Dying to take that dream vacation? Reduce Feline Separation Anxiety With These Tips!
I used to have a complete Donna Karan sheet set. Emphasis on ‘used to.’ But after returning home from a rejuvenating trip to Thailand I discovered one pillowcase (only one, which leads me to believe kitty is plotting either my or my future husband’s demise) completely shredded and accented by a trail of crusty vomit reaching the floor. Thank you, kitty.
The next logical train of thought would be that this neglectful pet owner peaced out, leaving only water and an overflowing bowl of dry food for her feline offspring. Not so, my friend…
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My trusty cat sitter made regular visits, ensuring the water and food levels were sufficient, cleaning the litter box and providing the kitties with regular playtime. This is a woman who not only texts me daily updates with pictures, but buys the cats stockings full of fresh catnip and toys every Christmas. And she collects my mail! I assumed I was covered. What I learned was that nothing can replace the comfort of family & routine – even when it comes to the wildly independent feline.
Feline separation anxiety can occur in any cat and stems from different sources ranging from environmental factors to weaning too early. Has your feline urinated outside the litter box or on your clothing? While this may be viewed as kitty acting out, according to Cat Behavior Associates, these are purely his efforts to self-soothe by mixing his scent with yours while attempting to help you ‘find’ your way home. Though they may cry before you leave, cats will often wait until your departure to deposit these unwelcome gifts – an act which reduces their feelings of stress. By integrating the following tips into your daily routine, you can reduce feline anxiety while you’re away.
Repeating cues erases a cat’s ability to identify when you’re about to depart. Every morning I go through the same routine: wake, feed the cats, shower and get ready for work. The final steps before my departure include picking up my purse and keys and opening the door. By repeating these final cues (picking up my keys and purse and opening the door) throughout the day, I remove their power. Identify what triggers that ‘moment of stress’ in your cat’s routine and repeat it to dissolve its importance in your cat’s eyes.
Leave out your travel bag or suitcase prior to travel. Put clothes in and out at random intervals, so your feline doesn’t feel upset when you finally pack. Some feline family members will even place a catnip toy in the suitcase, temporarily turning it into a mini-playground. While this can be an impractical, furry mess in your suitcase, desensitizing your cat to changes in your travel schedule will comfort him in the long run.
Increase the environmental activities available to your cat. A boring environment can exacerbate problems including separation anxiety, destructive behavior, inter-cat aggression and depression, while a fun environment leads to a happy, confident cat. Cats are natural hunters. Enriching activities such as puzzle feeders stimulate your cat’s senses and physical skill and force them to eat slowly. Other environmental stimulation can include the availability of small toys, hideaways or cat beds and high perches and shelves.
It is a common and cruel myth that cats can be left alone for extended periods of time. Ask a family member, cat sitter or friend to look after and interact with your cat while you’re gone. Litter box, food and water maintenance can easily become stress factors for your cat if not maintained. A study conducted by the journal Behavioral Processes states that cat-human relationships are nearly identical to human-only bonds, with cats often becoming furry ‘children’ in loving homes. While we frequently view our cats as independent, wily creatures, they are often strongly influenced by the schedules and habits we keep.
By integrating these simple practices into your routine, you will ease your cat into any schedule changes or upcoming trips while saving yourself a sheet set or two!
Image: Andesine via Flickr