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How To Help Cats With Separation Anxiety

What Is Separation Anxiety In Cats

What does Separation Anxiety look like in your cat and how can you help?

Cat separation anxiety is defined as dislike of and discomfort with solitude. Separation anxiety is a serious behavioral issue that warrants quick and adequate professional attention.

According to Todays Veterinary Practice, there are several misconception regarding separation anxiety that need to be cleared early on The owner should understand that his or her pet is not acting this way out of spite or anger that the owner didnt cause the behavior by loving the pet too much, spoiling it, or not being dominant and that the pet is not bored and getting another pet will not help.

Common Cat Anxiety Signs And Symptoms

When cats form dysfunctional bonds with their humans, theyll develop behavioral problems. If your cat urinates on your clothes or your bed when youre away, dont assume theyre getting back at you for leaving them alone. They might be trying to self-soothe and help you find your way back to them.

Cats might not trash your entire home to the extent dogs can, but destructive behavior is not uncommon. Felines like to knock things over and scratch doors and furniture.

Other signs and symptoms of feline separation anxiety include:

How To Help Dogs And Cats Manage Separation Anxiety When Their Humans Return To Work

There’s no doubt about itour pets love having us at home with them. But separation anxiety can set in when we change our routines and return to work. A veterinarian explains how you can help your pet make the transition.

When one of my co-workers found out about a tiny, orphaned kitten that needed a home a few months ago, he didnt hesitate to adopt it. He says his new companion helped make the months of COVID-19 isolation at home much less stressful.

He is not alone. Animal shelters and breeders across the country have reportedrecord numbers of dog and cat adoptions in recent months.

But after my co-worker returned to work, he says his adorable kitten started urinating on the kitchen counter while he was away.

Another friend is worried about how her dog will react when she returns to the office. Her big, goofy Labrador retriever follows her everywhere, even to the bathroom. When she leaves to run a quick errand, the dog sits by the back door and whines, awaiting her return.

What should these pet owners do?

Alleviating pet anxiety is about changing the owners behavior, too.Josh Hild/Unsplash, CC BY

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Helping Your Pet Overcome Separation Anxiety Part : Cats

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The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyones daily routines, and that includes pets. Many dogs and cats adjusted to their owners being home with them 24/7 for months, but now that people are returning to work or taking vacations this summer, pets are suddenly experiencing time apart from their owners.

As a result, dogs and cats are having separation anxiety more frequently than before, and exhibiting stress-induced behaviors stemming from their mental health. In the second installment of our two-part report, check out advice from a local animal behaviorist and see how you can help your pets if they are struggling with separation anxiety.


Robin A.F. Olson, president/founder of Kitten Associates in Sandy Hook, is a cat behavior counselor with years of experience caring for cats of all ages, needs, and abilities.

She finds that cats do best in a predictable environment, and can feel stressed when there are changes made.

When theres a loss, like a family member dies, kids go off to college, there is a divorce, and change of home, cats dont take it well. They love being on a schedule, and are most at ease when they are with consistent family members, furry or not, Olson explained.

The pandemic was a big change for many cats to have their owners home more often, and now they are going through further changes with people leaving the house and starting to vacation again.

Cats love to get up high, where they can feel in control of their space, Olson said.

Behavior Modification To Relieve Cat Anxiety

How to Help Your Cat With Cat Separation Anxiety

If you try behavior modification, it will be up to you to put in the time and effort. As with all illnesses, it is best to start treatment early.

You will need to teach your cat some coping skills that can be used in a variety of settings. The goal of behavior modification is to change how your cat feels about a frightening stimulus . This change improves a cats prognosis instead of indefinitely avoiding the stimulus.

Two methods of behavior modification that may be recommended by your vet are desensitization and counterconditioning. Both of these methods require specific timing and the ability to read your cats body language and to notice the earliest signs of fear and stress.

