Your Anxious Cat

Separation anxiety can cause your cat to act out. Here's how to identify and treat this condition.

By Linda A. Odum | Posted: Tue Nov 30 00:00:00 PST 2004

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5. Excessive grooming, sometimes to the point of exposing skin.

6. Destructive behavior
, such as tearing the owner's clothes and personal possessions, or scratching the door.

7. Loss of appetite

If your cat exhibits any of these behaviors, postponed punishment is not the answer, and can make things worse. "Unless the owner catches the pet in the act of misbehaving and applies punishment at that moment, there is little chance that the pet will learn anything from the experience," Bamberger says. "When punishment is given hours after the act was committed, the pet only becomes more anxious and fearful."

What to Do
The first step to help your cat overcome separation anxiety is to take it to the veterinarian for a complete checkup. Many of this disorder's symptoms can also signal an underlying medical condition. Rule out physical problems before proceeding.

Your goal in helping your cat become less anxious is to blur the line between your presence and absence. You can achieve this through behavioral and environmental modifications, adding medication if necessary.

"Basic behavioral management begins with asking the owner to change the way he or she interacts with the pet," Bamberger says. "Many owners reinforce anxious behavior without being aware of it."

For example, if the cat is fearful or anxious, many owners reassure the pet by patting it and saying something like, "It's OK." The cat sees this as acknowledgement of its anxiety that it should be anxious. Hard as it may be, ignore all attention-seeking behavior and reward your cat for relaxed, calm behavior.

Another step is to keep arrivals and departures as low-key as possible. The general rule: Ignore your cat in the 15 to 20 minutes prior to departure and after arriving home. The anxiety generated by your departure grows worse if your arrival home is the highlight of your pet's day.

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Your Anxious Cat

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Reader Comments

Gina    Rochester, NY

11/18/2008 3:48:35 PM

interesting article.

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