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Do Cats Get Separation Anxiety? What Feline Pet Parents Need to Know
By: Alyssa Little
Cats are famously independent creatures. It’s probably no surprise seeing your cat enjoying hours of quiet time alone in the window or even hidden away under the bed. But while your cat may like more alone time than your dog, it is easy to forget that they are still at risk of separation anxiety when you’re away from home.
Yes—though less commonly observed, cat separation anxiety is just as real for felines as it is for their canine counterparts. Today’s cats may even be at higher risk of feeling stressed when left alone. With more people working from home in recent years along with an uptick in pet ownership, our feline friends have become extremely accustomed to being around humans for most of the day.
Fortunately, by taking the time now to learn about cat separation anxiety, you can take important steps for preventing it in the future.
What is cat separation anxiety?
According to Trupanion veterinarian Dr. Sarah Nold, separation anxiety in cats can refer to a group of issues.
“Separation anxiety is used to describe various problems that occur when your cat is left alone,” Nold explains. “Separation anxiety is less common in cats than dogs, likely because cats are innately solitary.”
And contrary to popular belief, you don’t necessarily have to be away from the home in order for separation anxiety to grip your cat. In fact, something as simple as a change in a schedule can cause feelings of stress and confusion.
“Whenever your cat has a sudden change in behavior, especially if nothing has changed recently in the home, you should start with having your veterinarian examine your cat to rule out illness as the underlying cause,” says Nold.
What the science says
A 2020 study published in the research journal, Plos One, found that over one in 10 cats exhibit behavioral issues when separated from their humans.
Interestingly, the cats observed appeared more likely to experience separation anxiety if they were living in households without female humans or living with young adults. They were also found to be more likely to exhibit destructive behavior if they were the only pet in the household and/or if they were in a household without pet toys readily available.
Signs of separation anxiety in cats
Cats are notoriously cryptic, and they may not make their stress obvious. Nold points out some signals your cat may be subtly sending if they’re suffering from separation anxiety:
- Attention-seeking actions, like the destruction of carpet or furniture
- Behaviors that differ or change when you’re home versus when you’re gone
- Eating habit changes
- Excessive meowing
- Litter box issues, like urinating on furniture or on the floor
Not sure if your cat is suffering from separation anxiety? Nold suggests keeping a journal of their behavior and sharing your notes with your pet’s veterinarian.
Tips for preventing cat separation anxiety
In an ideal world, cats who have difficulty with being left alone would always have some company. Of course, there are many situations in which you have no choice but to leave your pet on their own. In these cases, Nold suggests focusing on providing cats with enrichment activities:
- Scratch mats or posts (try to have a few options around the house)
- Cat trees or cat condos
- Cat ladders
- Motorized cat toys
- Treat puzzles that cats have to figure out in order to get a reward
If your cat is going to be alone for long hours due to work obligations or travel, consider enlisting the help of a regular pet sitter. Once your cat is comfortable with the person, having them come by to play and cuddle for even just an hour or two a day may help ease your pet’s stress levels significantly.
“Your veterinarian is also a great resource,” Nold says. “Talk to your veterinarian about other treatment options, which may include a pheromone diffuser or prescription medication.”
Additional stress can worsen feline separation anxiety
Whenever there are changes to your cat’s schedule or levels of daily interaction, you will want to try eliminating any additional stressors in their environment. For example, nearby construction work, traffic noises, and outdoor animals may worsen the stress your feline friend is already feeling.
“You can try modifying what is in your control like closing the curtains so that your cat can’t see outdoors,” Nold explains. “White noise may also help lesson other intrusive noises.”
Be patient with your cat
Every cat is unique and may react differently to change. Yours may take time to adjust to new schedules and situations, and you may need to try multiple different things before you see improvement. But by staying calm and giving your cat time to adapt, you can further help alleviate their stress.
If you have concerns about their behavior, be sure to make an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian.
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While you’re browsing our pet blog, please note that the views expressed here are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Trupanion. Our articles are reviewed by veterinarians for accuracy, but they are not a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment. Always consult with your own pet’s veterinarian for advice.