A common dilemma for animal lovers is how to handle leaving your loved ones at home. It can make you feel very guilty to think about your cat sitting around with nothing to do and no one to play with. Many cat parents even avoid traveling for vacation because they don’t want to leave their cat behind. But is this really necessary? Are they really feeling loneliness, or are you worrying for no reason?
Can a Cat Struggle With Loneliness?
Cats are not generally known as clingy animals. They are stereotypically solitary animals that like their independence and space. However, as all cat owners know, their independent spirit does not mean they don’t love spending time with you on their terms. From cuddles to playtime, there are plenty of opportunities for bonding with your beloved cat. But, do they ever want your cuddles when you aren’t there? Do they miss you when you are gone?
It is possible for cats to feel lonely because they have been domesticated to enjoy the company of their loved ones. Depending on your family, this may just be you or it may include your partner, children, and other animals. Every cat is different and used to different amounts of social time, so you can’t assume that every cat struggles with loneliness. If your cat has a particularly independent personality and lives in a generally quiet and peaceful environment, they may not want or need hours and hours of entertainment and social activity, but cats that really love your attention and who gravitate towards the noisiest, most active areas of the home, probably do get lonely when they have to spend hours all alone.
Does Your Cat Miss You When You Are At Work?
Like all socialized domestic animals, cats need their fair share of social activity. However, it is important to remember that, unlike dogs, wild cats and their ancestors were not pack animals, which is where your cat’s solitary instincts come from. Their social natures are developed through domestication, and they tend to need less social attention than dogs do, and so are often content spending some time without you.
An 8 hour workday is an acceptable period of time for many cats to be without social contact. Some may even enjoy having their territory completely to themselves. This means that you do not need to worry about your cat while you are at work if there aren’t any signs of loneliness, unhappiness, or any other anxiety. However, there are plenty of cats that will have difficulties being alone for that long, so it is, unfortunately, possible for your cat to miss you while you are at work.
This is particularly true if you previously did not have to leave the house for extended periods of time. If you are returning to work after a long absence, for example, or if you previously worked shorter shifts, or, perhaps, you used to work from home, it is possible that your cat will not like your sudden absence.
Signs Your Cat May Be Missing You
Although it is fairly unlikely that your cat is missing you while you are at work, it is possible. Some cats are very loving, or even clingy, and they can become very lonely when you leave them. Just a few hours can be enough to make them miss you. If you aren’t sure if your cat is missing you, here is a checklist you can use to help you figure it out:
- Does your cat act very eager to see you when you return from work, particularly if their eagerness is unrelated to being fed?
- Are they knocking things over or destroying furniture out of boredom?
- Do they seem overly attached to you, such as following you from room to room?
- Are they grooming themselves too much, or too little?
- Has their appetite increased or decreased?
- Are they playing with, or misusing, their litter box?
- Has their behavior taken a turn for the worse, despite being previously well trained?
- Is their sleeping schedule easily disrupted or sporadic, or have they become more lethargic?
If any of these traits sound like your cat, they may be missing you while you are at work. However, they could also be struggling with more general socialization anxieties, as well as a number of potential medical issues. If you have serious concerns, or your cat is displaying any unexplained, strange behavior, it is always helpful to discuss them with your veterinarian.
Is Your Cat Lonely at a Boarding Facility?
Cats do not just become lonely when you go to work. They can also become lonely if they attend a boarding facility. Cat boarding houses are mostly used to care for your cat when you aren’t able to, such as when you go on vacation. It is an alternative to cat-sitting, which can leave your cat with strangers or without companionship for as much as 23 hours, and some pet owners use a boarding facility during the work week, although this can be expensive.
Cat boarding houses can be very positive experiences for your cat, particularly if you attend regularly enough for your cat to build a positive relationship with them. If you can afford it, they can be a potential solution for loneliness at home, particularly if you work a demanding job that may keep you away for long hours. However, they can be a source of loneliness or anxiety, just as much as they can be a solution.
Your cat’s territorial nature can make a boarding house a negative, lonely experience. Their surroundings will be unfamiliar and alienating, and, while you may think they will be able to make a lot of new friends, the presence of other animals can make them feel threatened instead. New smells, sights, and routines can make your cat miss you terribly. This doesn’t mean that boarding facilities are inherently a bad idea, but you should be aware of your cat’s preferences and work with the staff to make sure they will enjoy themselves.
