As a working person living alone, I usually spend about ten hours a day away from home. Therefore, one of my biggest concerns regarding my cat is whether she gets lonely.
Leaving my cat alone as I leave the house in the morning has always made me feel a bit guilty. If you have similar concerns, here’s an overlook of how cats deal with being by themselves in various circumstances.
Of course, each cat is quite different by nature; some are more sociable while others prefer keeping to themselves most of the time. Therefore, some cats respond better to spending time alone, whereas others get lonely quickly.
Other factors to consider include 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 alone 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.
This natural independence means that, in theory, a healthy adult cat can survive by herself. As long as they have enough food and water, a clean litter box, well-aired space, and optimal temperatures, cats are generally fine left alone.
However, this is not to say that they will not get lonely and don’t require attention from their owners. 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. Some say leaving cats alone for four days is okay, but this is the absolute maximum and is far from ideal.
As I mentioned, this applies to healthy adult cats only. Kittens, geriatric cats, and cats with chronic illnesses should ideally not be left unaccompanied – even for as little as one day!
How Do Cats Perceive Time?
Have you ever wondered whether your cat perceives time the same as you? I wonder about this whenever I need to leave my cat alone for a couple of hours. It’s not only a question of whether she gets lonely but also if she gets bored all by herself. And this is largely dependent on how they perceive time.
It turns out that cats do have a very different perception of time than us. This study has shown that animals that are generally smaller in size and have faster metabolisms tend to have a slower perception of time.
Cat memory is very impressive in terms of long-term memory. They can remember impactful experiences or valuable information almost indefinitely. However, even though they are very sharp in remembering what happened and where it happened, they are not so good at recognizing 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 slowly for cats and you leave her alone for a couple of hours, does this mean 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, stimuli to watch, or things to climb on) than being left alone. In other words, being alone for a couple of hours will not cause boredom unless the environment is boring.
Remember that your presence is also stimulating (you play with her, show her attention, and do things around the house that might interest her), and your extended absence can cause boredom and depression.
Thankfully, it is easy to spot signs of boredom in cats. Some of the signs that indicate boredom are as follows:
- My cat overgrooming or losing fur
- Overeating or a lack of interest in food
- Inactivity or lethargy
- My cat so affectionate all of a sudden
Make sure you show your cat extra love and care when this happens. 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 much time with her, consider adopting a second cat.
Daily separation is a quite common arrangement in living situations with cats. Many people prefer to adopt cats because of their solitary and self-sufficient nature, making it easy to care for them. Therefore, cats seem to be the go-to pet for working people living alone.
Healthy adult cats can be left alone for hours each day while their owners 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, the living they have become accustomed to from kittenhood.
Basically, if your cat is used to spending a couple of hours a day by herself from very early on in her life, 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 returning. Remember, cats love their routine! But if the daily separation is a new arrangement, 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 it helps your cat 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.
You may be going on a vacation, a work trip, or making a visit out of town. Alternatively, there might be issues outside your control, such as an emergency requiring you to stay at the hospital for a lengthy period. When looking after a cat, you must consider every possibility and plan ahead for extended periods of separation.
Here are some things to consider when planning to leave your cat for more than a day.
Planning for Extended Periods of Separation
Leaving enough food for the time you’ll be gone is the first thing to take care of. The best option is to arrange for a cat sitter to feed your cat daily. This setup ensures your cat’s food is always fresh. Besides, your kitty will appreciate the company!
However, it is possible to fulfill your cat’s food needs without arranging for a sitter. This is only recommended with leaving your cat for up to three days – any longer, the food will go stale. Make sure you use only dry food. Wet food will go rancid in a day, and your cat will either go hungry or get sick from eating it.
Also, always ensure you leave more than enough food for your cat. Although cats 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 her food!
Food dispensers are a brilliant option for managing 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 lots and lots of water in bowls around your home. You can never have too much. It will not go bad like food; however, it may get dirty in a couple of days. Ideally, it should be changed daily, but 3-4 days is acceptable 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 or cat water fountain. Cats also prefer drinking running water, encouraging them to stay hydrated while you’re away from home.
When using any time of water dispenser or food dispenser, make sure you purchase one with a dual power supply. This ensures your cat has access to fresh water and food during power outages. The batteries power the dispensers until the power comes back on, so your cat doesn’t go without.
3. Litter Box
The litterbox is also very important when leaving your cat alone for a few days. It needs to be kept clean – otherwise, you might find your cat suddenly pooping outside of the litter box! Cats are notoriously picky about their litter boxes, so this point cannot be forgotten!
Firstly, ensure it is spotless before you leave, giving it more leeway to get dirty. Secondly, 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, she can start using the other one.
Nowadays, you can alternatively purchase self-cleaning litter boxes. These are an excellent choice for owners who constantly go on extended trips. As the name suggests, these litter boxes soft themselves, so you don’t have to! Change the cleaning compartment every so often, and the innovative gadget will take care of the rest.
