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We love our cats – they’re an essential part of our lives. However, pet parents have to leave the house sometimes, right?! Whether you’re heading out to work or on vacation, most of us need to spend at least some time away from our beloved cats. Cats might have a reputation as solitary animals, but that doesn’t mean they enjoy being left on their own for long periods.
“Adult cats shouldn’t be left alone for more than 24 hours — and only that long if you can provide fresh meals in meal timers at regular intervals and plenty of enrichment and entertainment,” says Molly DeVoss, Certified Feline Training & Behavior Specialist and founder of Cat Behavior Solutions. Additionally, when it comes to kittens, DeVoss says if they’re 2-6 months in age, they shouldn’t be left alone for more than eight hours, and for kittens even younger, they should never be left alone.
There are plenty of ways pet parents can provide delicious meals, enrichment activities, and entertainment to their cats to keep them stimulated, happy, and relaxed while away from home — up to a point. How long you can leave your cats alone and how they deal with separation comes down to different factors, including your cat’s age and personality. We’ll break down how to tell if your cat is happy spending time alone, plus what to do when you’re planning a period of separation.
How Long Can You Leave Cats Alone?
Cats enjoy independence, but that doesn’t mean they can’t experience loneliness and behavioral changes when separated from their pet parents. While domestic cats can survive on their own, they’re not as solitary as wild cats. In fact, when there are enough resources around, domestic cats often prefer to form social groups.
The following chart details how long cats can be left alone, how to keep them safe during this separation, and any possible consequences of being left alone.
|Period left alone||Cats who can be left alone||Steps to take to keep them safe||Possible negative effects on the cat|
|While at work||Adult cats||Leave safe toys and enrichment activities, and leave relaxing or cat-friendly music running.||Cats are usually fine for this length of separation.|
|Overnight||Adult cats (not seniors)||Leave an automatic feeder, brain games, scratch posts, and an electronic litter changer.||Most cats will be okay, but you may start to see some signs of behavioral changes or separation anxiety.|
|24 hours||Adult cats (not seniors)||Leave an automatic feeder, brain games, scratch posts, and an electronic litter changer.||Most cats will be fine, but some will start to worry that you’re not coming home.|
|3 – 10 days||None||Any steps taken won’t be sufficient for this length of time.||Leaving your cat alone for this length of time is not recommended.
They may start to be concerned about their ability to survive, become fearful, lose trust in you, and crave companionship.
Automatic feeders will run out of food, and self-cleaning litter trays will stop cleaning. Your home may become very messy as your cat tries to survive.
Why cats can be left alone while we’re at work
To keep our cats supplied with the food and treats they deserve, many of us have to go to work! Most cats are fine with short separations where they’re left home alone during typical 8-hour work days.
“It’s absolutely okay to leave cats alone for short periods — in fact, just like us, they need some alone time,” says DeVoss. “Even the most social cats need some moments by themselves.” She adds that pet parents don’t want to smother their cats with too much attention and to be tuned in to when their cat needs some ‘feline time’.
How Long Can You Leave A Kitten Alone?
Kittens often need more interaction and attention than older cats, so it makes sense that they can’t cope with as much alone time. DeVoss recommends most kittens shouldn’t be left for longer than eight hours. “It’s during these formative months that your kitten is bonding with you, learning about you, the environment, and routine in the home,” she says. “It’s the time you want to be conditioning them for adulthood.”
If you do have to leave your kitten for short periods, setting up a kitten-proof room is a great way to keep them as safe as possible. Plus, it contains any messes! Bathrooms and laundry rooms are a good choice because they’re usually small and have easy-to-clean floors. Here’s how to set up a cat-proof room in six easy steps.
- Make sure electric cords are put away or taped down
- Remove any house plants
- Remove or secure breakable items
- Make sure windows and doors close and latch completely
- Cover up any potential holes
- Set up the litter box in one corner and food and water bowls in another part of the room
Then, stock the room with stuff to keep your kitten busy while you’re gone. A soft cat bed and a safe scratching post or pad are perfect! Additionally, “play-alone” toys like fluffy balls, crinkle/crackle toys, and catnip mice provide fun and distraction when you’re gone.
