Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a well-documented psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from those to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. And while we usually think of separation anxiety in terms of pets being stressed about being separated from their humans, I think it exists in reverse, too.
For most of my adult life, I’ve felt anxious about traveling – and I actually like to travel. I’m not afraid of flying, and I enjoy a change of scenery, whether it’s visiting friends in familiar places, or whether it’s traveling to someplace I’ve never been before.
But traveling means leaving my cats behind – and that’s something I’m never completely comfortable with. And I’m pretty sure that many of you feel the same way. I have the best cat sitter on the planet in my friend Rita. She visits Allegra twice a day, and she doesn’t just feed her and scoop the litter box. She hangs out with her and plays with her. They even have a special game that Rita calls “lights”, where she uses her glasses to create a light dot that Allegra loves to chase. Rita texts me during or after each visit, and sends me photos. It gives me such peace of mind to know that my girl is in such great care when I’m not with her.
During one trip a few years ago, Allegra wouldn’t eat more than a few bites of her dinner while Rita was there. Rita went back to my house a couple of hours later to make sure that she had finished her meal (which she had.) Another time I got an alert on my phone about a possible tornado being sighted near my house. Even though Rita only lives five minutes from me and everything was fine at her house, I was still worried. Rita took a quick drive to my house and assured me everything was okay.
So obviously, there’s absolutely no reason for me to worry about Allegra, right? But worry I do.
Tips to cope with your separation anxiety
There are some things that you can do to keep your anxiety at bay when you’re away from your cat, and it starts with preparing for your absence and finding a reliable caretaker for your cat while you’re away. Find a person you trust to take care of your cat while you’re away. If you don’t have a good friend like Rita, your best alternative is to find a cat sitter. This can be a daunting task, and I hope my tips will help.
How to hire a reliable cat sitter
I encourage you to start the process of finding a cat sitter long before you need to go away. Even if you have no travel plans, having a relationship with a cat sitter is always a good idea in case of an emergency.
Ask the following questions:
- What kind of training and/or experience does the sitter have?
- Is the sitter knowledgeable about general cat health issues? Will he/she be able to recognize and deal with medical emergencies?
- Will the sitter be able to deal with shy or aggressive cats?
- Does he/she come across as professional and personable?
- Does he/she or the company he/she works for have a business license and insurance?
- What arrangements does he/she have for a back up?
- For larger cat sitting services: will your cat always see the same sitter?
- What are the contingency plans for inclement weather or natural disasters?
Once you have satisfactory answers to all of these questions, schedule a meeting with the cat sitter. As a courtesy, and to get your relationship off to a good start, I recommend offering to pay them for their time. During the meeting, watch for the following:
- How does your cat respond to the cat sitter at the first meeting?
- How does the cat sitter interact with your cat? One of my cat sitters showed up for the initial consultation with a peacock feather in one hand, and a laser pointer in her pocket. I knew right away that she “got” cats.
- Does the cat sitter seem to want to learn as much as she possibly can about your cats? He/she should want to know about your cat’s eating habits, play and sleeping habits, health issues, personality, hiding places, and more.
- Ask “what if” questions. What would the cat sitter do if she couldn’t find your cat? What would she do if there was a medical emergency?
Beware of pet sitter directories and apps
Over the past few years, I’ve seen more and more “pet sitter referral” services and apps appear. They’re usually started by tech companies and investors with no pet care background. They may seem convenient – hire a cat sitter with the click of a few buttons, pay for the services online, schedule at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, with many of these apps, it’s not very clear how they screen the sitters in their network. While I have no doubt that some of the sitters who work through these apps are exceptional, when I recently spent some time poking around one of these directories, some of the qualifications listed for sitters were “I have always loved cats and dogs.” Would you trust your cats to a stranger with those qualifications? If you are going through an app, ask the above questions and insist on a meeting with the sitter before you sign on with them.
Ask for references
Don’t just rely on testimonials on a website or online reviews. Ask to speak to other clients of any sitter you consider hiring. Ask about membership in a professional pet sitting organization as this may indicate a higher level of professional excellence, but keep in mind that most membership organizations don’t screen for quality and accept members simply for paying an annual membership fee.
How to manage your separation anxiety while you’re away
With all the technology at our fingertips today, it’s easy to get regular updates from cat sitters, but don’t overdo it. Ask your cat sitter to give you updates after each visit, but make arrangements ahead of time when you can expect those updates. Years ago, I had a wonderful cat sitter who was great with my cats, but terrible about updating me, which caused additional anxiety for me. A good cat sitter will accommodate your communication needs.
If you have webcams in your home, you can also “check in” with your cats while you’re away, but I believe that’s a mixed blessing as it’s too tempting to overdo the check ins. Ultimately, it’s about finding a healthy balance between making the best possible arrangements for your cat’s care while you’re away, and managing your own anxiety about it.
People who don’t understand what it’s like to love a cat may accuse me of having a co-dependent relationship with Allegra. And maybe I do. I miss her when I’m not home, but more than that, I worry about her being without my company in between Rita’s visits, because she’s so used to having me around all day, every day.
I know that she probably sleeps most of the day and night when I’m not home. She probably spends some time looking out the window. I’m sure she looks forward to Rita’s visits. One thing she probably doesn’t do is spend a lot, if any, time worrying about when I’m going to come home.
I’ve learned to cope better with being gone. Knowing that Allegra is in such good hands with Rita gives me such peace of mind. I try to let go of my need to be in control of the universe, and trust that she will be fine. And I connect with her energetically several times a day, sending her love and letting her know that I’ll be home soon. I still get a little anxious around the times of Rita’s visits, and don’t relax completely again until I get an update reassuring me that my girl is doing just fine.
I won’t let my separation anxiety stop me from traveling, but I have to admit, the older Allegra gets, the harder it is to leave her. I only go away for a couple of short trips a year, never more than three or four days at a time. I can’t remember the last time I’ve taken a real vacation of a week or more, the way I used to before I had cats. And while it sounds tempting at times to do that, I know I’d just be too anxious about being away from Allegra to really enjoy it.
Do you experience separation anxiety when you have to leave your cats? How do you handle it?
Photo by Chen on Unsplash