When you come home from work, is it to find that your cat has peed on the bed, yowled so desolately all day that the neighbors inquire a little nervously about her well-being, or scratched to ribbons the chair that you just had reupholstered with that expensive fabric? Dont chalk it up to spite. Your cat may be suffering from a condition that almost no one associates with the feline species: separation anxiety.
Separation anxiety is more commonly associated with dogs, but despite their reputation for independence, cats can develop it as well, especially if they were orphaned as kittens or weaned too early. These cats may express their anxiety in destructive ways, such as scratching furniture.
Older cats can develop separation anxiety in the wake of a divorce or death in the family. They are often more attached to people than they are given credit for, and cats who lose owners this way may pace and cry in search of them.
Other signs of separation anxiety include depression, sulking, fighting with other cats, refusing to eat, not using the litter box, spraying urine on the owners clothing and compulsive grooming behaviors, such as licking or pulling at hair until it comes out.
Why do cats do these things? It makes them feel better. Take spraying urine on your bedding or clothing please! Your belongings carry your scent, and applying her own scent to them makes your cat feel more secure, almost as if youre there. Its a compliment of sorts, even if its one youd rather not receive.
Are you doomed to life with a bald, angry cat who doesnt want you to leave the house? You might not be able to cure your cats separation anxiety, but you can probably manage it successfully by enriching the environment and offering more playtime and attention.
To keep your cats mind off your absence, make being home more interesting for him. Leave out a puzzle toy filled with a meals worth of kibble. The time spent releasing the food from the toy is time not spent being destructive. And most cats tend to settle down after the first half-hour that youre gone.
Rotate favorite interactive toys so your cat doesnt have a chance to get bored. Put them out only when youre going to be away from home.
Give your cat some screen time TV screen, that is. Turn on the TV to a nature channel or play a DVD made for cats. The sights and sounds of birds, fish, squirrels and other animals can help hold a cats interest.
Offer a room with a view and a gym. Install a window perch so your cat can watch the squirrels outside, and place a tall cat tree in an interesting spot so he can get some exercise climbing up and down it.
Provide live entertainment in the form of a bird feeder set in front of the window or an aquarium placed where your cat can see it but not access it.
If possible, build an enclosure in your yard that your cat can access. A chance to laze in the sun and roll in the grass is relaxing for everyone, including cats.
Give your cat a favorite treat when you leave, not when you come home.
Spend a few minutes once or twice a day playing with or petting your cat. If your cat knows hell get attention when youre home, hes less likely to be anxious when youre gone.
If all else fails, consult a veterinary behaviorist. She may prescribe an anti-anxiety medication that can help your cat stay calm.
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed byveterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and Kim Campbell Thornton, author of many pet-care books. The two are affiliated with Vetstreet.com. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.