Since I have been spending so much more time at home with my pets lately, I've noticed that my two cats have become increasingly stressed out now when I am out of the house for any period of time. For example, when my younger cat, Tiny, realizes I am putting my shoes on and grabbing my bag to head out, he will stand in front of the door and meow loudly. When I return, I usually come home to a very stressed-out kitty who will then want to attach himself to me for the rest of the day.
Cats are often perceived as independent, standoffish creatures who relish in their own space. However, could this be inaccurate? Do cats actually get lonely? To help find out the answer to this, POPSUGAR spoke to two experts to learn more:
Do Cats Get Lonely?
As it turns out, cats may not be what is perceived by us humans as "lonely" for the same reasons that humans become lonely. According to Dr. Liz Bales, VMD, cats, by nature, are solitary survivors, which means that their social structure does not depend heavily on other cats. They can very easily go about hunting and taking care of themselves without the assistance of others. In fact, Dr. Bales said that female feral cats may sometimes stay together to raise their young, while feral male cats are almost always found living on their own. However, house cats have a much different lived experience than feral cats.
"That said, some cats can be very social and they get used to a routine," Dr. Liz Bales said. "So, if we have been spending a lot of time with our cats and that has been a positive experience for them, when we leave that will cause them stress." Dr. Bales pointed out that if a house cat has a positive experience with another cat they live with, and then one cat passes away or leaves, then the other cat that is left behind may experience stress related to this loss. "Is that the same as loneliness?" Dr. Bales questioned. "Science does not know."
Dr. Marci L. Koski, certified feline behavior and training consultant at Feline Behavior Solutions and cat behavior expert at Tuft + Paw, also added that it is important to understand that house cats can experience different levels of what we perceive as loneliness depending on their personality and environment. "There is variability in the amount of loneliness individual cats experience, and in the circumstances that cause loneliness for individual cats," Dr. Koski said. Dr. Koski shared that while one cat may be totally fine with staying home while their owner is out all day, another may not respond well at all to this.
How Can I Tell If My Cat Is Lonely?
Cats are notorious for being secretive about what may be bothering them, so what are some ways that we can tell that they may not be so happy about being left alone for periods of time? According to Dr. Koski, a cat's response to feeling lonely depends on how long the owner may be out of the house and how much the cat doesn't like to be left alone. "Behaviors can range from searching the environment for their people and meowing, to depression and increased 'neediness' when their humans are home," Dr. Koski explained.
It is important to keep in mind that this can cause elevated stress levels in your cat, which has the ability to affect your cat's overall wellbeing. "If they are separated from their companions for too long, stress levels may become elevated," Dr. Koski said. "There are demonstrated links between stress and physical issues such as urinary infections, weight gain or loss, and other potentially serious conditions." If you notice this is happening with your cat, you should reach out to your veterinarian ASAP.
What Are Some Ways to Keep My Cat Occupied When I'm Not Home?
Thankfully there are some ways that we can keep our cats calm, cool, and collected even while we are out of the house. "Cats thrive on routine," Dr. Bales explained. She suggested playing with your cat at least twice a day and to always end a play session with a treat. "Cats need to complete the 'hunt, catch, play, eat cycle' to be relaxed and happy," she added.
Dr. Koski also recommended to consider getting another cat or dog and properly introducing them, or if they prefer to be a solo pet, then have a neighbor stop in to say hello if you know you will be out of the house for long stretches of time. "There are [also] plenty of devices out there that will let you talk with your pet, give treats, and even play with your cat no matter where you are," shared Dr. Koski. Another simple tip is to leave your radio or television on while you are out on low volume.
"There's no substitute for in-person interactions, though," Dr. Koski pointed out, "so if your cat is the type that needs actual human contact, hiring a pet-sitter to stop in regularly might be a more reliable way to give your cat human contact."