Some people prefer to have cats as pets because they are more independent than dogs. Cat owners commonly leave their cats alone more often than dog owners do, with less trepidation. Cats are quite independent, which makes many cat owners think that they are not harming their kitty by leaving her alone for a day or even a week. But is this true of all cats? Do cats get lonely when we’re not with them?
Cats and Loneliness
Although cats are known to be independent creatures, they do form strong attachments with their owners, and, therefore, can get lonely when left alone. Cats can develop separation anxiety and even depression if left alone for too long and they don’t experience companionship of some kind (even a pet sitter coming in a few times a day to check on them is better than nothing). Cats who experience separation anxiety have been known to act out through things like excessive meowing and refusing to use the litter box.
Each cat is different, however, and some will be fine alone while others may face anxiety. How do you know if your cat will be one to experience separation anxiety? There are some clues. If your cat likes to be in the same room with you at all times and meows loudly when you aren’t in the room with her, she may be experiencing separation anxiety. Other symptoms that your cat is missing you excessively when you’re gone include the afore-mentioned litter box refusal, clinging to you when you are there, loss of appetite, diarrhea and vomiting. The rule of thumb is, if you notice any of these symptoms in your kitty, take her to the vet first to see if there’s anything medically wrong. Your vet might be able to give you some tips on how to quell your kitty’s separation anxiety, and possibly offer anti-anxiety medication if it’s extreme.
Dangers of Leaving a Cat Home Alone
Cats are generally more independent creatures but there can be some danger in leaving a cat home alone. Again, based upon your cat’s personality, you should determine whether you feel safe leaving her home alone. Keep in mind that bad things can happen if your cat is left home alone, such as:
- Litter box accidents or refusal
- Rejecting any new feeders or waterers (make sure to try them out first before leaving kitty home alone with them)
- Cat gets caught/locked in a small area and can’t get out
- Cat develops anxiety or depression
- Cat gets bored and starts chewing on, clawing, or destroying things in the home
At What Age is it Safe (and Ethical) to Leave Kitty Alone?
As all cats are different, each with her own personality and quirks, it’s impossible to definitely say that it will be safe (or ethical) for you to leave her alone for any period of time if she is a certain age. Cat experts have determined that it is generally safe to leave cats alone for the following amounts of time based upon age:
- Cats under 4 months old: May be left alone for two to four hours
- Cats 4 to 5 months old: May be left alone for up to five hours
- Cats 6 months old: May be left alone for up to eight hours
- Adult cats who are healthy: May be left alone for 24 to 48 hours maximum
- Older cats: 24-48 hours (not recommended longer without sitter)
If You Leave Your Cat Alone, Make Sure She Has the Following:
- Enough food that she won’t run out (automatic feeders and pet sitters help)
- Fresh water (same as above)
- A litter box, or two, that won’t get too dirty while you’re gone (you know your kitty’s habits, if you think it will need scooped while you’re gone, have a pet sitter help out)
- A safe place to sleep
- Things to stimulate her while you’re gone so she won’t get bored or anxious (toys, music, television, scratching posts, and bird feeders outside the window are all great stimuli for cats)
- A camera, if you’ll be gone for more than 24 hours, so that you can monitor her from where you are (you can even talk to your cat through some of the ones on the market today, such as the Petzi Treat Cam, which also allows you to give her treats while you’re gone!)
Leaving a Kitten Home Alone
You should not leave a kitten home along longer than eight hours (depending upon age- see the information above). If you must leave your kitten home alone at all, make sure that she is confined to a safe area, where she can’t get hurt and where she can’t destroy the house while you’re gone. Sometimes a bedroom or even a bathroom can be a perfect sanctuary for just a few hours. Make sure to kitten-proof the area, just as you would child-proof an area. Remove any sharp objects, cords and cables, chemicals, and small objects that she could play with, chew on or swallow. Strongly consider having a pet sitter come in to play with your kitten while you’re gone as well, as kittens need their play time!
When Should You Hire a Pet Sitter?
A general rule of thumb is, if your cat will be alone for more than 24 hours, you should have a pet sitter come in a few times a day (or at least once a day) to check on her. Her food will need replenished, and even if you have an automatic feeder, her water will need freshened. Her litter box(es) will likely need scooped if she’s to be alone more than 24 hours, and you want to make sure she doesn’t start going outside of the litter box while you’re gone either because it’s dirty or because she misses you.
