Wikipedia says separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from people to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. It’s often associated with dogs who, left alone, display frantic behavior like destroying furniture, scratching the door or howling until their person is home again but cats can be anxious as well. When we asked our members about this topic, it became clear just how real separation anxiety can be with cats.
Separation Anxiety in Cats - Members share their experiencesFeralvr says her cat Pipsqueak started showing signs of anxiety after his best friend, Potsie, became ill while she was gone. Potsie was rushed to the vet but didn't survive and Pipsqueak now tries to delay or stop her from leaving the house. “When I grab my purse, he starts acting up in any way he can—he gets under my feet, talks up a storm, demands I toss his puff ball toy, runs to the door and will even go in the closet when I try to get my shoes out and on.” He also howls but does stop once she’s gone. Pip is most upset in the few minutes she’s getting ready to leave.
Aria displays a different kind of anxiety, says vball91. “My husband says that when I'm gone, Aria is very clingy and needy and meows constantly.” Aria always wants to be on his lap but is much more insistent about it. “She could just be asking my husband where her personal slave is!”
It’s a good idea to take a short trip before a longer vacation, so your cat can get used to the idea of his family being away and another care taker, like a pet sitter, family or friend he knows, coming by to see and feed him. SocksJr says her first trip was for two days. The next was for a week and a family friend came by daily. For the first three days, the cat came out but after that, hid under the couch and meowed. She stopped grooming herself and her normally soft hair became matted and dirty. Once her people were home again, she was back to her social self and cleaned up her fur within two days.
Katnurse is a vet tech who catsits for clients. One lavender point Siamese is fine until about day six or seven of his owner’s absence but then starts to pull hair out until he has bald patches. His asthma also acts up, even though he’s taking his medicine as prescribed. “When family returns, all goes back to normal. I think he just misses his family!”
Boarding the cat is another option. Mary Louise reports that she boarded all three of hers at the vet’s office while she was in Hawaii. “Our vets almost told us to come home early because Baby went on a hunger strike.” In addition to the stress of being away from his people, in a strange facility, there were also dogs. “Baby didn’t like dogs.”
Yayi had someone stay at the house when she traveled. “The cats pawed at the bedroom door and meowed, more vocal than usual. They hardly ate.” In spite of the anxiety they had over their person being gone, when she came home, they ignored her! Once she showered and changed clothes, they came running for attention. Was she being punished for leaving or did they wait to see if she was home to stay before forgiving her for leaving?
1of10000fists says her cat cries constantly when she leaves. After she graduated from school and didn't need to leave home as often, he got used to her being home much of the time. A trip to the grocery could cause anxiety. “We talk all the time, he talks to me a lot too. I tell him where I’m going and how long I’ll be gone. If I forget, he waits by the door, head bobbing around, looking anxious and his eyes are scared and wide.” Keeping him updated on what she’s doing seems to help. “ I've noticed that sometimes he wants to be in the garage with me or look out the front door. I let him look around. We sit on the porch. I put him in my coat and zip him in and we'll just sit till he wants to go in. Sometimes, he goes with me to get the mail. The more I do these things with him, the less anxious he is when I leave.”
“I sometimes put a clock nearby too, and tell him when the clock is "here" I'll be home. He looks at it, sniffs it and goes back to bathing. I feel like anyone watching would think I’m a moron talking to him like this but it makes him feel better and calm, so I don’t care.”
It’s hard to know the mind of a cat but with patience and a bit of experimentation, you can find out what works best to keep your cat calm when you’re away.
If you think your cat suffers from separation anxiety, or have any questions about this topic, please post them in the Cat Behavior Forum. You're welcome to leave feedback in the comments section below, but any specific questions for which you need replies belong in the forums. Thank you.
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