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Do cats experience separation stress?

Cat separation stress

Cats are known for being independent, but they can get lonely and suffer separation stress when they are apart from people. In fact, a study found around 13 percent of cats displayed at least one separation stress-related behavior. And the pandemic has seemingly exacerbated this number as people are returning to work after being at or working from home during the first two years of the pandemic. What causes separation stress in cats and how can you help your feline friend? 

Table of contents 

What is separation stress? 

Separation-related stress occurs when stress responses develop in a cat when they are away from their owners or caregivers. These responses are often more subtle in cats than they are in dogs, but cats do form strong social attachments with their families and can become stressed when they are absent, particularly for extended periods. 

Research suggests that cats fall into one of two attachment styles: 

  • Secure attachment is when a cat has low stress levels while away from their owner and doesn’t overly seek attention when reunited.  
  • Insecure attachment comes in several forms:  
    • Ambivalent cats are extremely attached to their owner and constantly want to be close to them 
    • Avoidant cats are more aloof and may even avoid their people 
    • Disorganized cats display a mix of both 

How can you tell if your cat has a healthy and secure attachment to you, or an unhealthy, insecure attachment? 

Identifying separation stress in cats 

Signs of separation-related stress in cats can be grouped into behavioral and physiological symptoms: 

Behavioral: 

  • Excessive vocalization 
  • House soiling 
  • Excessive grooming 
  • Destructive clawing 
  • Clingy behavior and extreme attachment 
  • Reclusive behavior 
  • Unusual excitement upon your return home 

Physiological: 

  • Changes in appetite 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 

As you can see, some indications that your cat might experience separation stress are more obvious than others. And some cats will exhibit symptoms in your presence, while others only do so when their owner is away. For example, your quiet companion may suddenly meow far more than normal, stop using the litterbox, or constantly follow you around the house. 

It is also common for cats with stress to groom themselves to the point of causing hair loss and skin issues, and either stop eating or eat too fast, making them sick. Separation-related stress can be severe and significantly impact your cat’s health and quality of life. 

Separation stress is usually a diagnosis of exclusion, which means that your veterinarian will likely want to rule out other possible reasons for their behavior first. Before you assume your cat has separation issues, take them to the vet for a checkup to make sure there are no underlying medical reasons for their behavior. 

Causes of separation stress 

Cats develop separation stress for many reasons, and it can occur at any time in their lives. And every cat is unique, so the reasons why cats have stress related to separation may differ from cat to cat, too. There are genetic components as well as environmental factors when it comes to cats’ separation stress. For example, some breeds like Siamese and Burmese cats are more prone to experiencing separation stress. 

A cat’s environment and upbringing can also play a critical role. Factors commonly associated with the development of separation issues include: 

  • Orphaned kittens or those separated from their littermates early 
  • Bottle-fed or prematurely weaned kittens 
  • Cats who live exclusively indoors 
  • Living with only one person 
  • Only one pet in the household 
  • Lack of activity and stimulation 
  • Lack of socialization 

Separation stress can also be triggered by specific events or experiences, including: 

  • Change in environment or routine 
  • Noise phobia 
  • Extended period of time spent alone, resulting in boredom 
  • Exposure to stressful experiences during early socialization period 

We may also unknowingly contribute to the cause of our cat’s separation stress when we are our cat’s sole source of social engagement. Reinforcement can take place when we reward needy and clingy behavior by giving affection or making a big deal out of our departures and returns. Cats sense our emotions and if we’re stressed about leaving, our cat senses it, gets worked up, and makes negative associations with our departure. 

How to help your cat 

Intense distress in your cat every time you leave the house can be difficult to watch. Separation-related stress is a serious issue that must be addressed at the root cause to truly help reduce your cat’s stress response and make them more confident and comfortable without you. To help minimize your cat’s separation stress, try: 

  • Leaving the radio or television on a familiar station 
  • Keeping departures and arrivals lowkey and remove departure cues 
  • Providing plenty of toys and puzzles, particularly food-dispensing toys, to channel their prey instincts and offer mental stimulation 
  • Creating a safe space for your cat like a perch or nook 
  • Using a room diffuser or pheromones to provide a calming scent for your cat 
  • Starting with shorter absences and gradually building up to extended periods of time 

For more severe cases of separation stress, some cat parents will opt for hiring a pet sitter or asking friends or family to stay with their cat if they’re able. This, of course, is only a management technique and does not help cats overcome their stress. 

How can ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA help stressed cats? 

Unfortunately, stress related to being separated from their people can take a serious toll on cats’ health and quality of life.   

ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA feline oil and paste can help their stress levels decrease and return to a normal state of balance. By truly calming without sedating, CBD + CBDA allows cats to relax when apart from their owners and learn that being alone is not something to be afraid of, helping to reduce their stress response over time.    

As always, consult your veterinarian if your cat shows signs of stress. For any questions about ElleVet’s CBD + CBDA products or how CBD can help your feline friend live their best life, give us a call (844-673-7287) or send us an email ([email protected]). We are here to help. 

Can you prevent cat separation stress? 

Before your cat shows any signs of separation issues, teach them to like, or at least tolerate, being alone. Here are some ways to help prevent your cat from developing separation-related stress: 

  • Early exposure and experiences – Ensure your cat gets a wide range of experiences with other people (and possibly pets!) while they are a kitten. Getting exposed to new things during key development stages will help your cat gain confidence and be comfortable in any situation, including being home alone. 
  • Predictable schedules – Stable household routines and periods away from your cat can help make your absences no big deal. Cats are incredibly perceptive creatures of habit and thrive with a schedule.   
  • Encourage independence – Cat owners should discourage excessive attachment. Reward them for venturing through the house without you. Hide treats or special toys stuffed with food in separate rooms. You should also minimize excitement when you leave and return—again, no big deal.  
  • Mental and physical stimulation – Provide plenty of exercise and mental stimulation for your cat both when you’re home and away. 
  • Make home their safe space – Make sure that your cat has a safe place where they can always go, perhaps a perch, a little nook, and feel comfortable being alone. There’s no need to miss you when they are perfectly content in their space. 

Preventing your cat from developing separation stress and learning how to address situational stress can save you and your feline friend a lot of stress and heartache down the road. 

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