What Happens If You Leave Your Cat Alone Too Long?
Long periods of separation can be very upsetting for cats, and you may see a range of behavioral changes. These may be more pronounced in older cats who already have a set routine. As with any behavioral changes, you should always speak to your veterinarian to rule out pain or illness.
Dr. Michael Fleck, a veterinarian and co-host of The Pet Buzz radio show, says that kittens don’t experience many behavioral changes, but mature cats left alone will have significant behavioral modifications. He outlined six potential changes below.
- Destructive behavior. From scratching the sofa to damaging door frames, your cat might be trying to de-stress by leaving calming scent signals.
- Excessive meowing. After leaving your cat for an extended period, you might notice they’re more vocal than normal once you return home.
- Peeing outside the litter box. Cats love to be clean, so if your cat’s litter box isn’t cleaned while you’re away, they may start to poop or pee outside the litter box.
- Depression. Signs of depression can include loss of appetite, being more subdued than normal, over-grooming, hiding, or self-mutilating.
- Anxiety. Anxiety can look different for each cat but might include hiding, crying, or nervousness. Cats with anxiety might become more clingy once you’re home. Research has also found that when separated from their owners, cats often spend more time moving around than normal.
- Aggression. Your cat’s destructive behavior may extend to aggressive behaviors towards humans and other cats.
5 Things To Keep Your Cat Safe While You’re Out
Many cats are fine being left on their own for short periods, but there are plenty of tools available to help keep your cat entertained, fed, and clean while you’re away, including the following.
Engaging toys & games
Some cats love to play, and leaving suitable toys is one way to keep them mentally and physically active while you’re out. “Motion-sensitive toys can help because they come to life when your cat gets close to them,” explains Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist Stephen Quandt.
Additionally, DeVoss says it’s important to leave treat puzzles out while you’re gone to simulate their hunting instincts and help prevent boredom. Lastly, DeVoss recommends setting up bird feeders in front of windows and placing a comfy cat perch there so your cat has a front-row seat for any action!
Anxiety-reducing environmental tools
Pheromone diffusers like Feliway can help, but Quandt mentions that research shows these may not be effective for all cats.
Instead, DeVoss suggests leaving on some TV or music for your cat to listen to, and there are lots of options to choose from, including Cat TV on YouTube, or some calming classical music.
Automatic & electronic feeders
Automatic feeders can help make sure your cat doesn’t miss their regular meals, but Quandt recommends making sure you familiarize your cat with how to use the feeder before you leave them alone.
Additionally, he says cats also need access to fresh water, and water bowls start to get nasty after a day or two. His advice? Invest in water bowls you can pre-fill.
Robotic litter boxes
Cats are notoriously clean, and a dirty litter box is a no-go. “Letting your cat use a regular box for a couple of days without any scooping is pushing it,” says Quandt. A robotic cat litter box is a much better option for busy pet parents, but again make sure your cat is familiar with it beforehand.
Home safety measures
Before leaving your cat at home alone, Quandt recommends checking for all safety issues, including electric cords, poisonous plants, poisonous foods, human medications, and things they could get stuck in or on.
“Pet cameras may be the single best thing you can get because then you can actually see your cat,” he adds. “Point them at places where your cat likes to hang out, and possibly at the feeding area.”
Can A Cat Sitter Help When You Leave A Cat Alone?
If you’ve got the budget, hiring a cat sitter is a great way to keep your cat comfortable, fed, and kept company while you’re away from home. Quandt reiterates that “being a responsible pet parent to a cat means taking their cat’s physical and emotional health seriously and treating them like a family member whom you love.”
Cat sitters will make sure your cat is not only well fed but that they’re comfortable, safe, happy, and healthy in their home. A trusted cat sitter might even become one of your cat’s favorite people, meaning it’s even easier to leave your cat without feeling guilty. “Bottom line: if you have to leave for a few nights, do the loving, kind, and responsible thing: get a cat sitter,” Quandt concludes.