Separation Anxiety in Cats: 6 Post-Lockdown Tips
There has been a lot written recently about how dogs are going to cope when their owners go back to work after lockdown but there is little help being given to owners of cats. Perhaps this is because people assume that it is only dogs that get separation related behaviour problems and cats are much more independent and don’t really care whether their humans are there or not - but this most certainly isn’t the case.
Cats like familiarity and predictability - especially in their environment. In the same way that some cats have struggled with suddenly having owners and their children at home all the time - especially those who usually enjoy plenty of undisturbed ‘quiet me-time’ - many more are potentially going to have separation-related issues when lockdown ends and they are once again ‘home alone’ after several weeks of company.
Separation anxiety in cats occurs in those who have little physical or mental stimulation in their lives outside of interactions with their humans, or cats who lack confidence in general. Other groups of cats that may also suffer from separation anxieties are those breeds that are particularly human-oriented and who bond very closely to their people - and for the same reason, cats who have been hand-reared or taken from their mother early. And then of course there are the cats who just love their owners and are really enjoying having them around.
Signs of separation anxiety in cats:
The signs of separation anxiety in cats are easy to spot - and you will probably already have suspicions that your cat does, or may, suffer in this way.
- Toileting in inappropriate places (or ‘forgetting’ their toilet training/missing the litter box) especially when left
- Excessive or increased vocalisation
- Destructive behaviour
- Excessive/obsessive grooming
- Unusually enthusiastic greetings when owner comes home
- Changes to eating (so either not eating at all when owner isn’t present or eating too fast when they are)
For cats, upheavals in their routine can cause separation anxiety in cats, and none of us can deny that the past few months have been a huge upheaval for us all. At least the next big change - a return to some kind of normality - can be predicted, so you can begin to prepare your cat in advance.
Tips for easing separation anxiety in cats
1. Practice leaving
Gradually ease your cat back into being home alone, with short absences rather than just suddenly vanishing for hours at a time when you go back to work. Take longer exercise periods so your cat has a chance to get used to you not being there and do this at different times of the day - but especially at the time you would normally go out to work.
2. Leave the TV or radio on
For some cats, leaving the TV or radio on quietly when you leave can be a big help as this ensures that the house doesn’t suddenly become silent after weeks of activity.
3. Give them opportunities to engage their natural behaviours
Think about ways to add stimulation into your cat’s life that doesn’t involve you but does give them an opportunity to engage in those natural behaviours that are so often missing in the life of a domestic cat. These behaviours include climbing, scratching and hunting.
This could include giving them different heights or textures (a climbing frame or cat activity tree) so they can indulge in their natural climbing behaviours as well as giving them a new vantage point. Try adding in scratching posts and places to access window sills so they can look out and supervise the outside world.
4. Make a cat-friendly garden (if you can)
If your cat has access to the outside, think about making your garden more ‘cat attractive’ with lurking spots, different heights, cat-appealing plants (such as cat mint) and even tunnels and walkways.
All of these will add stimulation to your cat’s day as well as give them an outlet for natural behaviours, add confidence and help them become less reliant on you. Want to find out more ways to cat proof your garden? Read our guide.
5. Use a plug-in diffuser
Feliway is a useful product which comes as a plug-in diffuser and replicates natural pheromones that can help to reduce your cat’s stress and anxiety. This can be used on its own or in combination with natural supplements such as Zylkene - which is a natural product that is formulated from a milk protein and can have a soothing effect when your cat is feeling stressed.
6. Be sure to make the most of their company when you are home
Make sure when you are back at work and you come home tired and weary, you still make sure you have some ‘cat time’. The time we get to spend with our pets is precious, so make the most of the time you have together, play with them, cuddle them and let them know they’re loved – it’s great for both you and your cat’s health!
If you think your cat is struggling with your absence or you need more advice, contact an accredited and experienced feline behaviourist.