Separation Anxiety in Cats: Signs and Treatment
The word anxiety being used together with the same sentence with cats may come off as strange to some. Anxiety is a condition more commonly associated with humans. As it turns out, even felines too are susceptible to anxiety, especially of the kind triggered by separation from their owners; a familiar environment or object or a traumatic event. In a human, separation anxiety is a lot easier to diagnose since speech is possible. In cats though, determining the presence of separation anxiety is a different ball game. Read on to find out how to identify separation anxiety in cats.
Signs of Separation Anxiety in Cats
As is often the case in humans and canines, separation anxiety as with other kinds of anxiety is usually characterized by certain types of behavior. In felines too, the signs are similar especially when they are a deviation from your pet’s normal behavior. Some of these behaviors include:
- Destructive behavior
In kitties, separation anxiety can manifest itself in an urge to rip things up. So if you have observed your sofa and curtains suddenly all clawed up upon arrival from work, your cat just might be suffering from separation anxiety. Don’t go playing Dr. Pol and rush off to label your cat with separation anxiety over one unusual incident. It usually takes you observing the presence of between two to three symptoms to narrow things down.
- Compulsive behavior
This is yet another sign of separation anxiety in cats. Just as a human with an anxiety disorder engages in self-destructive behavior such as the slitting of wrists with razor blades, so also a cat can self-hurt. Although kitty can’t get its paws on a razor, it can use its claws on itself. Remember how felines are so finicky about their furry bodies with much attention given to grooming? Well, cats with separation anxiety take grooming too far and groom themselves till their fur begins to fall off in spots. Some cats also suddenly seem to forget the use of their litter tray and dot the house with hot, steaming turd piles.
Other Behaviors Associated With Separation Anxiety
Has your cat become very disinterested in you lately? Has the excited rush towards the door the minute you turn the key come to a screeching halt? Have you been reduced to begging for cuddles from kitty who used to live for snuggle time? Perhaps kitty’s behavior towards you even borders on flat out hostility with aggressive behavior noted even in its interactions with the kids? All these signs are strong indicators of the presence of separation anxiety.
Add to that your formerly quiet feline suddenly getting all loud with meowing that can be heard down the block, fluctuation in its body weight with erratic eating patterns and lots of sleeping and you have got the feline poster kitty for separation anxiety. In some cats, this condition is capable of inducing vomiting.
Seeing as the symptoms of this condition can be quite serious, it is not out of place how keen pet owners are to find out what cause separation anxiety in cats in the first place. Knowing this is a huge step in figuring how it can be avoided, and in the event that it has already occurred, how to treat it.
Causes of Separation Anxiety in Cats
How exactly does a cat come about developing separation anxiety? Seeing as quite a number of cats have been diagnosed with this condition, it is a question that needs answering sooner rather than later. A number of reasons can give rise to separation anxiety in cats ranging from genetics which the cat has little control over to environmental and social factors which you or its previous owner might have had a hand in.
- Kitty’s Breed Matters
On the genetic level, some cat breeds are more prone to separation anxiety than others, hence the need to understand their tendencies before adopting. Burmese and Siamese cats, in particular, have been not to be more prone to developing this condition. This, however, should not be taken to mean this condition cannot be observed in other breeds. Some breeds not prone to separation anxiety though still end up developing it anyway. In such cases, it can be attributed to kittens that were hauled off from their mother way too early. Such kittens could have been so cute that eager potential owners could not wait for them to be weaned properly which is typically around eight weeks from their birth and took them from their mothers too early. The downside of such early weaning is that the cat gets deprived of the nourishment of mother’s milk. Other felines were simply victims of tragic circumstances where they got orphaned when their mother got killed or got lost.
- Kitty is Bored
Boredom also has a role in the development of separation anxiety in cats. Boredom, even in humans, can lead to the sufferer developing a host of social problems. Most intelligent beings require some level of stimuli to keep their brains active and their social behavior balanced. Too much stimuli and you could have a hyperactive, excitable kitty on your hands. Too little stimuli, on the other hand, and you could just have on your hands the makings of separation anxiety disorder.
When your cat is under-stimulated and boredom begins to creep in either as a result of loneliness or no one to play with, kitty could begin to develop an unhealthy attachment to you similar to that observed in human infants where they cling to their mothers for dear life especially following periods of prolonged separation.
