Please note that some posts contains affiliate links & I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links Find out More

Do Cats Suffer Separation Anxiety? Signs & Tips to Relieve the Angst

by | Aug 10, 2022 | Cat Behavior & Care | 21 comments

FTC noticeYes, cat separation anxiety affects many felines. When school restarts, and the kids go back to class, your cats (and your dogs) may suffer from separation anxiety. The signs of distress are very different, though. I encourage you to read on to learn about tips for helping your furry family members adjust.

By the way, just in time for your kiddos, the Kobo Elipsa Pack is $50 off and ready for back-to-school season. Get the full note-taking package for less — plus, it ships FREE.

More recently, with more folks working from home, the cats have finally settled into a new routine. But just about the time Kitty gets used to your new schedule, the world changes again if you go back to the office. That may make them more prone to developing separation behaviors when you go back to work or kids return to school and leave them alone.

We very often hear about doggy angst during a beloved human’s absence, but what about cats? Yep, it’s exactly the same—only different. Here’s how.

Young girl reading a book with her cat at home, sitting next to two piles of books.

Back to school can change schedules and put kitty’s tail in a twist.

How to Deal With Cat Separation Anxiety

Cat separation anxiety requires behavior modification and desensitization to soothe upset kitty feelings and reverse problem behaviors. Cats may go for years without issues, and then suddenly act out when your work schedule changes and keeps you away for long hours. Vacations also tend to trigger feline separation anxiety.

Think of separation anxiety as a form of grief. Cats don’t mean to “act bad,” they just miss you so much they can’t help themselves. And the way cats make themselves feel better can cause even more stress and upset feelings to their humans.

cat separation anxiety

Cats KNOW when you’re supposed to come home…don’t disappoint the kitty!

Cat Separation Anxiety & Scented Comfort

Like dogs with the same condition, cats may cry and become upset as you prepare to leave. More often, they don’t react to your departure. They wait to “act out” once left alone, and urinate, spray urine, and defecate on owner-scented objects—most typically the bed. Learn more about litter box problems here.

The familiar scent of kitty’s bathroom deposits actually comforts her and reduces feelings of stress. Of course, these unwelcome “gifts” increase owner stress levels. And while angry reaction is understandable, your upset feelings increase the cat’s anxiety even more.

Cats don’t potty on the bed to get back at you because you left. Think of the cat’s behavior as a backhanded compliment. Kitty wouldn’t do this if she didn’t love you so much!

Portrait of yellow sad sick cat lying at home with rabbit toy

Missing you adds stress that can even lead to illness.

Desensitize and Counter-Condition for Cat Separation Anxiety

Cats pay exquisite attention to the details of their lives. They’ll often recognize subtle clues that you’re preparing to leave long before you realize. A cat may figure out that you always freshen your lipstick just before you leave. Repeating these cues takes away their power.

  • Desensitize your cats to the presence of the overnight bag by leaving it out all the time. Put clothes in and out of the bag every day, but without leaving the house, so your cat no longer gets upset when she sees you pack.
  • Toss a catnip mouse inside the suitcase, and turn it into a kitty playground. That conditions her to identify the suitcase as a happy place, rather than associating it with your absence.
  • Use behavior modification techniques so the triggers lose their power. Pick up the car keys 50 times a day, and then set them down. Carry your purse over your arm for an hour or more. When you repeat cues often enough, your cat stops caring about them and will remain calm when you do leave.
  • Fake your departure by opening the door and going in and out twenty or more times in a row until the cat ignores you altogether. Then extend your “outside” time to one minute, three minutes, five minutes, and so on before returning inside. This gradual increase in absence helps build the cat’s tolerance and desensitizes her to departures. It also teaches her that no matter how long you’re gone, you always return.

Maine Coon Kitten

More Tips for Reducing Angst from Cat Separation Anxiety

Most problem behaviors take place within twenty minutes after you leave. The length of time you’re absent doesn’t seem to matter. Find ways to distract the cat during this critical twenty minutes so she won’t dirty your bed.

  • Ask another family member to interact with the cat during this time. A fishing-pole lure toy or chasing the beam of a flashlight can take the cat’s mind off her troubles. If she enjoys petting or grooming, indulge her in a touchy-feely marathon.
  • About 1/3rd of cats react strongly, another 1/3rd react mildly, and the last 1/3rd don’t react at all to catnip. If your feline goes bonkers for this harmless herb, leave a catnip treat to keep her happy when you leave. Using catnip every day can reduce its effects, though, so use this judiciously.
  • Food oriented cats can be distracted with a food-puzzle toy stuffed with a favorite treat. Make it extra smelly, irresistible, and something totally different than her usual fare to be sure the treat makes the proper impression.
  • Cats that have been outside and seen the real thing often don’t react, but homebody indoor-only cats enjoy watching videos of fluttering birds, squirrels and other critters. There are a number of these videos available, including the original called “Video Catnip.” Alternately, find a nature television show such as on Animal Planet, and tune in for your cat’s viewing pleasure.
  • Playing familiar music that they associate with your presence can help ease the pain of you being gone. In addition, research has shown harp music works as a natural sedative and actually puts cats to sleep. Learn about music therapy for pets in this post. Harp music CDs designed for this purpose can be found at petpause2000.com.

