How to Manage Cat Separation Anxiety (For Cats & Humans)

A happy cat

Although separation anxiety is often associated with dogs, it’s also a problem that can occur in cats. Knowing how to deal with separation anxiety in cats can be difficult, and it can become frustrating to manage this issue. To help simplify things for you and your cat, we’ve put together some of the best ways to manage separation anxiety.

First, we will go over how to help cats manage separation anxiety, and then we will look at how we as humans can manage the anxiety that can occur when we are away from our felines.

How to Manage Your Cat’s Separation Anxiety

1.  Provide a Nice View

Enjoyable perches that provide your kitty with a nice view, like window perches, can help decrease separation anxiety by keeping them entertained with something they enjoy. Allowing your cat to watch the birds or even the comings and goings of your neighborhood can help your cat stay distracted from your absence, making it easier on them when you’re gone. Secure catios can have a similar impact, although it’s important to make a catio that is secure enough to keep your cat safe and that allows them to come and go between indoors and outdoors.

2. Try a Pheromone Diffuser

Pheromone diffusers are a commercial product that release pheromones that will help soothe and comfort your cat. Oftentimes, these pheromones are similar to the pheromones associated with nursing mother cats. These diffusers can be a little bit pricey, but they’re a lifesaver that many people, including vets, swear by. Pheromone diffusers can also help your cat adjust to changes in the home and help grumpy cats get along with each other. Make sure to select a plug that is near the areas where your cat spends the most time to provide them an extra sense of safety and security while you’re out.

3. Set a Soundtrack

There are many sounds that your cat might find enjoyable, from birds to classical music to TV shows you frequently watch. Try to identify sounds that are soothing to your cat and play them when you’re going to be out. It can be especially beneficial if the sounds are similar to sounds that occur when you’re home, like specific TV or radio stations. There are a variety of options for soundtracks that can be enjoyable for your cat, with many free soundtracks available through YouTube channels and even Alexa devices.

striped cat looking out the window at home
Image credit: Chen, Unsplash

4. Come and Go Quietly

Try not to make a big deal about your comings and goings from the home. Most of us are guilty of announcing to our pets that we’re leaving, and even more of us are guilty of making a big deal about coming back into the house. For cats with separation anxiety, though, this can exacerbate their anxiety by causing a greater sense of importance when you come and go. For anxious cats, it’s best to not intentionally announce our departures and arrivals, instead keeping the moments before and after calm and low key.

5. Help Your Cat Burn Excess Energy

A cat full of excess energy is far more likely to experience anxiety than a cat that is well exercised. Spend time every day playing with your cat to help them burn any excess energy they may have. This doesn’t just burn energy, but also builds a sense of trust between the two of you. This will help your cat feel safe when you leave because they trust that you’re going to come back. It’s likely that you know what types of games and toys your cat likes the best that also burns the most energy.

6. Provide Safe Spaces

Your cat needs spaces throughout your home that feel safe and comfortable for them. These spaces should be away from other pets, as well as allow them to get away from small children and visitors that may make them uncomfortable. Most cats enjoy places that are high up and allow them to keep an eye on things, but a variety of spots at different levels can work well. Your cat may feel extra safe and comfortable if you put one of your shirts that still has your scent on it in their favorite spots so they can still feel close to you when you’re out of the house.

7. Provide Toys and Puzzles

clever siamese cat playing with puzzle toy to get treat
Image credit: Agata Kowalczyk, Shutterstock

Toys and puzzles aren’t just beneficial when you’re home to play with your cat. Provide your cat with a rotation of toys to keep things fun and interesting. Puzzle toys with treats and kibble in them are a great way to encourage your cat to play, even when you aren’t home. You can also hide your cat’s kibble throughout your home in small containers, like cupcake liners. This encourages your cat’s natural hunting instincts and keeps them busy when you’re not home.

8. Spread Out the Cues of You Leaving

Not only should you avoid making a big deal when you’re walking out the door, you should also avoid doing every step of leaving at once. For example, you might normally put on your shoes, grab your lunch bag, pick up your keys, and then leave. If you can break these steps up and spread them across a longer period of time, it can distract your cat from you getting ready to leave and help the process of you leaving the home feel more natural and comfortable. If every step of you leaving happens quickly, it can be overwhelming and stressful for your kitty.

9. Try a Pet Sitter

If your cat has separation anxiety that doesn’t seem to be resolved through the other ideas, then consider hiring a pet sitter to stop in when you’re out of the house. This can be especially beneficial if you’re gone for long stretches of time, like if you work a job that requires 10 or 12 hours of work per day. A pet sitter can come by and play with your cat and ensure that they have everything they need and are comfortable. Just make sure to walk your pet sitter through the steps you have already implemented to manage your cat’s separation anxiety so they can continue with the positive conditioning.

How to Manage Your Anxiety When Away from Your Cat

Your cat might not be the only one experiencing anxiety when the two of you are apart. It’s not uncommon for people to have anxiety when away from their pets, especially if you’re going out of town or your cat is going to be boarding or hospitalized for multiple days. Your anxiety likely won’t lead you to scratch the furniture or pee on the floor, but it can lead to unpleasant thoughts of worry and sensations of racing thoughts and a racing heart. How can you best manage your own anxiety when you’re away from your cat?

