Cats are famous for being independent, and many people think that their cats can, to an extent, fend for themselves. While dogs have been studied extensively, there is much less research on cats – leaving cat parents with few guidelines on how long is too long.

Some people think a few days is alright, while others may stretch this to a week or more, but can you really leave your cat alone with nothing but an automatic feeder or friend popping in to feed them?

You know your little fluffball’s personality best, so as their parent, you’ll have to make the final call. Some of the questions to ask yourself before you pack up include:

  • Indoor vs. Outdoor: Research suggest that outdoor cats have an easier time being left alone than indoor cats because they have more sources of entertainment to keep them busy.
  • Personality: Some cats stick to their owners like glue, while others are content to act more like distant family members. If your cat is highly bonded to you, you’ll have to take additional steps to ensure they don’t feel lonely.
  • The size of the family: If you have multiple cats, they’ll stop each other from feeling lonely but a cat in a single pet household will feel the effects of your absence much sooner.
  • Health: A kitten, old cat, or cat with health issues will need more attention than a healthy young cat.

Here are some guidelines on how long you can leave your cat alone:

4 – 8 hours

While research suggests that dogs become lonely after four hours without their human, most cats are fine on their own for the length of an average workday.

Kittens or highly bonded cats may need more attention, so if your cat became accustomed to having you around 24/7 during lockdown it’s a good idea to slowly transition back to work rather than suddenly leaving them on their own.

1 – 2 days

Many cats will be fine on their own for up to two days, as long as you ensure they have access to fresh food and water.

For a one-day trip, filling up their food and water before you leave should be sufficient but for anything longer, you’ll want to invest in an automatic feeder and water fountain.

You’ll also want to ensure they have multiple litter boxes to use – many cats won’t want to use a soiled litterbox and you could come home to some nasty surprises if you leave them with only one.

3 – 7 days

Depending on your cat’s personality, they may be able to get by with a friend or neighbour popping in to feed them, provide fresh water, clean their litterbox, and play with them for an hour or two each day.

A highly bonded cat may need more affection, and you may need to find a pet sitter who can spend a few hours per day with them or even sleep over at your house to give them enough company.

Over a week

Most researchers agree that anything beyond seven days is too long to leave your cat alone, even with someone popping in to take care of the basics. Despite the common stereotypes about cats, they are highly social creatures and value human companionship (even if they aren’t quick to show it).

If you can’t find a pet sitter who can spend a few hours, or overnight, with them, the safest option for a long trip is to put them in a cat hotel where you know they’ll get attention and clean food and water.

What could possibly go wrong if I leave my cat alone?

If you’re asking yourself this question, the answer is simple: A whole lot. Here are just a few of the things that can happen while you’re away:

  • Your cat can run out of food and water.
  • Food can go bad, flies can lay eggs in wet food, and water can go stale.
  • Your cat can get injured, even within the house.
  • A full litterbox may lead to soiling elsewhere in the house.
  • Your cat becoming anxious or depressed can lead to a range of behavioural problems including vocalisation, soiling, and becoming destructive.
  • Although experts can’t agree on exactly how long a cat can safely be left alone, there is a point where it becomes animal abuse (through neglect) to leave your pet without access to human contact and clean food and water.

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