While the research into cat separation anxiety is just in the early stages of understanding, many have been noticing the signs. I will retell the story of my two cats, Bubba and Charlie.
Charlie was my future wife’s cat of 4 years. Some 6 years ago, when we moved in together, Charlie was aloof and avoided me, at least at first. Once she realized I was here to stay, she started accepting me. At first, a bit stand-offish, but slowly accepting me to the point that she’d lay on my lap to the dismay of my wife. My work at the time was on the road, with periods of time at home. We soon noticed that when I was away, Charlie would groom herself excessively, to the point of creating a bald spot on her flank. When I was home, the excessive grooming would stop. On my retirement, the only time we were away was every two weeks, my wife had to return to the hospital she worked for to do their payroll. We would be away for 2 -3 days every 2 weeks. On our return, we would find that Charlie had vomited all around the house, and on our bed. The reason we know this, once on arrival at home, we walked in on her vomiting. As soon as we brought out our suitcases to pack for our trip, Charlie would hide away, under the bed, the sofa, or under the dining table to avoid us.
Bubba, on the other hand, was a stray that I adopted about a year after I had moved in, my best guess was that he was about a year old. It took a while but Charlie and Bubba became good buddies. The only sign with him was on our return he would not let us out of sight. If you went to the bathroom, he had to also be there. He would walk with me, rubbing up against me, to the extent as to almost trip me.
In doing research, these are all signs of separation anxiety in cats. Speculation of the cause range from genetic to environmental factors being involved. Some say being orphaned or being weaned early may predispose the development of separation anxiety. As this subject gets more study, there might be more information garnered.
Things to do are subjective. The first thing would be to have the veterinarian do a complete physical to make sure the behavior is not caused by some underlying physical problem. This will maybe involve blood work, urinalysis, thyroid testing, or a blood pressure check.
Some other suggestions include making the time of departure less stressful by making changes in the normal routine. Some experts suggest that for 15 minutes prior to leaving and upon return home, the owner should ignore the cat. Leaving a distracting toy can be helpful. Someone suggested hiding tasty treats in various places in the house. Making the environment more stimulating may help. A cat tower with toys attached near a window could help. Sometimes they just enjoy seeing what’s going on outside.
Some experts have stated that in some situations the short-term use of anti-anxiety medications may be needed. You must be aware that these are not labeled specifically for use in cats and should / must be prescribed and monitored by your veterinarian.
In the future research should be able to give us more information about the cause and treatment of separation anxiety in cats and make life better for our little feline friends.