Written by Josephine Lategan
Although your cat is unlikely to contract COVID-19, the pandemic presents new threats to pets and people alike.
According to studies and reports, your cat is more likely to suffer separation anxiety than you are to catch Coronavirus in South Africa right now.
On 7 June, IOL reports that 8% of the country’s population has or had Covid-19. By contrast, Science Focus points out that a study in Brazil previously found 10% of cats are prone to separation anxiety; in a post-lockdown world this proportion is set to rise.
Many of us have enjoyed months in our cats’ company 24/7. As we begin to return to work, studies and to some degree of socialising in lockdown phase 3, you may be asking yourself what you can do to ease your feline(s) through the next change.
You can protect your kitty from this difficult syndrome by understanding it and taking steps to prevent, or recognise, diagnose and treat it, with the help of a pet professional.
What exactly is separation anxiety in cats?
Manhattan Cats defines it as “a dislike of and discomfort with solitude”. It’s not widely understood in cats, but it is in dogs. In 20 – 40% of cases referred to behavioural specialists, it’s the second most common disorder in American dogs with the first being aggression. It’s rarely recognised and therefore even less frequently diagnosed in cats who may be suffering silently. Or, not so silently…
What causes cats to suffer separation anxiety?
Being solitary creatures, cats are inherently more independent than pack-living dogs, but can suffer emotionally when there’s a change in routine, access to primary human or pet presence in the home, for example you change meal times, suddenly go away on a work trip, you have visitors to stay or you get a new pet.
Other felines, Manhattan Cats points out, are “truly social creatures” who develop powerful emotional attachments to people and other pets.
Shelter cats may have been weaned too early, or simply be so relieved to finally have a forever home and a kind carer that they are terrified you’ll abandon them and can’t relax.
Depression can lead to it, as well, and in some cases it can also be genetic. Highly-strung purebreds like Siamese or Burmese can be particularly prone.
What are the symptoms of feline separation anxiety?
There are a variety of possible symptoms that point to the disorder, however it takes a vet and a pet behaviourist to diagnose and treat it. You may notice signs of:
Some of these symptoms are common in other conditions too. PetCube points out that before a cat anxiety diagnosis can be made, it’s important to consider physical health problems. “Based on the symptoms,” they continue, “your vet will know what to look out for. They may check for a urinary tract infection, hyperthyroidism, intestinal disease, skin issues, allergies, and parasites.” If the cat is genetically prone to separation anxiety, the vet may prescribe medication. If the cat is physically fine, they may refer you to an animal behaviourist for qualified therapy and treatment.
A pet behaviourist may recommend that you alter your arriving and leaving rituals, advise you on how best to respond to signs of stress in your cat (i.e. when not to respond to the meow and when to cuddle and comfort), and help you identify and address anxiety triggers, like the sound of your car keys signalling that you’re about to go.
How can I prevent separation anxiety in my feline friend?
There are ways to encourage mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and discourage the neuroses (or neural pathways) that lead to the syndrome.
A pet behaviourist may suggest you:
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