How Long Can You Leave a Cat Alone? (Hint: Not As Long As You Think)

Your cat is independent, indifferent and probably doesn’t even care if you’re alive or dead...right? Wrong. While it’s true that cats are significantly lower maintenance than most pups, felines still crave affection from their humans. In fact, they’re not that different from dogs at all in that regard; domesticated cats who are deprived of human contact for too long are indeed susceptible to feelings of separation anxiety, in addition to the obvious health complications that come from not having their physical needs met. That said, your sleepy, aloof feline can weather a little solitude just fine—just be sure to read on to find out what the experts have to say about how long you can leave a cat alone before you pack your bags.

Can I Leave My Cat at Home Alone While I'm at Work?

The good news is that the average full-grown feline will be fine when left alone for a workday, which means that, in most cases, you needn’t spring for a pet sitter on the regular. Yep, you’ve probably noticed that your cat loves to sleep—up to 18 hours a day, in fact—so you don’t need to feel guilty about putting a day in at the office while your kitty languishes on the couch. Working the nightshift? Again, no big deal. Your particular schedule doesn’t make much of a difference as far as your cat’s alone time is concerned. As long as you’re consistently around for some chunk of time every 24 hours, your cat will be content. But, of course, an occasion may arise where you need to be away from home for a little while longer. Here’s what you need to know about longer periods of separation from your feline.

What to Know Before You Go

When it comes to leaving a healthy cat alone, the most important stuff is pretty straightforward: You will need to set out enough food for the one to two days that you plan on being away, freshen the water bowl and thoroughly clean your cat’s litter box. (Don’t say we didn’t warn you about that last one.)

We also suggest you take your cat’s emotional needs into account. After all, your home is a pretty boring place without you. As such, you can help minimize any separation anxiety and reduce the risk of cat shenanigans if you supply your pet with some toys designed for solo play.

Finally, if you want to be super cautious, or have any doubts about your cat’s physical health, it’d be wise to pay a visit to the veterinarian before you leave any pet to fend for itself. Also, it bears repeating that kittens under the age of six months and newly adopted cats cannot and should not be left alone for a full 24-hour day, let alone two.

What If I'm Gone for Longer Periods of Time?

When it comes to longer absences, the cat lovers and experts behind say that healthy, adult cats shouldn’t be left alone for more than 24 to 48 hours. Meanwhile, the veterinarians over at CVETS in South Carolina are a little more generous, saying that “if you leave your cat alone for more than three days, you must find someone to check in on him.” In other words, there isn’t a specific amount of time experts agree on for every cat and your cat’s needs might change over time. Needless to say, adult cats with special needs—be it a recent injury, illness, or daily medication regimen—will need to be checked on more frequently. Plus, even the healthiest of kitties need food, water and toileting accounted for before you duck out. The pros also advise against leaving a newly adopted adult cat alone for the aforementioned stretch of time, since fur buddies who are still in the process of adjusting to a new environment are naturally more vulnerable to separation anxiety and the behavioral problems that come with it.

How Long Can You Leave a Kitten Alone?

Kittens are the cutest—but just like any baby, they’re considerably more work than an adult. Indeed, age makes a tremendous difference in terms of how long you can leave your cat alone—specifically for pets under the age of six months. Per the pros, wee ones under the age of 4 months shouldn’t be left alone for more than two to four hours; 4 to 5-month-old kittens can chill solo for up to five hours; and by the half-year mark, kitties can sit (or snooze) pretty for an eight hour workday without consequence. Of course, this is just an estimate based on what most cats can handle. Your particular feline’s temperament will play a considerable part in the equation, so proceed with caution.

The Risks of Leaving a Cat Alone

Far be it from us to take the wind out of your sails after reassuring you, but there are some risks associated with leaving your cat alone for too long. Don’t worry, though, friends: It’s mostly just common sense stuff.

Let's begin with the litter box—namely, the fact that many healthy cats will simply avoid it if it gets too gross. And since nobody enjoys cat pee on their wooden floor (or, um, on top of a pile of dry cleaning), this is definitely a factor worth considering.

While an angry cat peeing all over the place is a nightmare and a hassle, far more serious is the possibility of an unanticipated injury or illness. Although the odds that your robust house cat suddenly falls sick are slim, it's definitely a possibility—particularly if you don’t cat-proof your pad before departing. Along the same lines, a mischievous kitty can certainly get into trouble when bored and alone.

Finally, there’s the emotional impact. Prolonged periods away could rub even the coolest cat the wrong way. If you don’t want your furball to turn into a neurotic stress ball, it’s best to keep your kitty’s temperament in mind and generally stick to the above guidelines of a maximum 24 to 48 hours solo time.

When to Hire a Pet Sitter

Cats are notoriously low-maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they relish neglect. If you are planning on being away for a couple of days, then you need to find yourself a friend or a for-hire pet sitter to take care of your feline in your absence. Bonus points if you snag someone who will stay a while to play with and pet your kitty—’cause yeah, they really do want somebody to love.

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Freelance PureWow Editor

Emma Singer is a freelance contributing editor and writer at PureWow who has over 7 years of professional proofreading, copyediting and writing experience. At PureWow, she covers...