More than one in 10 pet cats surveyed in a new study have displayed behavioural issues when temporarily separated from their owners.


In their study of cats with separation-related problems, scientists also observed the cats affected tended to come from households with no women or more than one woman living there.

Not having access to toys, as well as the absence of other pets in the house, were also associated with similar behavioural issues in the felines.

The findings, published in the journal PLOS One, are based on an analysis of a questionnaire survey gathered on 223 cats from 130 owners by scientists from the Federal University of Juiz de Fora in Brazil.

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The owners were asked to provide basic information on each cat, which included descriptions of their interactions with the pets, the cats’ behaviours when the owner was absent, as well as the cats’ living environments.

Analysis showed 13.5 per cent of all sampled cats displayed at least one of the several traits associated with separation-related problems, with destructive behaviour being most frequently reported (for 20 of the 30 cats).

Other behavioural traits such as excessive vocalisation (19 cats), urination in inappropriate places (18 cats), aggressiveness (11 cats), agitation-anxiety (11 cats) and inappropriate defecation (seven cats) were also observed.

The scientists also observed cats with separation-related problems tended to come from households with no women or more than one woman © Luis Alvarez
The scientists also observed cats with separation-related problems tended to come from households with no women or more than one woman © Luis Alvarez

Depression-apathy, which is characterised by a lack of energy and loss of interest, was also seen in 16 cats with separation-related problems.

The authors wrote: “The occurrence of separation-related problems was associated with the number of women living in the residence, with not having access to toys, and no other animal residing in the house.”

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The data also showed cats from households with owners aged 18 to 35 showed similar behaviours.

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But the researchers said more work needs to be done to understand more about the relationship between cats and their owners, adding that their questionnaire can act as a starting point for future research.

The authors wrote: “This study provides information about behavioural signs consistent with separation-related problems in a sampled population of domestic cats, as well as about the management practices used by their owners.


“The questionnaire identified that about 13 per cent of cats may have signs consistent with separation-related problems according to their owners’ reports, and therefore, it could be a promising tool for future research investigating separation-related problems in cats.”

News: Cats do form strong social bonds with their owners, study shows

Dogs are a man’s best friends, and cats merely tolerate us when we give them food – or so people often say.

Researchers at Oregon State University, though, have found our feline friends might not be as aloof as we once thought. Cats frequently form strong emotional bonds with their human caregivers in a similar manner to dogs and infants, they say.

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Amy ArthurEditorial Assistant, BBC Science Focus

Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.