Separation Anxiety in Cats
Dogs are often the most common pet that has separation anxiety. Any animal can show anxiety when separated from those they are bonded with. Believe it or not, cats too are affected. How a cat show's it's anxiety will be different from dogs and is often not as destructive to the home. For the cat, it can be as upsetting.
Cats are typically independent by nature, yet they do bond with their owners or other companion animals. When the bond is very close, as in a cat that was bottle raise, there may be more risk of separation anxiety. The cat has imprinted on the owner as if the owner was the "mother" and without a weaning period this cat may stay in the dependent kitten like state. Cats also feed off of our own emotions. If we are anxious about leaving our cat, the cat often becomes anxious too and then associates this behavior with the owner leaving. There may be other cats in the home that act up when the owner is gone, such as picking fights with the affected cat, which may also increase anxiety for this cat in the absence of the owner.
Signs of separation anxiety in the cat are not as well documented as compared to dogs. Few owners recognize the signs of anxiety in a cat, so often the problem is missed until there is a bigger behavior problem such as house soiling. Signs of anxiety in the cat are often hiding, vocalizing (meowing loudly, repeatedly while pacing through the house) and agitation to noise. By definition these signs would start as the owner prepares to leave. Seeing the owner get the car keys, pack a suitcase, or gather up a purse tells the cat that you are leaving. These actions are called triggers and the cat becomes anxious due to the association of these actions with leaving. A generally anxious cat may increase its anxiety level as you leave. This cat has both separation anxiety and general anxiety problems.
The treatment begins with combining positive things with the signs that you are leaving. Feeding a cat as you prepare to leave is the first place to start. Stop feeding your cat out of a bowl. Hide about a tablespoon of food in small dishes in different places in the house so your cat has to hunt for it. As your cat is eating you will be gathering up your things so now the cat associates feeding - good thing- with your leaving. A second thing to do is to get remote control play devices such h as the frolic cat toy. This is a battery operated laser light toy that can be programmed to come on at various times when you are gone. Again, play is fun- it happens when you are gone so less anxiety. Ranger our office cat tried out this product, and you can read about it on my blog.
For cats that are very affected - shredding the curtains, meowing so much the neighbors complain or house soiling only when you are gone do not wait to get a behavior consultation. There is help, but a specific plan using medication to help your cat calm down to learn is needed. Your cat is hurting and needs help and a trainer cannot screen for health conditions of cats that can make anxiety worse.
Treatment is not all about drugs either. CALM is an excellent food by Royal Canin that can help some cases: supplements and even kitty thunder shirts are available.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote