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As a working person living alone, who usually spends about ten hours a day away from home, one of my biggest concerns regarding my cat is whether or not she gets lonely.
Leaving my cat by herself as I leave the house in the morning has always made me feel a bit guilty. I don’t know if you’re the same, but if you have concerns about this like I do, here’s an overlook of how cats deal with being by themselves in a variety of circumstances.
Of course, each cat is quite different by nature. Some are more sociable while others prefer keeping to themselves most of the time.
There are also other factors to consider, such as any health issues that may need constant care, or whether your cat is younger or older. Even what time of year it is can make a difference because it may factor into making a cat more inclined to socialize.
Additionally, each circumstance of a cat being left by herself may be very different. For example, an extended block period of being left by herself is a whole other story than a routine of daily alone time while you go to work.
The short answer is yes, cats can get lonely.
However, it might not be exactly what you think in terms of how and why cats may experience loneliness.
Read on to find out which circumstances are more likely to lead cats towards feeling lonely, signs that may indicate that a cat might be suffering from loneliness and some of the best ways to avoid or deal with this issue.
How Long Can You Leave Your Cat Alone?
As you and I both know, cats are perfectly capable of spending time by themselves.
Especially when compared to dogs, cats are way less dependent on your presence in terms of maintaining their daily needs. They do not need to be taken for a walk twice a day to pee and poop, and they can manage to portion their food because they know to stop eating when they feel full.
So, this means that in theory, as long as they have enough food and water, their litterbox is clean enough for their liking, and the space is well-aired and in optimal temperatures, a healthy adult cat can survive by herself.
However, this is not to say that they will not get lonely and they need less attention than dogs do. Therefore, pet experts advise against leaving an adult cat completely alone –even if she has everything she needs– for more than 24 to 48 hours.
Kittens, geriatric cats, and cats with chronic illnesses should ideally not be left unaccompanied.
How Do Cats Perceive Time?
Have you ever wondered whether or not your cat perceives time the same as you do?
I wonder about this every time I must leave her alone for a couple of hours. I not only wonder if she gets lonely but also if she gets bored all by herself.
It turns out that yes, cats have a very different perception of time than us. This study has shown that in general, animals that are smaller in size and that have faster metabolisms tend to have a slower perception of time.
Cat memory is very impressive in terms of long-term remembering. They can remember impactful experiences or useful information from way back in their lives. However, even though they are very sharp in remembering what happened and where it happened, they are not so good at remembering when it happened.
However, cats do have a strong grasp of time based on natural cues and the presence of a dependable daily routine. I’ve mentioned lots of times that cats love routine. This is why they can anticipate when certain things will happen, like their feeding time or the time you come home from work. They can determine time through daily cues such as daylight, birdsongs, and your schedule.
Does Your Cat Get Bored?
So, if time passes more slowly for cats, and you leave her alone for a couple of hours, does this mean that they are prone to getting bored?
Well, experts say that cats can get bored.
However, this is more often due to an environment in which there is nothing to stimulate her such as toys to play with, things to watch, or stuff to climb on.
Being left alone for a couple of hours will not cause boredom unless the environment itself is boring.
Keep in mind that your presence is also stimulating (you play with her, show her attention, do things around the house that might interest her) and your extended absence can cause boredom and depression.
If your cat shows signs of overgrooming, overeating, or a lack of interest in food, and is being inactive, she might be suffering from boredom. Make sure you show her extra attention.
Consider buying new toys (maybe a motion activated flopping fish cat toy or a motorized cat toy) and use treats to tempt her to play around. If you can’t spend a lot of time with her, consider adopting a second cat.
Daily separation is a quite common arrangement in living situations with cats.
In fact, many people prefer to adopt cats because of their solitary and self-sufficient nature, making it easy to care for them especially if you are a working person living alone.
Healthy adult cats can be left alone for hours daily, while you are at school or work. However, whether or not they experience loneliness during this time may vary from cat to cat – on their personalities and most importantly, on the type of living they have become accustomed to from their kittenhood onwards.
Basically, if your cat is used to spending a couple of hours a day by herself from very early on in her life, then it becomes a part of her daily routine. Your cat will know and expect you to wake up, feed her, leave the house, and come back home at a certain time.
