Our expert says:
Separation anxiety is a dislike of and discomfort with solitude. It is a common behavioural disorder of dogs. Younger animals are often affected. A history of being adopted from an animal shelter is common. While separation anxiety is fairly common in dogs, it is rarely diagnosed in cats. While dogs instinctively want to be part of a pack, cats are typically loners, and are not as likely to get distressed when their owner is away. However, some cats are truly social creatures, and they develop strong bonds with people and other animals. When these relationships get disrupted in any way, cats may exhibit signs of separation anxiety.
The criteria for diagnosis of separation anxiety in cats have not been clearly established as yet. Besides displaying clingy and possessive behaviour, cats with separation anxiety may display signs such as inappropriate urination and/or defecation, vomiting, vocalization, excessive grooming, and poor appetite. Treatment of separation anxiety has typically involved a behaviour modification program with or without the use of anti-anxiety drugs. Typically, pet owners are told to ignore their pet for about a half hour before leaving the house. Departures should be low-key, with no fanfare. Before leaving, cat owners should leave a special item for the cat, like a food-filled toy or treat, so the cat associates something positive with the owner’s departure. When returning, owners are to ignore their cat, interacting with him/her only when they are calm and relaxed. The latter rewards the pet for calm behaviour. Punishment for bad behaviour while the owner was gone, such as urinating or defecating, should never be done. During the rest of the time at home, owners of animals with separation anxiety should interact with the pet only when the animal is calm, and at the owner’s own initiative. Again, this teaches the pet that s/he is more likely to get attention if he is relaxed. The cat is allowed to lie down near the owner, but physical contact should be discouraged. Pet owners are also encouraged to put on their coat or take out their keys (cues that tell a pet when owners are ready to leave) at times other than departure. This helps teach a pet to become indifferent to those cues. While some behaviourists suggest getting a companion cat, I would be very cautious that this may or may not work. There are a lot of cats who live with other cats that show signs of separation anxiety.
Most pets respond well to behavioural therapy for separation anxiety, however, some need additional therapy, in the form of psychoactive medication. This may be true of cats as well. Anxiety is the underlying feature of separation anxiety syndrome, and control of anxiety using medications that interfere with the physiologic stress response may be the most useful in alleviating clinical signs of separation anxiety. There are products available for the treatment of separation anxiety. The drugs reduce the clinical signs of separation anxiety by affecting the chemical neurotransmitters in the brain. Animals receiving these medications experience a decreased level of fear and anxiety and increased responsiveness to behaviour modification protocols. There are many anti-anxiety drugs available for use in cats. Consult your veterinarian as to which drug might be the most appropriate, if behaviour modification techniques alone are ineffective.
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