Separation Anxiety in Cats

Key takeaways

Separation anxiety is a complex and rare behavioral condition that affects cats when they are separated from their owners.

  • Cats are generally viewed as independent and asocial, but they can form strong bonds with their caretakers
  • If the bond is dysfunctional, cats can show signs of distress when left alone
  • Orphaned, bottle-fed, and early weaned cats are at greater risk of developing separation anxiety
  • Separation anxiety results in extreme behavioral and emotional reactions including excessive or compulsive self-grooming, excessive vocalization, and house soiling
  • Diagnosis is complicated and focuses on ruling out any other potential underlying conditions causing dysfunctional behavior
  • Once a diagnosis is reached, the introduction of environmental stimuli, behavioral modification training, anti-anxiety medications, or prescription supplements can improve the animal's anxiety
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A closer look: Separation Anxiety in Cats

Separation anxiety in cats is extremely rare. Only socially-oriented animals suffer from separation anxiety, and most cats are not heavily reliant on their owners for social contact. Orphaned, bottle-fed, and early weaned cats are at greater risk of developing separation anxiety. Female cats are diagnosed more frequently.

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Risk factors

Excessive or compulsive grooming can lead to self-mutilation in some cases. Most cats focus their grooming on the tip of the tail, so this area can become ulcerated, raw, or lose hair.

Possible causes

Separation anxiety is a rare and complex behavioral condition that affects overly-attached cats when they are separated from their owners.

It can be triggered by many factors such as:

  • Boredom
  • Lack of exercise
  • Underlying anxiety disorders
  • Abrupt change of environment or routine

Main symptoms

Testing and diagnosis

Diagnosis of separation anxiety in cats is very difficult. The first step is ruling out any other conditions that may cause the symptoms through diagnostic tests such as a physical examination and blood work. There must be careful consideration of whether the cat is experiencing boredom or other anxiety disorders which may contribute to separation anxiety.

Steps to Recovery

Anxiety is a life-long condition and is not well understood, especially in cats. A cat suffering from separation anxiety can be referred to a certified veterinary behaviorist, who may suggest the following:

  • Desensitization, where the length of time away from the caregiver is progressively increased
  • Behavioral modification, such as counter-conditioning where a reward is given while the caregiver is away
  • Supplements: specific prescription supplements may improve the animal’s symptoms. Most over-the-counter supplements are not proven to reduce anxious behaviors in cats.
  • Calming pheromone sprays
  • Anxiety-reducing medication

Treatment involves significant trial and error to find the most appropriate management strategies for the individual cat.


Since the root cause of anxiety in cats is not well defined, it is difficult to determine how to best prevent separation anxiety from occurring. Strategies that may help prevent disordered separation anxiety in cats include:

  • Using a timed feeder to provide enrichment while the caregiver is away, and reduce food-related stress
  • Teaching the cat to play on its own to reduce boredom
  • Providing the animal with hiding, resting, and scratching places
  • Ensuring all of the cat’s physical, mental, health, and environmental needs are consistently met

Is Separation Anxiety in Cats common?

Separation anxiety in cats is extremely rare.

Typical Treatment

  • Behavioral modification
  • Supplements
  • Anxiety-reducing medication

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