Your cat’s daily activities will form around this arrangement and she will always count on you coming back. Remember, cats love their routine!
If the daily separation is a new arrangement, then your cat may have a harder time dealing with it. You should be extra careful in making this transition.
If the Daily Separation is a New Arrangement
If you recently had to transition from an arrangement where you spent most of the day with your cat to one where you have to leave her alone for hours daily, your cat will probably be disoriented and may experience feelings of abandonment.
To ease this transition and get her used to the new arrangement, you can try these things:
- Some sources say that it helps your cat to feel less alone to leave the TV or the radio on for some light background noise. This may create an illusion of having you around and soothe her.
- If you can manage, try to leave and come back at similar times every day. This consistency will help establish a routine that your cat can instinctively count on.
- You may consider adopting a second cat. Introducing cats is no easy task, but it may help in the long run if you anticipate that your cat will be spending too much time alone in the foreseeable future.
- If possible, arrange for someone that might drop by daily for a couple of days during the transition period. This may be a cat-loving neighbor, a friend, or a hired sitter. If it suits you, it can be a good idea to even consider a flatmate!
Extended Periods of Separation
Apart from daily separation, there may be times that you may have to leave your cat for extended periods of time.
You may be going on a vacation, a work trip, making a visit out of town, or -I hate to be grim but- there may be an emergency that requires you to stay at the hospital for a lengthy period of time. When you are looking after a cat, you need to consider every possibility and plan ahead.
Here are some things to consider when you are planning to leave your cat for more than a day.
Planning for Extended Periods of Separation
Food and Water
Obviously, leaving enough food and water for period you will be gone for is the first thing to take care of.
If you are leaving for 2-3 days and you haven’t arranged for anyone to drop by your house, make sure you leave out enough food and water.
Make sure you use only dry food. Do not leave out wet food as it will go bad in a day and your cat will either go hungry or get sick from eating it.
So, as I’ve said, enough food and water. However, by enough, I mean more than enough because although cats do have a sense of portion control, you should not count on it. Your cat might not be used to having a lot of food out in the open and may attempt to eat most of it at once. She may even finish two days’ worth of food in one day.
To avoid this issue, calculate how much food your cat would normally eat in the number of days you will be gone, and add a day’s worth of food just in case. This will be enough for 2-4 days of complete alone time for your cat. Even if she eats like crazy, she will not have to suffer more than half a day without food.
You may leave the food bowls in different locations around the house, which might help with portion control. However, make sure you place them somewhere your cat can easily find or will know where to look for. You don’t want to put your cat through hunger games to get to her food!
Food dispensers are a very smart option to manage portion control. They will also keep the food from going stale. This is important because when dry food gets stale, your cat may refuse to eat it and go hungry. If you have a picky cat, I strongly advise you to consider food dispensers.
Water is pretty obvious: just put out lots and lots of water in bowls. You can never have too much. It will not go bad like food; however, it may get dirty in a couple of days’ time. 3-4 days is fine for the water to stay out in the open.
To guarantee that the water stays fresh and clean, you may want to use a water dispenser. However, I do not trust electronics and I would advise you to leave around additional sources of water in case the dispenser stops working for some reason. The same goes for the food dispensers!
The litterbox is also very important when leaving your cat alone for a couple of days.
First of all, make sure it is completely clean just before you leave so that it has more leeway to get dirty.
I would recommend preparing an extra litter box just in case.
Make sure you make your cat aware of its presence by putting her in it, just as you would litter-train a kitten. This way, if one litter box gets too dirty to use, she can start using the other one.
Air circulation / Temperature
This is an especially important arrangement that is often overlooked.
When you are leaving your cat alone, consider the weather.
If it’s too hot, you may want to leave the air conditioning on. If it gets too cold, you should make sure the heat is on while you’re gone.
You may be reluctant to crack open a window (for the safety of your cat and your house) but remember that fresh air and air circulation is important. You may want to arrange someone to come over and air out the house while you are gone.
Having Someone Drop By
Even if you are only leaving for 2-3 days, you should still consider having someone drop by.
This may be more important than you think in terms of boosting your cat’s morale.
