Aloof. Independent. Loner. Cats have often been described this way because they don't act as outwardly dependent and affectionate as dogs. But the fact of the matter is, cat behavior is just not as easily understood! Even though cats like doing their own thing, they are just as attached to you as any dog would be. So do cats get lonely when you're gone? Do cats feel sad when you leave for work?
We often ask these questions because it can seem like cats are quite content to hang out on the opposite side of the couch or atop a cat tree. But your cat loves your presence more than you might think. In fact, they need you around to be happy!It's a fact, cats do get lonely! Find out how long cats can truly be alone and what to do if you suspect your cat is lonely.
Do Cats Get Lonely When Left Home Alone?
The short answer: Yes! Cats are often stereotyped as being independent, lone tigers prowling our homes on their own terms. They don't always come when called. They sometimes prefer to be in a completely different room than us and seem annoyed if we bother their bird watching. Cats like to sit up high on the cat tree, undisturbed and away from the family gathering below.
But the truth is that cats love their family. They just show it differently than other pets. When cats are left alone for long periods of time they can get very upset. Cats are creatures of habit. When they notice that you're gone for longer than usual, they can start to get worried and anxious. You may notice puking, louder meowing, or excessive scratching. Cats also love spending time with humans and other animals. They may have ancestors who are happiest alone, but cats have been domesticated for thousands of years!
Even if they don't show obvious signs of affection, the truth is that your cat likes it when you're around — just maybe not always touching them or picking them up. They may be curled up on the other side of the couch or even up in a cat tree, but they are only so relaxed because they know you are not far away!
Research Shows Cats Get Lonely
The fact of the matter is that cats are studied far less than dogs, so their behavior is harder to understand and interpret. But cats are just as social. Some studies show that cats are even more socially advanced than dogs — we just need to understand them a bit more to realize this.
At Oregon State, a calico named Lyla was put to the test. Researchers put her in a white lab room with her owner, Clara. Then, scientists watched what happened when Clara left the room. Lyla immediately started to circle, seeming panicked at the sudden departure. She slinked over to the door where Clara left and sat there meowing for hours. Researchers observed that she cried 61 times in a span of two minutes!
When Clara returned, Lyla immediately bound over to her to be pet. Once she was sure Clara was there to stay, Lyla started to meander around the room, exploring different areas and even playing with toys. Maybe she didn't spend the entire period cuddling with Clara, but it was clear that the cat was only happy when Clara was in the room with her.
Do Cats Get Lonely Without Another Cat?
Contrary to popular belief, cats often bond with other cats. Even feral cats are known to form colonies. Unlike the lone tiger or leopard, housecats will form close bonds with each colony member, even taking care of each other's kittens. But what about all that fighting you see — and hear — with the stray cats outside? Well, cats don't like outsiders. Most feral colonies are all closely bonded or family. When a new cat approaches, that can spell trouble!
Cats living in homes are the same way. They may be shy or aggressive towards newcomers, but they will often bond with other cats in the home after a proper introduction. Just like they are with humans, cats only get along with cats they trust. They won't immediately bond with a new cat in most cases. But once they trust another cat, they will bond closely.
Many people opt to get two cats at once to avoid the troubles that come with introducing a new cat. Siblings and similarly aged cats often get along right away, and you'll notice them cuddling and playing together as soon as you take them home. If you have to be away for work, having two cats is often a great solution. Cats won't get as lonely and destructive when they have another cat to pal around with. Just remember that having multiple cats is not an excuse to never be home with your cat. For the most part, your cat will still be upset if you are consistently gone for long periods!
How Long Can Cats Be Left Alone?
There are a number of factors at play when it comes to how long you can leave your cat alone. The biggest ones to keep in mind are how many other cats you have for them to socialize with, their age, health, and the consistency of your absence.
Here is a rough estimate on the appropriate time you can leave a cat alone:
- Under four months: Two to four hours
- Four to five months: Five hours
- Six months: Eight hours
- Adult cats: Twenty-four to forty-eight hours
Most experts will say that 48 hours is the longest you should leave your cat alone. If you have to leave your cat alone for more than two days, you should find somebody to periodically check in on them or cat sit at your house. Sitters are essential because your cat needs fresh water and food, as well as the attention they crave.
It's very important that you don't bring your cat elsewhere when you are looking to go on vacation. It may seem ideal to have your cat stay with a friend, but a change in environment — especially with other pets — will only stress them out even more. Cats would rather stay in the territory they are familiar with. But always make sure someone is available to check on them or stay over your place when you leave for extended periods.
Is My Cat Lonely? Common Signs & Symptoms
Sometimes, it can be hard to separate loneliness from other behavioral problems. Here are some things to look out for if you suspect your cat is unhappy with your absence.
