Can it be true that domestic cats are more likely to suffer from separation anxiety in homes with two female residents? I discuss it here. Separation anxiety can also be called ‘separation-related problems’ (SRP). Based upon questionnaires, a study has been conducted by scientists from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in Brazil. They concluded that 13.5% of cats displayed signs of SRP. They assessed SRP by reference to a range of behaviours and physiological signs.
As expected they found an association between SRP and the situation regarding the number of people in the home where the cats lived, the nature of the environment and the style of cat ownership (“management traits”). The questionnaire was completed by 130 owners who cared for 223 cats.
Signs of SRP
At least one sign of SRP was found in 13.5% of the cats. Destructive behaviour was the most commonly seen sign of SRP. This was found in two thirds of the cats. A little less than two thirds of the cats vocalised excessively while 60% of the cats urinated in inappropriate places. A little more than half the cats showed signs of depression-apathy while a little more than one third of the cats demonstrated aggressiveness. A similar percentage, 37%, showed signs of agitation and anxiety. Twenty-three percent of the cats pooped in inappropriate places.
Two women households cause more cat SRP?
It is very interesting to state that the study found that cats whose owners reported behaviours consistent with SRP were associated with households where there were (1) no female residents and (2) residents aged 18 to 35 years and (3) two female residents. Note: I have converted ‘two female residents’ to ‘two women’ for convenience.
What this is saying, in other words, is that in households where there are two adult female humans the domestic cats in that household were more likely to suffer from SRP. The same conclusion can be said about households were there are no women and where the adult humans were in the age range 18-35.
I’m not sure what we can take from that. Why should two women cause a problem with SRP and not one woman? It may be the case that where there are two women they are preoccupied with themselves by which I mean they interact with themselves and not with their cat or cats. A single woman is more likely to interact with their cat far more often. It also appears that women are more likely to interact with their cat than men. Younger people are less likely to interact with their cats which supports my thought that retired people are better placed to look after cat because they have more time to do it. However, it may be the case that because women are more perceptive in terms of reading their cat’s behaviour that they recorded the data in a different way to men which distorts it. Perhaps where there are two women their perceptions are overly acute in reading cat behavior.
Two female households affects dogs too
The scientists said that it is difficult to explain why there was a higher incidence of SRP in households where there are two human females. Interestingly, a previous study found that it was more likely that dogs suffered from SRP as the number of females in the house increased. They suggest that cats prefer to interact with adult female residents more than with male adults or children. Also, it is possible that women were more sensitive towards and have a higher degree of perception of their cat’s behaviour and body language. This would distort the results as mentioned.
Reading the discussion section of the study (rather than reports in news media) I see that the study concluded that the number of interactions per minute with a female owner was higher when compared to that of a male owner.
There has to be a caveat with this sort of study which is that it is relying on owners observing their cats with the help of a questionnaire. There are various reasons why observations by cat owners can be unreliable, one of which is that they can project their thoughts onto their cat so that their cat reflects their own emotional state. Also people are not necessarily scientifically minded and therefore do not observe objectively.
As expected, access to toys and play influenced the degree of SRP. The study states that 12% of the cats in the study had no access to toys. Of the cats observed to be suffering from SRP, 27% of them had no access to toys. Therefore this may be a factor related to SRP. What this is saying is that when domestic cats have the chance to play with toys and with their owner that less likely to suffer from SRP. This is common sense if we are honest.
Also, as expected, cats not left alone are less likely to develop SRP. It is incorrect to view domestic cats as independent animals because when you do this you tend to leave them alone more often which contributes to them developing SRP. Therefore owner perception has an impact upon prevalence of SRP.
Multicat homes helpful on SRP?
The study was unable to find a clear conclusion that domestic cats are less likely to suffer from SRP in multi-cat households. They suggest that in some cases having another animal in the environment may be beneficial for certain cats depending upon their temperament because they can then interact with each other without being aggressive towards each other.
The scientists admit that the study has limitations. Personally, I am dubious about the usefulness of studies based upon questionnaires. I don’t think we can rely upon people to make objective observations sufficiently frequently to make the studies reliable. In fact, they can mislead because they are labelled scientific studies and therefore are meant to be more believable.
The study can be read on Plos One and is called: Identification of separation-related problems
in domestic cats: A questionnaire survey. Please Google it to find it.