If you are planning to be gone for longer than 3-4 days, having someone come over is a must.
Having someone drop by daily or at least every other day will not only help you make sure everything is okay -that there is enough food and water, that the litterbox is clean, that the house is aired, etc- but it will also offer your cat some company and care.
If you can arrange it, having your friend stay a bit longer to play with your cat and show her some attention would be great. It would be so much better than your friend just dropping by for 5 minutes to scoop out the litterbox and refill the food and water bowls.
If a friend is not available to drop by daily or every 2-3 days, you may consider hiring a cat-sitter. This option may vary in difficulty depending on where you live, but if you can manage it, I think it is a life-saver.
You can arrange the cat-sitter to drop by daily for a couple of hours, or you may choose to have them stay at your house. I’ve even seen people offer their flats to visitors in exchange for cat-sitting on flat-renting sites.
These options may include taking your cat to another place such as a friend’s house, a cat hotel, or a veterinary clinic that provides such a service.
I would really like to underline that environmental change is something you should view as a last resort. In fact -although as cat-lovers it may hurt our feelings to grasp this- cats are bound just as much (if not more) to the place they live than to the people they live with. So relocating your cat on top of being gone yourself will definitely cause very serious disorientation and discontent.
However, there may be instances where you may not have a choice. So here are some tips and things to pay attention to if you are planning on dislocating your cat to somewhere else while you are gone.
If you are planning on leaving your cat at a friend’s house, you might want to consider their living situation first. If you have a few options among your friends -because let’s face it, everyone wants to host your adorable cat- you should choose the one with the most convenient living situation for your cat.
The most important thing is whether the person you are planning on taking your cat to has other cats or pets. This may not necessarily be a deal-breaker if all the pets involved are sociable and easy-going by nature, but this is quite unlikely.
Adult cats especially experience more difficulties being around each other and around other pets. There are a myriad of factors to consider, such as the ages and sexes of the cats, whether they are neutered or not, territorial issues (is there enough space for each cat?), etc.
Here are some questions you should be asking to determine the suitability of possible choices:
- Is there enough space?
- How many people are living there? If the house is too crowded, this may be a problem.
- Will your friend be around? Your friend not being around will mean that your cat will be left alone for hours on end at an unfamiliar setting.
- Is the place is safe for pets? Does it have balconies, windows without screens, some kind of machinery or equipment that may trap/fall on/ hurt your cat, etc?
Cat/pet hotels can be another option to consider, however, I cannot speak for every cat hotel out there, but the usual situation is not great.
You should be asking the same questions that I’ve listed above when you are evaluating cat hotels.
It is very important that your cat receives constant care by a knowledgeable employee and is not stuffed in a small cage or in a room with a bunch of other cats.
Do Outdoor Cats Get Lonely?
If you are caring for an outdoor cat that doesn’t live with you, will she suffer if you go away for a period of time?
If she gets used to being fed by you, will she be able to feed and take care of herself on the streets? These are very understandable questions and the answers depend on the particular circumstances.
If the cat you are caring for is a seasoned adult street cat, she will likely be okay in your absence.
Especially if your neighborhood is friendly towards street animals, and people (and municipalities) leave out food and water for them, things will be fine. Cats used to living on the streets are quite tough and resourceful. Even if you feed them regularly, they probably have other sources for food.
In terms of getting lonely, a street cat is probably the least likely cat to get lonely or bored. She has an abundance of stimulation at hand – other cats, other animals, other people, all the parks, gardens, empty buildings, playgrounds, and so on that are in her territory.
If you are caring for an outdoor cat that you are certain solely depends on you, then your absence will affect her. You should take the necessary precautions with food and water for her survival. As you would do with an indoor cat, you can arrange someone to check up on her while you are gone. If the cat you are caring for is a kitten without its mother, you may consider taking her to a veterinary clinic to discuss some caring options.
Does Having Multiple Cats Help?
Adopting a second cat is a piece of popular advice given to those who worry that their cat spends too much time alone.
Pet health professionals claim that in most cases, having a cat companion is a positive thing for cats. Having a second cat will help both cats avoid boredom and loneliness.