Many cats will also need human interaction if left alone over 24 hours, and a pet sitter can really help in this aspect of leaving your cat alone. You can leave instructions for play that your cat enjoys, special toys, etc. A pet sitter can also make sure your cat remains healthy while you’re gone. He or she can also adjust the heat or air conditioning in your home to keep kitty comfortable.
Before engaging a pet sitter to stay with your cat while you’re gone, you should interview him or her, with your cat. Make sure they get along, that you like the way the sitter interacts with your cat, that your cat likes the sitter, and vice-versa. You’ll feel much better about leaving your cat with a sitter if you feel like you know that person and aren’t just hiring someone new to come into your home. If you can find someone you and your cat already know to check on your cat while you’re gone, even better.
Should You Board Your Cat?
If you can’t find a pet sitter or someone you know to come in and check on your cat when you’re going to be gone for over 24 hours, your last resort can be to board your cat at a boarding facility. Most cats don’t enjoy this, however, and it can stress them out, even traumatize them. Boarding facilities typically house cats and dogs (in different areas, of course) and the sounds of other animals can be enough to freak out a cat who’s used to being the only animal in a home.
If you have no other option, however, a boarding facility has trained people who can competently take care of your cat’s basic needs while you’re gone. Your cat likely won’t get the individualized attention that she would get from a pet sitter if placed into a boarding facility, but she will get fresh food, water and a clean litter box. Make sure to visit the boarding facility before leaving your cat there, to see how it is run, take a look at the cat area, and ask their procedures for cat socialization (if any) while cats are being boarded there.
Steps to Take Before Leaving Kitty Home Alone
No matter how long you must leave your cat home alone– for eight to ten hours while you’re at work, or for a day or two – there are some preparations you should take before leaving the house with her inside, by herself.
Make sure to fill more than one bowl with fresh water. Consider getting an automatic cat water fountain if you’ll be leaving your cat alone for more than eight hours.
Ensure that kitty has enough food to keep her satiated while you’re away. Think about buying an automatic cat food dispenser if you’ll be gone for more than eight hours. Also think about hiring a pet sitter, as these feeders can get stuck and malfunction, leaving your kitty hungry.
Leave enough litter boxes (usually two per cat) for your cat to use while you’re away. If you’ll be gone for 24 hours or more, consider hiring a pet sitter to come in and scoop at least once daily. Make sure to interview him or her and have the sitter meet your cat before hiring him/her.
Cat-proof your home. Remove all dangerous sharp or small objects, chemicals, plants, plastic bags and the like from the areas in which your cat will be living. Close all toilet lids, and tie up cables so that kitty isn’t tempted to bat at or chew them.
Leave stimulating items around for your cat to enjoy while you’re gone. Window posts, scratching posts, and toys are all a must. You might want to leave music or the television on, if she’s become accustomed to sound while you’re home. You can even hide some treats around the house to keep kitty busy during your absence. At this time, you might also want to consider buying a pet camera so that you can check in on your cat while you’re away. It can provide peace of mind, as well as allow you to talk to your kitty through the camera (and some even allow you to give her treats!)
Play with your cat and spend time with her right before you leave. If you have hired a pet sitter, leave explicit instructions for him or her regarding feeding, littering, toys, and any specific habits or health needs kitty may have. Leave your emergency contact information as well as your veterinarian’s contact information (and a 24-hour veterinary service if there is one in your area).
Should You Consider Adopting a Second Cat?
If your job keeps you away from home for longer periods of time, and your cat displays anxiety about your absences, you might want to consider getting another cat. A cat companion can provide your cat with a playmate while you are gone. Of course, this is not a step to be taken lightly. You must think about your cat’s personality and whether she tends to like other cats. Experts say if you are going to adopt a second cat, get one that is younger than your current cat and one that is of the opposite sex (make sure both are spayed or neutered, of course!) Otherwise, there might be territorial issues between the two cats. If your current cat can assert herself to the newcomer, being older and of the other sex, it should help the transition to becoming a multi-cat household go much more smoothly. This could help to quell your cat’s loneliness while you’re gone and make yours an all around, happier cat household.