How long can cats be left alone?

Cats might seem pretty independent, but that doesn’t mean you should leave them on their own for long periods. Here, we look at how long you can leave a cat home alone – and how to make sure they’re safe when you’re not there.

One thing most cat owners love about their feline friends is that they’re fairly self-sufficient. Cats don’t need walks like dogs, and most moggies are quite content to be home alone for a few hours while their owner is at work. But what if you’re going away overnight, for the weekend, or even longer? Can cats be left alone when you’re not there?

“It depends on the cat, and also on how long you’re going to be away,” says Nicky Trevorrow, animal behaviourist and Behaviour Manager at Cats Protection, the UK’s largest cat welfare charity. “If your cat has medical issues or needs regular medication, they shouldn’t be left alone. But if your cat is relatively young and healthy and you’ll be out for a short amount of time – during the working day or just overnight – that’s probably okay.”

How many days can cats be left alone for?

Nicky recommends never leaving your cat to their own devices for more than 24 hours. “A cat left home alone for long periods could get into all sorts of trouble with no one there to help them or rush them to a vet,” she says. “A healthcare emergency would be my primary concern, but there may also be hazards around the house, and some cats really miss having their owner around. If you’re going away for more than a night, you definitely want someone checking up on your cat.” And of course, there’s also the question of feeding your cat regularly, which we’ll look at in more detail below.

How long can kittens be alone?

Like all babies, young cats need frequent meals and careful supervision. A neighbour or friend could pop in to feed your kitten if you’re at work, for example.

By the time they’re a year old and fully grown, a healthy cat should be fine if left overnight – but as Nicky suggests, never leave them for more than 24 hours.

How can I look after my cat when I’m not there?

If you do decide to leave your adult cat overnight, make sure they have plenty of food and clean litter, and fill multiple water bowls so that if they spill one, they can still drink. Make your home cat-friendly by closing toilet lids, removing choking hazards (such as fishing-rod toys) and wedging doors open, so your cat doesn’t get trapped in one room.

A good cat scratching post will reduce the risk of your cat damaging furniture or wallpaper while you’re away. According to Nicky, cats prefer a post that’s at least 80cm high, doesn’t wobble, and has a vertical, rather than horizontal, rope pattern.

Nicky also suggests using ‘feeding enrichment’ techniques to mimic your cat’s natural feeding behaviour and prevent boredom when you’re not around to play. Try putting your cat’s dry biscuits in egg-box compartments for them to retrieve with their paw, or hiding these around the house. Or invest in a puzzle-feeder or ‘licky-mat’ to help keep them occupied while you’re away.

If your cat has a particularly strong bond with you, Nicky’s top tip is to put one of your worn jumpers or T-shirts in their favourite resting place. The familiar smell should reassure them and help to prevent separation anxiety.

How can I feed my cat while I’m away?

Automated cat feeders keep food fresh and maintain your moggie’s mealtimes when you’re not around. Gravity feeders work well with dry food, but for wet cat food you’ll need a timed feeder with ice packs inside. “Cats are creatures of habit, so try to maintain their normal feeding routine as much as possible,” advises Nicky.

A new generation of smart pet feeders lets you control feeding times from your mobile phone – with some even transmitting video of your munching moggie, too! There are also feeders that open only when they detect your cat’s personal microchip. They’re not cheap, but these could be the best option if you have multiple cats on different diets.

“Whichever type of feeder you choose, get your cat used to using it before you need to use it,” says Nicky. “Make sure you know how to work it, that you have the right batteries, and that your cat will actually eat from it!”

Can I leave my cat home alone for two days?

If you’re going away for more than a day and night, your cat needs someone else to look after them. This could be a cat-loving friend or a neighbour popping in twice daily, a professional cat sitter or a boarding cattery. Discover the pros and cons of each option, and how to minimise distress to your cat while you’re not there, in our article on caring for your cat when you’re away.

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