Are you still working from home? Chances are that you are not anymore or you will soon have to go back. You also might be planning to go on vacation and taking your cat with you is not an option.
Remember you can take your cat with you
Leaving our pets behind after years of working from home, will cause millions of cats and dogs to suffer from separation anxiety.
In this post, I’ll help you identify separation anxiety in cats and I’ll give you a few tips for helping your cat with being left alone.
Do Cats Care About Their Owners?
One of our first Patreon supporters and friends, Estefania, shared with me her concern:
"Something is off with Emma (her Bengal cat). My parents came to visit and we used the opportunity to leave on a 5-day trip. I left Emma at home with a cat sitter that was going every day to check on her 2 times a day.
They would play, she would feed her, and cuddle with her. When I came back she was very cuddly at first but then she turned into crazy mode with zoomies and would not let me sleep.
She meowed the whole night and again when I left in the morning for work. I’m worried because I have a few trips planned and I can’t see her suffering like this every time"
Do Cats Miss their Owners When They Leave?
Various studies (you can find the sources at the end of this article) have proven that cats develop an attachment to their owners similar to the attachment that can be seen in humans and dogs.
In recent studies, cats showed a higher frequency of exploratory and playful behaviors when accompanied by their owners, in comparison to when they were alone or accompanied by an unknown person. Another study verified an increase in affiliative behaviors in cats after reuniting with their owners.
Finally, a study by Daiana de Souza and their team, confirmed that some cats can experience separation anxiety and the symptoms look a lot like those described by Estefania’s message.
If you have ever read about child psychology in psychiatry, this might ring a bell, as Donald Bowlby (a British medical doctor who specialized in psychiatry, and psychoanalyst, notable for his interest in child development) identified four types of attachment styles between the infant and the caregiver:
Could His Theory Be Useful to Understand Cat Behavior?
All those studies revealed that cats can develop attachments similar to kids and dogs and express more security and stability in the presence of the owners, while in the owners’ absence they were more anxious and stressed.
I shared with her a few games to help Emma learn to be alone as well as some tips to deal with the symptoms.
After our conversation I started thinking that many cat parents will experience similar situations as we all go back to the office and leave our cats, now super used to our presence, alone for a whole day, every day.
What is Cat Separation Anxiety?
Separation Anxiety is the prediction or the anticipation that you are going to be gone for a while or even forever in an unpleasant situation.
Cats experience 4 main emotions and 2 predictive emotions.
Good Cat Emotions
On the good side, cats experience Pleasure and Relief. Pleasure is the feeling of something enjoyable or comfortable and relief is the elimination of a source of discomfort or frustration.
Negative Cat Emotions
On the negative side, we find Fear and Frustration. Fear is the feeling of a threat right in front of you and frustration is the result of your environment not meeting their expectations.
Predictive Cat Emotions
Then we have the predictive emotions: Anticipation, which is the prediction of relief or pleasure, and Anxiety, which is the prediction of something fearful or frustrating.
This is the reason why the symptoms are going to happen right before you leave and after you’ve returned, because anxiety happens mostly as a prediction of something bad, not while something bad is happening.
Watch this full tutorial about separation anxiety in cats from YouTube:
What Causes Separation Anxiety in Cats?
There is a strong correlation between cats experiencing separation anxiety and the gender of the caregiver, with cats living in households with more than one female being more prone to it,
this could be directly linked to the fact that cats in female households have more interactions per minute than in households with a male caregiver.
Other findings were that not being able to play with toys showed a significant association with the occurrence of separation anxiety compared to the total population sampled.
Finally, not having other pets in the household showed twice as many cases of separation anxiety vs. cats with other animals present.
How Do You Know if Your Cat Has Separation Anxiety?
Cats without separation-related behavior problems are passive and inactive in their owner’s absence.
According to a recent study, separation anxiety triggers anxiety-related misbehavior. In cats with separation anxiety, this misbehavior happens during the absence of the caretaker.
Destructive behavior was the most frequently reported behavior 67%, followed by excessive vocalization 63%, inadequate elimination 60%, depression-apathy 53%, aggressiveness 36.67%, and agitation anxiety 36.67% amongst others.
Also, consider that your cat might be suffering separation anxiety but not display any of the mentioned symptoms. Studies also used mental states as means to identify separation anxiety: Depression, Aggressiveness, and Agitation-Anxiety.
The mentioned misbehaviors and mental states could also be triggered by other medical conditions so if your cat is suddenly displaying any of the mentioned misbehaviors, consider visiting your veterinarian for a check.
Do Cats Grow Out of Separation Anxiety?
While it’s clear that cats miss their owners, anxious cats exhibit more attachment behaviors than less anxious cats.
Responsible cat ownership includes practices that protect the pets from damage and behavioral problems, increasing their welfare overall.
Building confidence and reducing anxiety in a cat is the best way to help them grow out of separation anxiety.
How Do You Help a Cat With Separation Anxiety?
Because anxious cats are more prone to separation-related problems, the first thing that you have to reduce your cat’s anxiety.
5 needs need to be met for your cat’s anxiety levels to mellow down:
Cats in the wild hunt for their food, they are constantly engaging with their environment to provide themselves a meal.
Not knowing when food is coming can be very stressful for a cat. Put your cat on a schedule and stick to it.
The same goes for the litter-box routine. Cats rarely eliminate in the same spot twice in the wild and their stools are high in protein and can attract other predators. An improper litter-box routine is another big source of anxiety.
A proper litter-box routine is key for our cat’s happiness and most cat parents don’t get it right. You can watch this video to learn all about it.
2) and 3) Enrichment (Toys or Outdoor Access)
Cats reported by owners as having behaviors consistent with SRP were related to ‘do not have access to toys’, ‘do not have access to the whole house’, ‘no other animal in the house’, ‘no outdoor access’…
Long story short, the confined environments typical of residences usually do not meet the exploratory needs of cats, because they may not provide the stimuli the animal would find in the wild, which makes the environment monotonous and predictable.
Catify your home, to enrich your cat’s life. You can learn more about it in this video here.
Adding a second pet to the household could be a good idea if that’s something that you can afford from responsibility and financial POV.
4) Quality Time With their Caretaker
Cats that spend quality time with their caretakers are less prone to developing separation anxiety, indicating that playing with your cat often can reduce separation-related problems.
Owners who perceive their cats as ‘independent’ animals might leave them alone for longer periods, contributing to the occurrence of SRP in cats that stay alone for long periods.
5) Counterconditioning and Veterinarian Help
Some cats might need a little extra help to get over the counterconditioning phase while they get used to being comfortable alone, speak with your veterinarian to understand the options you have.
Helping Your Cat Be Comfortable Alone
There’s one trick that can help your cat be more comfortable alone while interacting with you. Sit and stay.
You ask your cat to sit and you leave the room, rewarding them if they are still in place after you come back.
You can practice this by changing rooms or even leaving the house for a few seconds or minutes.
Stay Wild, Stay Safe, See You Outdoors!
Albert & Mia
Citation: de Souza Machaok
do D, Oliveira PMB, Machado JC, Ceballos MC, Sant’Anna AC (2020) Identification of separation-related problems in domestic cats: A questionnaire survey. PLoS ONE 15(4): e0230999. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0230999
Vitale, K.R., Behnke, A.C., and M.A.R. Udell. 2019. Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Current Biology 29(18):R864-R865.