Cats And Separation Anxiety
Cats and separation anxiety: Find out how to make your departure less stressful on your cat, if you are leaving for the day or a whole week.
Leaving for work every morning is hard enough without having your cat sit by the door and scowl at you; this can be very intimidating and not what you need before heading to work. As soon as you hit the shower, Socks instinctively knows that you will not be staying home to play today, and he starts displaying whatever wacko behavior he is famous for. It might be scratching on the bed to get your attention, hiding from you because he does not want to face the hard truth, yowling at the top of his lungs or just looking very depressed. It becomes worse when you get your suitcases out. Your cat may be in denial and play in them until he realizes you actually are going somewhere with them. I had to learn the hard way because my cat is less independent than most cats and he loves attention. The first day I left him alone when he was a kitten, he cried so much that he got sick.
I have found that cats are instinctively creatures of habit, and love routine. The problem is, we, as humans, are inconsistent and as slaves to artificial time, we have lost a sense of natural flow in our lives (well, that is at least what my cat tells me, he may be biased though). As we comprise and create our cat's natural environment, the things we do, our habits, schedules etc., dictate his natural sense of time. We are like clocks. While we cannot really get out of bed at the exact time every morning, whatever we do after getting out of bed is actually the starting point for our cat's own natural clock. They can decipher whether you will be staying or going within a few seconds, and that is how they work sleeping and eating around your departure and schedule their sleeping and eating for the rest of the day.
But who can sleep and eat (or maybe just sleep) under so much stress? Being consistent with what you do with your cat before you go to work can help reduce his stress level. I like to feed my cat at night before I go to bed and in the morning when I wake up. This diverts his attention from the fact that I will be leaving, and makes him happy every morning. Then, while he is eating, I can sneak into the shower without him realizing. Also, by feeding your cat on a regular schedule, this helps him with his own natural clock and makes him feel more comfortable about your departure. This is a constant factor in the more inconsistent scheme of things and cats crave routine and consistency. If your cat is not overweight, you should leave out dry food for him to nibble on throughout the day, but what cats really want is in the can. However, having food out all the time also makes cats feel at ease. When cats know exactly when they will be fed everyday their stress level will decrease -- they know they are not fed while you are away and food is an important part of their lives. You might be coming and going at all different times, but feeding is always right on schedule.
When you go on a long vacation, you will want to have someone take care of Socks who can simulate his feeding schedule as closely as possible. So, if you feed him in the morning and night, try to have someone come over and do that for you. It is even better to have someone stay at your house, rather than come and go -- cats are sensitive creatures you know. While they may not act as if they care, they do! The more their daily lives stay the same, the less stressed they will be about you not being there.
While food is an important factor in this, they do care about you for other reasons too. Some other things I have done in the past are leaving the TV on (they like Animal Planet), or keep the radio on. The human voices they hear on the television and radio remind them of you and are soothing. Also, leave out some favorite toys near the water or food dishes (some place they frequent often). If you know where your cat sleeps most often, leave out an old, dirty shirt (it must be dirty) in the place where he sleeps. Your cat will recognize your smell on it and that familiar scent will make him more comfortable. Also, try to wake up just a few minutes every day and set aside about 10 minutes in the morning to pet or play with your cat before you leave. Because my cat is always near, I just talk to him while I get ready (it is quite a sight). He also thinks when I go from one room to the other that I am playing with him, so he stays content. You can also pet and play with your cat right when you get home, although it always seems like there are so many things to do -- just set aside about 10 minutes seems like a lot. Because my cat is so outgoing, I cannot help but pay attention to him, but with a more introverted cat, you might have to go searching for him.
Lastly, if you are really crazy (who isn't), you can call during the day and leave a message for your cat on the answering machine. Reassure him that you will be home soon in that high voice he so adores. My cat will actually talk to me on the phone. While you cannot train a cat (well, they are not dogs), you can easily divert their attention from the fact that you will be leaving, and while you are gone you can make them feel more at ease.