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We often see our cats as aloof, independent creatures who don’t need much attention – especially when compared to a dog’s more demanding needs.
But this stereotype is not necessarily true. Studies (and personal experience) show that cats often value our company more than we are aware and need just as much affection as other animals.
Then the question arises: when can you leave them alone?
When planning a trip, or just planning to return to work, there are a few factors to consider. Experts say Inverse that the answer is probably not as long as you might think – but there are ways to keep your cat safe and emotionally healthy when you need to be away from home for a limited time.
“You shouldn’t leave your cat alone for long periods of time,” says Mikel Delgado to Inverse. Delgado is a feline expert with Feline Minds and a postdoctoral fellow in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis.
“Cats also have emotional and social needs that cannot be met if left alone for long periods of time.”
How long can you leave your cat alone?
Experts recommend that you do not leave your cat alone for more than 24 hours. If you are going to be away for a long period of time, consider hiring a sitter to keep your cat company. Getty
Delgado recommends “a. not to leave Cat alone without a person looking after you for more than 24 hours. “
You might be tempted to leave Mr. Whiskers home alone with a bowl of food and go on a weekend getaway – but you could endanger your cat’s health.
“Stressful cats can overeat, knock their water bowls, or injure themselves – so it’s not okay to leave them with a large bowl of food and keep your fingers crossed,” says Delgado.
Okay, I use a feeder to feed my cat, right? Problem solved?
It’s not that easy, says Katherine Pankratz, a state-certified behavioral scientist.
“It’s not okay just to have them eat with a large bowl and keep your fingers crossed.”
Pankratz (herself a cat owner) tells Inverse that “automatic feeders sometimes fail or don’t work as expected,” which has occasionally led her to panic and contact her friends to check on her cat.
It’s also important to consider your cat’s emotional wellbeing, says Delgado. When cats are stressed from an owner’s prolonged absence, they may show symptoms of emotional stress, including:
- Loss of appetite
- Do not use the litter box
Do cats need a cat sitter?
Experts say arranging a sitter to feed your cat and check their emotional wellbeing is crucial. Getty
“You should have a pet sitter check on your cat at least once a day,” says Delgado. Twice a day, she says, would be even better.
Pankratz agrees and suggests a “consistent supervisor with whom your cat gets along well”. Ideally, the caretaker would offer meals around the same time you normally feed your cat.
However, it may not always be possible to find a consistent sitter who knows your cat. If your cat is sensitive to strangers, you may be careful asking someone you know to play with them. But it is okay if the sitter at least takes care of the animal’s basic needs, such as feeding and cleanliness of the litter box, emphasizes Delgado.
“You can sit and read, talk gently to your cat, or just be a ‘typical human presence’ by sitting on the couch, watching TV, or looking at their phone,” says Delgado.
Essentially, she recommends letting the sitter interact with your cat on the cat’s terms. Some cats may even prefer a sitter to sleep at home overnight, but that varies with the cat.
How can you make your cat less lonely?
Cats like soothing scents associated with their owner, so consider leaving unwashed bedclothes and bedding for your cat so she can snuggle up while you are away. Getty
The best way to keep your pet from feeling lonely is to have someone spend time with them, says Delgado.
However, there are other ways you can offer your cat enriching activities to make them comfortable in your absence. Delgado recommends a combination of the following options:
- Food puzzle
- Safe solo toy
- Music or videos made especially for cats
“These are not a substitute for a pet sitter, but your pet sitter can help you set up and switch enrichment for your cat,” says Delgado.
Pankratz also suggests leaning in to create “soothing smells” to keep your cat company. She recommends not cleaning bedding such as sofa covers, cat beds, or sheets to keep your odor in your absence.
What should you do before leaving your cat alone?
Using a webcam or other video recording to monitor your cat can keep pet owners safe, veterinary behaviorists suggest.Getty
Again, you shouldn’t leave your home alone for long periods of time if you can avoid it. A caretaker who can check your cat on a daily basis is ideal.
Delgado and Pankratz suggest setting up a webcam or some kind of video surveillance to keep an eye on your cat when you are out and about.
Check the webcam to make sure your cat is eating properly, using the litter box, and generally not looking overly stressed. If you have a cat sitter, you need to let them know that they will be admitted as well, Delgado adds. She also recommends using a timer that will automatically turn the light on and off as needed.
With extreme weather events becoming more common as a result of the climate crisis, pet owners need to consider the effects of rapidly fluctuating temperatures on their cats – especially if they cannot be there to check on them.
Earlier this year, Oregon experienced an overwhelming number of heat-related diseases in pets when record-breaking summer temperatures hit the state. (Related: Dogs can be especially prone to heat – check out our guide on how to keep puppies cool in hot weather).
“It might be safer to regulate the ambient temperature to avoid drastic changes in your absence, such as freezing temperatures or extreme heat,” says Pankratz.
Cats are more comfortable than humans in warmer temperatures – but before you heat up the thermostat when you walk out the door, Pankratz says it may be better to stick to a constant temperature that is appropriate for both your wellbeing and your cat is. Regardless of what temperature you would leave the thermostat on at home, your cat is likely to be fine too.
Pankratz also recommends providing “warm resting places” such as cat beds and blankets if your kitten gets too cold.
Ultimately, if you have a pet, you are signed up to look after them – but if you follow these tips you can keep your cat in good health while you are away.