What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety is more commonly associated with dogs who by nature are pack animals. However, cats too can suffer from separation anxiety. This problem occurs in some cats when they have a particularly close bond with their owner. It may be the result of genetics and breed disposition or their individual personality or as a result of being hand-reared from an early age.
What are the signs of separation anxiety?
Signs of separation anxiety may include:
- Inappropriate urination or defecation, sometimes this will be on the owner’s personal effects such as clothing, bedding etc.
- Excessive vocalisation
- Excessive grooming or hair pulling
- Hiding or sulking as the owner prepares to leave
- When the owner is home, the cat follows him/her around the house, from room to room
- Anorexia (loss of appetite)
What should I do?
The first thing is to take your cat to the veterinarian for a thorough checkup to rule out a medical problem.
Never physically punish a cat who has toileted outside the litter tray. This will cause the cat to fear you, cause stress and quite possibly exasperate the problem.
De-sensitisation may be recommended. This involves gradually desensitising the cat to your departure. Coming and going for gradually extended periods of time. For example the first step you may put on your shoes and coat, but not leave, after a period of time your cat should begin to no longer display signs of anxiety, which means you can move further along by leaving the house for a minute or two, slowly build up the amount of time you leave the house for.
When you arrive or leave home don’t make a fuss of your cat. For 15 minutes prior to departure or after you’ve come home ignore the cat.
Provide your cat with a stimulating environment to keep him/her entertained when you are not home. This may include hiding food treats around the home, giving him/her a cat perch to watch the world outside, providing plenty of cat toys and putting on a special cat video.
Use Feliway diffusers of Feliway spray. Feliway is a synthetic pheromone which mimics the cat’s natural ‘feel good’ pheromone.
Keep the radio or television on when you are not home.
In severe cases your veterinarian may recommend putting your cat on anti-anxiety medication such as Clomicalm, Prozac or Buspar this is to be used in conjunction with behaviour modification.
If behaviour modification and medications don’t work your veterinarian may be able to recommend a feline behaviourist who can work with you and your cat.