  • Trust the Environment Your Cat is in

If your cat is staying with a pet sitter, meet them ahead of time and take time for them to get to know your cat and you to get to know them. If your cat is staying with a boarding facility or vet clinic, make sure you’ve toured the facility and feel comfortable with the workers and environment. Check in on them as often as you feel is necessary. Nobody is going to be upset with you for checking in on your kitty!

  • Try Meditation

Meditation is a great way to manage acute and long-term anxiety. It helps to slow racing thoughts and relax the body. Regularly making time for meditation has shown the ability to help build tolerance to anxiety and reduce negative reactions to stressful situations. Guided meditations are available everywhere, including on YouTube and apps, making them available to you anywhere at any time.

  • Work on Deep Breathing

Like meditation, deep breathing exercises can help relax your body and your mind. Deep breathing stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for your body’s physiological responses to stress. This helps relax your muscles, slow your heart rate and breathing, and redirect and slow your racing thoughts.

  • Stay Active

If you’re sitting at home or in a hotel room doing nothing but thinking of and worrying about your cat, you’re going to continue to feel more and more anxious. Not only is this unproductive, but it’s unhealthy for your body and wellbeing. Keep yourself busy when you’re away from your cat, whether it’s through exercise or going on outings on vacation.

  • Focus on Nutritious Food and Drinks

Heavy, greasy foods, sugary foods, caffeine, and alcohol can all lead to feeling pretty icky. These foods also provide minimal nutrients to your body, and alcohol and caffeine can cause changes in your heartrate and breathing. The combination of heaviness in the food and lack of nutrition can increase feelings of anxiety in some people. By focusing on foods that provide you with high-quality nutrition can help you feel much better. If you’re on vacation, this can be difficult, but try to keep at least one meal per day on the healthier side.

  • Talk to Your Doctor

If feelings of anxiety are common for you, then you should talk to your doctor about it. While everyone has some level of anxiety from time to time, consistent anxiety is not normal. Chronic anxiety can be difficult to deal with and can limit many aspects of your life. Therapy and medication may be necessary to manage chronic anxiety, and it is not likely to resolve without significant work on your part and possibly medical interventions.


Separation anxiety can be a real challenge to manage, especially if your cat has a severe case. It may take multiple steps and lots of time and positive reinforcement to help your cat feel happy and comfortable when they’re home alone. Make sure to practice patience and be willing to work through things with your cat. If all else fails, talk to your vet about options for managing your cat’s anxiety.


About the author

Helping Your Cat Through a Move

moving with cats

Cats don’t like change, and moving probably ranks high on their list of least desirable activities. If cats had their druthers, they’d stay in the place they’re alredy comfortable in for the rest of their lives.

Moving is stressful for humans, and it’s even more stressful for cats.  Unfortunately, at some point in their lives, most cats will have to make a major move with their humans. Making the transition as stress-free as possible for your cat can go a long way toward avoiding problems associated with moving, such as fear-based house soiling, hiding, and aggression.

There are three phases to helping your cat through a move with as little stress as possible: preparation, the actual move, and settling into the new home.


Get your cat used to his carrier. Leave the carrier out where the cat can always see it. Leave a few treats in the carrier every now and then so your cat can discover them on his own. You can also try feeding your cat in his carrier so he will associate it with something pleasant. If your move involves a lengthy drive, start taking your cat on increasingly longer rides in the car so he can get used to it.

Put moving boxes out several days, or even weeks, before you actually start packing so you cat can explore the boxes, and get used to their presence. Most cats consider boxes fun toys, and allowing them to become familiar with the boxes can create a pleasant association. When you actually start packing, watch your cat closely. If she seems to become agitated or nervous watching you pack, you may want to confine her to a quiet room away from all the action.

If your cat is easily stressed in general, this is the time to think about using anti-anxiety medications or natural anti-anxiety products. I highly recommend Stress Stopper,  a holistic remedy developed by feline behaviorist Jackson Galaxy. I also like Composure Calming Treats. Some people also have good success with the Comfort Zone Feliway Diffusers when it comes to managing stress for cats.

Moving Day

Confine your cat to a quiet room or bathroom that the movers do not need to access. Post a sign on the door asking so movers keep out of that room. Make sure your cat has a litter box, fresh water, and comfort items such as a bed and favorite toys in the room with him. If you have multiple cats who get along, place all of them in the same room together. However, if you have cats that don’t get along, make arrangements to keep them in separate rooms.

Some people recommend boarding your cats for moving day, but unless your cat is used to and loves the boarding facility, I don’t recommend this. It adds yet another layer of stress to an already stressful situation.

When it’s time to move your cat, place her in her carrier while she’s still in her safe room. With all the furniture and boxes gone, the rest of your house will no longer be familiar territory, and your cat could get spooked and bolt.

