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December 16, 2021 |0 min read

Understanding Cats and Separation Anxiety

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

After a long day at work or an extended vacation, most of us are looking forward to seeing our furry friends back home. Sometimes we’re greeted with a meow, a purr, or an affectionate rub letting us know they’re happy to see us too.

Unfortunately, sometimes we return home to a cat dealing with some serious separation anxiety.

Signs of separation anxiety in cats can be exhibited in a variety of ways. From cats peeing outside of their litter box to excessive grooming, this article will explore cats and separation anxiety and offer up some tips on how to help your cat’s separation anxiety. Read on to find the best ways to diagnose and relieve your kitty’s emotion troubles.

Common Signs and Symptoms of Separation Anxiety

While cats are usually thought of as cool, calm, or even a bit distant, the truth is that cats can exhibit a wide range of personalities, traits, and emotions. Because of their diverse dispositions, the signs of separation anxiety are wide-ranging as well. 

If you’re asking yourself, “Does my cat have separation anxiety?” Consider these common symptoms.

Excessive Vocalizing

It’s usually fun to hear your cat talk. Whether they’re meowing for their dinner or saying a quick hello when they walk into the room, vocalization is normal, healthy behavior for most cats. That said, if you find your cat yowling more frequently and more intensely, it could be a sign of separation anxiety.

Potential warning signs in your cat’s vocalization include:

  • Meowing with their mouth full – If you notice your cat continuing to meow while holding their favorite toy in their mouth, they may be trying to tell you how much they missed you. 
  • Strange sound or frequency – You may recognize different meows your cat uses depending on their needs. If your cat begins exhibiting a meow that you’ve never heard before or a yowl that sounds particularly pained, it may be a sign that something is off.
  • Hoarseness – Has your cat’s mighty meow turned into a hoarse squeak? While the effect may be temporary, this could be a sign that your cat has been meowing so frequently that they have caused some damage to their vocal cords.

Meowing or yowling is often your cat’s best method for getting your attention. If you notice excessive vocalization after an extended time away from your cat, it can be a clear sign that they’re dealing with separation anxiety.

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Litter Box Issues

Noticing a few more litter box accidents than usual? Or wondering why is my cat sitting in the litter box? Cats experiencing separation anxiety may not properly use their litter boxes. Whether it’s due to stress or a desire to act out, these accidents are unpleasant for you and your cat.

In the case of your cat defecating or urinating outside of their litter box, be sure to check out the following possibilities before assuming that you’re dealing with separation anxiety:

  • Litter box cleanliness – Your kitty may be less inclined to use their litter box if it’s not up to their particular standard of cleanliness. If you’ve been away for a few days and the litter box hasn’t been cleaned, your cat might opt to go outside of their typical zone to do their business.
  • Litter box access – Has your cat been shut into a specific space away from their litter box? If access has been cut off, your cat may not even have the option to use the litter box. In addition, if your cat’s mobility has been diminished due to age or size, they may have difficulty accessing certain styles of litter boxes (for example, top entry boxes).
  • Other health issues – Sometimes, frequent accidents are a sign of a medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection (UTI) or kidney stones. In the case of frequent litter box problems, it’s recommended that you see a veterinarian to rule out any physical health issues.

Destructive Behavior

Small, cute, and capable of some serious damage, cats can cause chaos in your home if they’re dealing with separation anxiety.

The most common ways cats are known to act out include:

  • Attacking plants – Are you experiencing aggression in cats? Is your cat demolishing your potted plants, digging up your indoor herbs, or flinging dirt across your clean carpet? While some cats—especially kittens —have an inexplicable hatred of plants, this behavior is frequently linked to separation anxiety.
  • Furniture destruction – If your cat is suffering from emotional stress, they may decide to unleash their anxiety on your most beloved furniture. Deepest condolences to your leather chair. Even if you purchase a scratching post for your cat, they may turn their claws on your furniture if their separation anxiety becomes unmanageable.

Your feline friend may also turn against your books, curtains, or carpets to relieve some of their anxiety. While cat owners frequently turn to spray bottles to dissuade their pets from their behavior problem, this method is less effective when dealing with separation anxiety. 

Food Problems

Appetite is a key factor in determining an animal’s overall health. If you begin to find your cat losing weight or ignoring their food, you should immediately contact your veterinarian.