4. Air Circulation / Temperature
Air circulation and temperature are essential arrangements often overlooked when leaving cats alone. However, poor control of both can have devastating effects on your cat. In worst cases, increased temperature and poor ventilation can lead to heat stroke and breathing difficulties. On the other hand, cold temperatures can cause hypothermia.
When you are leaving your cat alone, always consider the weather. If it gets too cold, you should make sure the heat is on while you’re gone. If it’s too hot, you may want to leave the air conditioning on or leave the window open.
You may be reluctant to crack open a window (for your cat’s and your house’s safety), but remember that fresh air and air circulation are important. You may want to arrange for someone to come over and air out the house while you are gone. An air purifier can have similar desired effects, keeping the air cleaner and fresher while you’re gone.
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.
However, if you plan 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 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 unavailable 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 lifesaver.
You can arrange for 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.
Other Options for Leaving Your Cat Alone
The above five-step checklist is for anyone who wants to leave their cat alone in their house while away. But there are other options! 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.
These might seem like a good alternative at first glance. However, environmental change is something you should view as a last resort. 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 cause severe disorientation and discontent.
Nevertheless, 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 relocating your cat while you are gone.
1. Leaving Your Cat with Friends
If you plan to leave your cat at a friend’s house, you might want to consider their living situation first.
The most important thing is whether the person has other cats or pets. This may not necessarily be a deal-breaker if all the pets involved are friendly and easy-going by nature, but this is quite unlikely. Adult cats especially experience more difficulties being around other animals. If possible, opting for a household with no pets is your safest option.
Here are some questions you should be asking to determine the suitability of possible choices:
- Is there enough space for your cat? Will she be able to have her own area and a sense of privacy?
- 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 safe for pets? Does it have balconies, windows without screens, or equipment that may hurt your cat?
2. Cat/Pet Hotels
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 I’ve listed above when evaluating cat hotels.
It is imperative that your cat receives constant care from a knowledgeable employee and is not stuffed in a small cage or a room with other cats.
Do Outdoor Cats Get Lonely?
If you care for an outdoor cat that doesn’t live with you, will she suffer if you go away for some time? If she gets used to being fed by you, will she be able to 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.
This is especially true if your neighborhood is friendly towards street animals. If there are other people to leave out food and water for the cat, 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 food sources.
In terms of getting lonely, a street cat is probably the least likely 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.
On the other hand, if you care 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 for 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 perfect solution to your cat’s loneliness.
With that said, I recommend you consult your vet before you go ahead with this. 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 considering adopting.
Attention Needs That Are Based on Age and Medical Conditions
As I’ve mentioned, healthy adult cats can be left alone for 24-48 hours. However, it is another story with kittens, senior cats, and cats with medical problems. Let’s take a closer look…
Kittens need constant care and attention.
They should not be left alone for more than 4-5 hours. This is because kittens can get themselves in dangerous situations when left alone. They may get trapped or fall from a high surface and hurt themselves.
Kittens are naturally very active and curious and haven’t gotten used to your house yet. When cats reach six 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. For example, older cats tend to have arthritis, so it might be difficult for them to use their litterbox or climb the stairs. They also tend to have other chronic illnesses, so they might need constant administering of medication.
Older cats are usually less active and 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 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 or diarrhea. 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, and hyperthyroidism might require meticulous administering of daily medication and emergency situation know-how. It is a good idea not to 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, ensure they have all the necessary information about your cat’s condition, medications, and things to do in emergencies.
Consequences of Loneliness
We have established that cats can get lonely, especially in your prolonged absence. In severe cases, the loneliness may manifest as separation anxiety or 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
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, such as clinginess, acting disruptively, or peeing outside 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 – it is her way of begging for love and attention.
As you may have also noticed, some signs are opposites. This is because every cat has its way of dealing with its feelings, just like us. When depressed, some may keep themselves occupied with eating while others may lose their appetite. I ask, “Why is my cat so aggressive all of a sudden?” whenever something is wrong. But yours might be clingy and extra-loving. It all depends on your cat!
You should also remember that some behaviors may overlap with your cat’s usual nature. For instance, your cat may be one of those that meows a lot – it may be something she picked up in kittenhood, or she may be a bit clumsy and sometimes knocks things on the floor.
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 suffer from loneliness, share your concerns with your vet and describe the signs you have observed.
What About the Opposite?
As I’ve mentioned, cats love their routine! 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 stay home?
Well, no! Your cat always welcomes more love and attention. Trust me; she will get used to it immediately. Getting used to your presence is easier than getting used to your absence. Besides, your cat will definitely let you know if your attention is too much!
So, cats do get lonely. They have a reputation of being wildly independent, but they still need love from their owners. However, as long as you ensure you meet all your cat’s essential needs, there is no reason why a few days apart will cause any lasting damage to your relationship.