Vet Q&A: How can I stop my cat getting separation anxiety?

by PDSA Vets | 28 May #VetQ&As

It may come as a surprise, but cats can get separation anxiety which can make them stressed and cause a lot of other problems. As lockdown is slowly lifted, we need to help our cats re-adjust to 'normal' life.

Cats love routine, so any change can cause them to become upset and stressed. Changes because of the coronavirus pandemic, like family being home more than usual, increased noise, change in feeding patterns and other differences might make them unhappy.

When cats are stressed there may be a change in their behaviour. Some signs your cat might be stressed include:

  • Weeing in the house
  • Being aggressive towards people in your household
  • Hiding away
  • Under or over-grooming
  • Spending more time sleeping
  • Being very alert.

 

How can I stop my cat feeling stressed? 

Cats like predictability, and if they have expected you to go to work, or your kids to go to school, they might feel frustrated when this doesn’t happen (especially if they are an indoor cat as they won’t be able to escape the busyness of the home). To help them feel better, try and create a set routine for them. If you can, keep an area of the house free that is just for them and create them a safe space. Pheromone diffusers can often help your cat feel calm, so it may be useful to have one plugged in near to their safe space.

Make sure they also have lots of other hiding places and high places to escape to. It is also important to ensure your cat has plenty of resources (water bowls, food bowls, litter trays etc.) available to meet their welfare needs. Read more about creating the ideal environment for your cat.

If your cat is very social and has enjoyed your company whilst you have been at home, when your routine changes and you go back to work your cat may become upset and stressed when left alone. Signs that cats are anxious when left alone are similar to the signs of stress above, but they may also hide away so it can be difficult to know how your cat is feeling while you're out. If you can, try to record your cat while you're out to help you understand what they do on their own. If you do notice any of these signs, it may also suggest that they have a medical problem, so it is important to call you vet in the first instance.

 

How can I stop my cat getting separation anxiety when my routine changes?

To help stop your cat from becoming anxious when your routine changes again, we want to teach them to remain calm. When you are home and they are lying quietly (anywhere in the house), gently throw them their favourite treat. If they can stay relaxed when you move, try to leave them alone for a short time by going to another room or out in the garden. When you go back in, reward them with a yummy treat if they remain quiet and calm. If they perform any behaviour that you don’t like (such as scratching furniture, weeing or being really vocal), it is very important not to punish them as this can make their anxiety worse.

You can use puzzle toys to keep your cat focused and entertained on something that does not involve you. If they have become more clingy and appear to be following you around, use some of these activities to distract them.

To help manage their anxiety, try to create a predictable routine (make sure their feeding times are the same every day, schedule in playtime at the same time etc.). Provide them with different choices of toys to play with and hiding places, but it's important to not have too many as this might be overwhelming.

If you believe your cat is unhappy when left alone, call your vet and they can conduct a medical assessment and refer you to an accredited behaviourist if they find no medical cause.

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