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Going Back to Work? How to Manage Your Cat’s Separation Anxiety

15 Feb 2021.

Many around the world have now been working from home for a year. While it has been a fantastic opportunity to spend time with our pets, it does have its difficulties. When we return to work, how will our kitties react? For nervous cats who suffer from separation anxiety, how can we spot signs and help manage stress? Cat in a Flat finds out. 

Does my cat get lonely while I’m at work?

Cats can suffer from separation anxiety when left alone
Cats can suffer from separation anxiety when left alone

Cats are pretty independent animals. Most adult kitties will be ok on their own for eight hours or so, especially as they spend up to 15 hours a day sleeping. However, all cats are different and many of our furry friends don’t like being alone for prolonged periods.

Kittens, older cats, recently adopted kitties and ill or infirm cats won’t tolerate you leaving them as well as healthy adult cats. Kittens can get bored and anxious – and are more likely to get themselves into trouble. Recently adopted cats might need people around to relieve the stress of being in a new environment. You should also be there to check your new cat is getting on with any existing pets in the household. Older and infirm cats might need regular medication, more frequent feedings, and can become clingy, needing extra comfort and attention.  

Has working from home made cat separation anxiety more likely?

A long period working from home could increase your cat's separation anxiety when you return to work
Is your cat worried about your return to the office?

The cliché has it that dogs have loved having their owners at home during lockdown, whereas cats can’t wait for their humans to get back to the office and leave them in peace. However, this certainly isn’t true for all cats. Some kitties might enjoy a bit more peace while others will find the change to routine disquieting. Cats don’t like change and once they have got used to you being around, being alone might be difficult for Mr Whiskers.

As older and unwell cats can be needy, your return to work could be challenging for them. Kittens and cats adopted during lockdown with owners working from home will know no other lifestyle. The transition to spending days alone could be particularly hard for these cats, which is why it’s essential to look out for signs of separation anxiety. 

What are the signs of separation anxiety in cats?

Hiding and not eating can be signs of cat stress
Hiding and not eating can be signs of cat stress

Even if you don’t yet have plans to return to the office, it’s good to prepare. Learn the signs of cat separation anxiety early and look out for them. Being aware of what might happen can help manage any anxiety-related behaviours when they occur. Below are some of the questions you might ask yourself if your cat is suffering from separation anxiety.

Why is my cat not interested in their food?

Inappetance is one of the most evident signs that there’s something wrong with our furry friends. Refusing food can be a sign of physical illness and psychological trouble. If Mr Whiskers starts turning his nose up at his food bowl when you return to the office, pay attention. If your kitty isn’t eating, take them to the vet. 

Why is my cat being sick all the time?

On the other side of the same coin, some cats react to stress by eating as much as possible and then asking for more. Or by gulping down their food and then vomiting it back up. Cats are vulnerable when eating, so if they feel nervous, they might try and gobble their meal as quickly as possible. Cats can also react to stressful situations by developing a sensitive tummy and by stress chewing objects they shouldn’t – and these behaviours can also lead to vomiting.

Why is my cat using the bath or bed as a toilet?

Going to the bathroom outside of the litter tray can often be a sign of stress or anxiety in cats. Our kitties need to feel safe and secure when using their litter tray. If something is troubling them, this can lead to accidents outside of their box. Remember, litter tray upsets are not a sign of spite, so be sensitive and calm if a mishap occurs. 

Why is my cat using the bathroom so much?

If your cat is going to the toilet more often than usual it could be the sign of cystitis or a urinary tract infection. Both are common side effects of stress in a cat’s life and can be very uncomfortable and possibly dangerous for kitties. Read this Cat in a Flat blog on cystitis for more information and speak to a vet immediately if you are concerned.

Why is my cat spraying?

Anxiety can instinctively make our furry friends want to claim their territory. If your kitty misses you, they might also want to mark home with their scent so you can find your way back.

Why is my cat meowing all the time?

Extra yowls, howls, meows, and other kinds of vocalisation can indicate stress in cats. If your kitty doesn’t stop talking to you or wandering around the house crying, take note, it could be a sign of underlying upset.  

Why is my cat acting weird?

When you return home will Mr Whiskers not leave you alone? A bit of extra attention from your furry friend is lovely, but if your kitty is constantly seeking attention, it could be a sign of cat separation anxiety. 

Are you coming back to a chewed plant or scratched up sofa? If this behaviour is out of the ordinary for your cat, it could be his way of expressing his discomfort at being left alone. Boredom and stress can cause cats to act destructively. 

Is your kitty hiding or running way? Cat instincts tells them to hide when they aren’t feeling well. Our furry friends will often secret themselves into a hidden corner if they are ill, and many will do the same when distressed. Don’t be offended if your fur baby suddenly flees at the sight of you; chances are your cat is just trying to process their feelings of anxiety.  

Important: Immediately consult a vet if you’re worried about your cat’s behaviour. Many signs of stress can also be a sign of illness. And if your cat is suffering from stress or anxiety, your vet can help. 

What can I do about my cat’s separation anxiety?

Human interaction is the best way to alleviate cat separation anxiety

One of the best ways to manage your kitty’s anxiety is to make sure they have enough human companionship during the day. If you and your family can’t be around, consider hiring a cat sitter to drop by. Cat carers do a lot more than feed their kitty charges and clean the litter tray. Playing, cuddling and simply being with a cat is also key to the role. For a cat struggling with the loneliness, this kind of human companionship can be invaluable.  

Kittens need a lot of supervision and stimulation, which a cat sitter would be delighted to provide. Cat carers can also comfort older and unwell cats and even administer medication. If you as a cat owner are suffering from separation anxiety, a sitter can help manage this too! Cat carers will provide you with updates on your fur baby, including photographs, so you can see how they are doing while you’re away. 

On top of hiring a cat sitter, there are a few things you can do at home to help manage your cat’s stress. 

  • Try not to make a big deal when leaving for the day. We all know the kitty sulks resulting from putting suitcases in the hall before leaving for a trip. The same cat anxiety can result from you packing your work bag or saying a big goodbye in the morning. 
  • Keeping your cat from being bored is key to keeping them calm and happy. Invest in some new toys and scratching posts, so they stay entertained. A few balls to chase or a tunnel to pounce through should help Mr Whiskers stay stimulated. A cat tree with multiple levels for your kitty to explore could be a good investment if you have space. 
  • Fresh water and food are essential in keeping kitties happy. The circulating, moving water of a cat fountain helps to tempt our furry friends to drink. And a timed feeder can also help keep mealtimes regular and with cats that need more frequent feedings. 
  • If your cat chews excessively on plants, a patch of cat grass might help channel this instinct onto something safe.
  • Leaving a radio on with the sound of humans talking can relieve loneliness.
  • A stress-relieving spray or diffuser that releases calming pheromones, such as one from Feliway, can help reduce kitties’ stress levels.

The best cure of all for cat separation anxiety, however, is human interaction. If you can, try and leave your cat just for a few hours at first to get them used to being alone. Whatever you do, make sure to shower your kitty with love and affection whenever they want it when you get home. After a day away from your fur baby you’ll be craving the cuddles just as much, if not more, then they will. 

Learn more about why you might need a cat sitter and how to prepare for your cat before going away on the Cat in a Flat blog. 

  • Cat Care
  • cat separation anxiety
  • cat sitting
  • cats and work
  • separation anxiety
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