You may be surprised to learn there is very little empirical research to give a firm answer to this important question: How long can you leave a cat alone? Despite a lack of concrete guidelines, cat parents can create a more supportive, safer environment for their feline family members while they’re away from home.1
Social, Active Beings: Physical And Mental Stimulation Matter
When discussing how long can you leave a cat alone, there are two distinct considerations: the animal’s physical wellbeing (access to fresh food, water, and litter box) and their emotional wellbeing (mental stimulation and companionship).
While many naturally think of dogs as the pet most sociable and attached to their owners — two recent studies show cats may be just as bonded and social, even if they don’t show it in quite the same way.
One study found that, just like dogs, a cat’s level of sociability depends on numerous factors, including their environment from a young age, access to resources, and experiences with humans.2
The other study found that feline subjects — both pets and shelter cats — chose to spend more time in proximity to the attentive human in the experiment than the unattentive one.3
Separation Anxiety In Cats
While a lot of attention is placed on the subject of dogs suffering from anxiety when their pet parent leaves for the day — with videos circulating online of them whimpering at the door in distress — research suggests that cats may also show signs of separation anxiety.4
One study covering 136 cases for nearly a decade found separation anxiety triggered behavioral issues in the majority of feline subjects. From most common to least common, the behaviors observed included:
- Inappropriate urination
- Inappropriate defecation
- Excessive vocalization
- Excessive grooming (psychogenic grooming)5
Should pet parents take this behavior personally? Well, consider this, for the cats reported to have urinated in inappropriate places, 75 percent did so on their owner’s bed exclusively.6
But all hope for a happy kitty while you are away is not lost — there are ways cat parents may help improve a feline’s alone time.
A Pet Parent’s Plan For A Playful Environment
Regular human interaction is ideal, but for many cat parents, it’s not always possible throughout the day. After all, many pet parents have to go to work. So, your cat’s environment should be structured to keep them entertained. Here are a few ways to make their habitat a bit more stimulating.
- A place to climb, scratch, and perch. Nearly all cat parents know how much cats love to climb and scratch things. A cat tree and cat scratcher can give them a way to expend energy while you’re away. Also, placing a cat perch near a window will enable them to watch birds and squirrels. Consider hanging a feeder in front of the window to draw wildlife near.
- All types of toys. From feathers hanging from a rope to fluffy mice on the floor, felines enjoy jumping from one toy to the next. Jingly balls to chase around stimulate them with both the tactical feel and playful sound.
- Solve the puzzle, win a prize. Food puzzles are a great way to entertain your feline and stimulate their curious spirit. These involve stuffing the puzzle toy with dry food or a treat that is released once your furry friend figures out how to turn it the right way or undo the latch.
- Serene as a yoga studio. While your cat may be happiest at play, it’s worth testing what type of music or sounds they react best to. This way, you can leave the music or sounds on lightly in the background while you’re away. Consider something soothing like classical or meditation music.
- Go for the buddy system. If your main worry is that your feline is bored and lonely day in and day out while you’re at work, your best bet may be to get your cat a buddy. And while two cats are more responsibility than one, it might help ease your feline family member’s loneliness. You’ll of course need to make sure the cats are compatible. But once that’s established, they’ll have someone else to groom, wrestle, and chase for the eight hours (or more) you’re away each day.7
How Long Can You Leave a Cat Alone? What To Consider When Leaving Them Overnight
First and foremost, you need to consider your individual cat’s needs when leaving them alone. Different cats have different needs in terms of food, medical care, and physical ability. A conversation with your veterinarian is a great place to start to discuss your cat’s health and wellbeing.
The below considerations are for adult cats who may require more specific care. Additionally, kittens under six months and older cats may have different feeding needs and require more supervision.8
Check the weather. While the natural inclination is to turn off central air or heating when you leave the house, don’t forget your pet will need to be comfortable too. Check the weather report to see if a heatwave or blustery storm is headed in your home’s path, and adjust the thermostat accordingly. With smart-home technology, you may even be able to do this while you’re away.9
Double up on litter boxes. Human, cat, dog — nearly every domesticated creature appreciates a clean place to poop. And without you there to clean your cat’s litter box, they won’t be feeling the love. Adding a second box and letting them get used to it before your time away may help reduce the risk of them relieving themselves in less-than-ideal locations.10
Stick to a feeding schedule. An automatic feeder allows you to meet your cat’s individual feeding needs. Instead of leaving out enough food to cover the time you are away, an automated pet feeder portions out food as if you were there as usual, so your feline can stick to their normal eating times.11
Provide a constant supply of fresh water. Hydration is just as important for pets as it is for humans. While you can leave multiple dishes of fresh water around the house, a better alternative is to get a pet water fountain. These work by continually aerating the water, so it tastes better and is more appealing to cats.12
Boarding Facility Vs. Pet Sitter
If you’re going to be away for longer periods of time, your safest bet is to have someone take care of your feline family member. A boarding facility is better than leaving your cat alone, but it may not be the ideal first choice. Since felines are territorial creatures, they may experience stress from being in an unfamiliar environment — considering a boarding facility will have other animals’ scents and sounds present.13
A pet sitter, on the other hand, can come to your home to not only entertain and care for your cat but also make sure there aren’t any urgent issues that need to be addressed. A professional cat sitter will typically spend about a half hour in your home, providing fresh food and water, cleaning the litter box, delivering medicine, and checking in with your veterinarian if something seems amiss with your cat’s health.14
While you can ask a neighbor or family member to stop by, consider if the burden will get in the way of being reliable. When leaving your cat for long periods of time, you may have better peace of mind hiring a professional sitter with a set schedule and solid experience.15
Cat Parents: Err On The Side Of Caution
Cats are social creatures. They love to play, and despite their standoffish demeanor, they love human interaction. When thinking about leaving your cat alone, talk to your vet and review the considerations above so that your cat is always happy, healthy, and safe.
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