Separation anxiety can affect cats. Massive publicity about a new pharmacological medication treatment for separation anxiety in dogs (Clomicalm, Novartis Animal Health) has clued most pet owners in to the existence and nature of separation anxiety in that species. In addition, many parents have heard of separation anxiety that affects some sensitive children going to school for the first time. But what most people don’t know is that separation anxiety can affect cats, too.
Cats with separation anxiety don’t howl and bay like dogs and they don’t chew on doors and windowsills in frantic attempts to escape. Their misery is far less obvious and it sometimes takes a sleuth of an owner to appreciate what is going on. Separation anxiety in any species implies a lack of confidence and an over-dependence on others. It is likely that genetic factors play a role in increasing susceptibility to separation anxiety though environmental factors are ultimately responsible for its expression. Genetic factors include emotional sensitivity and a predisposition toward anxiety. Certain oriental breeds, such as Siamese and Burmese, may be more prone to develop separation anxiety than cats with more robust temperaments, like Maine coons.
Environmental factors often involve improper bonding experiences when cats are young. Orphaned kittens, early-weaned kittens, and pet store bought kittens are probably at the greatest risk of developing this stressful condition. Combine the sensitive personality with inappropriate early lifetime experiences and you have a recipe for disaster of this kind.
Signs of feline separation anxiety
Behavioral: Though in dogs it is possible to train independence (train them to “stand on their own four feet”), this is much more tricky in cats. Some aspects of the canine program might be helpful (see Canine Separation Anxiety), however, such as encouraging the cat to sleep in a cat bed in an area where she will be left confined during the owner’s daytime absences. Enriching the cat’s “home alone” environment may also help. This can be achieved by means of:
Medical: If behavior modification by independence training and environmental enrichment do not work it may be necessary to resort to anti-anxiety medication for the cat for a while. Medications that might help include:
Although owners of dogs with separation anxiety are often concerned about the havoc wrecked on their homes in their absence or constant barking, cat owners do not have such issues to concern them. Cats are usually not as destructive as dogs in the way they express separation anxiety, and the problem may sometimes be overlooked; however, the emotional aspects of separation anxiety still exist. Severely affected cats find themselves in an insufferable predicament when their owner leaves and may experience almost uncontainable anxiety. While cats occasionally express their suffering overtly in ways that their owner finds unacceptable, for example, by urine marking or hair-pulling [“psychogenic alopecia”], less obvious forms of the condition should be recognized and treated for humanitarian reasons. Ask not what your cat is doing to your home, only what you can do to improve its existence.