Are Cats Scared Of Being Alone?

Is Your Cat Stressed When Left Alone?

For pet owners, a common concern is whether their cat becomes anxious or upset when left home alone. Separation anxiety in cats is a real issue that many cat owners face. In this article, we’ll dive into the signs of feline separation anxiety, what causes it, and most importantly – how to help an anxious kitty feel safe and secure.

Cats are independent creatures, but they are also social animals that can form strong bonds with their human families. When those bonds are disrupted, some cats have extreme reactions. Excessive meowing, destructive behavior, house soiling, and other distress behaviors are indicators of separation anxiety in cats. The good news is there are ways to ease kitty’s mind when you head off to work or go on a trip. With some planning and training, cats can learn to feel relaxed and comfortable when alone.

Cats as Social Animals

While cats are often thought of as solitary creatures, they do exhibit social behavior, especially when living in feral colonies. Feral cats form close-knit social groups and colonies in order to survive. According to Life in a Feral Cat Colony, cats maintain close social interactions by engaging in bonding behaviors called allorubbing and allogrooming. Members of the group will groom and rub up against each other frequently. This helps strengthen social bonds within the colony.

As outlined in The Social Structure of Cat Life, feral cats colonies have a complex social hierarchy and structure. There are dominant cats and subordinate cats, and the roles of individuals can change over time. Kittens are raised communally within the colony. So while cats are predatory animals that can survive solitarily, group living provides many benefits for feral cats in terms of food acquisition, defense, and kitten rearing.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Cats with separation anxiety may exhibit various behaviors when their owner prepares to leave or when left alone. Some common signs include:

  • Agitation and following the owner around when they are getting ready to leave (according to MetroVet Chicago). The cat may pace, meow excessively, and try to prevent the owner from leaving.
  • Excessive vocalizations like crying, meowing, or moaning when alone, especially right after the owner leaves (per PetMD).
  • Destructive behaviors while home alone, such as scratching furniture, urinating/defecating outside the litter box, or knocking things over.

These behaviors stem from anxiety and distress triggered by separation from the owner. Cats with severe separation anxiety may also stop eating or grooming themselves properly.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

There are a few key causes that can lead to separation anxiety in cats:

Lack of socialization as a kitten is a major contributing factor. Kittens that are not properly socialized during the critical developmental stage between 2-7 weeks old may fail to form secure attachments. This makes them more prone to separation anxiety when adopted into a new home, according to WebMD.

Changes in the owner’s schedule or routine can also trigger separation anxiety. Cats are creatures of habit and do not adapt well to sudden changes. If the owner starts being away more often or for longer periods of time, the cat may develop anxiety, as noted by MetroVet.

Moving to a new home is very stressful for cats. The unfamiliar surroundings combined with the owner being away can lead to separation anxiety symptoms. Moving requires gradual acclimation to help ease the transition according to PetMD.

Solutions for Mild Separation Anxiety

There are some simple ways to help ease mild separation anxiety in cats. Providing stimulating toys and activities for your cat while you’re gone can help occupy them so they don’t focus on your absence. Rotating different types of toys helps keep your cat engaged. Food puzzle toys that require effort to access treats are a great option. According to Cats.org, playtime right before leaving the house can also help your cat feel more settled.

Leaving the TV or music on provides background noise that can help soothe anxious cats. It’s best to keep it on a station you normally watch or listen to when home so it feels familiar. Adjusting your departure and arrival routines to be low-key can prevent triggering an anxious response from your cat. Ignore your cat for 15-30 minutes prior to leaving and when returning home to avoid reinforcing clingy behaviors.

Solutions for Severe Cases

In severe cases of separation anxiety in cats, more intensive treatment may be needed. Two of the main options are prescription anti-anxiety medication and synthetic feline pheromones.

