Cats are independent, right?
They’re stoic. They don’t need much. They can make it on their own, man.
Well, sort of.
A lot of cat owners have questions about how long it’s okay to leave a cat alone at home. Let’s talk about what’s fine, what’s probably fine, and when you should absolutely draw the line. Because if you’re asking the question, we already know you’re a responsible cat owner.
Can Cats Safely Be Left Alone?
While it might seem like your cat hardly notices when you leave, she does. Cats are incredibly perceptive and the way they “attach” to people isn’t always obvious. For the most part, cats don’t mind being alone, particularly if your absence is part of a routine. Anxiety and behavioral issues are two of the most common ways cats show their displeasure with being home alone. Safety should only be a concern when it comes to whether or not your cat will eat and drink or behave unsafely in your home (such as trying to scratch through a window screen to escape.)
And remember this: Every cat is different. We know! That’s a really annoying way to start off. But it’s true. Some cats are more social than others, and some are far more attached to their owners. Other cats are prone to anxiety, or hunger strikes, or any other behaviors. You know your cat better than anyone else, so trust your gut when it comes to leaving her alone for any length of time. If it feels too long, it probably is.
How Long is Okay to Leave a Cat Alone?
The official, vet-approved answer to this question is that you should never leave your cat home alone for more than 24 hours without having someone check on her. This ensures she gets a little interaction and also that she hasn’t come down with a sudden illness or injured herself in some way.
We’re not endorsing it, but it’s not unheard of for a cat to be left home alone for up to 36-hours; this is the absolute upper limit of what is responsible and ethical. Never, ever leave your cat home alone for an entire weekend without having a friend or cat sitter come by at least once to check on her, change her litter box and water, and give her some needed social interaction. The longer you leave your cat alone, the higher your risk of a destroyed house and a super-grumpy cat when you get back.
The good news is…cat sitters aren’t prohibitively expensive! If you’re hiring one, we recommend having him come twice a day while you’re gone, or once a day at least. Be sure your sitter plans to spend 30 minutes or more playing with your cat in addition to feeding her and changing her litter.
Worried about work? You’re probably fine. Most cats are totally okay with being home alone for 8-12 hours with the exception of kittens younger than 4 months, who should really be checked on at lunchtime.
Considerations for Leaving Your Cat Alone
Even in the best of situations, leaving your cat alone does come part-and-parcel with some issues. Here are a few of the main considerations to keep in mind:
Even well-behaved cats gotta go. Over a period of a few days (or even a few hours!) your cat’s litter can become very dirty. She’s likely to stop using it and start using your floors when this happens, in part to protest the deplorable conditions. Which…fair.
Solution: Once-daily visit from a cat sitter; a second litterbox
Cats need stimulation! Depending on your cat’s temperament, she might become destructive or even depressed if she goes too long without being stimulated.
Solution: Twice-daily play time with a cat-sitter; fun toys such as cat trees, cat perches, or a window seat (but remember, no strings!)
Anxiety and Loneliness
Even independent cats get lonely, and that can come with anxiety, too. Test out some anxiety-reducers to see if they’re effective before you leave for a long period of time.
Solution: A second cat; a pheromone plug-in; music or an always-on TV
Food and Water
Feeding and watering your cat are probably the biggest things to keep in mind while you’re gone. Remember that cats need fresh water and that keeping them on their regular food schedule is of paramount importance.
Solution: Automatic feeder on a timer; pet water fountain
If your cat’s acting strangely when you return home, don’t hesitate to call your vet! You never know what could have gone on while you were out. Maybe she’s feeling sick, maybe she ate something she shouldn’t have, or maybe she’s just mad at you. It’s better to know and be safe.