Categories: home alone

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

What do domestic cats do when humans aren’t around? Humans are companions of domestic cats by definition. And domestic cats depend on humans for almost everything they have. These factors underpine the answer which depends on a lot of variables such as:

  • How long are humans not around?
  • Is there more than one cat alone?
  • Is the cat an indoor/outdoor cat?
  • How bonded is the cat to the human?
  • What is the cat’s personality?
  • What is the cat’s age?
  • How much space is there?

FYI: don’t think that domestic cats are solitary animals and therefore can be left home alone all day without a problem. It is not like that but cats deal with it in a range of ways. The important factor is that, in general and depending on the individual cat’s personality, domestic cats can be classified as sociable in 2020. That thought guides us in answering the question.

Cats alone all day and full-time indoor cats – not recommended

This was my situation for a while and both myself and my cat hated it. She got cystitis. If a domestic cat is alone all day in a flat and they have a close bond with their human companion they’ll kill time basically. They’ll sleep a lot of the time because there is nothing else to do. They will miss the person. There will likely be separation anxiety to varying degrees. They may cry out and howl for a while. They’ll mooch about the flat in between snoozing and sleeping. It is more snoozing than genuine sleep.

They’ll eat and drink a bit and watch out the window for a while. And they’ll wait by the front door for ages in preparation for the return of their human companion. They may become stressed and overdo their grooming as a result. They may show stress by defecating or urinating inappropriately but this is fairly rare despite boredom and possible separation anxiety which may lead to stress. They may play with a toy for a short while.

But above all else it will be a waiting game. It is not great and it is not the way it is meant to be. If the owner consistently works all day and goes out a night as well leaving their cat alone for long hours it will have a detrimental effect on a cat’s mental health.

If the person is close to their cats but away for a short time such as a hour, and if usually the person is at home with their cats a lot, the cats might wait or entertain themselves. If it is the middle of the day the cats may sleep because that is the sort of time they might sleep if they are crepuscular. However, full-time indoor cats won’t have a classic body clock which drives them to hunt at night or dawn and dusk because they have nothing to hunt.

Time lapse videos of cats home alone show them being rather aimless and killing time. For me cats can be a little lost without their human friend. If there is more than one cat there are more opportunities to find stimulation and distractions from the potential varying levels of stress in some cats brought on by the absence of the human.

If the cat is elderly, they’ll kill time more easily. They are also likely to have a good knowledge of their owner’s routines. They’ll be no surprises. This should reduce the potential for stress.

Cats alone all day and indoor/outdoor cats

The big difference between this category of cats and indoor cats is an obvious one: they can go outside and hunt or wander around and watch. They can entertain themselves for hours. They can sleep outside in the sun and wake and watch the world go by. There is more happening. They may chase a bug and eat some food. It will be rather aimless again with low key activities unless they are engaged in a genuine hunt of e.g. a mouse or bird. Domestic cats with access to the outside will be distracted more because there is more to do. There is more stimulation. Once again a cat who has a close relationship with their human guardian will be conscious that their human is not present and they’ll tend to wait patiently when the time to return arrives. They’ll use their internal time clock to know when he or she is about to come home. They’ll greet the person sometimes and be pleased she is back.

More than one cat

If the cats get on well, this surely must be a big plus when left alone for a reasonable length of time. Domestic cats are generally sociable nowadays. They have evolved into it. It is a mistake to think that domestic cats are solitary creatures who are well able to cope with being alone all day. They are more sociable than solitary and their best friend in many homes is their human caretaker. It does not take much imagination to understand that the human’s absence is felt by domestic cats in single cat homes. Couples an multi-cat groups are at an advantage when left alone. Jackson Galaxy recommends adopting two cats or kittens from a rescue if they are known to get along.

Better or worse?

High energy cats are more likely to feel separation anxiety and be stressed. More laid back cats like Ragdolls are more suited to home alone but no cat is suited. Older is better than younger. More space is better than less space. Indoors/outdoors is better than indoors only. Reducing time away is better than being out at work and going out for entertainment in the evening. Can you work partly at home? That would be much better. Confident cats will feel being alone more than timid cats if they are indoor cats.

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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