Does Your Cat Need a Cat Companion?
You may think that your cat’s loneliness has an obvious solution: adopt a brother or sister kitty for them to spend time with during the day. This can work, but it is also not a simple solution. Generally, if you want to have more than one pet, it is always best to adopt them together as kittens and to bring them up together. This gives them their best chance at bonding, which is the best method for avoiding any potential issues. Common problems for owning two or more cats include:
- Fighting over territory
- Increasing aggressive behavior, including towards other members of the family
- Other territorial behavior, such as urination on furniture
- Unplanned pregnancy
- Bullying, particularly if one cat is significantly older or more dominant than the other
Ultimately, you may find that introducing a second cat to your household could make the problem worse, rather than better. If you have an anxious cat, they may well become more anxious if they feel intimidated by a newcomer. It is also very likely that your two cats will just ignore each other, even if they don’t cause each other problems. Cats are not pack animals, and it is not definite that another cat will be an adequate replacement for you. A cat who misses their owner, with whom they have built a bond of trust, won’t necessarily be happy with just any replacement to spend time with.
A companion or sibling can help a bored cat, however, but introducing your cat to a new cat requires time and patience. Choose a cat whose personality and energy suits your existing cat. You must introduce the two cats to one another gradually. Start with the two cats in separate rooms, then allow them to smell each other through a door or suitable pet gate. You can then try several supervised play dates until you are confident that they can spend several hours together without starting any fights.
The golden rule with all pets is that you must be able to give them the life that they deserve. A second cat is not a replacement for your attention and will actually add to the work you will have to do when you are home. If the reason your cat is bored is because you are struggling to find the time for them, adopting another cat is not advisable. You may even, unfortunately, need to re-evaluate if having a cat at this time fits your circumstances. However, if you are simply thinking of providing additional companionship for the hours your cat would otherwise spend alone, a second pet can be a good idea.
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How You Can Help Your Lonely Cat
If your cat is missing companionship, a second cat could be a solution. However, don’t worry if you aren’t in a position to adopt another cat, there are some other things you can do that will help your kitty.
- Provide plenty of cat self-play toys, such as cat trees
Imagine if you were left at home for hours with absolute nothing to do. No TV to watch, no books to read, no games to play. You would get very bored. It is the same with cats. If you have to leave your cat on their own, make sure they can do more with their time than eat and sleep. A great way to do this is to provide toys that don’t require your assistance.
- Leave on a radio, or even the TV, to provide the reassuring sound of human voices
If your house is normally noisy and busy, silence can be deafening and disconcerting when cats are left on your own. Your cat may start to react to noises they usually can ignore, such as your neighbor’s car door slamming or the noise of your central heating. If they feel alone, this can put them on the edge, so it may relax them to hear comforting human noises and speech in the house.
- Provide them with worn clothes or sheets that smell like you as it will comfort them
One of your cat’s favorite and most comforting things is the way you smell. They are used to smelling you before they see you and will use their sense of smell to keep tabs on you when they need to. If they are missing you, ensure you leave your scent in their favorite areas of the house so that they can go to smell you when they need comfort.
- Look for a regular pet sitter or boarding facility that your cat can build a strong relationship with
If you use a pet sitter to check on your cat during the day or when you are on vacation, their experience and methods are important. Many pet sitters will do the bare minimum and just top up food, water, and clean out the litter tray. However, a great sitter will take the time to play with your cat and check for signs of distress. Hopefully, they will form a meaningful bond.
- Create a reliable play schedule so your cat is certain that, although they are alone now, they will have the attention they need later
Cats love routines. Having a schedule for eating, drinking, sleeping and cleaning their litter tray can help them to feel in control of their surroundings, and playing is no different. Create a post-work routine for your cat that you will stick to, such as play, feed, relax, and bed, as this will help your cat to understand that, although you leave, you always come back and will always spend time with them.
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- When you are home, offer them a high-quality playtime that is focused and distraction-free
It is not enough to simply throw a toy vaguely in their direction while you watch TV. If they have been waiting for you all day, they will need focused attention to stimulate them. Cats require a lot of mental and physical stimulation to be happy, and you will want to ensure they are suitably tired for when they sleep.
Jean Duddy, DVM, Why is My Cat Crying?, The MSPCA–Angell