We have to rely on personal experience and the experience of others to decide how long we can leave cats at home alone because, to the best of my knowledge, there are no scientific studies which help us. Not that I’m a great fan of scientific studies but they would at least provide some hard factual basis for an assessment.
I think people realise by now that domestic cats are sociable animals. You cannot, therefore, rely on their mythical independence to decide to leave your cat home alone for days on end with a pile of food and a gallon of water in the kitchen. That really wouldn’t do.
Personally, I have never left my cat alone for more than about eight hours which means that I have never gone away overnight without him. I take him with me if I visit somebody for an overnight stay. That’s just my personal way of dealing with it. Other people might not be quite so particular. My neighbour, goes away for several days at a time and her neighbour feeds her cat over that period.
Therefore, she is leaving her cat alone for three days at a time. Personally I think that this is not something which we should aspire to. It’s perhaps just about acceptable but not good. It depends on your standards. It depends also on how close the domestic cat is to their human guardian/caretaker.
Some relationships are very loose and their cats spend a lot of time outside with little contact between cat and human. Under these circumstances you could leave your cat alone for longer. If you’re cat is very close to you he’ll feel the separation. We don’t know much about domestic cat loneliness but we know that they suffer from separation anxiety, a well-known condition.
I would suggest that if you are very close to your cat, staying away for half a daylight day is enough and he’ll probably feel a little anxious and be waiting for you behind the front door when you arrive home.
You can see signs of stress in cats caused by being alone for too long and too often. One of the classic signs is cystitis causing urinating outside the litter box in small and sometimes bloody doses.
I’m gonna return to my original statement namely that there is no hard science on this. You have to know that cats feel anxious if left alone for long periods and therefore I would like to say that they also feel lonely.
But there’s no hard answer to the question in the title. It depends upon the cat, the circumstances, how close you are to your cat, whether there is more than one cat in the family and whether they get along very well. It also depends upon the individual cat and their character.
Psychology Today tells us that it is acceptable to leave dogs alone for four hours but any longer may affect their welfare. That’s a guideline for cats. If we accept that cats are more tolerant of being alone (which is not certain by any means) I think it supports my guideline of 12 hours as a rough maximum.
The point is that cats can tolerate days being home alone. That’s obvious but do you want your cat to simply tolerate being alone? This is not a very good standard of cat caretaking. Returning to the question, it’s really about standards and what you feel you can put your cat through in terms of emotional discomfort. The higher the standard the shorter the time you’ll leave your cats alone.
It is not just about food, water and being alone
Leaving your cat alone for long periods is leaving your cat unsupervised over that time. There is always the risk of injury, particularly for outdoor cats. Let’s say that your cat is injured on day one of your absence. By day three that injury might prove to be fatal. We are around to keep our cats safe and to respond to their needs.
I would say that you could leave your cat’s home alone for a day by which I mean 12 hours but if you have to leave them alone overnight without any attendance from anybody else, that, in my view, is not acceptable. If there are two cats left alone and they get along great the overnight absences are more acceptable.
As this article relies upon anecdotal evidence i.e. the personal experiences of good cat caretakers, I should be most pleased if people commented and told me their personal standards and experiences on this topic. I am sure many will say that they leave their cats alone at home for days on end without problems. Fine. But how are you so sure that there are no problems? You can’t read the mind of domestic cats. The best you can achieve is reading signs through behavior and body language. That’s not 100%.