Returning back to work? Learn how to reduce separation anxiety in cats

Returning back to work? Learn how to reduce separation anxiety in cats

By Richard Keysa

Have you ever arrived home from work awaiting rest, relaxation, and companionship from your cat? Then, once you arrive home you find yourself in a flurry of messes, scratched furniture, clawed curtains and knocked down ornaments? Such behavior can be described as separation anxiety in cats, and are but one of the examples of a cat’s behavior when faced with such emotions. Separation anxiety is the fear in which your pet experiences when separated from its owner. Anxiety is often linked towards human emotion, but animals can experience such emotion as well. Most of us have something to do in the day, and cannot be home 24/7 for our pets. In the eyes of our pet however, they simply perceive themselves as left alone within your home and can start to get restless without your presence. Cats have a cautious trait in which they have their senses on alert most of the time.

Cautiousness and anxiety come hand in hand but one common determinant of these emotions is the environment your cat is in. If your cat does not feel at home or comfortable they will generally feel anxiety and cause a ruckus to try and change something. One main cause of your cat experiencing separation anxiety may be because of trauma. Cats that have been abandoned frequently, reallocated in new homes, or passed around to different owners can affect its stress level and anxiety. 

How can you tell if your cat has separation anxiety? Preferably, an indoor camera is recommended to clearly show how your cat behaves when you’re not around. Below are some clues you can identify if your cat is experiencing it.

Symptoms of cat separation anxiety

  • Restlessness: If your cat is pacing all over the place, going around in circles, and not going to a specific destination, it feels like it is not settled within your home. 
  • Trying to entertain itself: Because of its separation anxiety, you may notice your cat trying to calm itself by playing with an object or a toy. It tries to entertain itself, but the anxiety is still there. Sometimes this leads to destruction of furniture and knocking things down within your home or entertainment. 
  • Vocalizing: You may notice your cat being oddly vocal when you are not around such as crying, whimpering, or talking. This may indicate its intent to try and get your attention or even a cry for help because it feels distressed. 
  • Hiding: If your cat hides in a specific location despite you providing it with a comfy rest area, it may be the only location where it feels safe and may be afraid of going out of that comfort zone. This can also be spotted if your cat is vocal everywhere but suddenly stops being vocal once it hides and finds its spot. 
  • Aggression: Clawing, scratching, throwing a fit, and hissing may be signs that your cat is anxious when you leave it. They are trying to get your attention and are taking their frustrations out on your belongings to express their negative emotions towards you. If you have another pet in your house, it may also express those emotions towards it as well. 
  • Excessive grooming: If your cat is grooming itself all day to the point where patches show up on its body, your cat is anxious. It does this to try and relieve stresses caused by separation anxiety in an attempt to distract itself from the stressful situation. 
  • Not using its litter box: You come home and find that your cat is urinating in places it’s not supposed to, it is frustrating because it adds more work to an already busy day. The reason why your cat suddenly stops using the litter box may be caused by separation anxiety and that they are trying to tell you something. Another reason may be the quality of the litter box itself. If you seldom clean the box or maintain it, the cat will not feel at ease releasing its waste in that area. An inability to feel at ease when disposing bodily waste can lead to anxiety, something even humans’ experience. 
  • Refusing to eat: When you leave the house while providing food for your cat, you may notice that it has not touched its food once the entire day until you got home.
  • Trembling: Trembling can be akin to fear, and if your cat trembles regularly it can show signs of fear. 
  • Following you around the house: Cats with separation anxiety will follow you around and demand attention. They can be overly attached to their owners and can become distressed when they sense you are about to leave the house. By then they will express some of the behaviors mentioned above such as vocalizing itself, hiding, and being aggressive. 
  • Lethargy: Over time, your cat may become lethargic which means it is less active than what it once was. It will lose interest in playing with you or interacting because it feels like its anxiousness has fallen on deaf ears and the situation cannot be changed. 

Just in case, you should always check with your vet to see if there is something wrong physically with your cat if it shows these signs. The vet may also prescribe cat anxiety medication to help ease its stress. If it shows a combination of these behaviors, then your cat is definitely anxious. Now that you can identify the signs, you must be wondering what you can do to help your cat feel more at ease. Don’t worry! We have several tips you can try out to help your cat feel more at home when you are not around!

Cat anxiety Solutions

  • Ease its stress: Stress is the main reason your cat is feeling anxiety and it is something that can be easily fixed. One main factor is its environment. Different cats have different personalities, some may prefer a quiet environment, and others may even prefer a social one. Understanding your cat’s personality is vital to solving its anxiety. Variables such as toys, comfortable cat beds, and engaging environments can help ease it more. If you have another pet, consider providing a cat tree or a special area where other pets cannot access so your cat has its own base. 
  • Comfortable resting area: Cats are usually resting or sleeping, and if they cannot find comfort doing that then it will feel anxious. By providing it a comfortable place to rest, it may retreat to that safe haven when you leave the house solving most of its separation anxiety. Cats enjoy places where they cannot be reached or high areas for resting spots. Providing a cat tree may be the ideal solution to this. 
  • Create a daily routine: By creating a daily routine just before you leave the house, your cat will become accustomed to the pattern and will have less anxiety. They know when you will leave the house and they will get used to you leaving at that specific time. Changing your routine daily will make your cat feel uncomfortable due to it not knowing what to expect. 
  • Play with your cat: To reduce tension and anxiety, playing with it before you leave may help ease it. Doing this will give it a proper exercise session while also giving it the attention it needs before you go. A meal for your cat after this session is recommended.
  • Toys and treats: A great toy for anxious cats to have when you are not around is a puzzle toy that has treats in them. By having toys that occupy its attention and energy, your cat will be less focused on your absence and will be preoccupied with playing. A great toy to have would be a cat scratcher board! It alleviates your cat’s urge to scratch your furniture and also gets rid of boredom to reduce separation anxiety! 
  • Not making a big deal when you leave the house: I know, I know, sometimes it’s so hard NOT to say goodbye to your cat before you leave, but by doing so it shapes the mindset that leaving the house is not something sad or something that is hard to do. Your cat will recognize this and will have the same mindset if you express it first. 
  • Have a good quality litter box: Having a dirty, old, and low quality litter box will discourage the cat from using it and can enhance anxiousness when you are not around. Cleaning the box regularly and providing it a good litter box will help reduce anxiety by making it more comfortable with its environment. Our previous lesson explains how to choose the right litter box for your cat, check it out to know which one is the best for yours!
  • Training: At first it may be difficult to do, but if you can train your cat to be comfortable with the fact that you are going to leave your house sooner or later, it’ll feel fine with you leaving. Cats with separation anxiety perceive you leaving as a negative trait. By doing what we call “counter-conditioning” we can replace this negative trait with a positive one. If a cat senses you are about to leave the house, you can train it to enter its cage or its safe spot while rewarding it with treats. Doing so will help your cat associate your departure as a reward and sooner or later it will be ok with you leaving the house. 

All in all, the point is to get your cat to feel that it is safe in your home and that it is ok to relax. If your environment supports the happiness of your cat then it will reduce separation anxiety. Another good idea is to let your cat have access to windows that peer out to nature. Cats can go back to their primal instincts and enjoy the sky, grass, birds, and wild while sitting perfectly still. We call this “Cat TV”, where the cat is preoccupied examining and looking out onto nature calmly. Finding ways to preoccupy your cat when you are not around can reduce separation anxiety and can save a lot of scratch furniture and broken stuff inside your house. Wouldn’t it be such a pleasure to return home to a happy cat? It sure will relive most of our daily stress!

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