Cats are more social than many people give them credit for and, depending on their temperament, may have thrived with more company and attention at home. If your cat has become used to having you around, sudden increases in time spent home alone could result in behaviour problems.
You may have experienced separation anxiety with your adult dog, but did you know cats can suffer this too? Although less commonly seen than with their canine counterparts, separation anxiety is very real for some cats. Helping your cat prepare for longer periods spent alone can avoid this altogether.
How can I help my cat adjust when I go back to work after lockdown?
Cats are very sensitive to changes in their environment, making them susceptible to stress when their routine is altered. The beginning of lockdown saw some cats struggling with this, and many experienced increased anxiety at having more fuss and attention than they were used to. Having settled, most cats then started to enjoy the extra cuddles, as they adapted to a new routine. Breeds such as the Burmese and the Persian seemed particularly chuffed with these changes, loving some extra time spent with their favourite people.
Separation can be distressing and confusing to cats, and even more so if it comes without prior preparation. Signs of separation anxiety may include behaviours such as spraying, demanding constant attention and overgrooming. If your cat is experiencing stress and anxiety, this may also lead to inappropriate toileting outside of the litter box.
With practice, patience and enrichment, you can help your cat adjust to a new normal. Here we look at top tips to help them prepare.
Tip one: Get family members involved to prevent overbonding
Your cat may have decided they actually quite like constant company. This can result in attention demanding behaviours, such as meowing whilst following you. If you feel your cat has become too attached to one member of the household, it’s a good idea to get everyone involved in their care. Split feeding time, cuddles and games between everyone evenly. This will help balance out the attention given, preventing over-reliance on one person.
Tip two: Routine, practice and encouraging independence
Preparing your cat for life after lockdown means helping them re-adjust to time spent without you around. The best gift you can give them is help them feel comfortable in their own company. Instead of fussing your cat all the time when you’re at home, encourage independent play with food challenges and toys. This will help build resilience to longer periods without you.
You may want to try desensitising your cat to departure cues, such as picking up your keys or opening the front door. Go through the motions of leaving, then return to your normal day. Your cat will become more comfortable around these actions, and the intensity of their reaction will decrease over time.
Routine is also important for cats, who can become frustrated if this changes unexpectedly. Feed your cat at the same time each day, and practice leaving them alone. You can do this by spending time each day in areas of the house your cat won’t have access to yet showing them you return quickly. Build on the time gradually, reducing it back down if your cat seems stressed. Practice regularly over a period, to help your cat adjust.
Tip three: Provide plenty of mental stimulation
When it comes to leaving your cat alone after lockdown, mental stimulation is essential. If your cat is happily entertained and using their brain, they will have less time to miss you. Take a look at your environment in order to evaluate your cat’s needs. Food puzzles and small treats hidden around the house can help stimulate hunting instincts, with the added bonus of extra exercise for your feline friend.
Senses circuits and cat tunnels offer novel enrichment, and can be brought out specially when your cat is home alone. This helps keep things interesting.
Tip four: Scratching posts and safe spaces
Creating a calm and cosy space for your cat to relax in, can really help them feel comfortable during longer periods at home alone. Cats tend to feel their best in high up spots, so bear this in mind when creating a hiding place. A familiar item of clothing can help soothe them, and if your cat enjoys looking at the world outside, a window spot may do the trick.
Scratching posts are also important to include in your cat’s environment, as they offer the option of stretching out muscles and maintaining claw health. The act of scratching can help relieve stress, so it’s a good idea to have one available when leaving your cat alone.
If you have a multi-cat household you will need a post for each cat, with an extra one ideally. Cats use their posts to mark territory, so they aren’t overly keen on sharing!
Tip five: Leave the house calmly and without a fuss
When the time comes to leave your cat, make sure you leave the house quietly. Leaving your cat alone after lockdown can be difficult for both the two and four-legged members of the household but remaining calm is important. Your cat will pick up on any tension, and this can create stress and anxiety.
Get things ready with your cats’ toys and scattered treats for search games, as well as a cosy safe space in an area of their choosing. Some cats may find low level music or the chatter of an audiobook soothing, as this replicates the noise they would hear when people are at home. Once this is ready, say goodbye and leave without much fuss. Your cat will learn that time at home alone doesn’t have to be a bad thing. They get fun games, happy spaces, and can enjoy these in the knowledge that you’ll be coming back to see them at the end of the day.