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Relocation Adjustment, Pet Hotels and Separation Anxiety in Cats

Does your cat experience separation anxiety?

Every afternoon when I return home from work, my cat Kitkat would be waiting for me anxiously peering outside through the glass door. I would like to think that he is indeed waiting for me to come home and not looking out for the skinny squirrel that occasionally make an appearance in my yard. On opening the door he would always go out into the yard, lie down on his back into the concrete floor and roll around. I don’t think he really likes to go outside that much since after he does this unusual behaviour he would obediently go back inside the house. I initially suspected that he likes the warmth of the cement floor in the afternoon but I realized that he would do this even if it is raining out the entire day. I have since accepted this as a sort of “welcome home” greeting from him.

I think that Kitkat can sense when I am going to leave him. Why else would he insist on lying inside my luggage whenever he sees me packing my clothes as if saying "Take me with you please. I don't take up much space see?" And look at me with those irresistible pleading eyes.

Kitkat: "Take me with you please, I don't take up much space see?"

Whenever I go on short trips (like an overnight trip), I make sure that Kitkat has more than enough food in his bowl and that the water reservoir of his water dispenser is full (it has a maximum capacity of 2 liters). On longer trips though this presents a problem. I do not want to leave him unattended for longer periods.

On more than one occasion I was forced to find a cat hotel last minute (I didn't felt comfortable enough with my friends close-by to ask for what I think is a huge favor).

Fortunately there are several options for affordable cat hotels where I used to live which ranged from just a cage with a litter box to a more social environment where your pet can interact with other cat guests (under supervision) and make use of a spacious play area.

Some of the pet hotel accommodations are just as big as this cage

I remember that Kitkat was only a few months old when I had a business trip and needed to find a place for him to stay for a few days. It was at a nearby pet shop (which was where I bought his kitten formula when he was little). The trip only lasted for 5 days but by the time I returned Kitkat was in such a bad state that he seemed unable to stand on his own. He looked emaciated and weak. The petshop owner just shrugged and told me that Kitkat was not really eating properly when he was in their care and just suggested I buy him some vitamins to stimulate his appetite. I was a bit upset because I suspect that they really did not monitor if he was doing fine or not. One thing I noticed is that he drank a lot of water when he came home. He seemed so dehydrated. I suspect that Kitkat does not know how to make use of those ball bearing type drinking bottles attached to the side of the cage and that the staff did not even check. He is used to his normal bowl with a reservoir. I swore never to make use of their services again (I eventually did though since I didn't had any choice and they were the only option available - but I left stern warnings to make sure that they take care of him properly).

The next time I needed to go back to the Philippines for an extended vacation, I did manage to find a much better accommodation for him in KL (it was rather far from where I lived though but the pet hotel owner graciously agreed to meet me on my way to the airport). This pet hotel was recommended by a good friend so I was confident that Kitkat was in good hands. It was owned by a couple who happens to love cats so they decided to put up a pet hotel business adjacent to their house. They communicated often and answered my occasional inquiries about his well being. After about 2 weeks, they were a little sad to say goodbye to him as the person who I met to pick up Kitkat (they were even so kind enough to meet somewhere convenient for me since I didn't actually know where their shop was) told me that his wife has gotten a bit attached to Kitkat since she would play with him when they came home from work. He did confided in me that Kitkat had a tendency to mark his new surroundings with his musk (perhaps trying to assert himself in a new location that smelled of other strange cat smells). I dare say he did not miss me during my absence at all and it took a while for him to approach me and ask to be played with like he would normally do.

The last time I sent him off to a pet hotel was when I was preparing to repatriate back to the Philippines. I have employed the services of a pet travel agency (yes, I also didn't know that those services existed until I was researching on the requirements of exporting and importing live animals across countries). Since I was scheduled to go back to the Philippines for several weeks and Kitkat needed to be vaccinated, microchipped and I have always wanted to look into neutering Kitkat to fix his "territorial spraying" problem (yes it did get rid of that particular behavior in case you were wondering). The pet travel agent informed me that they do offer boarding services but oh boy was it more expensive than normal cat hotels. The "VIP guests" are housed in an air conditioned space where there is a common play area where they can freely interact (under the watchful eye of the staff I suppose) and are brought back to their pet carriers to sleep at night. This is a much more social environment with the idea that the "guests" can freely socialize with each other. A far cry from the usual cat in a cage scenario offered by cheaper alternatives.

In one such stay in the more expensive accommodation, the owner of the establishment told me that when I have left the facility, Kitkat started to become restless (he was with 2 older and rather anti-social cats that would hiss and bare their fangs whenever Kitkat comes near). She said that Kitkat would not let anybody come near him when I was gone and hid in the nook and crannies of the play space and would try to claw and bite anybody that would try to pick him up (they were supposed to stay in their carriers during the night). This went on for several days I was told before he eventually mellowed down. When it was finally time to pick him up he was visibly glad to see me and immediately came up to me. It is a different story though when we were back home. He was sulking for a few days and did not respond to feeble attempts to bribe him with tasty cat treats. I personally think he was bullied by those grumpy cats in the hotel.  

The day of our travel has arrived and I think he wasn't too stressed out by the 4 hour flight (plus the hours he spent in the cargo area of the airport). We were advised to come very early to the airport so that all of the necessary procedures and formalities are adhered to. He became an instant celebrity with the ground staff of Malaysian Airlines who absolutely adored him. By the time I landed in the Manila Airport he was patiently waiting in his pet carrier with an escort way ahead of all the luggages of the passengers. He was alert but didn't look stressed out or anxious.  

Although I did notice that his separation anxiety seems to have worsened the first few months of relocating back to the Philippines. I would go out to buy some groceries for a few hours and he would be all over me when I come back home. He would nudge his head against my leg or my hands if it was accessible seeming to seek reassurance that I am indeed back and sometimes give me a few playful bites. A new environment plus the trauma of the experience of travel on an airplane might have very well contributed to this behavior. Not to mention that instead of a 3 bedroom house with practically free reign of the area (my bedroom was always off limits ever since he decided that my bed should be part of his territory and he promptly "sprayed his scent” on my comforter), he is now living in a small studio apartment that doesn't even have a yard!

It has been just over a year since we relocated and he seems to be adjusting quite well. He has “taken over” certain parts of my apartment as his territory. He has for example claimed the surface of the computer table besides the window where he spends a lot of time gazing outside overlooking the parking lot and would push objects out of the way if I inadvertently place anything on top of “his” table.

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His cat carrier is where he hides whenever he wants to be left alone and his old and worse for wear cat cushion remains a favorite spot to take a nap (which also doubles as a humping cushion whenever he is in that mood haha).

Kitkat's cat cushion which also doubles as his humping pillow

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