Before you panic, I am not going anywhere !
As the title suggests, saying goodbye to your pets (temporarily of course!) is hard!
Every morning, when I leave for work, a little part of my heart breaks to see the sad look on Kitty’s face. As I put on my jacket and grab my keys, she runs up to the door and sits there with a look that says ‘Do you REALLY have to leave me?’
So I dug around online and found this really interesting article on separation anxiety among cats. It gives some really good points on how to help your fur babies (and you!) cope with it. Enjoy!
(Article from www.catbehaviorassociates.com)
Many people have an inaccurate image of cats being solitary creatures who don’t need companionship but they actually are social and do form very strong bonds to their human family members and animal companions.
Cats who were orphaned may be more prone to separation anxiety. Too-early weaning may also be a factor. Also how you’ve set up your cat’s environment plays a role as well. If your cat has no other activities and ways to build confidence without being attached to you at the hip, then that increases the chance of separation anxiety.
Your cat may go along just fine and have no problem with you coming and going on a daily basis but then something, such as a change in work schedule, a vacation, a divorce, etc, could trigger separation anxiety.
When the cat parent leaves, the cat may exhibit excessive meowing. Elimination outside of the litter box may also occur. The cat may urinate or defecate on the cat parent’s bed or on clothing belonging to that human family member. It’s easy to misread this behavior as one of spite but it’s really a way for kitty to self-soothe by mixing his scent with yours. It’s also a way that the cat attempts to help you “find” your way home. Think of it as the feline version of dropping bread crumbs along the path.
Other signs may include excessive self-grooming, eating too fast or not eating at all when the cat parent isn’t present.
Before labeling your cat as having separation anxiety, it’s important he be examined by the veterinarian. The behavior being displayed may have an underlying medical cause. For example, elimination outside of the litter box may be due to lower urinary tract disease or have some other medical cause. Excessive grooming may be the result of external parasites, skin allergies, irritation, etc. Eating too fast or a lack of appetite may also be caused by an underlying medical condition. Don’t skip this very important step of visiting your veterinarian.
Once your cat is diagnosed with separation anxiety, behavior modification techniques can be used to reduce his stress and increase stimulation in your absence.
- Increase the environmental enrichment. If you want your cat to feel satisfied, entertained and secure when you aren’t around then the environment in which he lives has to inspire that. Incorporate puzzle feeders, playtime, elevated areas, hideaways and more to encourage him to find ways to trigger and satisfy his prey-drive. The more enriched and secure the environment is, the better your cat will feel when he’s by himself.
- Inspire confidence when you interact with your cat. Don’t reward your cat with attention when he’s meowing and being insistent. Instead, reward him with petting, treats, praise and attention when he’s acting the way you WANT him to act. Reward him when he’s quiet. Reward him when he does something to entertain himself. Reward the behavior you want to see again and don’t reinforce the unwanted behavior.
- Engage your cat in interactive play sessions on a daily basis. Twice a day would actually be even better. Interactive playtime allows your cat to simply enjoy being the mighty hunter. For a cat, being able to engage the prey drive and enjoy a successful capture is the ultimate in joy and satisfaction.
- Don’t make a big production about leaving. If you anticipate your cat is going to suffer from separation anxiety, you’ll just make it worse if you overdo the goodbye process. Your cat will think you’re leaving for a month instead of just 8 hours. Make your goodbyes very casual. Cats easily pick up on the emotions of their human family members. If you’re upset then your cat may get upset
- Practice coming and going. If your cat starts to get tense whenever he hears you pick up your keys or if he sees you reach for your purse or coat, then practice doing those things several times a day without actually leaving.
There are some cases where anti-anxiety medication may also be needed in conjunction with behavior modification. Your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist will advise the client based on the specifics of the cat’s case. If medication is prescribed, it MUST be used alongside appropriate behavior modification and is not to be viewed as a substitute for doing the behavior work needed to relieve the cat’s anxiety.
If you’ve noticed a change in your cat’s behavior or you think he may be experiencing separation anxiety, contact your veterinarian so a thorough examination can be done. If your veterinarian does diagnose separation anxiety, you may be referred to a certified behavior professional.