Prescription anti-anxiety medications that may help cats with separation anxiety include:[1]

  • Fluoxetine (Prozac)
  • Paroxetine
  • Sertraline (Zoloft)
  • Clomipramine
  • Buspirone

These medications can reduce anxiety, fear, and obsessive compulsive behaviors in cats. A veterinarian will prescribe the appropriate medication based on the individual cat’s symptoms and response.[2]

Another option is using synthetic pheromones, such as Feliway, to help relieve anxiety. These pheromones mimic cats’ natural facial pheromones and create a comforting, familiar environment.

For severe separation anxiety, a combination approach of medication and pheromones may be most effective. It’s important to work closely with a veterinarian to find the right solutions tailored to the individual cat.

Preventing Separation Anxiety

There are some key things cat owners can do to help prevent separation anxiety from developing in the first place:

Socialization as a kitten is very important. Kittens that are exposed to new people, animals, places, and experiences are less likely to develop separation anxiety as adults. Make sure to handle and play with kittens frequently and get them comfortable with different sights, sounds, and environments. (Cats Protection, 2022)

Establishing set routines for feeding, play time, nap time etc. can help provide stability and reassurance for cats. Predictable schedules let cats know what to expect each day. Disrupting their routine can trigger anxiety. Try to keep their daily schedule consistent.

Avoid rewarding anxious behaviors like meowing, scratching, or acting clingy. While it’s natural to want to comfort an anxious cat, this can reinforce the anxiety. Instead, reward calm, relaxed behavior. Provide treats, pets, and praise when your cat is calm and content.

When to Seek Help

In some cases, separation anxiety in cats can become severe enough that you may need to seek professional help. According to Rover, there are a few signs that indicate it’s time to talk to your vet:

  • Destructive behaviors that don’t improve over time, like scratching furniture or door frames
  • Not eating or using the litter box while alone
  • Excessive vocalizations like crying, yowling or meowing

If your cat is engaging in these behaviors and they are not getting better with the usual at-home solutions, it’s a sign that your cat’s separation anxiety has progressed to a more serious level. A vet can provide prescriptions or recommend further treatment like consulting with a veterinary behaviorist. The earlier you seek help, the better chance you have of resolving your cat’s separation issues before they become ingrained habits.

Cats Can Be Independent

While some cats do suffer from separation anxiety, many cats are perfectly fine being left alone during normal working hours or even longer. In fact, cats sleep over 50% of the day on average, meaning they sleep for 12-16 hours in a typical 24 hour period.1 So chances are your cat is sleeping for a large portion of the day while you’re gone anyway.

Cats are independent animals by nature and don’t necessarily need constant companionship from their owners. Provided they have adequate food, water, litter facilities, and access to stimulating toys while you’re away, most cats are content to amuse and occupy themselves during your absence.

Try leaving your cat alone for gradually increasing periods of time with positive distractions like puzzle feeders or interactive toys. Reward them with affection and treats when you return so they develop positive associations. With time, the majority of cats become accustomed to the routine and remain relaxed and content despite your periodic absences.

1 https://www.purina.co.uk/articles/cats/behaviour/common-questions/cat-sleeping-habits

Conclusion

In conclusion, cats are very social creatures who can develop separation anxiety when left alone for long periods of time. Signs of separation anxiety include destructive behaviors, excessive vocalization, and inappropriate urination/defecation. Mild cases can be managed by providing mental stimulation and reducing the frequency/duration of alone time. Severe cases may require anti-anxiety medication prescribed by a vet. It’s important not to scold or punish a cat for symptoms of separation anxiety, as this will only increase their stress. With proper care and management, separation anxiety can be reduced so that cats don’t become fearful when their owner is away.

Understanding the social nature of cats and the causes of separation anxiety allows owners to properly care for their pet’s emotional needs. Detecting signs early and employing solutions can prevent separation anxiety from becoming a long-term issue. While some independence is healthy, cats rely on social interaction and should not be left alone for prolonged periods of time. Ensuring your cat feels secure and enriched even when home alone is key to their happiness and wellbeing.

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