Your cat could begin to manifest needy behavior with it following you around the minute you walk in the door and refusing to play with anyone else or even its favorite toys. Consider what could be triggering such changes in your cat. Have you recently moved to a new neighborhood? Or a new house? Did another pet you raised together with kitty just die? Do you spend long hours at work, coming home later than usual? If you have answered yes to any of these questions, then any of the above reasons could have likely triggered separation anxiety in your cat.
Knowing what you are up against which in this case is separation anxiety in your cat certainly goes a long way in allaying possible fears of if you might have in some way inadvertently contributed to kitty’s condition. If it has been determined that your cat does, in fact, have separation anxiety, figuring out what step(s) to take could have you scratching your head in worry. Fortunately for you, this article addresses some treatment and separation anxiety management methods you can take to relieve your cat.
Treatment of Separation Anxiety in Cats
Separation anxiety management methods require a lot of involvement on your part if you hope to get kitty through this.
- Spend Quality Time
Your family is not the only ones who look forward to spending quality time with you one on one. Kitty too misses you. Just as your kids begin not to care whether they have had their hopes of you making their football game, piano recital or ballet performance dashed yet again, so also kitty feels when you have been gone for far too long. Make it up to kitty by factoring in playtime with it into your agenda.
Once a week simply will not cut it. If you truly hope to make a difference, make playtime with kitty at least thrice daily. You can play little mock hunting games with it with you putting some ‘prey’ on a string and hiding leading kitty to tap into its predatory side and go on the hunt, stalking and eventually taking down the ‘prey’. Over time, kitty could begin to simulate such ‘hunting’ expeditions on its own using one of its toys.
- Depart on the Down Low
Remember how your kids when they were very young always got so worked up about you leaving the house, especially on those days when you were all dressed up for an important event? If yes, then you definitely can recall the meltdowns and frayed nerves of yours that came in the wake of your eventual departure. It is rather interesting how your heading to the backyard for some long overdue mulching never elicited such strong reaction.
Using this comparison, you could play a psychological trick on the kitty to reduce its stress and feelings of abandonment by keeping your departures on a down low, especially when going away for long periods. It could be that your cat gets disturbed when it sees you grabbing your coat and car key recognizing it as a departure signal. You could put your coat on outside the door and keep your key in your pockets the night before.
You could even take things up a notch by creating experiences for kitty around your departure that makes it less traumatic for it. You are probably aware that cats have a very keen sense of smell. Use that sense to your advantage, building an exciting game for kitty around it by stashing away its favorite treats in locations around the house setting it on a scavenger hunt of sorts. Kitty being the smart cat it is will start to associate this food finding game with your departure especially if you restrict it to only times when you are not at home. Before you know it, you just might have kitty urging you more quickly towards the door.
- Provide a Conducive Environment
Just as you just cannot seem to get any quality work done when your colleague gets started on those endless, not to mention rather loud phone calls, ‘forgetting’ yet again to close their office door despite numerous memos to that effect, so also your cat could become troubled when its living environment is a turbulent one. Do you tend to need the stereo blasting techno music at top volume to unwind or get your cleaning done?
If that sounds like your situation, you could be inadvertently stressing kitty out. Or is your home pretty much the ultramodern magazine cover worthy kind complete with leather sofas and flat-screen televisions hanging off the walls? Such a home, while aesthetically pleasing and possibly soothing to you, might not be the same for kitty. Cats have needs that require being at a certain height. When a cat is safely perched above ground, it not only makes it feel safer but also gives it an opportunity to engaging in scratching, a common feline pastime without your fancy furniture paying the price.
Hooking kitty up with a cat perch purchased from the pet shop would address this need. If you live in a place where birds abound, you could put in a bird feeder to attract more birds and ultimately more playmates for kitty. Kitty could even get in some practice, honing its hunting skills by going after the birds, going up against living prey this time. Whenever you do pick up the perch, make sure you place it somewhere in the house where kitty spends most of its time. Seeing as the sense of smell is one of the keenest in cats, you could also pick up a diffuser from the pet store that releases pheromones that most cats find soothing.
- Get Professional Help
Sometimes despite all your best efforts though, kitty just might need a veterinarian to help overcome its symptoms, especially in cases where genetic reasons cause its separation anxiety. Now do not go trying to play Doc using kitty as an unwitting guinea pig and just buy any old drug off the counter. Leave the prescribing to the pros while you wisely follow them to the letter.
Felines are as prone to side effects of medications as humans, so you need the pros to let you know what you are getting into before you wind up killing poor kitty. More often than not, the drugs of choice are likely to be antidepressants or benzodiazepines.