Separation Anxiety in Cats

Separation anxiety can exist in cats, despite their reputation of being highly independent creatures. Understanding the symptoms and treatments for the condition can help alleviate a cat's distress.

Causes and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

There is no singular cause for separation anxiety in cats. A cat may be more likely to develop this anxiety if she's experienced a traumatizing event or if she was separated from her mother too early on in her development. Some cats are more disposed to this anxiety regardless.

A cat who is experiencing this condition may exhibit any combination of the following symptoms when her owner is gone:

  • Inappropriate urination or bowel movements: A cat suffering from separation anxiety may urinate or defecate in inappropriate places, specifically on places and items connected with the owner, such as bed and clothing. However, sometimes inappropriate bathroom habits are a sign of more serious medical conditions.
  • Caterwauling: Cats separated from their owners may walk around the home, crying aloud for attention. This can last for several minutes or even upwards of an hour and it may reoccur several times during the period of separation. 
  • Withdrawal: Cats who are anxious about being separated may seem depressed when their owners or not around. They may seem uninterested in eating or drinking and retreat to dark, quiet corners.
  • Sickness: Some cats experiencing this anxiety may even get sick when their owners are not around. Frequently vomiting only when the owner is gone may be one sign that a cat is experiencing this anxiety.
  • Bald Spots: Cats who are overly upset may groom themselves excessively. A cat who has anxiety may start getting bald spots all over her body from too much grooming.
  • Destruction: Destruction of property happens less often than other symptoms, but it may still be a symptom of anxiety. Cats may express their frustration at the separation by clawing, chewing or knocking down items and furniture throughout the home.

Treating Separation Anxiety

The first step to treating separation anxiety in cats is to have the cat evaluated by a vet. The vet will be able to rule out other potential causes for the behavior and can put the cat on anti-anxiety medication if appropriate.

Once other possible causes of the behavior have been ruled out, the owner can begin some behavioral modification techniques. First, the owner should make the home more stimulating for the cat. A cat without much to do can be bored, so owners should make sure cats have plenty of toys within reach that are easy to play with on her own. If anyone else is home—a person who doesn't cause the separation anxiety in the cat when that person leaves—the other person should attempt to engage the cat in play throughout the time the owner is gone. If no one else is home, leaving talk radio on can be soothing to a cat, who will enjoy hearing human voices.

The owner should also begin ignoring the cat for fifteen minutes before she leaves and for fifteen minutes after she returns. This makes the cat less aware of the departure, less attached to the reward of affection and less likely to act out.