Cats with separation anxiety have been known to exhibit strange behaviors around food, including:

  • Avoiding eating while you’re away – Have you returned home to a full food bowl and an untouched water dish? This could mean your cat is too stressed to eat or drink while you’re away.
  • Frequent vomiting – On the opposite side of the spectrum, if your cat is vomiting while you’re away, it may be caused by your cats anxiety. Kitties can experience stress-related nausea much in the same way that humans do.

Over-Grooming

While we’re always appreciative of a clean cat, excess grooming is a tell-tale sign of separation anxiety. Excess grooming is frequently attributed to skins problems like dermatitis or flea bites, but in cases where cats are free from parasites or infections, the main culprit is often stress or boredom.

Because licking has the potential for releasing calming endorphins in cats, it often becomes a habit for dealing with stress—including separation anxiety.

If you’re concerned that your cat is overgrooming, stay vigilant for the following symptoms:

  • Hair loss – Noticing bald spots on your cat’s coat? Hair loss is a side-effect of excess grooming and is often most noticeable on your cat’s legs, back, and stomach. Short, stubbly hair and red skin beneath are sure signs of irritation.
  • Excess hairballs – The occasional hairball is to be expected from any healthy cat, but if you find your feline friend coughing up multiple hairballs a day, you’re looking at a potential health issue.

If you notice your cat grooming at odd times or find that their grooming seems to be interfering with normal behavior, it may be cause for concern. Cats that are suffering from separation anxiety try to find relief through whatever means necessary. In this case, licking, scratching, and grooming may be their best option.

How to Fight Separation Anxiety

If your cat's behavior is exhibiting the previously mentioned or has already been diagnosed with separation anxiety, don’t let it make you anxious too. 

There are plenty of behavioral and medical ways to treat separation anxiety in cats. Some of the most common include:

  • TV or radio – Sometimes a human voice is all your cat needs to feel comforted. By leaving the television or radio on when you’re not home, your cat may feel happier and safer. If you’d like to go one step further, consider recording your own voice to play for your cat—that way they can feel close to you even when you’re miles away.
  • Toys and puzzles – Allow your cat the opportunity for some stimulation outside of your regular playtime. Interactive toys and food puzzles offer your cat something to do when you’re not home and can help curb their boredom and anxiety.
  • Calming scents – Air diffusers allow you to add calming scents like lavender to the air of your house. Not only will your place smell great, but the scents may also help your cat relax and de-stress. Check with your vet about specific scents and essential oils that are safe and effective to introduce into your cat's environment.
  • Pet-sitter – Some cats may be fine left alone for days as long as they have plenty of food and water. That said, many cats need regular attention when their owners are gone. Consider hiring a pet sitter or taking your cat to a cat kennel where they can receive regular attention each and every day.

Ultimately, the more time you can spend with your cat the better. As a cat owner and provider, you’re the center of their world—so it’s no wonder that they’re a little stressed when you’re not around. 

You obviously need to leave the house, so experiment with these tips to discover what works best for you and your cat when you’re gone. If you still find yourself struggling with your cat’s separation anxiety, your vet may offer some pharmaceutical routes to improve your cat’s mental health.

Stress Less with PrettyLitter

Few things are more heartbreaking than a stressed-out kitty. Thankfully, cats are resilient creatures, capable of adapting, growing, and overcoming separation anxiety. The problem is that it’s often difficult to know whether or not your cat may be suffering from a physical ailment vs. mental stress

That’s where PrettyLitter comes in. We offer a revolutionary way to discover potential health issues through color-changing litter. It’s clean, safe, odor-trapping litter that prioritizes your cat’s health and ships straight to your door. While your cat can’t tell you what’s bothering them, PrettyLitter offers the next-best thing.

Sources: 

Metropolitan Veternary Center. I8 Signs of Separation Anxiety in Cats And What to Do About Them. https://www.metrovetchicago.com/services/cats/blog/8-signs-separation-anxiety-cats-and-what-do-about-them 

ASPCA. Litter Box Problems. https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/cat-care/common-cat-behavior-issues/litter-box-problems 

PetMD. Can Cats Have Separation Anxiety?. https://www.petmd.com/cat/conditions/behavioral/can-cats-have-separation-anxiety

Written by

Sharilyn Vera

Sharilyn is a proud cat owner, long time storyteller and researcher. Her work spans beloved podcasts, television shows, media outlets, and independent documentaries. She likes to strike a balance between education and comedy, which you can hopefully tell when you read her articles!

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