The Top 5 Ways to Manage Your Cat’s Separation Anxiety

by VetDepot on January 22, 2014

cat separation anxiety editedYou may hear about separation anxiety more often with dogs than with cats, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a feline problem. Cats may not be able to bark or howl while their owners are away, but they certainly can display other symptoms of anxiety.

Signs of separation anxiety in cats include elimination outside of the litter box, excessive vocalization, vomiting, weight loss, excessive grooming, and clawing at things around the house. If your cat experiences separation anxiety, he or she may cling to you or go into hiding when you’re about to leave. If you think your cat suffers from anxiety, here’s how to help:

1.)    Make a vet appointment:  This is the first step if your cat is displaying symptoms of anxiety. Urination outside of the litter box, vomiting, weight loss, and vocalization can all be symptoms of medical conditions, so it’s important to make sure your cat is in good health before assuming separation anxiety is to blame. Also, a vet may have some tips for dealing with your cat’s anxiety, and in extreme cases, may prescribe medication.

2.)    Start small: If possible, it’s best to expose your cat to short absences before leaving for hours at a time. If you’ve just brought a new cat into your home or you’re starting a behavior modification program with a cat that’s displaying symptoms of anxiety, begin with a walk around the block. Then, you can graduate to a quick errand, and eventually, longer outings.

3.)    Keep your cat occupied: Make sure your feline companion has a variety of cat toys to keep busy with while you’re away. Also, make sure there are areas around your home where your cat can perch and observe the outside world. Some cats may appreciate the sound of a television or radio while alone as well.

4.)    Don’t make goodbyes a big deal: If you get emotional when saying goodbye, your cat might pick up on those emotions. Also, cats start to notice cues that you’re leaving, like putting on your shoes or grabbing your keys. Keep your departure cues to a minimum (maybe put your shoes on out of sight from your cat) and don’t draw out your morning goodbye.

5.)    Think calm: Some cats may benefit from a pheromone product like Feliway. You may also consider leaving something that smells like you (a shirt or a blanket) in an area that your cat likes to hangout for extra comfort.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Kate G January 29, 2014 at 8:03 am

Debunking another Wives Tale….Many of our Feline Companions really do bond with us and freak when we leave. I watch our Big Cat run to the door, and bellow loud Meows every time my Husband leaves. And he waits…stares at the door until he returns. Once he’s back home, the Cat is his shadow, calling out and following him everywhere….

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Mary January 29, 2014 at 6:38 pm

When I first rescued my Pascal, I was out of work and we spent so much time together that we really bonded. I went back to work and quickly realized how much this was resented. Pascal would plaster himself against the front door and growl at me when I tried to coax him away so I could leave. Soon after, my next door neighbor told me that as she passed my apartment bringing her two daughters home from school, Pascal would be crying just inside, and the girls would stop to talk to him. The solution to his loneliness was for me to rescue another cat!

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Meg July 5, 2014 at 3:41 pm

I rescued a young blind female cat about a year ago (she also has pika, and mild asthma… she’s really something else). She is deeply attached to me, and warry/aggressive around everyone else, even our other cats (all sweet and calm, not territorial) and my boyfriend who lives with us. I work offshore, and am frequently gone for 1-4 weeks at a time.

While I’m gone (starting about 24 hours from the time I leave), Michonne (my blind cat) goes days without eating, hides in the closet, and won’t let anyone near her until I get back. As soon as I’m home, she runs up and jumps into my arms (literally) and all of her “symptoms” are gone. She struts around the house like she owns it, confidently walks up close to other people, and even sometimes plays with our other cats. She regains the weight quickly, as long as I stay next to her while she eats for the first couple of days.

I’m wary of OTC treatments like pheromone sprays and plug-ins; most of the reviews I read indicate it’s more of a placebo effect (eases the humans’ worries, not the cat’s anxiety) and the main ingredient in most is water. On top of that, they’re expensive; I wouldn’t mind paying those prices for something that works, but not for something that won’t help.

If I take her into the vet, the vet will not see any symptoms, because I’m with her. If my boyfriend tries to take her to the vet when I’m gone, or even get close enough to pick her up, she tears him apart and acts even more traumatized afterwards. Will taking her into the vet myself still be helpful? I’d like to try an anti-anxiety medication, but since she will seem perfectly fine while we’re at the vet’s, it seems like a wasted trip.

I’m already up to my neck in vet bills from the massive surgery she needed in order to save her life when I first found her. I’ve read up on the use of St. John’s Wort in cats, and thought that might be a good route, but I’m worried about giving her a supplement marketed for human use (I have “Natures Bounty” brand powder-filled capsules and a mg scale, and the weight of the powder in the capsules does not even match the labeled weight). Besides that, when I’m gone, I’m not sure how my boyfriend will be able to give her any medicine/supplement without him getting torn to shreds and Michonne getting extra traumatized. Putting it in the drinking fountain is the only sure way I can think of to get her to take it while I’m gone, but all of our cats share the fountain and they don’t need any anxiety-relief.

Any tips and advice would be deeply appreciated. I’m so worried that one day I’ll come back from an exceptionally long work trip to find her starved have to death.

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VetDepot August 13, 2014 at 11:30 am

Hi Meg. We definitely recommend speaking with a vet, even if your cat isn’t displaying symptoms at the time of the appointment. There’s also certainly no harm in trying an OTC pheromone product. Lastly, try leaving some comfort items behind while you’re away. Put a shirt or a blanket that smells like you in a spot your cat usually hangs out. All the best.

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