Cat Separation Anxiety
Do you really know what your cat is getting up to while you are away all day? We know that cats sleep a lot and kill time well. However, we are their companions and if we are away all day, sometimes for long periods, it may be that they miss us. Seems logical to me. And in missing us, do they become anxious? If so, does that lead to behavior that we don't see? Do some domestic cats, unbeknown to their "owners' become traumatized by being left alone for long periods all day, every day?
Anxious cat - Photo by neekoh.fi (Flickr)
Sometimes we do see the consequences of cat separation anxiety (Separation Anxiety Syndrome - SAS). One disastrous consequence is what is euphemistically called "inappropriate elimination". The well trained domestic cat may spray on the bed, for example, to make the environment more comfortable when anxious. The cat guardian who is away all day, working and then having a drink in the evening before returning, may think his or her cat has been very naughty and punish her. The "owner" will be in a rage. But it's his fault.
I have been guilty myself. Not of punishing my cat. I have never done that. But of being away all day from say 6:30 am to 6:30 pm. At the time I was living in a first floor flat. My cat developed cystitis which can be brought on by stress.
A recent research study on dogs by John Bradshaw director of the Anthrozoology Institute at Bristol University has estimated that 1.5 million dogs suffer from separation distress. Some dogs become psychologically traumatized.
Both dog owners and cat owners believe their animal companion copes well being alone. Maybe a lot do but many don't.
If your companion animal responds to the stress by damaging the home in some way don't punish please. Dogs won't associate the punishment with what they did hours or even minutes earlier. And in any event dogs and cats don't comprehend the concept of punishment. Dogs can see punishment as a form of getting attention; something that they have lacked when left alone all day.
There has been similar research on cats and indeed people (children and adolescents). I think Elisa, a regular contributor to this website has seen her fair share of cat separation anxiety at cat shelters. These are abandoned cats in strange surroundings.
There is evidence that cats can and do develop negative emotions when separated from their human companion. The reaction is similar to that described above for dogs.
One reaction is self harm (self-mutilation). In cats this can take the form of obsessive compulsive disorders such as over-grooming that removes all the hair and damages the skin. An obsessive compulsive disorder is a condition suffered by children under similar circumstances.
If you are an "owner" who (a) works long hours (b) changes work schedules frequently (lack of routine) (c) takes frequent business trips and/or vacations, your cat is at a greater risk of suffering from SAS.
Apparently cats "with a history of shelter adoption after 3 months of age" and neutered cats, cats that follow their caretakers around the house, and cats who live with a single person are more likely to develop SAS (src: Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, MSc, DACVB).
See an earlier post on cat separation anxiety.
See also music for cats.