Categories: stress

What do domestic cats do when humans aren’t around?

Perhaps it is true to say that people asking the question in the title are concerned about their cat when they are at work. They fear that their cat is going to be bored, stressed and feel lonely when detached from their human carer. The videos on this page support this fear. Although it depends on how connected they are to their ‘owner’ and at least to a certain extent whether a domestic cat is a full-time-indoor cat or an indoor/outdoor cat because the latter has a greater opportunity to entertain themselves. Taking first, therefore, the full-time indoor cat, internal video surveillance on time-lapse cameras, which I’ve seen, clearly indicate that when domestic cats are alone all day, away from their human companions, they kill time. To be perfectly frank, it looks awful to me. Domestic cats are good at killing time because they’re good at snoozing and sleeping and pottering around doing nothing. But essentially it is killing time until their human companion returns from work or whatever else they’re doing. If there’s more than one cat they may entertain themselves together for a while but my recollection of these videos is that it indicates that they do this rather half-heartedly. Perhaps the presence of their owner is a catalyst to their activity levels and that it is needed to stimulate them.

Cat home alone stressed. Screenshot.

The cat allowed outside will probably go outside for a while. Although it is fair to say that cats allowed outside most often use this freedom at dawn, dusk and at night time. Therefore they will naturally rest and sleep during the day when their human companion is away. So for these cats, they will often rest through a substantial percentage of the time that they are left alone by their owner. When they wake up they made potter around a bit, look out the window, eat a bit and in short do very little which reinforces my belief that domestic cats rely on their humans’ input and interaction to enrich their lives to a large extent.

Separation anxiety might be more prevalent and more severe than some people imagine. It may be hidden because cats don’t always show this form of anxiety. They’re pleased to see you when you come home but you might have no indication that while you were away they were anxious and upset. I’ve been over this before, of course, but signs of separation anxiety maybe cystitis and over-grooming. Often people who are away a lot use convenience foods i.e. dry cat foods which can exacerbate the possibility of contracting cystitis and urinary tract diseases.

There is no equivalent of the dog walker for domestic gas is there? Cat owners in full-time employment face the home alone challenge but they expect their “independent cat” to manage. The best of my knowledge, many dog owners facing the same challenge hire a dog walker to come to their home and take their pooch out for a midday walk. They might send their dog to a day care centre. It looks a bit unfair to me because the domestic cat isn’t that independent. They don’t need a walk in terms of exercise that perhaps dogs need but they need human companionship and company.

I see cat owners in full-time employment (as I was for many years) in many ways failing their domestic cat companions but they have little choice. It’s far from ideal. Perhaps they should all set up time-lapse, internal video surveillance camera in their home to see for themselves what their cat does when they are away. These devices are incredibly cheap nowadays on Amazon. You can buy an internal video camera which connect wirelessly with your smart phone for about £40 or the equivalent in US dollars. Perhaps many more cat owners should try them both in the interests of cat welfare and find out what their cat does when humans aren’t around.

One final point worth noting is that the coronavirus pandemic has been hugely beneficial to domestic cats and dogs. For a while millions more employees were working from home. It was a utopian existence for domestic cats; provided of course that the owners were good at discharging their cat caretaking responsibilities. There is certainly a strong argument for a great opportunity to work at home at least part of the week. This would plug an enormous gap in the care given to cats especially those confined to the home. In the interest of cat welfare I would encourage employers to do this.

Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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