Separation Anxiety in Cats? Yes, say researchers

A common belief among pet owners and animal health professionals is that separation anxiety is something that affects dogs rather than cats.  But there is scientific evidence to support the idea that cats are actually social animals who often form close bonds with their human family members.  Given this bond, wouldn’t cats also be vulnerable to separation anxiety when they were forced to be apart from their human family?  A new survey study has revealed that yes, indeed, some cats do appear to experience separation anxiety.

Study overview

Researchers assessed separation-related problems in cats by developing a questionnaire for cat owners. Based on surveys from similar studies with dogs, the questionnaire asked cat owners to provide basic information on each cat and their living environment, to describe whether their cat displayed certain behaviors when the owner was absent and to describe interactions between themselves and each of their cats. The questionnaire was given to 130 owners of adult cats living in the city of Juiz de Fora in Minas Gerais, Brazil.  Pet owners completed a separate questionnaire for each cat in the household. Researchers then analyzed a total of 223 completed questionnaires (one per cat).

Results overview

The data showed 13.5 percent of the sampled cats (30 out of 223) met at least one of the criteria for separation-related problems, with destructive behavior being the most frequently-reported (present in 20 of the 30 cats).

Other behaviors identified were:

-excessive vocalization (19 out of 30 cats)

-inappropriate urination (18 cats)

-depression-apathy (16 cats)

-aggressiveness (11 cats)

-agitation-anxiety (11 cats)

-inappropriate defecation (7 cats)


The data also indicated that cats expressing separation anxiety were associated with:

-households with either no female residents or with at least two female residents

-households with owners aged 18 to 35 years

-households where cats did not have access to toys

-households with no other animals in the house

What’s next

This preliminary study can serve as a jumping off point for developing future measurement tools and research techniques to study the phenomenon of cat separation-related problems, including designing studies that verify owner perceptions through direct observation of cat behavior by animal behavior specialists.


Journal Reference:  Daiana de Souza Machado, Paula Mazza Barbosa Oliveira, Juliana Clemente Machado, Maria Camila Ceballos, Aline Cristina Sant’Anna. Identification of separation-related problems in domestic cats: A questionnaire survey. PLOS ONE, 2020; 15 (4): e0230999 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0230999