When we mention pet separation anxiety, do you think only of dogs? Sadly, they aren't the only pets who feel anxious and jittery when apart from their owners. While separation anxiety in dogs has been well-studied and is one of the top reasons pet owners seek professional help, we must be aware that our feline friends suffer from periods of separation from their owners as well.
Your cats love you
When your cat wants to be near you or show affection towards you, that's what experts call "attachment behaviors". Yes, they are attached to you. You aren't imagining it! Another sign that they feel safe around you is when they display more exploratory and playful behaviors when you're around.
Cats are creatures of habit
While we adore them for their independence, they also thrive in routine and are creatures of habit. They find comfort in regular routines and can become stressed when that is disrupted. Imagine what COVID19 has done to our expectations, schedules and routines in our lives. As much as we have refined coping mechanisms, many of us still find it hard to be completely comfortable in the 'new normal', wouldn't you agree?
Are your cats struggling to adapt?
Change in routines require effort for adaptation and adjustment for cats just as much as it is for us humans. If you have had to adapt to a change in your routine (such as going back to the office after a long period of working from home), you may find your cat struggling to adapt.
They are stressed!
Some changes you may notice in your cat are disruptive, loud and constant meowing, urinating in places they shouldn't, loss of appetite while you're not home, or over-the-top self-grooming. Don't get mad.
What can you do?
Cats look forward to playtime with you. They love the engagement, stimulation and bonding with the person whom they adore. But what happens when you're not home? Left up to their own devices, they find creative ways to 'play' which you may not approve of - destroying furniture, escaping the house and maybe even quietly suffering from anxiety.
Engage and stimulate
You can help to ease separation anxiety and lower levels of stress by providing interactive toys for them to play on their own. One trick we find particularly useful is giving them their favorite toy while we're out, and storing it when we're home - so they don't have all-day access to it. This is to maintain their enthusiasm for the toy. Keep in mind not to use the same toy daily as this could condition them to think that the toy = you leaving!
You should switch up the toys regularly. You could also make them 'hunt' for food around the house - scatter food/snacks in unlikely places to keep their minds engaged. If that sounds too messy, you may like this roly-poly, egg-shaped treat dispenser which allows food or snacks to fall out at random.
Puzzle toys, feeding mats and slow feeders are also fantastic options to keep your cat occupied. Our favourite is the Wriggly Fish which flaps around like a live fish when touched! The cats proudly hold the fish in their mouths and parade them around the house like they hunted them. Definitely a must have if you have a predatory cat!
Create a warm living space
Creating a cosy environment to sooth your cats during a time of your absence can also greatly reduce feelings of tension. You could leave the radio or TV on low volume, or leaving clothing that smells like you can help to comfort your cat. Elevating their living space with cat scratchers and window perches can also allow them to cuddle up or explore high grounds in their own time.