There is one huge catch though. Introducing cats is a difficult process and needs great planning and preparation. However, if you are prepared and present during this transition, it may be a very good solution to your cat’s loneliness.
I would highly recommend you consult your vet before you go ahead with this though.
Your vet may have some useful insight about whether or not your cat will respond well to a new cat or suggest things you should be looking for in the cat you are thinking of adopting.
Attention Needs That Are Based on Age and Medical Conditions
As I’ve mentioned before, generally speaking, healthy adult cats can be left completely alone for 24-48 hours. However, it is a whole other story with kittens, senior cats, and cats that have medical problems.
Let’s take a look:
Kittens need constant care and attention.
They should not be left alone for more than 4-5 hours. This is because when left alone, kittens can get themselves in all sorts of dangerous situations. They may get trapped somewhere or fall down from a high surface and hurt themselves.
Kittens are by nature very active and curious, and they haven’t gotten used to your house yet. Which also reminds me- it is a smart idea to kitten-proof your house.
When cats reach 6 months of age, they can be left alone a little longer – for up to 8 hours.
There are a couple of reasons why older kitties should rarely be left unaccompanied.
First of all, they may need assistance in performing their everyday activities. Older cats tend to have arthritis, so it might be difficult for them to use their litterbox, climb stairs, etc.
Older cats also tend to have other chronic illnesses, so they might need constant administering of medication as well.
Older cats are usually less active, and they can’t play around as much. It is a bit harder for them to stimulate themselves with such activities.
Therefore, your attention and care is extra special for them. If they are left alone for long periods, they will be more prone than younger cats to get lonely and bored.
Cats With Medical Conditions
Whether or not cats with medical conditions can be left alone will depend on the specific medical condition of each cat.
You should keep your cat company for the duration of any temporary sickness that she may have, such as the flu, the cold, diarrhea, etc.
If your cat has had any surgery and is recovering at home, it is also wise to keep her company for as long as your vet recommends it.
Chronic illnesses like diabetes, renal problems, arthritis, epilepsy, hyperthyroidism might require meticulous administering of daily medication and an emergency situation know-how. It is a good idea to not leave cats with chronic illnesses alone for more than a day.
If you need to leave for a few days and have arranged for someone to look after your cat, make sure they have all the necessary information about your cat’s condition, medications, and things to do in emergency situations.
Consequences of Loneliness
We have established that cats can get lonely, especially in your prolonged absence. In severe cases, the loneliness may manifest itself as separation anxiety and even depression.
So, what are some of the signs that your cat may be suffering from loneliness? Here are some behaviors you should be watching out for:
- Excessive meowing, general clinginess
- Not using the litterbox
- Not grooming or over-grooming
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Acting unusually disruptive (knocking things around the house, tearing or breaking stuff, etc.)
Of course, these signs could indicate any other number of psychological or medical problems. So, consulting your vet would be very smart if you observe any of these signs.
You may have noticed that most of these signs can be distinguished as attention-seeking behaviors, like clinginess, acting disruptively, or peeing outside of the litterbox. These are your cat’s way of trying to engage you to care for her and spend time with her. Do not ignore her meows and physical contact.
As you may have also noticed, some of the signs are the opposites of each other, like loss of appetite and over-eating.
This is because every cat has her own way of dealing with their feelings, just like us. When depressed, some of them may keep themselves occupied with eating while others may lose their appetite.
You should also keep in mind that some behaviors may overlap with your cat’s usual nature. For instance, your cat may be one of those cats that meows a lot – it may be something she picked up in kittenhood, or she may be a bit clumsy and knocks things on the floor sometimes.
You don’t need to automatically assume that your cat is lonely if she is meowing a lot or knocking things over. If you have any reason to suspect that she might be suffering from loneliness, share your concerns with your vet and describe the signs you have observed.
What About the Opposite?
As I’ve mentioned earlier, cats love their routine and anything out of the ordinary is likely to disturb them.
So, if they are not used to having you around all day, will they be bothered when you end up staying home?
More love and attention is always welcome by your cat. Trust me, she will get used to it immediately. Getting used to your presence is way easier than getting used to your absence. Besides, if your attention is too much, your cat will definitely let you know!
So, I hope you get to spend lots and lots of quality time with your cat!