Chances are, you don’t think twice when you leave your cat home alone due to a long workday or even an extended weekend vacation. Book a pet sitter, leave them lots of food and water, and you’re good to go.
While cats may be more equipped than their canine counterparts to handle a long stretch of alone time, it’s important not to overestimate their coping skills. Cats are social animals, and they notice when you’re gone.
So, how long can you leave a cat alone and what does yours need while you’re away? Read on for everything you need to know about leaving cats alone, including ten things not to do before you go and what to do instead in order to set your cat up for success.
Do Cats Get Lonely?
“Yes. Cats can and often do get lonely when their guardians are gone for varying lengths of time,” says Dr. Marci L. Koski, certified feline behavior consultant and founder of Feline Behavior Solutions. “Cats aren’t nearly as independent as people have historically thought them to be.”
In fact, research shows that cats bond to their owners. They feel safer and more secure when their pet parents are around, and may even experience stress and separation-related anxiety when you’re gone (1).
While a lonely cat can be difficult to identify, severe loneliness or cat separation anxiety could cause house soiling or other behavior changes in response to stress, says Dr. Heather Graddy, a relief veterinarian and cat behavior consultant in Englewood, Colorado.
Boredom can be another problem for cats, and kittens are especially prone to it. With nothing to do and no company all day, a bored cat might just find her own ways to entertain herself, from batting a roll of toilet paper to destroying your houseplants (2).
In order to keep your cat out of trouble and free of anxiety, it’s key to know just how long is too long when it comes to leaving cats alone.
How Long Can You Leave a Cat Alone?
Every cat is unique, but most healthy adult cats are fine to be left alone for the average eight-hour workday, says Koski. However, if you’re regularly gone for 10 to 12 hours a day and don’t have much time to spend with your cat when you are home, your cat may need supplemental care.
When traveling, make sure that someone can check up on your cat every day to refill food and water, maintain their litter box, and provide them with some sure-to-be welcome attention. Koski recommends hiring a professional pet sitter if possible, since they’re typically more responsible and prepared in the case of an emergency.
Before you leave, make sure all of your bases are covered and avoid some of the most common mistakes pet parents make when they leave their cats home alone.
What Not to Do When Leaving Your Cat Alone
When you’re leaving cats alone at home, you want to make sure they’re comfortable and at ease. Sometimes, though, your go-to checklist before a trip can actually set your cat up for increased stress and anxiety.
On this note, here are ten things to avoid doing when leaving your cat home alone and what to do instead.
Don’t Neglect to Arrange a Pet Sitter
You might be tempted to let your cat “rough it” because it’s only a weekend trip or she seems just fine when you come home late from work. But for your peace of mind and your cat’s well-being, you should hire a pet sitter.
If you regularly work 10-12 hour days or you’re headed out for a vacation, find a professional pet sitter who seems trustworthy and can provide references, suggests Koski. It never hurts to have a back-up pet sitter just in case your regular pet sitter is booked up, too.
Another option: Ask around in your neighborhood for a reliable pet sitter or exchange favors with a friend who’s also a pet parent, says Graddy.
Don’t Forget to Clean the Litter Box
It’s simple: No one wants to use a dirty toilet, says Graddy. When you’re gone, the last thing a stressed cat needs is a dirty litter box, as it can be yet another cause of anxiety.
The fix: Make sure to clean your cat’s litter box before you leave, and instruct your pet sitter to scoop the box daily. If that’s not possible or you’re often gone for an extended period of time, set up an extra box or two around the house, suggests Graddy.
Don’t Put the Toys Away
It’s tempting to put everything away before you leave your cat alone because it’s nice to return to a clean house. But your cat needs opportunities for enrichment while you’re gone—a bored cat will find her own sources of entertainment if need be.
What to do: Leave out a few toys that you know will excite your cats and place them in areas they visit throughout the day. You can also instruct your pet sitter to have interactive play sessions with your cats while you’re gone to make sure they get some exercise, says Koski.
Just don’t leave out wand toys with strings while your cats aren’t being supervised, as they could be a choking hazard or get tangled around your cat.
Don’t Close Your Shades
It’s another common before-you-go task. After all, closing your shades can keep your energy bill down and keep outsiders from looking in.
Why you might not want to do that: “For many cats, a window perch can be an endless source of entertainment,” says Graddy. If your cat loves taking in birds and squirrels outside or basking in the sunlight, leave a few of your shades open for her benefit.
Don’t Turn the AC or Heat Way Down
It’s another cost-effective choice if you’re going to be gone for a long time, but it could also be a dangerous move. Cats may be susceptible to heat stroke or other complications if they have pre-existing health conditions, explains Koski.
While it’s fine to leave the house a few degrees warmer or cooler than usual, indoor cats are accustomed to climate control, so aim to keep the temperature of your home in a comfortable range, says Graddy.
Don’t Turn Off the TV or Radio
Some cats enjoy watching TV, and others may find comfort in listening to relaxing classical music or talk radio while you’re gone, says Graddy.
For an easily stressed cat, some entertainment—albeit, at a fairly low volume—may help keep their anxiety down until you return or a pet sitter checks in.
Don’t Leave Food in One Big Pile
Of course, you want your cat to have access to plenty of nutritious food while you’re gone. But if you pile a weekend’s worth of food into your cat’s bowl, she may overeat and become sick or run out of food on the final day of your trip, says Graddy.
Instead, have your pet sitter feed her according to her regular schedule and distribute snacks in multiple food toys and hiding places. A “treasure hunt” of sorts will keep your cat busy and ensure that she doesn’t overdo it in one sitting, either.
Don’t Change Your Cat’s Routine
Just as you love your morning cup of joe and lunch break, cats thrive on predictability and routine. If your cat tends to be anxious, try to find a pet sitter who can adhere to her normal routine as much as possible, says Graddy.
For example, if your cat is fed three times a day, make sure that still happens. Here, an automatic feeder can be helpful, but you still want to make sure that your pet sitter is coming in to check on your cats, play with them, and clean the litter box according to a set schedule every day, says Koski.
Don’t Board a Cat Who Is Better Off With In-Home Care
Keep in mind: Sometimes, boarding your cat in a kennel is the best option, particularly if she has a medical condition that requires regular medication or monitoring. If you’re going to be gone for an extended period of time, you might also consider a cat hotel with a large suite and scheduled play times in order to ensure that your cat is getting the social interaction she needs throughout the day, says Koski.
That said, most cats are understandably happier and more comfortable in their own homes, surrounded by familiar scents, toys, and hangout spots. Ultimately, whether or not you board your cat or keep her at home is a personal decision. Make sure to weigh your cat’s social and physical needs and the duration of your time away before you hire a pet sitter or board your cat, suggests Koski.
A stressed cat is no fun, but neither is a stressed pet parent. Remember: Your cat will likely be just fine while you’re gone, and leaving her with an enriching environment and professional pet sitter or boarder is a great way to make sure she’s in good hands while you’re away.