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Do cats get separation anxiety?


Cats can get stressed just like other animals, but the way they show signs of stress can be very different and sometimes subtle. It is always worth seeking advice from your Vets if you are worried that your cat is acting differently or showing any signs of illness. 

What is separation anxiety? 

Separation anxiety is excessive stress when away from the owner or the home, and can manifest in many ways. It can often occur due to a lack of socialisation and experiences whilst young. It is generally more common in dogs as they require social interaction and companionship day to day. Whereas cats by their nature are usually more used to being alone often. However cats do like routine, so any changes may cause them to suffer from separation anxiety. And the numbers diagnosed with it has increased since the Covid 19 lockdowns. 

During Covid 19, more kittens were bought and adopted for companionship for people unable to leave their homes. These cats then became used to having someone around the whole time and the associated day to day routine. So when lockdown ended and workplaces opened again, cats were suddenly left alone, often ending up with separation anxiety. Similar situations that can result in cats with anxiety include a family member moving out of the house or an owner changing job and suddenly leaving a cat for longer periods of time. (I’ve even seen a cat develop severe anxiety because a teenager in the family went away to University! – Editor.). And when cats are being rehomed or waiting to be adopted in a rescue centre which is very unfamiliar, it can be an anxiety inducing situation. 

How to recognise 

Often, recognising anxiety or stress related conditions in cats can be tricky, as they are unlikely to cry like dogs and the signs may only be obvious when the cat is alone. Setting up a camera to record what is happening each time may be useful. The signs are often just reduction or changes in the everyday things. 

If you are concerned they may have a medical condition then do seek Veterinary advice as soon as possible. 

Signs 

The behavioural signs of separation anxiety can include restlessness, excessive meowing, pawing or scratching repeatedly at furniture or objects in the house and hiding away. Other sometimes more obvious signs can be refusing to eat food or treats when left alone, vomiting or diarrhoea, or going to the toilet outside of the litter tray. But, as you may realise, lots of these signs fit with other medical conditions that require treatment. 

One very common sign is overgrooming. And if left over time these behaviours can worsen leading to physical changes such as bald or red skin from the excessive grooming. Changes to where or how the cat passes urine are also common, and can lead to secondary urine infections or problems. 

What to do 

Firstly take your cat to your Vets for a health check, to rule out medical or pain issues. They will be able to help with behavioural issues as well. Once your cat has been diagnosed as having separation anxiety, start by making sure they have a chance to play alone and not always with you; puzzle feeders are really good interactive toys and help stimulate their brain as well. A simple routine at home can help a cat to settle also. Having outdoor access to allow them to explore can be really helpful. If you have an indoor only cat, consider cat safe netting or fencing options to allow them in your garden only. Any changes should be done gradually to avoid causing stress, as they need to get used to these changes, too! 

Making your cat feel safe alone is very important to helping them improve. This can be leaving some noise for them such as the radio or leaving familiar items for them. Pheromone based diffusers or spray can help to naturally calm them by releasing a calming scent in the room. 

In more severe cases, it may be necessary to consider referral to a clinical animal behaviourist, to help get on top of the problems where simple measures like this aren’t enough.

There are lots of types of anxiety and stress conditions in dogs and cats, but separation anxiety is becoming more common

It is really important to be aware of the signs. And what you can do to help prevent or reduce the stress levels for your pet. If you are struggling with separation anxiety or other behavioural disorders please contact your vet for more help. 

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