If you’re like me—or most other cat guardians, for that matter—you probably hate making plans or leaving the house because that means having to spend time away from your cat.
But groceries need to be bought and sometimes forced family fun is a *requirement*, and you have to leave your furbaby behind. Usually, a few hours out of the house isn’t a big deal and cats will just spend that time sleeping, playing, or watching out the window. But when your cat has separation anxiety, just that short time can be extremely difficult for them.
What is cat separation anxiety?
Cats form attachments to their human guardians and have a certain level of love and trust for them. This is super sweet, but when that love turns into obsession and your cat has a hard time functioning normally without you near, it can turn into a serious problem. Separation anxiety in cats occurs when a cat becomes stressed about their human not being with them.
Pretty straight forward.
Separation anxiety can be seen in cats who are raised in a single cat household or even homes with multiple animals. It can manifest at any point in a cat’s life, but is usually triggered by an event. These events can include a medical problem, move, or even a human going back to the office after a long period of working from home.
Before we get into separation anxiety any further, I want to stop right here and say…
If your cat is exhibiting any new behaviors, bring them to a trusted vet as soon as possible. What you think is separation anxiety could be a symptom of a serious health condition. There is no harm in making sure your kitty is healthy.
Now to our regularly scheduled programming.
How do I know if my cat has separation anxiety?
Every cat is unique and has their own personality. Or should I say, purr-sonality.
What I’m getting at is that separation anxiety can look different in every cat. For example, my cat Rainbow (who is borderline obsessed with me) will cry and act out until I physically move closer to her. Some cats will instead opt to follow their human around the house all day. While every case is one-of-a-kind, there are some common signs of separation anxiety in most cats who have it:
- They cry when you leave the room. There’s nothing more heartbreaking than a sweet meow from down the hall. You don’t even have to be gone for ten minutes, and your cat may already feel lonely without you.
- They follow you everywhere. Even if they’re in the middle of a nap, some cats will wake up and follow you wherever it is you are going in your house.
- They tear up your home when you’re out. From couches to bedding to their own toys, some cats will become restless and act out when you’re gone, leaving you a mess to clean up and a needy cat to tend to.
- They don’t use the litter box when you’re gone. A number of cats will become so worried that even their regular litter box routine will be affected. They may skip going altogether—which can lead to dangerous infections—or go in places they shouldn’t.
- They’re not sleeping or eating properly. Some anxiety-prone cats will skip meals when they’re upset, while others will eat more than ever at a higher speed. The same goes for sleeping—there are cats that drift toward both ends of the spectrum when worried.
- They’re territorial. If another cat, dog, or human has your attention, some kitties will act out because they feel threatened. You’re their special territory, and if they can’t have you to themselves, they may start a fight.
What are some ways I can help alleviate my cat’s separation anxiety?
Never leave the house. Ever.
As much as I wish that was a viable solution, it is inevitable that you will have to leave the house at some point without your cat. Luckily, there are ways to lessen the stress for them of an afternoon—or even *gasp!* day—without you.
- Leave them a piece of your clothing. Blankets or anything else that you spend a lot of time around also work. The point is to give your cat something that smells like you that they can curl up with and be comforted by.
- Play with them before you leave. Getting some of the nervous energy out of your cat by playing with them is always a good thing. Use a wand toy that lets you be interactive with your cat, and play until your cat is sufficiently worn out.
- Give them plenty of fresh water and food. Your cat always needs to have clean water available, but also make sure they have enough to eat before you are gone to lessen their worrying. If you do wet food, give them a can before you head out the door. If they will only eat kibble, get a timed automatic feeder that will make sure they have food throughout the time you’re gone.
- Keep toys out and cat tv on. It’s not fair for you to leave your cat without anything to do while you’re away. Make sure they have toys available to them (ones that can be played with unsupervised) and open the blinds of a window for them to watch the world from. This entertainment should help occupy their minds for the time you’re not home.
- Try pheromones or CBD oil. There are supplements and other tools specifically designed to help relieve separation anxiety in cats. I’ve never tried them myself, but they are definitely an option for kitties who don’t respond to other measures.
- Don’t make goodbyes a big deal. I get it. Every time I leave home, I always want to give the girls a kiss and tell them I’ll be back soon. But that could actually be very unhelpful. Instead of making goodbyes an ordeal, simply leave without any fanfare. Hopefully this will keep your cat from getting worked up, and there will be less of an energy shift for them to react to.
- Practice being apart. Start with you just going for a short walk, and then build up to more time away on a more regular basis. This will help your cat build confidence while alone.
There are varying degrees of separation anxiety that your cat can experience. She or he may experience different levels at different times in their lives, so it’s important to always pay attention and try to support them however you can. One of the best ways to do this is to be present with your cat and make time to be together one-on-one. This will help both of you understand each other and build an even stronger relationship.
I know a lot about cats, but I’m not a veterinarian. Please don’t take any of the statements I give as medical advice and do always consult your trusted vet.