It’s natural for your pet to love and need you, but this can sometimes spiral into over-neediness and anxiety when you are not together. However, recognizing the symptoms of feline separation anxiety is the first step toward helping your pet overcome his distress.
Before You Leave
Because behavior associated with separation anxiety sometimes occurs when you’re not home, it’s helpful to be aware of telltale signs. Meowing, hiding and sulking as you are preparing to leave for work or an evening out can indicate your pet finds your imminent departure distressing.
Felines suffering from separation anxiety sometimes cry aloud when they are home alone. This can last from between several minutes to an hour and can recur intermittently until you return home, according to VetInfo. If both you and your partner are away at the same time and you want to be sure this is a problem, you could leave a tape-recorder running in the room where Mittens spends most of his time.
Excessive grooming, sometimes to the point where your pet develops bald spots, is a behavior associated with separation anxiety because felines find self-grooming comforting when they are anxious or distressed. This might not be immediately noticeable, particularly if Sheba grooms herself excessively only when nobody’s home. However, if this behavior becomes compulsive, your pet will groom herself obsessively even when you are together.
Inappropriate urination and, more infrequently, defecation is one the most noticeable behaviors associated with separation anxiety. However, it’s best to talk with your vet if this happens because it can be symptomatic of other medical conditions. Your pet may eliminate near the door from which you departed, or on your bed or clothing. As feline behaviorist Pam Johnson Bennett explains, this is your pet’s way of self-soothing by mingling his scent with yours.
Destructive behavior, triggered by frustration over your absence, is more infrequent than other types of behavior linked with separation anxiety. This behavior might include knocking over household objects and items of furniture, or clawing or chewing at cushions and soft furnishings.
If that bowl of kibble you left out for Kitty before you went to work is still untouched when you come home, it could mean she is too distressed to eat when you are not with her. Anxiety caused by Mom or Dad’s absence can also cause some cats to vomit when they are alone.
Causes and Treatment
A combination of genetic and environmental factors can make cats susceptible to separation anxiety. Felines weaned too early, or orphaned as kittens, as well as those with a naturally sensitive temperament are more at risk of developing this condition. It’s important to inform your vet of all Kitty’s symptoms to help her make a correct diagnosis, because inappropriate elimination, excessive grooming and reduced appetite are also symptoms of stress, which could have another cause. Behavior modification, coupled with environmental stimulation, is commonly prescribed for separation anxiety. This includes making your pet less aware of your departure, and less excited by your reunion, by ignoring him for 15 minutes before you leave and when you return home. Positioning a climbing frame near the window, providing plenty of toys and leaving on a talk radio station can all help to soothe your pet in your absence. Your vet may also prescribe anti-anxiety medication if behavioral modification is unsuccessful.
Based in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Elizabeth Burns began writing professionally in 1988. She has worked as a feature writer for various Irish newspapers, including the "Irish News," "Belfast News Letter" and "Sunday Life." Burns has a Bachelor of Arts in English literature from the University of Ulster as well as a Master of Research in arts.