I never thought much about cats with separation anxiety until a client wrote to me about Max. The poor, sweet girl would wander around her condo carrying her catnip banana and crying when her “dad” left for work.
As if this wasn’t heartbreaking enough, Max’s people were planning a week-long vacation. Would she cry the whole time they were gone? I didn’t think so, but I did give my client some suggestions for dealing with Max’s daily separation anxiety. More on that in a minute…
For A Cat With Separation Anxiety, Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow
I’d be the first to admit I’m a boring cat sitter. I do the same thing in the same order day after day after day. But cats appreciate boring. They’re creatures of habit, and they like to know what to expect.
That’s why a “leaving home” routine is so important, especially if you have a cat with separation anxiety. So this could be your routine.
- As you’re leaving, say goodbye to your cat, give her a quick pet and tell her when you’ll be home. Cats pick up on our thoughts and understand what we’re saying to them. If you tell her you’ll be home by dinnertime, she’ll know what you’re saying or will figure it out within a few days. Be cheerful and upbeat. If you’re anxious, the cat will be anxious.
- Toss some treats on the floor as you’re heading out the door. They’ll keep her busy for a few minutes.
Other behaviorists suggest desensitizing the cat by going through the motions of leaving but not going anywhere. But this sounds confusing and almost dishonest to me. And even my always-calm cats would be stressed if I picked up my car keys and put them down a gazillion times and then picked them up and disappeared with no warning.
Cats appreciate keeping it simple. Don’t make a big fuss over your cat before you leave. Say goodbye, toss the treats and head out the door. She’ll be fine. And your leaving home routine should become hers within a few days.
A Bored Cat Is An Anxious Cat
My theory is that most cats with separation anxiety are anxious because they’re bored. After all, being cooped up in a house all by yourself is not very interesting.
These things are important for any cat who’s home alone, but they’re especially important for a cat with separation anxiety. They’ll make her life more interesting, so she’ll be less stressed.
- Give her some treat balls. They’ll keep her busy while you’re gone. Pick them up when you get home, so they’ll seem special the next day. You can do the same thing with really potent catnip toys. not the kind you buy in pet supply stores.
- If your cat has separation anxiety, leave something that smells like you on your bed or where she sleeps. Your bathrobe or the towel you’ve just used will work. Your scent will be reassuring to her.
- Leave some blinds and curtains open so she can see outside. There’s nothing more boring and stressful than being locked into a dark house with no view of the world beyond those four walls. To make her life more interesting, put some bird feeders outside the windows. And think about getting her a floor-to-ceiling cat tree to climb. Put it near a window. Window perches work, too.
- Put a radio or the TV on so she’ll have some company. The best radio stations for cats are classical music, soft jazz and quiet talk. Most of us find the shopping channels really entertaining. And the Golf Channel is usually quiet and outdoorsy. Don’t put Animal Planet on for her! It can be very violent and scary. There are videos for cats, too.
- Rescue Remedy or calming treats could take the edge off a cat’s anxiety. Give her some right before you leave.
How To Know When Cats Have Separation Anxiety
Cats with separation anxiety often become very clingy and cry or even yowl. Other signs can include hiding, eating too fast or not eating at all, over-grooming so much the cat creates bald spots and not using the litter box.
If your cat urinates on your bed or your clothes when you’re away from home, she’s not being spiteful! She’s just trying to reassure herself by mingling her scent with yours.
It took Max just a couple of days to get used to her “dad’s” leaving home routine. He tells her he loves her and he’ll be home by dinnertime. Then he tosses some treats across the floor for her to chase as he’s heading out the door.
But the best part will be arriving soon from Amazon. Max loves going out on her balcony, so she’s getting a cat door that fits into a sliding door. She’ll love that, and she should be a happy cat when her people go away next week.