NEW-CatCompet-lorezNot all tips work with every cat since every feline is an individual. But using these techniques alone or in combination can heal upset kitty feelings, and turn homecomings into joyful reunions. You’ll find lots more tips in my cat behavior book COMPETABILITY: Solving Behavior Problems in Your  Multi-Cat Household.

What kinds of things have helped with YOUR cat? Do tell!

YouTube Button

Subscribe to Amy’s YouTube Channel

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Do you have a new kitten and need answers? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter. Stay up to date with the latest book give aways and appearances related to my September Day pet-centric THRILLERS WITH BITE!

21 Comments

  1. Karyl

    With Anubis, we have specific goodbye rituals that help him to understand how long we will be gone. He gets much more worried if you act like you’re just going to be gone for a minute and then disappear for longer. For example, “next door” usually means we are only going to be gone a couple hours at most. But I stayed overnight with my grandmother this past week, and he got SO UPSET. Thankfully he USUALLY doesn’t mess on the carpet anymore just for us being away, but he does fuss quite a bit when we get back. Part of what seems to help is he knows he always gets a treat when we come back from being away, so we make it worth the wait.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Karyl, that’s always very helpful. Cats are very much attuned to routine.

      Reply
  2. Beth

    I’m sad to say that even after having a cat for 13 years, I’m very uneducated about cat issues. (I’m going to say its just because my own cat is purrfect.) Thanks for sharing this information.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Congrats on your purr-fect cat! That’s something to brag about!

      Reply
  3. The Swiss Cats

    Great advice ! What helps us (we don’t suffer of separation anxiety) is that our pawrents have a super-regular schedule, and their schedule allows that we are not really alone more than four or five hours in a day. Purrs

    Reply
  4. Suzanne Dean

    Love these tips. A very timely post as many humans are getting back to school schedule, not as many hours to spend with their human families.

    Thanks for sharing.
    Suzanne

    Reply
  5. Kimberly Marie Freeman

    I normally deal with this issue in dogs and it is nice to see that a lot of the advice is so similar. thanks so much for sharing

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks Kimberly! Yes, a lot is similar but when it’s different it’s WAY different, LOL!

      Reply
  6. PawesomeCats (@pawesomecats)

    A great article with important tips about managing separation anxiety in cats. PS. your photos are beautiful!

    Reply
  7. Jessica Rhae (@YDWWYW)

    There is clearly not as much difference between cats and dogs as people think. My Chester used to have anxiety and acted out very similar to what you described. I helped him with desensitization and crate training. Now a crate is something no kitty would stand for! 🙂

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Actually, some cats DO enjoy the crate…if properly introduced. *s*

      Reply
  8. Lindsay, Matilda - Little Dog Tips

    It takes a lot of patience to get animals to accept when we leave – sometimes I think we’re better off just staying at home getting snuggles instead of going out!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I think the cats would agree with you, Lindsay!

      Reply
  9. Faith Ellerbe, Live.Wag.BARK!

    Great post! Although I do not have cats, I did not know they could have separation anxiety. They are so independent, I didn’t think a change would matter to them. Thanks for sharing!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Thanks Faith! Actually cats are NOT independent (or not nearly as much as folks used to think). 🙂

      Reply
  10. Sweet Purrfections

    Great recommendations. I try to leave a TV or radio on when I leave.

    Reply
  11. Andrea Dorn

    I used to have a cat, Bluebird, who seemed to forget me if I had an overnight stay away from home. I’d come home and she would run away from me and refuse to eat for a meal or two. Soon she was back to normal though. She was always very high strung/sensitive. Unfortunately she’s not with us anymore but she’s always in my heart.

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      Cats love routine so much that changes can really increase stress. The sensitive ones can have lots of problems. Love the name Bluebird, Andrea.

      Reply
  12. Jim M

    We used to board our first cat, Shoddy, at a place near the airport when we went away. They told us he didn’t eat while we were gone and was miserable. So we started leaving him at home and having someone come in. He was still not doing well, We got a companion, a little cat named Missy. He would have nothing to do with her, but in a way it distracted him and gave him something to think about. He did better.

