How to leave your cats home alone (Without all the drama)

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Uh uh, gurl

I think it’s a myth that cats are ferociously independent critters who don’t need no man in they lives.

Potentially standoffish and aloof? Sure. But fabulously independent? Hardly. Ok, I’ll concede that they’re probably more self-sufficient than most dogs, but deep down inside, our cats are little more than gooey fur-riddled marshmallow balls, desperate for love and affirmation.

 

 

Accordingly, most kitties don’t fare well being left alone for extended periods of time. My cats, Sita and Pippin, are home alone for a bulk of the week—when their pops and I venture out into the big scary world to hustle for paper. They know very little apart from the four walls around them and the weird shapes they can make out from our apartment windows. But unless you’ve taught your cats to walk on a leash (and I intend to…one day), this is life as they know it.

Many cats adapt just fine to being left alone for several hours a day, settling into a comfortable routine of naps, perfectly timed bowel movements, and appointments with that noonday patch of sunlight.

But if you’re planning an absence longer than your usual 9 to 5, there are simple steps you can take to help them cope with not having you around.

sunbathing cats

But first, let’s get the basics out of the way…

 

 

Two kitties > One kitty

Yes, mathematically speaking, 2 cats are more than one cat. But did you know that two cats are also better than one cat? Sounds counterintuitive, but multiple cats are actually easier to care for than one, since they have each other for companionship and don’t rely solely on you for all their affection, entertainment, and stimulation.

Having a single cat who stares at you all day waiting for you to notice them is incredibly stressful. Such was my life, B.P. (Before Pippin). Now, Sita is constantly entertained (often against her will), and I no longer find her waiting pathetically by the door for my return.

 

More vertical space!

catastrophic creations mario unitI think if I took a shot every time I said “increase your cat’s territory with vertical space,” I’d be dead from alcohol poisoning. But that’s how important it is!

Allowing your cats to feel safe, engaged with their environment, and entertained with adequate vertical territory is one of the simplest things you can do to eliminate most troublesome kitty behaviors.

 

 

And now, on to the fun part!

 

 

Give them something to watch

Before you head out, leave the TV on for your cats (on a timer). A bit of background noise can help to put them at ease, since it feels more like you’re home with them. For added cat parent points, put on cat TV (free on youtube) showing lots of moving critters like birds, mice, or fish. Make sure to turn the volume down low.

cat napping in funny positionIn the same vein, I always make sure to leave a lamp on, plugged into a timer. I set the timer to switch on whenever I normally have the lights on in the house.

Yes, cats have great night vision and don’t necessarily need the extra light. But a glowing lamp, just like a softly running TV, imparts a sense of familiarity and routine, almost as if you’re home.

You don’t want your absence to be filled with dead silences and darkness, when normally your home is filled with bustle, light, and sounds.

 

If you can swing it, install a bird feeder outside your window, adjacent to your cat’s perch. It’s like cat TV, except all natural!

 

 

Give them something to listen to

cat with headphones

Put on some calming background music, timed to play for several hours a day. In a deathly silent house, even the smallest creak or thud is a potential axe murderer to our neurotic fur burgers.

To take the edge off, try cat music. Yes, cat music. There is actually music out there created specifically for cats and dogs, with simple, soothing piano riffs that cats super dig. If you think I’m certifiably crazy for thinking cats listen to music, I don’t blame you. But just try it.

Head on over to youtube and play them a few tracks—they’ll be knocked the f$%@ out in minutes (or at the very least, extremely relaxed).

pippin cat music

Here’s Pippin at this exact moment as I write to you, cracked out on cat music. (Hence the horrible webcam photo)

Remember, any tunes you leave on for your kitties should be played at a low volume. A cat’s hearing is much more sensitive than ours, and you don’t want to end up stressing them out further with a constant barrage of noise.

 

 

Give them something to hunt

cat leaping for wand toyYour kitties’ urge to stalk and eviscerate things doesn’t fizzle out just because you’ve left the building.

