Did you adopt a cat or kitten this summer? We’re so purr-oud! We hope you’ve spent the season basking in the sun with your new furry family member (taking an occasional break for cold water and treats, of course).
You may be a student, teacher, or parent… or “back to school” season may not apply to you at all. Regardless of your situation, you might not realize how stressful it can be to leave a newly adopted pet for the first time. The change in routine can result in confusion at best—and, at worst, in cat separation anxiety.
Cats need routine
You’re not the only creature of habit in the household. Cats take to routines just like the rest of us—the difference is when we break those routines for perfectly normal, even perfectly happy reasons, our cats don’t understand that their lives are only temporarily upended.
A vacation for you might feel like abandonment for your kitten. The start of the school year might throw everything out of orbit in your new kitty’s carefully cultivated world. Even long-standing feline family members will take issue with separation: Ever come home from a big travel adventure to find a big poo on top of your big bed comforter? This might seem like a big “eff you” from your cat. In reality, it’s his way of self-soothing by mixing his scent with yours. (Learn more about how to get back to normal with your cat after vacation.)
Pet parents must consider the potentially traumatizing perceptions that animals experience before abruptly altering their schedules. If only we could sit our cats down and explain!
How to ease your cat into a new routine
If you have the luxury of anticipating an upheaval in your schedule, give this some forethought: Easing your cat into a new routine is the most surefire way of preventing an extreme reaction to change (such as cat separation anxiety).
For instance, if a new school year is starting soon, you can begin to leave your cat for extended periods of time a few weeks beforehand. Begin by leaving the house for a few hours, a few days a week. Place toys and treats around the house for your cat to discover. If you use Feliway, a natural calming pheromone, spray some just before you go.
Eventually you can transition to leaving for an entire day (being mindful of food and water, naturally). And here is where you’ll want to firmly establish another routine: Take time to bond with your cat every day. This one-on-one time is enjoyable and important for your kitty, as it will give him something to expect and look forward to. Special attention can be paid in a variety of ways, whether it’s grooming, chatting, playing, or simply snuggling. (Learn more about keeping a single cat content.)
What is cat separation anxiety?
When compared with dogs, separation anxiety in cats is rare—at least in terms of diagnosing it. If a change in schedule is sudden or you’re unable to ease your kitty into the new routine, pay attention to the possible signs of cat separation anxiety, including:
- Excessive vocalization (crying, moaning, meowing)
- Eliminating (urinating or defecating) in inappropriate places
- Not eating or drinking while you are away
- Excessive self-grooming
- Vomiting (with food or hair often contained in the vomit)
- Eating too fast
- Destructive behavior
- Exuberant greetings when you return home
If you notice your cat showing any of the signs, first take him to the veterinarian to rule out medical problems.
Tips to alleviate cat separation anxiety
Separation anxiety can result in health issues or behavioral problems for your cat. Talk to your vet about ways to alleviate your cat’s stress, including short- or long-term anti-anxiety medications.
Before resorting to medication, you should try some or all of these cat behaviorist-suggested tactics:
Act casual about leaving
In other words, don’t overdo the goodbye process. If you’re upset, then your cat may get upset.
Locate trigger objects
If there are particular objects that trigger the anxiety, such as your keys or your purse, then carry those around the house for a while each day so they are no longer an anxiety trigger.
Practice coming and going
Walk out the door and then immediately return. Each time you walk back into the room, greet your cat casually or engage in a little play session. Vary the times you do these training sessions throughout the day or evening. Gradually increase the time spent outside of the home.
Increase your cat’s environmental enrichment
Provide perches so your cat can look outside, cat trees to play and nap on, and various other hideaways and elevated areas.
Use puzzle feeders
Incorporate puzzle feeders while you’re away, so they’ll become very special treats for your cat during your absence.
Reward your cat
Reward your cat for behavior you want to see again (with petting, treats, praise, and attention) and don’t reinforce unwanted behavior like meowing and being insistent.
Continue to engage your cat in interactive play sessions on a daily basis.
Leave out little reminders of yourself
This might be a worn t-shirt or other piece of clothing or bedding that carries your smell.
Leave the radio or TV on
Tune it to your usual station.
Spray Feliway, a natural calming pheromone, in any room where your cat spends a lot of time, or any spot where your cat has urinated, scratched, or engaged in destructive behavior while you were away.
Cat separation anxiety can almost always be remedied with a combination of behavior modification (like the tactics above) and medication. Just continue to have patience, love, and understanding for your furry companion—after all, he’s reacting this way because he loves to be with you!