Does My Cat Have Separation Anxiety?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger discusses ways to ease cat anxiety and boredom

By Marilyn Krieger | Posted: January 15, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: I adopted my 8-year-old cat, Kelly, about seven years ago from a shelter in Phoenix.  Kelly’s an only child right now; previously she had a rabbit and another cat as roommates. Due to my roommates moving out, she is now alone.
Lately she has become more vocal in her daily activities.  She has always howled at the wall or pictures on the wall. She appears to be annoyed that I am gone at times for long periods of the day. I try to stop by after work and before going to class, but sometimes that is not feasible for me to do.

She always gets love and scratches the minute I get home.  But I still get the attitude and vocalized complaints when I get there!  It starts from the minute I put the key into the lock! I can hear her on the other side meowing.
I was wondering if she is bored and lonely and if getting another "friend" for her would be the answer, or if she is just complaining because she can?

A: Kelly may be exhibiting separation anxiety or she may be bored. But before determining that this is a behavior issue, I recommend that you take Kelly to your vet for a check-up. There are some diseases and medical conditions that can cause cats to loudly vocalize and to howl.

If she does have a behavior problem, there are a variety of activities you can do to help her become a well-adjusted, happy cat. Finding her a new buddy is one possibility. Enhancing her environment by providing her with lots of interactive toys and places to climb and hide in will help as well. She will appreciate tall cat trees that are placed next to windows so she can check out the neighborhood. Toys such as TurboScratchers and puzzle boxes will also keep her occupied. 

When leaving in the morning, put the pajamas you slept in the night before in the areas Kelly usually naps in. Your smell will help reassure her that you haven’t abandoned her. You can also help ease her separation anxiety with a treat ball into which you record your voice. Every time Kelly rolls it in order to access a treat, she will hear you telling her what a wonderful, perfect cat she is.

Keeping a consistent schedule with her will also help. If possible, have times set aside every day when you do things with her that she enjoys such as playing, grooming and feeding her delicious, healthy food. She will look forward to these special times with you.

If you do decide to introduce a new friend to Kelly, choose a buddy who has the same energy level as she does and who enjoys the company of other cats. The introductions need to be done very slowly. Keep them separated while you gradually introduce them to each other through scent exchanges and other enjoyable activities.

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Does My Cat Have Separation Anxiety?

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Reader Comments

Nina    International

8/20/2014 5:36:22 PM

My female cat (Lala) starts meowing at exactly 6 a.m when I wake up. It's a loud and annoying meow. My roommate says she keeps meowing even after I leave home (7 a.m). I adopted her mother when I was a kid and then kept Lala, the other 6 kitties I gave to some relatives. She's a very affectionate cat and needs lots of attention, especially now. The thing is, I just recently moved back home with Lala (I lived overseas for almost a year and could not bring her with me so I left her with my brother). Now that I'm back she's all over me and can't deal with me being away. She's also very afraid of other humans and/or cats. So I guess getting her a new buddy is not an option. What can I do? She needs to stop meowing at 6 a.m. It's driving me crazy.

Susan    London Ontario, ON

9/18/2010 2:49:34 PM

Yes, definitely cats get separation anxiety! Humans and their own buddies. I have several instances to support my opinion. When it is their own buddies, the outcome can be ugly and sad.

gretchen    tampa, FL

6/17/2010 4:42:18 PM

My cat is 2 years old. We got him as a stray when he was 6 months old. He was very jumpy and scared of everything at first. He also sucked on any blanket he could find. Vet said he was taken from his mother too soon. He also does the howling with his stuffed bear in his mouth. He seems to do this bear thing when he is alone in a room, sees someone leave the house in a car or at night when we are upstairs asleep. When we call him he will stop and run up the stairs like he is suprised that we are there. He also has a "relationship" with his bear even though he has been nutered. The vet says that this behavior is about power over the bear. I think that it also has to do with separation anxiety, because he always comes to us when we call him. We got him a buddy too, but it didn't help he still does the same thing. We love him and give him lots of attention when we are home with him too.

Nicole    atco, NJ

6/17/2010 10:36:32 AM

I have a 1 yr. old cat that we adopted in September 2009 when he (Cole) was 3 months old. We adopted his sister too. We also have an 10 yr. old cat. He often walks around the house with my sock in his mouth, meowing. Sometimes he will do it without a sock. Sometimes it happens when I am watching TV, and other times it is when it is time for me to go to bed. Why does he do this? Is he sad, hurt? We are right there with him and he has 2 other cats to play with. Confused, just want to make sure he is alright? Who ever said cats don't need much attention, don't know what they are talking about. Mine require alot of attention.

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