Do Cats Get Lonely If Left Home Alone All Day?

CatChannel behavior expert Marilyn Krieger, CCBC, explains why interaction with humans and animals is essential in a cat's world.

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Q: I have a question about my boyfriend’s 13-year-old cat, Bart.  My boyfriend can be a little paranoid and overly protective. He seems to think that he needs to make sure he never leaves his cat alone for any longer than 10 or 12 hours because it is "not nice." He believes the cat gets lonely. This causes a problem for us because we live about half an hour away from each other. It’s hard now for him to stay over, because he feels he has to rush back to be with the cat. It effects what we do, but he doesn’t realize that it’s not necessary. I’ve tried to explain it, but he thinks he is right.

The great thing about cats is that they have no concept of time. So its not like he’s staring at the clock saying, "Man, where is he?” Plus, cats sleep most of the day. I have a Rottweiler that needs more care then a cat, simply because she has to go potty outside. I can’t leave her. But a cat?

How can I explain to my boyfriend that he doesn’t need to check in on his cat the way I would my dog?  How much interaction with Bart is sufficient for him not to feel like he’s being neglected? We’ve recently tried to bring Bart to my house, but he doesn’t like the carrier at all. We’ve been working with him, trying to get him more used to the carrier so we can eventually bring him over on the weekends. But I think moving him would be more stressful for him. I think he would prefer to be left at his home. How can I explain that to Bart’s dad? 

A: I’m glad you brought this up. There is a common misconception that it’s OK to leave a cat alone for hours every day without a human or other animal to interact with.

Domestic cats need stimuli and interaction. It is not uncommon for cats to develop behavior challenges because they are left alone without companionship. Many of my cat-behavior cases exist because the cats have been left alone all day long without stimulation or another animal or person to interact with.

Perhaps Bart’s dad can arrange for a pet sitter come in and play with Bart during the day when he’s away. Bart’s dad should also consider hiring a pet sitter to give Bart fresh food and water and clean the litter box when he is spending the night over at your place.

You are right. Cats don’t look at clocks, nor do they wear wrist watches. They do have their own internal clocks and their own cat-concept of time, however. Cats become accustomed to activities occurring at the same time on a consistent basis. It is one of the ways they measure time. Bart knows his dad’s regular schedule. He knows when his dad normally wakes up, provides breakfast and dinner, cleans the cat box, the time his dad usually goes to bed, when they usually play, etc. Consistency is very important to a cat. Regular interaction with their human and animal companions is an important parts of cats’ worlds.

Depending on the cat and the circumstances, cats can become stressed when taken to different environments. Bringing Bart to your house for overnighters might not be the best option because of the Rottweiler and the other animals you have living with you. Also, many cats do not adjust well to new situations. Cats do best going into different places when they are acclimated to changing environments as kittens.

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Do Cats Get Lonely If Left Home Alone All Day?

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Reader Comments

Richard    Palo Alto, CA

7/28/2014 4:23:00 PM

Of course cats have concept of time!

Stephanie    Hillsboro, OR

7/12/2014 7:36:15 PM

Yes, cats do get lonely! A lot of cats act happiest when they a have another cat around. But, a cat who has been raised alone may not socialize well with other cats and may just want to be around people. Cats get bored and depressed when they are left alone for long periods of time - they can feel the time passing slowly even though they can not read the clock.

YogaSue    Long Beach CA, CA

5/28/2014 9:31:45 AM

There is no way I could leave my cat overnight alone. Yes the guilt is part of it but I notice if I get home much later than usual for any reason (running errands, traffic, gym) she is crying like a wolf when I get home and acts erratic for the rest of the evening. She has food and water available all day, so I know this is not part of it. I'm considering getting another cat just for her, for companionship and to keep her stress level down on those days that I can't make it home on time.

Evelyn    New York, NY

3/18/2014 9:48:26 AM

I think that my cat feels lonely when I leave and always try to leave him some toy or leave the TV on. There's a thing called Petcube, it doesn't ship yet but will be out soon. It helps to play with a pet and entertain him when you're not at home and is designed specially for animals, I think it'll be a nice alternative to a TV.

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