Many myths about cats persist today, including the idea that they like being left alone. They might not be as demanding of an owner’s time and attention as dogs, but cats are social animals with important needs. In fact, when they are apart from the people they love, cats feel separation anxiety, just like dogs and other pets.
So, what’s an owner to do when they have to leave their cat home alone? Whether it’s for a standard shift for work, or you’re simply stepping out to run errands, there are ways to communicate your devotion to their every feline need.
BFFFs (Best Furry Friends Forever)
The love that cat owners feel for their cats is mutual. Indeed, domestic cats form deep, meaningful relationships and attachments to the people around them. They are part of the household’s routine and anticipate when certain things are about to happen, such as waking up, preparing meals, and even leaving the house.
Cats feel separation anxiety when their owners leave for extended periods of time, or when changes to the schedule are made abruptly. An emotional response to sudden shifts occurring at home, separation anxiety can be subtle enough that signs of distress are entirely missed or misunderstood.
Waiting, Watching (the Feline Way)
Think about when you’re getting ready to leave the house. You look around for things, put on shoes, jangle the keys. There may be an increased energy about you that is not lost on your cat. Unmistakable signs that cats feel separation anxiety include:
- Increased clinginess
- Increased vocalization
- Getting underfoot
- Blocking you and the exit
If ignored or dismissed, troubling behaviors can develop, such as intentional soiling outside the litter box, often on a personal item like a bed, closet, or desk. You could also see significant changes to the eating and drinking habits, persistent and worried-sounding meows, destructiveness, vomiting, and over-grooming themselves.
Honey, I’m Home
If you still have doubts whether or not cats feel separation anxiety consider what your cat does when you return home after some time apart. If they are simply bouncing off the walls with exuberance, they have probably been missing you a little too much.
Many cat owners are their cat’s primary source of interaction and entertainment. We may inadvertently reinforce behaviors associated with separation anxiety when we reward them or react to their behaviors with our own feelings of anxiety.
When Cats Feel Separation Anxiety
If you notice any of the aforementioned behaviors, it’s important to rule out any possible medical conditions first. Establishing the following behavior modification strategies can reduce your cat’s stress:
- Before you need to leave your cat, spend at least 15 minutes grooming or playing with them.
- If you know that certain things disrupt their calm, like putting on your shoes or grabbing your keys, change those patterns.
- Use food puzzle feeders during your absence instead of leaving out food in a dish. This will give them something to do and is highly rewarding.
- Maintain neutrality when you leave and return home.
- Enrich their environment with window perches, cat trees, a catio, or soothing bedding.
- Spray feline calming pheromones around the house.
If all else fails, there are prescription medications that can manage a cat’s separation anxiety symptoms.