Many of us who have a cat (or two) can relate to some of their quirks. Recently Dr. Hazel Carney tackled the issue of feline separation issues. In today’s veterinary blog she outlines some ideas on how to de-stress your cat(s) when you’re leaving – and returning.
Some cats show behaviors that suggest they are upset by your being away from home. But understanding how your cat thinks about time, you can decrease the worry that both you and your cat may have from the separation.
Note that a cat’s daily life function’s within basically 3 time intervals:
- 0-15 minutes
- 15 minutes-4 hours
- more than 4 hours
The length of time correlate to the importance of the strength of urine odor strength, the marking messages that cats leave for each other. If smells indicate an enemy has been in the area within the last 15 minutes, a cat remains vigilant and will avoid an area. If it indicates another cat has been near within the 15 minutes to 4 hours, the resident remains cautious (and the cat will move around based on his relationship with the other cat). When other cat smells are older than 4 hours, a resident is fairly unconcerned.
I have observed that these same 3 time intervals reflect a cat’s level of concern about an owner’s absence. In addition, humans are excited about homecomings, while colony cats never “announce” their return from hunting by doing things like hugging each other; instead they gradually, quietly re-enter their group. In fact, if a cat comes into the group with noise or excess activity, the group will become agitated and more likely to attack each other. Remember, too that the cat’s way of saying “I love you” is to give a slow blink or to head bunt you.
Using this knowledge, develop a leave-taking and return ritual to help to calm your cat’s worries about your being gone or leaving your cat at a clinic or boarding facility. If everyone in the family uses the same ritual, the cat will learn quickly and have even less distress.
Make sure the leave-taking ritual is easy to repeat in almost any circumstance. One owner who has a big cat that wound between her legs when she tried to leave the house, started with a phrase: “Tigger, are you going to watch the house while I’m gone?” Then she gently placed the cat on a table beside the side of the door, gave him a special treat to eat, said “I’ll be home before you know it,” gave him a slow blink and left.Another owner hugs each cat, says she loves them, tosses a tiny bit of catnip away from the door and leaves.
Initially, do the ritual leave taking anytime you leave the house if your cat in within sight, even if you just go to the garage to take out the trash. If you do this during an entire weekend, by Monday, your cat will have a good idea of what you are doing.
Gradually increase the time you are away from home until you are gone over 4 hours. For particularly anxious cats, leaving an article of your clothing in area away from the door may soothe the cat for longer intervals and be comforting in boarding situations. Sleeping in a tee shirt that you can leave behind is often very calming for a cat that is greatly attached to you. If house-sitters are willing to mimic your leave-taking ritual, this will help also help the cat adjust to your being away.
In conjunction with the leave-taking, de-emphasize your homecoming. Just come in the door, ignore the cat—don’t even look at it. After the cat calms down, toss a treat or pet the cat or head bunt it or feed it, all without much fuss. Gradually resume your usual activities with the cat. By making home-coming less intense you will help your cat realize things are “just normal.”
Dr. Carney offers comprehensive feline behavior consultations and the most advanced cat medical care available in the veterinary field. For more information or to schedule a consultation, call 208.375.1600.