Ask for help from your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist. If behavior modification does not work over the long-term, your veterinarian may want to modify the approach.


Desensitization is the repeated, controlled exposure to the stimulus that usually causes a fearful or anxious response. The key is that you expose your cat to the stimulus at a low level so that your cat does not show any signs of fear or stress.

A popular version involves playing a sound that your cat is afraid of at such a low volume that there is no fear or stress. After playing the sound three or four times at a low volume without a reaction, then you can increase the volume very slightly and repeat the process.


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Inappropriate Or Unnecessary Urination By The Cat

This can be a sign of separation anxiety or a sign of illness, however, if you are very sure your cat is healthy then you should consider separation anxiety.

A cat that is suffering or going through separation anxiety is always known to pee any and everywhere.

When it comes to peeing outside the litter box, things are becoming more serious, and you need to see your vet.

What Are The Signs Of Stress And Anxiety In Cats

There are numerous signs of cat stress and anxiety, and these can make an appearance both during the day and at night. Some indicators that your cat could be suffering from separation anxiety include:

  • Destructive behaviour like scratching and clawing fabrics and furniture.
  • A persistent desire to always be close to or in physical contact with their parent.
  • Excessive meowing, yowling, or crying.
  • Longer periods spent sleeping or feeling lethargic.
  • Being aggressive towards other members of the household.
  • A change in eating habits, such as refusing to eat when alone.
  • Spraying around the house or going to the toilet outside of their litter box.
  • Excessive grooming .

These anxiety indicators can sometimes be more obvious at night when the house is quiet. Cats can sometimes also show separation anxiety from other cats, not just their humans.

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Management Of The Environment

There are quite a few ways you can modify your cats environment to help relieve your cats separation anxiety.

Here are some examples of changes you can make to manage the environment.

Provide Enrichment Activities

There are endless options for enrichment activities to keep your cat busy while you are gone. There are TV shows designed specifically for cats and even cameras that allow you to toss treats to your cat and talk to them when you are not home.

You can also try puzzle feeders, which are toys that your cat has to play with to release the food inside. Giving one to your cat before you start getting ready to leave can keep them busy so they arent worried about what you are doing.

Working for their food is wonderful enrichment for cats.

Ignore Attention-Seeking Behaviors

Try to ignore attention-seeking behaviors whenever possible. Instead, provide attention when your cat is calm and shows signs of independence.

For example, you can praise or toss a small treat to your cat when they are resting in another room or when they stop meowing for attention.

Remain calm when you leave your house and return home. Wait until your cat is calm and quiet to give them attention after you get home.

Giving your cat activities to keep them busy and engaged as you get ready to leave and while you are gone can be very helpful. Some cats also experience a calming effect from pheromone products, such as plug-in diffusers or collars.

Create and Maintain a Consistent Routine

Change Or Lack Of Stimuli

Does your cat have separation anxiety and how you can help

Cats that get bored or dont have enough playtime can get overly attached to their owners. Other triggers include major changes such as a move, death of another pet or a family member, a vacation, a new baby, or a change in your work schedule. Even daylight savings time can cause anxiety in cats!

And remember, cats are very good at reading and picking up on our emotions. The more anxious you are, the better the chance your kitty will get anxious. Especially as youre about to leave the house.

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Signs Of Separation Anxiety

Cats begin to express apprehension as the person prepares to leave, reacting to departure cues such as picking up keys, grabbing a purse, or packing a suitcase. The cat may hide, meow excessively, follow the person from room to room, or move between the person and doorway.

