How Long Can Cats Be Left Alone and Do They Get Lonely?

Cats have a reputation of being independent pets that allow their owners a high level of autonomy. But how long can cats be left alone? And do they ever get lonely while their owner is out and about?

Despite their character, cats require care and attention — as any domesticated pets would — and extended periods of solitude are not recommended.

In order to find out how cats act and feel while home alone, Newsweek spoke to cat behaviorists and experts to better understand feline needs.

How Long Can Cats Be Left Home Alone?

Speaking to Newsweek, Celia Haddon, cat expert and author, said: "Assuming a cat has dried food always available, has fresh water available, and has a clean large litter tray available, they can be left without worrying for 12-24 hours."

Leaving cats home alone for over 24 hours is inadvisable, as cats depend on their owners for regular feeding, clean drinking water and valuable social time such as playing and cuddling.

Many of these needs can be easily met by a cat-sitter if owners are likely to be away for longer periods of time.

Cat looks out window
A cat can be left alone for 12-24 hours if they have access to food and fresh water. ablokhin/Getty Images

What to Consider Before Leaving Your Cat

Age also plays a part in how long cats can be by themselves. Cats under 4 months old should spend a maximum of two-to-four hours alone, six-month old cats up to eight hours, and grown up cats up to 24 hours.

Teresa Keiger, creative director of The Cat Fanciers' Association told Newsweek that leaving cats unattended for over a day can become increasingly stressful and dangerous for the animals.

"More than one or two days begins to become very stressful for a cat. Remember, they need food, water, and a clean litter box, none of that will replenish or clean itself.

"If the person whom they are bonded to is gone for several days they may gorge themselves or not eat at all — both are bad for a cat's health and can lead to problems. They may also eliminate inappropriately, this isn't because the cat is mad - it's a marking behavior caused by the cat wishing the owner's return, or play inappropriately - damaging furniture, cushions, and meow and call excessively in an attempt to get the owner to return."

Do Cats Get Lonely?

Cats are social beings that form strong relationships with their owners. Therefore, if their social and feeding needs are not met over periods of solitude the cats can become depressed and feel separation anxiety.

Anita Kelsey, cat behaviorist and author of Let's Talk About Cats told Newsweek: "If it's a normal working day most cats are fine, but a cat would feel lonely or be waiting for their guardians attention if left for days on end. The bond between any carer and their pet is strong and the absence of the care and attention of the guardian would definitely be noticed emotionally."

Different cats manage solitude in different ways, as some are natural loners while others may be more sociable and dependant on their carers.

cat on bed
Some cats do get lonely without their owners, while others are more independent. Zbynek Pospisil/Getty Images

Keiger added: "The emotional needs of the cat depend on the relationship that it has with its owners, as cats vary in regards to how dependent they are on their owners. So the more bonded a cat is to its owner, the more lonely and anxious it will be when the owner is away. That loneliness and anxiousness compounds the longer the owner is away."

Extended periods of loneliness and solitude can also disrupt important routines, Keiger explained.

"Cats love a routine and having their owners around is part of that routine. It's usual that they'll be fed at a certain time, that their owner will be on the sofa watching TV with a cat or two at a certain time, etc. Breaking that routine can be disturbing; it just varies by cat as to the degree of disturbance."

If you need to leave your cat home alone, it is important to ensure that they have enough fresh food and water, a safe place to sleep, and enough distractions such as toys, scratch posts, or windows to look out of. It's also key to remove dangerous and poisonous plants.

Cat lying on sofa arm
A cat relaxes and lazes on a sofa while resting at home. Magui-rfajardo/Getty Images