I can’t speak for every cat out there, but I can say rather conclusively that my own cat, Floyd, misses me when I’m away. Or at least he sure acts like he does. Even a brief trip to get groceries is followed up with an eager greeting at the door and nonstop, playful head butts when I finally sit down to show him some attention.
His actions speak volumes, at least to me. And yet, the question still stands—are my cat’s actions indicative of true attachment? Does he actually miss me the way I miss him?
For those of us who feel guilty when we leave our cats alone for a few extra hours of overtime, this is a majorly pressing question. Here’s what we actually know about cats missing us.
It’s easy to assign human emotions to our pets. Of course, we miss them when we’ve gone on an extended vacation. But is that feeling mutual? Do our cats even notice our absence? Cat behavior is tricky to decode, but that doesn’t stop us from trying.
Research has experts divided on the matter. Some studies have shown that yes, cats do experience separation anxiety, while other studies support the opposite position.
A 2015 study conducted at the University of Lincoln brings us this conclusion: cats don’t need humans to feel protected the way that dogs do. The study maintains that while cats are still affectionate animals capable of forming profound human-pet relationships, they are ultimately autonomous creatures. In short—cats don’t need us to survive. And they are fully aware of this fact.
This doesn’t mean you don’t have a special bond with your cat. Cats are affectionate creatures—they just vary in their requirement for human attention. Some cats enjoy their alone time, while others prefer the constant company of their human family.
But some experts disagree with the Lincoln study. According to Tim Link, animal expert and President of Wagging Tails, cats do, in fact, suffer from separation anxiety. Just like dogs, they’re apprehensive when we leave the house, and they want reassurance that we’ll return at the pre-arranged hour.
Tim Link also confirms the fact that all cats are different, and some will handle separation better than others.
Dr. Elizabeth Stelow, Chief of Animal Behavior Services at the University of California, Davis, told The Dodo: “Cats exist along a continuum from very aloof and unattached to very interactive and demanding. Is any region on that spectrum indicative of true attachment? That’s the million-dollar question.”
So the jury is still out on the matter. But whether or not your cat misses you the way a dog would, she definitely still desires your love and attention.
Feline behavior is mysterious. While a dog’s behavior will clearly indicate how he’s feeling, a cat is a bit more subtle in her approach.
So, what kind of evidence should you look for if you think your cat is under stress when you leave? Here are some signs that your cat missed you.
1. Extra purring and stretching when you get home
A study from the Public Library of Science (PLOS) observed how cats behave when left for a brief 30 minutes vs. several hours. The cats left alone longer reacted by purring and stretching more when reunited with their owners. According to the study, this affectionate behavior suggests that your cat is happy when you return home.
2. Strong desire for affection upon your return
A cat’s expression of affection is more subtle than a dog’s, so pay attention. If your cat is permanently attached to your side, following you from room to room, and rubbing up against your legs, it’s his way of saying: I love you, I missed you—pay attention to me!
3. Agitation or stress when you return
Have you noticed a change in your cat’s attitude or demeanor? Maybe she’s not as nice as she used to be, or maybe she’s developed clingy behaviors and a crying habit. Some people attribute these negative reactions to feline separation anxiety.
4. Destructive behavior
A stressed-out kitty can develop a nasty habit of getting into things, especially if she’s bored. Some lonely cats will make a mess while you’re gone, and an anxious cat may even urinate outside of her litter box.
5. Physical illness
In some extreme cases, people have reported that their cat got physically sick with worry while they were away. Even when a familiar person came to check on their cat, the behavior persisted, suggesting the cat actually missed her owner, specifically.
Of course, becoming a hermit in your own home is not an option. You’ll need to help your cat learn ways to cope with being alone. Here are a few suggestions.
1. Toys, Toys, Toys. Leave out plenty of interactive toys, scratching posts, and puzzle feeders for your cat. It’s also a good idea to enrich his environment with cat trees and perches positioned so that he can pass the hours by bird-watching.
2. Creature Comforts. Before you leave, fill your cat’s food dish, refresh his water, and clean out his litter box. These little things will make your cat more comfortable and content to be alone for a longer period.
3. Hire a Cat-Sitter. You can break up your cat’s day by asking someone you trust to drop-in and check on her. Hiring a professional cat-sitter is always an option. Your sitter can refresh food and water bowls, scoop out kitty litter, and interact with your cat.
4. Stick to a Routine. Since altering your cat’s routine can confuse and scare her, try to keep your schedule as predictable as possible. If you’re constantly coming and going at different intervals throughout the day, your cat might worry about the uncertainty of your return.
Cats are certainly a mystery. We can’t get inside their adorable feline heads, and we’ll never know exactly how they experience the world. But in the end, that’s one of the things we love about them.
This simple fact remains: whether your cat is stuck to you like glue, or appears unphased by your comings and goings—you know the two of you have a special bond.
Featured image via Unsplash