Research has demonstrated the existence of feline anxiety and has helped increase our understanding of it. Clare Hemington explains more...
Q) During lockdown, I began working from home and spent lots more time with my cat. I’ve since returned to the office a couple of days a week and it seems to have affected my cat. She seems more anxious when I am not around and shows more destructive behaviours — not major damage, but she never, ever does any damage usually. Could it be me heading back to work? She seems fine when I am around. - Your Cat reader
I must admit I used to be sceptical about the existence of separation anxiety in cats. That was until I came back from holiday several years ago to find that my Siamese cat Jimmy had pulled a big patch of his fur out! Research has since demonstrated the existence of feline anxiety and has helped increase our understanding of it. However, it’s also important for us not to be too quick to label a cat as suffering from separation anxiety when his behaviour could equally be attributed to another cause.
If your cat is naturally clingy, follows you from room to room, and generally insists on being with you at all times, it is possible that he might perform behaviours consistent with separation anxiety when you’re not at home. These include soiling, especially on items associated with your scent; urine spraying; over-grooming; and destructive behaviour.
On the other hand, going back to work after an extended period at home might just represent a change in his routine, and without you as chief entertainment officer he is now bored and looking for ways to fill his time.
Giving him opportunities to be challenged and stimulated in your absence, such as those listed below, should help to reduce his destructive behaviour while keeping him distracted, entertained, and anxiety-free.
A tall multi-level cat tree by a window will offer him a safe vantage point from where he can view the outdoor action. And strategically placed scratching posts and mats should help prevent damage to furniture.
Just before you leave, place tasty treats around the home for him to ‘forage’ for. For an extra challenge, you can place them in cardboard tubes, egg boxes, paper bags, or cereal boxes. Likewise, feeding time can be made more fun by leaving his dry food in interactive feeders.
Leave him two or three different toys each day of varying sizes, textures, and scents, and if you can find time for an interactive play session with him before you leave, all the better!
A heated pet pad or radiator hammock can help your cat feel calm and relaxed in your absence. Some owners leave the radio on in the background to help muffle any outside noises that might make your cat feel anxious, or you could try one of the videos made specifically for cats to watch. Diffusers containing feline pheromone or essential oils may help to reduce anxiety.
Cats are very sensitive to how their owners are feeling and if you’re upset about leaving, the chances are this will project on to your cat. So, try to avoid making a fuss of him when you leave and make your departure more laid-back. The same goes for your arrival back home, a brief, casual greeting is usually best.
I hope this gives you some reassurance and ideas to help mitigate the destructiveness!