Settling in your new home

Before you even move your cat into your new home, cat proof the entire house. Check window screens and make sure  they’re secure and can’t be pushed out by an excited kitty who’s not used to the new sights and sounds yet. Close off any nooks and crannies where a scared cat could hide. Make sure that any chemicals such as pest control traps or cleaning supplies that may have been left behind by the previous owners are removed.

Set up a quiet room for your cat that includes a litter box, fresh water, and his comfort items. This can be your bedroom if you cat sleeps in the bedroom with you. Scatter some cat treats around the room before you let the cat out of her carrier to explore. For the first few days in the new home, especially while you’re still unpacking boxes, it may be a good idea to confine the cat to her quiet room. Moving in is a busy time, but make sure you spend time with your cat in her safe room to reassure her that some things in life haven’t changed. Play with her, or just sit with her while you’re reading.

When the initial rush of unpacking is done, start giving your cat access to the rest of the house and let him explore gradually. Supervise your cat during these exploration sessions until he’s comfortable. Place litter boxes in their permanent locations in the house during this phase so that you can eventually eliminate the litter box in the safe room. Alternately, you can keep the litter box in the safe room and gradually transfer it to a permanent location.

Let your cat’s temperament be your guide as to how long this initial settling in phase needs to be, and how quickly you can move from one stage to the next. As with new cat introductions, no two cats will react to the stress of moving the same way. Some cats will immediately explore and take over their new house, while others will take weeks to venture out of their safe room.


Photo ©Ingrid King

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About the author

Stress awareness in cats

Written by Corinne Mitchell

April is National Stress Awareness Month . This campaign was launched to increase public awareness about the causes of stress and possible cures. Now, while it is true that this campaign is geared towards people of all ages, did you know that your cat can experience stress and anxiety too?

What is stress?

Physiologically, stress is a specific response by the body to a stimulus, such as fear or pain that interferes with normal physiological equilibrium. It can include physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.

What is anxiety?

Physiologically, anxiety is a multi-system response to a perceived threat or danger, causing a state of uneasiness and apprehension.

Given these two definitions, you can see that cats certainly can and do experience stress and anxiety.

What causes cats to be stressed?

There are some obvious and not so obvious reasons for your cat to feel ill at ease. Some cats are more naturally prone to stress. A cat’s past experiences may also lead to them being stress; they may have significant issues due to past traumas. The more in tune you are with your cat and their personality, the more aware you will be if they are stressed or anxious.

Major events in your cat’s life that can lead to stress include:

* Separation from family
* Loss or addition of family member or cat
* A health problem or pain
* Moving to a new home

Other causes may be less evident but are just as influential and include:

* Changes to daily routine
* Loud noises
* Fear
* Inadequate nutrition
* Boredom
* Lack of exercise / play

Signs your cat is stressed:

Depending on your cat’s temperament and personality, they will show signs of anxiety or stress in their own way. Changes in your cat’s personality or behavior may indicate they are suffering from stress. These symptoms may include:

* Changes in appetite – eating less or more
* Loss or gain of weight
* Excessive vocalizing
* Changes in litter box usage – going outside of the box
* Box sitting – a cat sitting in their litter box
* Excessive grooming
* Restlessness
* Noticeable health issues
* Excessive salivation or panting
* Frequent vomiting
* Destructive behaviors – such as scratching the carpet or furniture
* Aggression
* Trembling
* Lethargy
* Depression

Effects of stress on your cat:

If you have ever been stressed or anxious, then you know how uncomfortable and unhappy it makes you. The same is true for your cat.

If your cat becomes stressed or anxious, and you do nothing about it, your cat can become severely depressed, develop behavior problems and develop health issues due to a compromised immune system.

Ways to prevent and treat cat stress:

Depending on the source of the stress, there are several things you can do to try to minimize stress and anxiety in your cat’s life. Whenever possible, remove the source of the tension or help your cat overcome their reaction to the cause.

Physical Methods:

* Give your cat new toys and cat games to play with
* Play laser with your cat
* Grow or buy some catnip or catnip toys
* Grow or buy cat grass
* Add a new scratching post or cat tree to your home

Emotional Support:

* Spend quality time with your cat
* Have brushing and petting sessions with your cat
* Make sure your cat has a ‘safe’ spot to take a time out

Always make sure your cat is getting nutritious cat food, fresh water, and a safe and secure environment.

If you have any doubt, you should always bring your cat to a vet to rule out any possible medical causes of stress. And in some cases, the cat may need over the counter or prescription anti-anxiety medications or the assistance of a veterinary behaviorist.

Treating anxiety in your cat may take some time, but if you are willing to work with your cat, you can help your cat find relief.

Corinne Mitchell is a cat socializer and an animal ambassador for Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. She lives with her husband and three rescue cats with the additional of an occasional foster in Coronado, CA. She has devoted countless hours to helping with the cats from The Great Kitty Rescue and is using what she learned to teach cat socialization, to help orphaned cats everywhere find homes and to establish a network for cat care givers.

You may also enjoy reading:

Minimizing stress for cats can decrease illness

How to make your cat’s trip to the vet less stressful

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