    One of our current cats, Smilo, developed the runs while we were away for two weeks. It went away when we returned. I guess that was a form of separation anxiety. He used the box, not the bed!

    Reply
    • Amy Shojai

      I’m glad that Smilo continued to use the box, even with his upset digestion!

      Reply

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Litter Box Problems? 7 Reasons Cats Snub the Box & What To Do - […] ← Must Know Puppy Care & Puppy Play Tips Do Cats Suffer Separation Anxiety? Signs & Tips to Relieve…
  2. Separation Anxiety & Dogs! What to Do to Solve Canine Separation Angst - […] ← Black Cat Appreciation Day: Picking the Perfect Cat Do Cats Suffer Separation Anxiety? Signs & Tips to Relieve…
  3. Causes of Cat Stress, How Stress Affects Cats, & How You Can Help - […] death, divorce, longer work hours, or a best friend going away to college can leave Sheba yowling. Cat separation…
  4. Neatness Freaks: Why and How Cats Groom - […] impulses in the brain, or simply is a way for the cat to distract himself. Strong emotion like kitty…
  5. Pet Vacation Options: Boarding, Pet Sitters, Stay-Cation? - […] suffers separation anxiety, you’ll want to address that as well. Cats aren’t immune to feline separation anxiety, either. And…
  6. Pets Home Alone? Back to School AngstAMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] behaviors are not unusual when routine changes. These affect dogs more readily than cats. Cats with separation anxiety may…
  7. Fearful Fido? Know the Signs of Dog Fear, Anxiety, and Stress (FAS)AMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] also suffer from separation distress behaviors. Learn about feline “stranger danger” and what to do about it in this…
  8. Why Do Cats Hate Vacations? Does My Cat Hate Me for Leaving?AMY SHOJAI'S Bling, Bitches & Blood - […] some cats, that leads to separation behaviors that a cat sitter might notice while you’re gone. Others act out…

Leave a Reply

Categories:

Recent Posts

TOP 10 DO’s & DON’Ts WHEN ADOPTING A PET for ADOPT A DOG MONTH

It’s Adopt A Dog Month! If a new fur-kid is in your future, remember that more goes into adopting a dog than picking the “prettiest” or just plopping food in a bowl. I’ve written about shelter adoptions before, but here are more specific tips. Follow these do’s and don’ts to ensure your furry love connection lasts past the honeymoon and endures for the lifetime of that pet.

10 DO’s & DON’Ts for Adopting a Dog (or Cat)

Don’t adopt too early. Kittens and puppies adopted too young bite and claw more than those corrected by Mom and siblings. Wait to adopt furry until they are at least 8-10 weeks old for pups and 12 to 16 weeks for kittens…

What Makes Humans Happy? And Where Do Pets Fit In?

When we look at the principles of Positive Psychology (the study of what human wellbeing and fulfillment is made of – including happiness) it’s easy to see why so many of us attribute our happiness and wellness to our pets! I’ve frequently written about how pets show love, and what dogs want out of life. So why not explore what makes humans happy, too?

Read on to learn about th 5 Elements of Human Well-being According to Positive Psychology…

How to Prepare for a Disaster: Pet Preparedness & Tips

With the latest hurricane and more on the way, it’s time to revisit your pet disaster plan. You do have one, right? After Katrina and Harvey, everyone should understand the importance of disaster preparation.

I posted this in June for National Pet Preparedness Month. September is Disaster Preparation Month. Hurricane Ian drives home the importance of having a disaster plan not only for yourself when Mother Nature throws a tantrum but also to keep your pets safe. Whether you must deal with tornadoes, floods, landslides, typhoons, wildfires, or other emergencies, there’s a rule that we must always PLAN FOR THE WORST.

And then pray it doesn’t happen. For those going through issues now, refer to these resources:

Florida Animal Shelter Emergency Response
Mobile Phone: 941-525-8035.
Office Phone: 863-577-4605.
Email: sthayer@spcaflorida.org.

Florida Animal Shelter Emergency Response

American Humane Red Star Disaster Response

American Red Cross

Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief (Government)

What Cats Want Out of Life & What Cats Need

Whether you share your pillow with a kitty, or care for feral, stray or community cats, always consider what cats want out of life. I’ve written about what makes humans happy, as well as what dogs want out of life, and it’s time for the cats. We love our cats all year long, but sometimes lose sight of what cats need out of life. It’s important to channel your “inner kitty” to learn how to keep the purrs rumbling 24/7 to provide what cats need.

Dark Mystery, Thriller & Suspense Books Galore! Booksweeps Giveaway, Emily Kimelman & More!

