Separation anxiety is a commonly recognized problem in dogs, but far less so in our feline companions. Working in a cat-only practice I have come across a number of patients who do have this issue, including our late clinic cat, Danny, when he stayed at Sandy’s home.
The most common complaint from owners is excessive vocaliztion when they leave their home. Their cat may also cling to them when they are home, getting upset if their owner is out of their sight. Some clients feel that their cats will eliminate outside the litterpan because of this.
If your cat has become more vocal there may be a medical reason and you should take him/her in to your veterinarian for an exam and evaluation. Hyperthyroidism, hypertension, decreased sensory input (hearing and vision loss), dementia and pain are all potential causes of increased vocalization.
While separation anxiety may lead to inappropriate elimination it is important to ensure there is not a medical issue such as urinary tract infections, crystals in the urine, arthritis and constipation. Then there is Feline Interstitial Cystitis (FIC) which is a stress driven inflammation in the bladder that can lead to spasms that cause them to urinate outside the pan.
If excessive vocalization and ‘clinging’ are not ‘new’ behaviours then you may be dealing with separation anxiety. It is quite possible to have both a medical condition and separation anxiety coexisting. Their anxiety may be driven by the underlying medical condition so having your cat examined by your veterinarian to get a ‘baseline’ is important.
Treatment of separation anxiety is directed at trying to encourage your cat to become more independent through environmental enrichment. Each cat will be different as to the things that may interest or entice them.
Food puzzels or dispensing toys can help those who are food motivated. Putting these in locations that are away from you may encourage the cat to venture further from your side even into other rooms in the home. You may have to start with the toy at your feet and over time, start placing it further away working up to putting it in a separate room.
The “No Bowl” system can be helpful for those food motivated cats as can other food puzzles. Visit: http://foodpuzzlesforcats.com/
Clicker training may be beneficial for food motivated cats: https://clickertraining.com/cat-training?source=navbar
Other interactive toys may be beneficial in this regard. For cats who like to chase laser pointers and do not get too worked up about it, you can purchase a ceiling mounted laser pointer with a remote control that you can program to go off and entertain your friend. There are many interactive toys available for cats.
There are numerous computer apps now available for cats that may help to distract and entertain them. A simple “google” search for apps for cats will bring any number of options to your fingertip, some of which are free https://www.digitaltrends.com/mobile/best-apps-for-cats/
There are calming supplements or diets that you can utilize to help reduce anxiety – Zylkene is a milk protein based supplement you can add to their food and Royal Canin makes a “Calm” diet and Hill’s “c/d stress” diet with the supplement incorporated into it.
Feliway pheromone sprays and diffusers may help – these are calming pheromone products that help decrease stress in cats: https://www.feliway.com/ca_en
I have some patients who have responded well to a variety of anxiety issues with Thundershirts: http://www.thundershirt.com/thundershirt/thundershirt-cats.html
Some patients may need medication to help overcome their separation anxiety but medication should always be combined with environmental enrichment and behaviour modification as described above.