybe even for you.


What is separation anxiety?


After spending countless hours with their owners during the pandemic, when a cat is left alone for a long period of time, they may become stressed by this period separation. This stress can manifest itself through various different behaviours.


Fortunately, cats are often very independent animals, but we’ve outlined some warning signs to look out for, and what you can do to help quell them.


What are the symptoms?


Cats suffering with separation anxiety can have a range of behaviours that can range from mild to severe.


They may start to urinate in inappropriate places, this can also be related to an underlying health concern so it is always recommended to go to your vet if you notice any chances in urination habits. Cystitis is a common disease in cats that can be triggered by stressful events.


Overgrooming and increased vocalisation are also common behaviours that manifest in periods of stress in cats.


The important thing to remember about these behaviours is that as much as they are often linked to stress, they can also be linked to other diseases and should therefore always be checked over by a vet.


What can I do to help?


It won’t be long before we all start to go back to work, so now is the time to start getting your cat used to you not being home all the time. Start by leaving them at home on their own for short periods of time, start with 30 minutes and go for a nice walk, and then slowly increase this time more and more.


Consider reducing the amount of attention you give them when you are home. If they cry for attention, distract them with a toy you could potentially leave them with when you are out of the house. Make sure it’s not something that can be unravelled or swallowed easily.

For my cat, Snaggles, I leave on “Music for cats'' by David Teie. David composes music specifically for cats ears, and a study from Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine concluded that cat-specific music may benefit cats by decreasing the stress levels. Plus it makes a change from listening to Taylor Swift on repeat.


Because your cat is so used to you being home, when you leave they may need some stimulation to stop them from becoming bored during the day. If they’re used to going outside, consider getting them a cat flap so they can come and go as they please. Treat balls can be a really useful distraction for cats, the treats sit inside and they have to roll the ball around for the treats to fall out.


Pheromone based products can be extremely useful for cats who suffer from stress and anxiety. Feliway mimics the “happy” chemical that cats release when rubbing their face against corners, furniture, and people. This pheromone works on cats' brains to calm them down and help relieve stress and anxiety. Pet Remedy is a valerian based product and mimics the natural calming mechanisms present in cats.


What not to do


Some people may think that cats need another companion for the time that they are at home alone. However, many cats often become stressed when put into multi-cat households and this could actually worsen the stress induced behaviours.


The take home message


Unfortunately, there’s no quick fix for separation anxiety (for cat or owner),so it’s important to be patient with your cat whilst they get used to these changes. Take things slowly and if you can, start making changes now to help reduce the chance of these behaviours forming.


References:


Snowdon, C.T., Teie, D. and Savage, M. (2015). Cats prefer species-appropriate music. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 166, pp.106–111.


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