Cats are known for being aloof and independent, but that doesn’t mean they can’t get separation anxiety.
It’s tough to spot in cats, but if you’ve ever noticed your kitty seems a little too attached to you, it might be more serious than just loving you a lot.
The Dodo spoke with Dr. Andrea Y. Tu, medical director at Behavior Vets in New York City, to find out everything you need to know about separation anxiety in cats.
What is separation anxiety?
Separation anxiety happens when a cat becomes extremely upset by being alone, or they have become overly attached to their owner — to the point where it’s causing them actual psychological distress.
“Separation anxiety often times is a true disease,” Dr. Tu told The Dodo. “Behavior, just like with human psychiatry, is on a spectrum. Where on that spectrum you sit, may or may not indicate disease.”
Signs of separation anxiety
There are a few things you can look for when you’re trying to figure out if your cat has separation anxiety (or clinical anxiety, which can sometimes overlap). These include:
- Going to the bathroom outside of a litter box
- Crying and meowing when you’re gone
- Not eating until you come home
Separation anxiety is a lot less diagnosed in cats than dogs. This is partly because owners don’t always recognize the signs.
For example, if your cat is doing his business around the house — instead of in his litter box — you might assume he’s physically ill.
“Most people don’t usually associate that with separation anxiety for cats,” Dr. Tu explained.
Or, your cat might be meowing a bunch when you aren’t home, but you have no idea.
“Cats could be vocalizing, too,” she said. “You’re not going to get a call from your neighbor saying your cat won’t shut up [unlike with a dog].”
Another sign is if your cat isn’t eating, which also tends to fly under the radar.
“That’s not something that a lot of people will recognize, because cats tend to be grazers anyway,” Dr. Tu added.
So, if the signs are hard to spot, how can you tell if your cat has separation anxiety? According to Dr. Tu, you should set up a pet camera to keep an eye on your kitty’s behavior.
Is it separation anxiety or something else?
Since the signs of separation anxiety can also be symptoms of other common problems, they might mean your cat actually has a different condition.
That’s why you should always talk to your vet if you notice anything off about your cat. It could be another behavioral issue that simply looks like separation anxiety. It could even be a medical issue.
“If they’re urinating outside the box, is that because they have a urinary tract infection? Or is it because they have joint pain so they can’t get into the box, and it may not be related to separation?” Dr. Tu asked.
What you can do to help a cat with separation anxiety
First thing’s first: Talk to a veterinarian or behavior specialist. They’ll be able to help you figure out which treatment or approach is best for your cat.
And if they diagnose it as separation anxiety or general anxiety, Dr. Tu recommends the use of pheromone products to calm your cat down (in addition to your doctor’s treatment plan).
If you do give these products a try, Dr. Tu says it’s important to make sure your whole home is covered in pheromones for the best effect.
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