Just like Lyla, cats will become very vocal when you leave. That's because cats only meow to interact with humans — they seldom meow to other cats. Meowing is their way to call out for you, hoping you'll hear and return. You'll often hear your cat get louder at night, especially if they aren't allowed in the bedroom. So you can only imagine the meowing when you're out of the house!
Lonely cats can sometimes develop anxious behaviors. One of those behaviors is excessive licking. Grooming can become impulsive in their attempt to comfort themselves in your absence. If you notice your cat having excessive hairballs, missing patches of fur, and irritated skin, this could be from over-grooming. Provide them with CBD products for cats which may help calm and stabilize their mood when you're gone!
In an attempt to get more attention — even if it's negative — some cats will turn to behaviors you may not like. This includes excessively scratching the furniture, knocking things off of surfaces, and digging in cabinets and drawers. Your cat may also start scratching on doors, hoping to get to you. If you notice ripped-up toilet paper, broken vases, and damaged furniture upon your return, your cat was most likely bored and frustrated.
Litter Box Problems
If your cat doesn't have any health issues, peeing outside of a litter box may be a way to tell you something is off. This behavior can even be some cats' way to punish you for leaving them alone. A particularly irritated cat may pee on your bedding and clothing.
Some people will notice cats lashing out at them when they try to leave. Maybe your cat starts hissing when you go to pet them before heading out for work each morning. Or maybe they swat at you as you walk out the door. Your cat may be frustrated that they can't go with you or get you to stay!
Lonely Cat Remedies
Of course, the biggest remedy of all is not leaving your cat alone for hours each day. You will probably notice a decrease in bad behavior and anxiety if you spend more time with your cat. But if you can't change your work schedule or cancel a trip, there are certainly some ways to comfort your cat during your absence!
Best Toys For Cats Home Alone
The more toys the better! Toys are a great way to give your cat something productive to do while you're away. It could keep them from scratching or breaking things. Try toys that are interactive or require more time and thought. These can be puzzle toys with treats inside, which your cat will enjoy figuring out.
There are also toys that move when your cat walks by or plays with them, like flopping fish and wiggling ribbons you can hang off the back of a door. These toys will keep them pretty entertained, along with the usual plush and balls to throw around. You should also add more cat trees to your home, giving them something to climb and scratch instead of your furniture. Try installing cat shelves on some of your walls. This gives them extra space to explore and climb.
CBD For Lonely Cats
CBD is a non-intoxicating, naturally-occurring phytocannabinoids found in hemp. This compound won't get your cat high! Instead, CBD interacts with the cannabinoid receptors in your cat's endocannabinoid system (ECS).
Your cat's ECS — just like ours — ensures their body and mind are balanced. CBD is known to soothe your cat, making them feel more relaxed and less worried. This calming cannabinoid is quite comforting to cats who get upset when you're away.
Catnip For Lonely Cats
Catnip is a way for your cat to have some fun. They will definitely be distracted from loneliness when they're busy licking, rolling around, and playing with catnip-coated toys. The nepetalactone inside catnip interacts with the receptors inside a cat's nose, which stimulate sensory neurons leading into the brain. It makes your cat feel energetic, hyper, and overstimulated.
While catnip can get a fun distraction for kitties, please ensure they are supervised while playing with catnip. When a friend checks in on your cat, have them bring catnip spray or a catnip-filled toy. Just make sure they take it with them when they leave.
Provide a View Outside
Cats love to look outside. The noises of traffic and dogs. The birds that fly by. This is how cats love to pass time, especially when they don't have you to hang out with. Install a cat shelf so they can comfortably hang out by the window, looking at all the goings-on outside.
Get Another Cat
While nothing can replace you, having a feline companion to bond with while you're away can definitely help. Both cats will miss you, but will find comfort in each other. Your cats will love snuggling together on the bed, playing together at night, and watching birds together.
If you leave for an extended period make sure to still have a friend visit even if you have more than one cat. You will want to check that they have fresh water and are eating properly. Some cats might try to scarf all the food, leaving the other with nothing for breakfast. Your friend can monitor them while they eat if you've noticed this type of behavior. Your cats will also need the litter box cleaned more frequently.
Spend More Time With Them
Before you leave the house, and after you return, spend more time with your cat! This interaction will make them happy. Bonding with your cat can be playing with them before you leave for work, snuggling with them during the evening, or petting them between whatever you're working on.
Final Thoughts - Do Cats Get Lonely?
Cats most definitely get lonely, despite what people may think. Your cat may like to spend time looking out the window or cleaning itself atop the cat tree, but they are reassured that you are there! Your presence gives them comfort, security, and routine.
So when you leave, it can be very hard for a cat! If you have to leave for long periods of time, always make sure someone can watch and care for your cat. Consider getting a second cat to keep them company. And always make sure you give them a lot of attention when you come back. Your cat will love you for it!