Because no one has conducted an authoritative study on cat loneliness, no one knows the exact effects of leaving a cat alone for extended periods, according to Psychology Today. If you're considering taking a trip and wondering how long you can leave your pet alone, you must consider two factors: the physical and psychological issues that will arise.
Will you be having someone stop by each day, or every other day, to change your cat's water and food and make sure the home is at the right temperature? Will you be leaving the cat free to roam the house unattended for a week or more with no social contact or entertainment?
Using your cat's personality as a guide (is it a younger cat who prefers to spend time on the couch or bed with you, or an older cat who barely notices you?), you can decide if, how, and how long you should leave your cat unattended.
Your cat's needs
One perception people have about cats is that they're totally independent and that we need their companionship more than they need ours. While there may be no animal studies that provide information on cat loneliness, many experts, like Dr. Marci L. Koski, owner of Feline Behavior Solutions and a certified feline behavior consultant, agree that cats can come to miss their owners and interaction with other animals (human or otherwise) after extended periods.
Use your cat's regular greeting as an indication of how long you might be able to leave it alone. For example, if your cat runs to greet you each night you come home from work, it might miss you and want your attention and companionship. If you come home and have to go room to room yelling your cat's name before you find her, that's an indication that your cat is fine being left on its own.
Home alone cats
We know they like having us around, but how long can you leave a cat alone without stressing it too much? Three months? One month? A few days? Again, it's all based on the opinions of animal experts, but without clinical research to pinpoint an answer. Is your cat clingy and sticks close to you? That could be a sign it won't do well when you're away more than a workday.
How are the physical surroundings? A new cat getting used to its home might have more difficulty getting used to grandfather clocks, AC units, and other recurring noises. Older cats will be more comfortable alone for longer periods than young pets. These are questions you must address when deciding if can you leave a cat alone for a week or other extended period of time.
The time of year can also play a role in how long you can leave your cat alone. If you live in a climate that requires you to use a heater in the winter and AC during other months, that can change the humidity in the house. Cats need to stay adequately hydrated in order to keep their fur and skin healthy.
Experiment with a humidifier during the winter months to see how your cat responds. Using a bubbling water bowl can encourage cats to drink more. These bowls circulate water, keeping it more attractive (dust doesn't collect on top of the water), and the gurgling noise reminds cats of the outdoors.
Be aware that if you've recently started working from home when you used to be gone all day, this can change your cat's perception of your relationship. If you're home all day, leaving only for a few hours at a time, your cat might get used to this pattern and believe it is the new normal for its home.
If you decide to take a three-day weekend, or even just stay out overnight, this might send a signal to the cat that something's changed. If you're working from home now and need to be out for the day, check out how your cat greets you when you get home. If it suddenly runs to the door (when it normally doesn't do this), it might be a sign the cat was concerned. This might be a good indication that you'll want to have someone check in on your cat if you'll be out for a couple of days or more.
Cats can suffer separation anxiety
Dogs aren't the only ones that suffer from separation anxiety when they see you pull out your suitcase. This should come as no surprise to true feline aficionados since they know cats are creatures of habit and are easily thrown off by changes in their environments.
Other signs include excessive meowing, lack of appetite, and increased self-grooming. Spending a few days away won't harm your cat, but any longer and you should consider entrusting someone to go to your place to care for and interact with your cat on a daily basis until you get back.
Your cat probably won't acknowledge your presence when you do get back home, but rest assured, she missed you, too. Take into consideration how long you've had the cat and its age. Younger cats or recently adopted pets might be more anxious to see you than an older, long-term companion.
Look for patterns before you make any judgments. Just because a cat runs up to you immediately on your way home from work tonight doesn't mean this is regular behavior. Just because your cat doesn't greet you after you've been out for only a few hours doesn't mean it will be fine if you leave for a day or two.
Finally, remember that any human companion, even that of a professional pet sitter or neighbor, can calm a cat. Your pet might not even come to greet the visitor or caretaker and might even run under the bed when a stranger comes over, but sensing that someone is changing its water and food and hearing its name called lets the cat know it hasn't been abandoned.