Here are some problem behaviors triggered by separation anxiety in cats:Inappropriate urination or defecation, often on personal items like clothing or the bed. This is an anxiety-related behavior, not a spiteful behavior.Excessive vocalization, such as loud, persistent meowingEating too fast or not at allVomitingDestructiveness, such as shredding curtains or furniture or knocking over objectsExuberant greetings when the person returns home

How To Prevent Cat Separation Anxiety

Heres a few things you can do to help prevent your kitty from developing separation anxiety:

  • Create a routine for your feline so they know when they can expect to be fed, when you will head out to work, when they get dedicated playtime, etc.
  • Build up the time that you leave them alone, starting with a few minutes and gradually increasing this up to several hours. From there, give them regular alone time so they dont become dependent on 24/7 company.
  • Provide entertainment with toys and scratching posts to stimulate their minds and encourage their natural predatory behaviour. Fast-moving toys, ones with fur and feathers, puzzles, tunnels, and those that crinkle and squeak can give a variety of stimulation.
  • Try to not give your cat constant attention or petting/cuddling, particularly if they are starting to constantly come up to you. Divert them with a toy some of the time instead.
  • Dedicate predictable play and attention time with your feline so they have pawsitive and consistent interaction. This can also include grooming.

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S To Avoid For Separation Anxiety In Cats

There are many suggestions out there for how to help separation anxiety in cats, but not all of them are accurate. Some of the most common management suggestions you might find are getting an additional cat, punishment, and confinement.

Heres why you should not use these responses if your cat is suffering from separation anxiety.

The Problem With Sudden Changes In Routine

How to Help Your Cat With Cat Separation Anxiety

A change in routine, such as suddenly being alone for many hours every day, is a major cause of .

Separation anxiety is more than a little whimpering when you head out the door. Its major, unwanted behavior that happens every time you leave or are away.

For dogs and cats, this can mean excessive pacing, barking or howling, whimpering or self-grooming as you get ready to leave. In some cases it can mean urinating or defecating around the house, often in places where scents linger, such as on bedding or rugs, or destroying household items in your absence. Extreme clinginess or neediness is another symptom.

Anxious pets can get destructive.Chris/flickr, CC BY-SA

Separation anxiety wont go away on its own, and it can be difficult to get rid of entirely. But there are ways to manage it. As a clinical veterinarian and professor, I am often asked to help people find ways to ease their pets anxiety.

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Kitty Is Unusually Vocal

Excessive meowing, crying, or moaning is a red flag indicating separation anxiety. However, the increased vocalization is hard to notice as the cat becomes overly chatty when the owner leaves the house. Set up a voice recorder if you suspect your cat has separation anxiety and want to check if she starts vocalizing as soon as you close the door.

Cat Constantly Chewing Of Cables Or Wire Cords

This is a big challenge to some cat owners, when cats get bored or lonely, they simply chew on everything.

Ignoring their toys to chew on cables shows the extent of depression or frustration, and they can attack you.

The only reason this happens is separation anxiety, depression, frustration, and stress, do not ignore it as it can become a problem over time.

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The Cat Constantly Attempting To Escape

Attempting to escape means something is not right with your cat, its either your cat feels unsafe or there is too much stress around.

Most breeds of cats are very active and love exploring their environment, when you constantly leave your cat alone, your cat can get depressed.

As a result of depression, your cat will look for a way to escape.

Your cat may also want to escape if you do no neuter your cat, which means when the cat is on heat, escaping is the next option.

Therefore, constantly attempting to escape can be linked to the development of separation anxiety in cats.

There are many ways on how to stop a cat from wanting to go outside and many reasons why you shouldnt let your cat go outside without your supervision.

Signs Of Separation Anxiety In Cats And What To Do About Them

Pet separation anxiety: How to help your pet adjust to the return to work

Weve all seen the memes since this COVID-19 pandemic started about dogs who have had enough of you walking them, thank you very much. And in turn, the cat memes are all about them wondering when we are going back to work and giving them their much needed personal space back. We get it. Dogs tend to be goofy and friendly while cats are, ahem, a bit more discerning about their company. The truth is, though, cats have plenty of different personality types, and many of them do experience separation anxiety. This is particularly true of cats who were orphaned. And with many of you going back to work if you havent gone back already, its a good idea to know the signs of separation anxiety in cats.

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