👀 I spy a steal…If you haven’t read my first September & Shadow Thriller, you can enter to win it on BookSweeps today — plus 55 exciting Dark Mysteries, Thrillers & Suspense books from a great collection of authors… AND a brand new eReader 😀

I’ve teamed up with fantastic authors to give away a huge collection of mysteries and suspense thrillers to 2 lucky winners!

Oh, and did I mention the Grand Prize winner gets a BRAND NEW eReader? 😁

Adopting “Other-Abled” and Less Adoptable Pets

September 19-25 is National Adopt A Less Adoptable Pet Week, founded by PetFinder.com. The organization encourages shelters and rescues to create special week-long events devoted to giving overlooked pets like those with disabilities a better chance at finding homes.

This struck a chord with me, especially after living with a tri-pawd dog when Bravo lost his leg. He didn’t act disabled, though. Have you ever adopted an other-abled pet or less adoptable pet?

What Is A Less Adoptable Pet

Why less adoptable? They’re the wrong breed or have special needs. Overlooked pets include deaf dogs or deaf cats, blind pets, or those missing a limb. Many folks prefer the ‘perfect’ cute puppy or kitten and don’t want a crippled pet, or just don’t like the color of the dog or cat. Of course, we know black dogs and cats, and those with only one eye, or three legs, still love us with all their furry hearts! Read on…

Do Pets See In Color?

I love this question. What do you think? Today’s Ask Amy topic is Do dogs see in color? What about cats and dogs, do they see things differently?

Today, take a fun look at this YouTube video discussing the question. And weigh in with your own thoughts in the comments–does color matter to your fur kids?

How to Manage Fur Shedding

When dog shedding and cat shedding creates hairy tumbleweeds, it creates a fur-ocious mess you need to manage. At one time, our German Shepherd Magic’s fur shedding turned our cream carpet to gray. Today we live with two short-haired pets. But Karma-Kat’s silver fur and the Shadow-Pup’s undercoat become furry dust mice on the kitchen’s slate floor, float through the air, and cling to upholstery and clothing. Knowing what to do goes beyond keeping the house clean. Proper fur care can prevent skin problems and also help manage hairballs.

Exposure to sunlight or artificial light determines the timing and amount of shedding. “It is a normal process which can be accelerated under certain circumstances,” says Steven Melman, VMD, an internationally known expert on veterinary dermatology and the founder of DermaZoo.com. In fact, indoor pets exposed to artificial light shed nonstop, even during triple-digit summer or frigid winter months.

Whatever time of year shedding occurs, it’s aggravating, and a nonstop cleaning challenge. Why do pets shed fur, and how can we manage the mess?

DON’T Hug Your Dog on National Hug Your Hound Day! Here’s Why

Several years ago when I wrote for the puppies.about.com site (now TheSprucePets) I took issue with a promotion advertised by a big-name pet food company that encouraged people to post pictures of themselves hugging dogs. Hoo-boy…Oh dear heaven, by the comments I received you’d think that I said cute babies are evil, apple pie is poison and advocated BEATING YOUR DOG! Part of that has to do with folks reading only the title and ignoring the content of the message. Oh well. That drives home the importance of titles, I suppose.

The promo really struck a chord with pet lovers. After all, who doesn’t love a hug? Hugs mean love, hugs mean happy happy happy, hugs are tail-wagging expressions of the joy we share with dogs. Right? RIGHT?!

Uh, no. And glory be, the promotion lives on, declaring September 11 as “Hug Your Hound Day.” Before you tar-and-feather me, read on to learn WHY hugging your dog can put you, and your dog, in danger…

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP): Treatment Hope On The Horizon

Since September celebrates Happy Cat Month, I wanted to share some recent good news about FIP. Feline infectious peritonitis (FIP) is a viral disease of cats first described in the late 1950s that continues to challenge our understanding today. Until recently, FIP was considered a death sentence and veterinarians had little help for diagnosing the disease. On September 1, 2022, The American Association of Feline Practitioners and EveryCat Health Foundation announced the publication of Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) Diagnosis Guidelines appearing in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. PLEASE let your veterinarian know.

Dr. Niels Pedersen, now professor emeritus at U.C. Davis, California, has studied FIP since the 1960s. I had the honor to interview Dr. Pederson for an article about FIP that appeared in CATS Magazine (no longer printed) back in the 1990s, and later to hear him speak at prestigious veterinary conferences and at the Cat Writers’ Association events. You can read a 2017 Winn Feline Foundation recap of one of Dr. Pedersen’s sessions on the topic here.  

Today, FIP can be treated, and some cats like Wizard (in the pictures) possibly cured of the disease.

Visit Amy’s Website

Amy Shojai CACB is an award winning author.  You can find all her publications and book her to speak via her website. 

On Demand Writer Coaching

AmyShojai.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com http://amazon.com/.

Awards

Memberships

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This