How long can you leave a cat alone?

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Cats are odd animals and can be both independent or very reliant on their human, but in general, how long should they be left home alone?

An adult cat can be left home alone for 24 hours, assuming you have provided the basic necessities for them. Younger kittens shouldn’t be left alone for too long. For example, a kitten of 4 months should only be left alone for a maximum of 4 hours (and roughly 1 additional hour per month).

It’s possible (but not recommended) that an adult cat could be left home alone for 36 to 48 hours. However, by this point you need to consider the state of the environment your cat will be in – its litter tray will be full (possibly prompting your cat to poop elsewhere), its water will be stale and dirty and your home will generally be an unpleasant place for your increasingly annoyed cat.

If you plan to go away for more than 24 hours, have a friend or pet sitter come in to change your cat’s food and water and also sit or play with your cat to keep it active.

Understanding the needs of younger cats

Kittens crave stimulation as it helps them hone their reflexes and skills, so without you there to interact with it can cause problems with their development. They’re also very small and curious creatures, so can sometimes find themselves stuck in small places. A small bump in the road if you are around to help them out, but potentially a very distressing experience if they’re stuck for hours.

That said, it’s also important to help build your kitten’s confidence by allowing them time on their own and gradually increasing the time they are self-sufficient. You don’t want them to grow into cats that are entirely dependant on your presence.

Spotting signs of separation anxiety in cats

Every cat is different. Some might not be happy being left alone for prolonged periods of times, so it’s important to be able to spot the signs of separation anxiety or stress in your cat. The difficulty, however, is the signs of anxiety in one cat may be perfectly normal behaviour for other cats. Take these things in context – if you observe out-of-the-norm behaviour, then you might want to reconsider how long you leave your cat alone.

In particular, if your cat tends to follow you around the house more, meows when you’re not in the room or is generally more clingy than they normally are, then it’s a sign that something is upsetting them.

As PetPlus notes:

A majority of cats love to be near humans. They will happily relax on your lap when you watch TV or read your favorite book. They will search you out to get pets and cuddles. The problem signals start blinking when you see your cat becoming too much attached to you. It will follow you everywhere, from one room to another room. It hates to be alone. This behavior points to it being lonely.

An anxious cat may also lash out and become more aggressive than normal. This can manifest itself in different ways – clawing, scratching or biting – or even pooping in different areas of the house, rather than the litter tray (the ultimate dirty protest at being left home alone!).

The key is to understand that abnormal behaviour can point to deeper issues you should deal with.

Tips for leaving your cat home alone

We all have to leave the house and can’t be there for our cats all of the time. So how do we go about leaving our cats home safely? Here are a few tips to keep you and your cat happy.

Maintain a good routine

Separation anxiety can be caused by your cat not knowing when they will be fed again, or when their litter tray will be cleaned. You can understand this too as humans would probably be anxious if we didn’t know these things either! So, maintaining a good routine for your cat can be a good way to help prepare them for being separated.

Create safe spaces

We know that cats love boxes because they offer safe spaces for them, but there’s a wider principle at play here. Your home needs to be a safe space for your cat, and at the very least cater to your feline friend’s needs.

HeartMD looks at this topic and suggests:

You can reduce your cat’s anxiety by making sure that it has places to go that are out of the path of activity, and where your cat can keep track of what’s going on but still feel protected. This is why a lot of cats like to sleep on chairs that are tucked under tables and—if they can reach it—the top of the refrigerator.

At the same time, you don’t want your cat to spend its life under your bed, either. Investing in a cat tree (the higher, the better) can help. I’ll admit they take up a good amount of space, but that’s exactly what you’re creating for your stressed-out kitty, right?

Cats get stressed when things change in their environment, so providing safe spaces that is their own can be a great way of anchoring them and minimising any stress they may encounter when you are absent. And we’re not just talking about a box or cat bed here – Catster recommends investing in a range of cat toys:

Tall cat trees and shelves positioned in front of the windows will keep him entertained with the goings-on in the neighbourhood. Ball-and-tract toys, puzzle boxes, and ping-pong balls will keep the little latchkey kitty mentally stimulated while his dad is away for the day.

Consider installing microchip cat flaps

If your cat prefers to explore the outdoors rather than be cooped up in the house while you’re at work, then microchip cat flaps are a great way to ensure they can come and go as they please (and some of the more advanced cat flaps will allow you to monitor their activity via an app).

Check out our comparison guide of the best microchip cat flaps on the market right now.

Consider the environment

Ensure that your living area or the rooms your cat will be in has plenty of natural light and places for their to snooze or perch.

You also want to maintain favourable temperatures as best you can. If it’s cold outside, put the heating on or provide a cosy bed and blanket so your cat can keep warm. Similarly, if it’s particularly warm then consider keep the air conditioning or otherwise ensure the room is cool.

Remember, you can alter your cat’s behaviour

If you find your cat is anxious about being left alone, then there are some things you can do to slowly mitigate their issues. Identify key parts of your routine and expose your cat to them independently. For example, if you get your car keys out every morning before leaving the house, do it some other times too, but don’t leave the house. This will slowly disassociate this behaviour with separation and should help calm your cat.

Catster offers some other tips for this:

When you do leave the house, make a point to distract your cat with some treats or a toy before quietly slipping out the door without any long goodbye.

Get a second cat!

Go on, you know you want to. And who better to keep your cat entertained and stimulated throughout the day!

The final word

If you are going away for less than a day and sufficiently prepare, then your cat will be just fine home alone. But, if you plan to go away for more than a day then consider asking a friend or neighbour to drop by and feed or cat, replenish its water, clean out the litter tray and keep it company for a half hour or so. If that’s not possible, then find a local cattery to look after your cat for a while – it’s very cost-effective and a much better solution than leaving them home alone.

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