With lots of people still assuming that all cats are independent and aloof animals, you’d be forgiven for thinking that separation anxiety doesn’t affect cats, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Cat separation anxiety is actually quite a common problem and it can be troublesome for both pet and parent.
Cats can be really social animals and can create a strong bond with their owners. This is a particularly true personality trait in the Siamese and Oriental breeds, as well as Bengals, Burmese and Sphynx.
Separation anxiety is quite commonly associated with rescued/orphaned cats.
One Indoor Paws Community member called out for help when her indoor cat started displaying some tell-tale signs of anxiety:
My little cat gets really upset when I leave the room (any room that we are in together) and starts to howl. She also has some little cloth mice and always gets one and brings it to me. She is so sweet but I do not like to hear her so upset. Does anyone else have this problem, I always feel guilty but have to do other things. She has real attachment issues and I would like to break them a bit for her sake!
Indoor Paws Community Member
Although we are not vets and cannot diagnose the cat spoken of above with separation anxiety, we can look at the displayed behaviour and use it to help us when researching answers to the question “What to do when your indoor cat has separation anxiety”.
Before answering this question and providing some solutions, we’ll first dig a bit deeper into the furry underbelly of cat separation anxiety!
What are some common signs & symptoms of cat separation anxiety?
Signs and symptoms of cat separation anxiety can vary greatly between cats, therefore, it isn’t as straightforward as seeing a certain behaviour and labelling the cause as anxiety.
We always recommend seeing your vet for advice, in any case, so that a professional diagnosis and solution can be given.
Having said that, below are some common signs and symptoms of cat separation anxiety commonly noted by cat owners:
- Urinating outside of the litter box (when you are away)
- Urinating or defecating on your bed or clothes
- Excessive meowing
- Excessive grooming
- Claw and scratch at furniture while you are away
- Not eating or overeating
If your indoor cat is really anxious just before you leave, they may even attach themselves to your legs or follow you to the door while giving you those sad eyes. It can make you feel as awful as leaving your child at nursery for the first time, but just like a child, a cat needs training out of this behaviour.
What is the cause of cat separation anxiety?
The cause of separation anxiety in cats has not yet been well researched and reasons for it are largely unknown at the moment, however, some experts have put it down to factors such as the cat’s environment and whether or not the environment is stimulating and enriched enough, being orphaned, being weaned too early and not enough socialisation as a kitten. We can’t know for sure, but these are some of the most widely spoken about causes of cat separation anxiety.
An indoor cat’s environment is especially important to consider since indoor cats do not have access to ‘natural’ outdoor stimulation such as chasing rolling leaves or mice, interaction with other animals and walking/running longer distances. This means that enrichment and mental stimulation has to be provided by humans.
If an indoor cat does not have enough to entertain them they will get bored and this can exacerbate separation anxiety.
What to do when your indoor cat has separation anxiety
If you are concerned about your cat in any way, you should visit your vet in the first instance. Your vet will be able to diagnose your indoor cat appropriately and provide the best course of action. This is very important since many of the symptoms we have looked at can be caused by other health issues, too.
If your cat has been diagnosed as having separation anxiety there are a few suggestions to consider, based on the causes of anxiety that we have looked at.
Make your departure less stressful by changing your behaviour
This is likely to be one of the first suggestions a vet or pet behaviourist will suggest when your cat is diagnosed with separation anxiety. Changing your behaviour is one of the easiest things you can do to begin reducing anxiety and it can have a big impact.
Consider the steps you take before leaving the house; we all have our routines and our cats (especially indoor cats!) become very familiar with them, too.
An action such as picking up your keys can be triggering for your cat, as can putting on your coat on and putting on your shoes. So, replicate these common actions that would usually signal you leaving and don’t go anywhere.
Pick up your keys and walk around the house with them. Put your coat on while making the dinner. It may sound crazy, but if you can train your cat to let go of these ‘I’m leaving the house’ signals, the next time you do leave could be less stressful for them.
Don’t overdo the goodbyes
When we leave our cats home alone it’s only natural to want to give them a squeeze and tell them goodbye, but this could actually be really triggering for your cat. Next time you leave, try to leave without saying goodbye. By breaking this habit you’ve removed one less anxiety-inducing trigger.
Make your indoor cat’s environment more interesting
The logic is simple, if your indoor cat has more to do while you’re away they’ll be less likely to stress or will experience significantly less stress.
One of the best distraction techniques (especially if your cat is motivated by food) is to introduce some puzzle feeders. Puzzle feeders can be bought or made out of something as simple as a toilet roll tube or small box. Simple stuff treats inside and your cat will hunt them out. This should keep them busy while you’re away. Try mixing up the puzzle feeders once in a while to keep the challenge fresh!
Here are some other enrichment ideas you could try:
- Make sure your indoor cat has access to a lookout window.
- Hide kibble and treats around the house before you leave and encourage your cat to find them.
- Provide more than one hiding place for your indoor cat to feel safe in.
- Provide a cat tree high enough for your cat to climb and explore while you’re away.
- Provide plenty of scratching opportunities (cat trees, scratch posts etc).
- Leave a radio/TV on low volume.
Get a playmate
If you work outside the house and your indoor cat is often alone, you might want to consider getting a second cat as a playmate. That way, when you are away they can play with each other and keep themselves entertained!
Reward good behaviour
If your cat is meowing and howling when you leave the room, don’t give your cat attention during this time. This can be a really tricky trap to fall into because the more attention you give your cat (good or bad) the more they realise they get attention, and so the cycle begins.
A key thing to remember is to ignore your cat when they display behaviour you don’t like.
On the other hand, reward behaviour that you do like, such as when they are playing on their cat tree independently or they’re hunting treats out of a puzzle feeder. When your cat is entertaining themselves, give them an affirmative ‘good boy!’.
Your cat may require some medication to keep them calm and reduce their anxiety. We’d always recommend speaking with your vet and taking your cat for a check over if you’re worried or are seeing any unusual behaviours or symptoms.
Has your cat been diagnosed with separation anxiety? What has worked for you? Tell us below in the comments.
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