The solution? I keep a collection of puzzle feeders that I take out only when I’ll be away from home, so my cats don’t tire of them.

Sprinkle them generously with enticing treats that your cat doesn’t normally get to have. The challenge of fishing the treats out from the various pockets and mazes will keep your cats stimulated for a good long while. Remember, the key is to put the feeders away as soon as you’re back home, so kitties view them as an exciting treat rather than a tired old fixture.

A couple sweet options that my cats dig:

 

northmate catch feeder

Northmate interactive feeder

Catit Senses food tree

Catit Senses food tree

AiKiou Stimulo cat feeder

AiKiou Stimulo puzzle feeder

 

Alternately, you can leave treats tucked away around the house so kitties can scavenge for them at their leisure. I usually hide a few under the bed, on the shelves of their cat tree, and on their window perches.

Lastly, swap out your cat’s toys for a fresh “set.” I keep their unused toys stored in a ziploc bag filled with catnip, and rotate a few new ones out before I leave on a trip. Catnip also has an added calming, euphoric effect on cats, so giving them “catnip refreshed” or catnip-filled toys is a nice bonus.

 

 

Don’t make a big ole fuss

worried cat

Cats are amazingly perceptive, and are great at picking up on our emotions. If we make a big production out of leaving the house, smushing their faces against our own and cooing at them sadly, it’ll only increase their sense of agitation.

Remember, we want our cats to feel like our departure isn’t a big deal. It’s not the end of the world. In fact, it’s just business as usual. We want them to feel reassured in carrying on with their daily routine.

 

If your cats have separation anxiety, it’s actually hugely beneficial to ignore them for at least 15 minutes before you leave the house, and again for 15 minutes as soon as you return. When you bookend your absences with intervals of being as boring as humanly possible, they’ll no longer view your departure as such a starkly contrasted period of loss and deprivation.

 

Bonus tidbit: If your cat is of the irritable & grumpy varietal, ignoring them for a while when you first return home has the added benefit of helping to get them to like you more. Pretty neat (in a depressing sort of way), right?

 

 

Get them a sitter

cat in living roomIf you plan on being gone for more than a day or two, I strongly recommend enlisting backup caretakers, whether it’s a friend who drops in to play with them, or the services of a professional cat sitter.

Even if your cats are adequately fed and watered in your absence, having no further stimulation can cause a great deal of added stress. They’ll have nothing to do all day but wonder when (or if) you’re ever coming back. Break up these periods of monotony with a friendly face who’ll play with them, fuss over them, or just sit with them and watch the tube.

Unless your cats are terminally shy, most will appreciate a human presence for a few hours a day. You’ll likely notice a drastic difference in their demeanor when you return home—they’ll be relaxed and calm, rather than agitated, needy, and shitting on your bed (it happens).

 

That’s it! Wasn’t too hard, was it?

 

Got any tips for leaving your kitties home alone? Or a preferred brand of wine for washing away the guilt? Let me know!

 

 

 

(New content goes up about once a month!)

 

5 comments

  1. Diane Ricciardi Stewart says:

    Being that I have 10 (soon to be 12 again) kitties, I don’t have to worry about them feeling *alone*, although they do hate to see me leave for work. But they also get so excited when I come back home! My son is usually here when I am at work — except for Fridays and Saturdays when both of us are at work.♥♥♥

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      If I had 10 kitties, I definitely wouldn’t worry about them feeling lonely either! Your cats must be spoiled for choice with playmates 😀

  2. I always get a pet sitter if I will be gone overnight. You never know what a cat will get into when you’re gone. 😉

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Totally agree! I personally can’t bear to leave my cats alone for longer than a day.

  3. I’m completely paranoid about leaving my sniffles alone, so I got him a pet cam with a feeder and a game I can control from my phone. I can schedule his feeding time, watch him and get notified about his every move. Check it out – http://www.cat2see.com

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