Do cats get anxious or suffer from stress or separation anxiety? Yes, they do. During Pet Anxiety Awareness Week (June 24-30) we focus on how a cat parent can tell if his or her cat is anxious and how to alleviate the stress the cat is suffering from.
It is a myth that cats don’t like people and that they prefer to be alone. Cats may not be as enthusiastic as dogs in the way they show affection, but they do appreciate being with “their people” and they do miss them when they are gone. Cats also tend to sleep most of the day, and there is nothing a cat likes better than a soft and warm patch of grass to lay on under the sun for hours.
However, for those times when your cat is awake, he may seek you out. Your cat may meow until you call his name, then he may come running to the room in which you’re in. He may not jump into your lap and snuggle in the way a dog would, but your cat appreciates knowing you’re there.
How can you tell if your cat is stressed or anxious?
- A cat who loses his appetite could be suffering from separation anxiety. Keep in mind that loss of appetite could also mean an underlying health issue so call your veterinarian and schedule an appointment. Pay attention to your cats eating habits. If he is not eating check-in with your vet.
- If your cat is clawing your furniture. If your cat has been good about using her scratching post but is now clawing the furniture, climbing the curtains or digging up the carpet, she could be exhibiting signs of anxiety. Keep in mind that clawing and scratching is an instinctual behavior for cats. You need to keep different types and styles of scratching posts in your house for your cat to use. It is the idea that your cat is suddenly not using the scratching post and is now clawing inappropriate items that could be a concern.
- Howling. I have a cat who gets anxious if I leave the room. If he has been sleeping and wakes up to find me gone, he will howl. It is not a meow, it is a howl that makes it seem he is in pain. I’ve discovered he simply seems to wake up afraid and fear he is alone; it is odd behavior, but all cats have different personalities. He has howled since I got him, so for him, it is normal behavior. If any of my other cats began acting this way, it would be a concern. That means if your cat suddenly starts howling while you’re away, he could be suffering separation anxiety.
- Hiding. If your cat was not one who hid previously and is now hiding so well you cannot find him, that could be another sign of anxiety. An anxious cat will look for a tiny, dark space in which to “disappear.”
- Overly independent or overly clingy. Cats can go either direction when they are stressed. They may not leave you alone once you come home or they may completely shun you. If your cat goes in either direction, make note of when it happens. If it happens when he’s been left home alone, it could be a sign of stress.
How can you help your cat deal with his or her separation anxiety and stress?
First, you do need to consult with your veterinarian so he or she can rule out any underlying health issues. Once you’ve done that, try some of these methods:
- Get another cat. I believe two are no more difficult than one cat. If you’re going to be gone for long hours, your cat may benefit from having a friend. Check your local shelter for adoptable cats or kittens.
- Ask your veterinarian if a calming collar may help your cat. A calming collar releases pheromones that just might calm your cat. There are also calming sprays and air fresheners that may help.
- Give your cat a puzzle food toy. These toys reward your cat for solving the puzzle by dispensing a piece of kibble.
- Leave on the radio for background noise. Some pet parents turn on the television to a nature station that they say calms their cat and keeps him or her company.
- Ask a friend or family member to pay a visit while you’re away.
- Playtime. Before you leave for work or to run your errands, set aside some playtime with your cat. Play with a feather toy. Let her chase a laser pointer light. Tiring out a cat is as important as tiring out a dog before you leave.
- Hire a pet sitter to stay at your house or to pay a visit while you’re at work.
- Reconfigure an area of your home so your cat has a high perch upon which she can rest and relax (the top of a bookcase, the top of a refrigerator). Make a cat-friendly space where he can lie in the sun while you’re gone.
- Spend quality time with your cat when you’re home. When you walk in the door, call out to your cat and give him a treat if he comes running. Pick him up (if he likes that), stroke his fur and spend one-on-one time paying full attention to your furry friend.
During Pet Anxiety Awareness Week, take some time to get to the underlying issue of your cat’s anxiety and work with your veterinarian to come up with solutions. If your cat is happy, healthy and not anxious, you’re doing something right. Keep up the good work!