Although many of us are glad most COVID restrictions have been lifted and we’ve begun staying home less, there’s one group who may be dreading our longer departures — our feline, four-legged friends! That’s because cats are creatures of habit and, like it or not, their routine has come to include more human time. If you’ve been noticing behavior changes as you’re home less, you’re not alone. Feline separation anxiety is a very real phenomenon. Fortunately, with a bit a plan and a bit of patience, you an help your kitty through their stress.
SIGNS OF SEPARATION ANXIETY
Cats are notoriously mysterious creatures who tend to hide how they are feeling. While there are signs that your kitty may be experiencing separation anxiety, they are the same signs that they could be experiencing an another emotional or even physical ailment. Therefore, if your cat is experiencing any of the following signs, always begin with a vet visit to rule out serious medical conditions:
- Excessive meowing or vocalizing
- Going potty outside of the litter box
- Excessive self-grooming
- Being overly affectionate
- Wide pupils, whiskers close to their face or tail close to their body
- Destructive behavior
Once you’ve taken your kitty to see the vet and have ruled out physical ailments, it’s time to develop a treatment plan. The following are easy to try and may resolve your cat’s anxiety quickly:
- Provide more enrichment opportunities. Leave blinds open and provide perches for bird watching. Get a new kitty condo or kitty toys. Hide food or treats in kitty toys when you leave.
- Provide praise and treats when your kitty is calm and displaying the behavior you want to see.
- Don’t announce your departures.
- Leave background noise on when you are gone. A TV or the radio can help make the kitty feel less lonely.
- Schedule cuddle time and play time when you can reliably be home — and then do it every night.
- Use pheromone diffusers to create a calming atmosphere.
If the anxiety persists, you might need to try some stronger techniques:
- Remove tell-tale signs of your departure. For example, keep your keys in your purse or coat pocket so your cat can’t hear them jingle.
- Try creating a faux lap — stuff a pair of your pants with pillows and sit it on a sofa or chair where you and your kitty often sit together.
- Start small. Leave the house for one minute and then return. Repeat. Once your cat no longer seems stressed out when you’re gone for one minute, leave for two minutes. Then three. Keep building.
- Talk to your vet about medicines that might help.
- Arrange for a pet sitter to stop buy for a play session during the day.
Your cat’s behavior may be quite frustrating, especially if it involves not using the litter box or damaging your belongings. But remember that punishing or yelling at your cat is NEVER a good technique. In fact, chances are it will stress your cat even more and cause more of the behavior you are trying to prevent. It’s much more effective to use praise and treats when your cat shows you the desired behavior.
Finally, if you are thinking about adopting a cat but are worried they might develop separation anxiety, adopt two cats instead of one. Littermates or a momma/child pair are great options for keeping kitties comfortable when their humans are away.