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Sometimes our cats can seem very aloof. So much so, that their apparent detachment has fueled a massively popular internet meme of cats referring to humans as servants- a title that some cat parents wear with pride.
Sure, cats certainly know how to play it cool but are they really that aloof?
Would cats get lonely if we left them alone while we were on vacation or some other trip?
Cats may not feel loneliness in the same way that we think about it, but cats will be upset about the loss of their routine which includes you. Cats love routine and a vacation is a major change, especially since for cats, trips may feel like they happen without much warning.
Let’s take a closer look at how we came to this conclusion and what you should do with your feline friend the next time you go on vacation.
Can Cats Feel Lonely?
Before we figure out if cats get lonely while we’re gone we need to figure out if our feline friends feel lonely at all.
The short answer is that cats probably don’t feel loneliness like humans but that doesn’t mean they’re not affected by our absence!
Humans get lonely because we’re naturally social creatures…but do our cats care about a social life?
Are Cats Social Creatures?
In the wild, cats would live mostly solitary lives and control large areas of land where they’d hunt alone. Cats evolved to be solitary creatures and while they have a wide range of volatilizations and other techniques for communicating with humans, they aren’t as in tune with our behavior as social animals like dogs.
Humans are more like dogs than cats when it comes to being social and humans evolved to work, live and hunt in groups. As a result, we can feel a distinct experience of loneliness when we’re away from people- and sometimes even when we’re with people but not getting the quality of interactions we need.
But it’s unlikely that our cats, who evolved to be alone, will feel the same way.
However, domestication can change a lot, and despite solo-focused instincts, we’ve all seen how cats can happily live with and even bond with other felines. Feral cats even form colonies with complex social structures between each feline.
Does That Mean Cats Can Feel Loneliness?
It’s possible that cats feel something like loneliness. We know that cats can feel love when they’re around us and that they’re more than capable of showing affection for both humans and other felines.
But from an evolutionary perspective, loneliness wouldn’t make any sense for cats since they evolved to hunt alone. Or as Dr. Liz Bales bluntly explains, “Cats are naturally solitary survivors ‘Lonely’ is not really an emotion that they exhibit.”
However, even if we don’t have a purely scientific basis for loneliness we know that cats certainly seem to get used to the experience of human attention, and when it’s suddenly removed it can appear to cause behavior that we perceive as loneliness.
We also know that cats love routine and major changes in a feline’s routine can cause a wide range of problems from inappropriate urination to overgrooming and more.
So while cats probably don’t feel loneliness like we do, if they’re used to spending time with their favorite human and everything that goes with it, they may experience something that we can loosely equate to loneliness when we leave and the routine changes.
What Does “Loneliness” In Cats Look Like?
Even though we’ve already established that cats are unlikely to feel lonely in the way that we could relate to, cats that are separated from their humans aren’t getting their needs met in the way that they’re used to which can lead to a wide range of problematic behaviors.
So what exactly does this look like in cats?
In many cases, it’s closely related to behaviors that you may see in an anxious cat but let’s look at some of the most common ones.
Urinating Outside The Box
Any kind of major change can cause issues with the litter box.
But if you’re going on vacation, then there’s a chance that the litter box isn’t going to be changed as frequently which only increases the chance cats develop urinary issues.
Some folks seem to suggest that cats are urinating outside the box as a form of protest but cats don’t urinate outside the box as a form of spite. If the box is dirty, then it just makes sense to go somewhere else (like the bathroom sink) and f your cat has been alone for a while it’s more likely to related to stress rather than an attempt at revenge.
With the whole family out on vacation, your feline friend may not be getting the same kind of fun interactions with their humans that they’re used to. That means some cats will turn to destructive behaviors to not only manage their anxiety but also get their extra energy out.
That could mean shredding toilet paper, scaling the curtains, or just giving your sofa some extra scratching sessions. Whatever the behavior, it’s all about reacting to change in their normal routine.
While most feline vocalizations are cute and endearing (especially the feline chirp) too much of anything can be bad… especially when it’s meowing in the middle of the night while you’re trying to sleep.
Lonely or stressed-out cats will meow more often or have a different tone to their meow altogether. It’s their way of letting you know that they aren’t getting what they need!
Grooming Too Much
According to veterinarian Pamela Perry, “cats typically spend between 30 and 50 percent of their day grooming themselves.”
That’s a lot of grooming!
That also means it can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between normal grooming and too much grooming but if cats are grooming to the point of removing hair then there’s a problem.
Like the other behaviors on this list, overgrooming can be a sign of a stressed cat or simply a cat that’s been left alone for too long.
Dr. Perry goes on to say that “the addition or loss of another pet in the home or even a change of schedule can cause anxiety in cats. Licking – which in such cases is considered a ‘displacement behavior’ – may calm and comfort a cat, but it can sometimes become habitual if the source of the problem is not properly identified and addressed.”
A vacation or short trip certainly qualifies as a change in schedule!
Do Cats Suffer From Separation Anxiety When We Go On Holiday?
Yes, it’s possible although compared to dogs separation anxiety in cats is very uncommon. Cats suffering from separation anxiety will typically show the same behaviors as cats that are stressed, anxious or lonely. That means behaviors like excessive meowing, overgrooming, urinating outside the box, and destructive behaviors once again come up.
It’s important to note that separation anxiety is much more severe than simple loneliness. Depending on the severity, you may need to get help from behavior professionals and your veterinarian. Leaving your cat alone for long periods of time also shouldn’t be part of any vacation plans for cats that are suffering from true separation anxiety.
Do Cats Feel Abandoned When You Go On Vacation?
Similar to the idea of loneliness, it’s unlikely that cats think of concepts like abandonment or desertion.
Even though we know that we’re important for the survival of our house cat, our feline friends may not see it that way. In other words, cats may never consider themselves abandoned since they may not think of us as critical to survival- even if we are. Some cats may even think they’re helping us survive by bringing us dead animals to help out!
The other big issue here is time. Cats can certainly understand time and anticipate the future (which is part of what makes them so good at begging) but they’re not necessarily thinking years or even days in the future.
That means cats probably aren’t making the leap that since you’re not here for dinner that you’re never going to be here again. That’s human stuff!
How To Help Your Cats When You Go On Vacation
If you want your cat to be as happy as possible while you’re gone, then your goal should be to help them stick to their usual routine as much as possible. Routines will help cats relax and reduce stress which means a happier feline!
Let’s look at a few examples of how to pull this off.
Keep Your Cat At Home
There are plenty of boarding services available, ranging from kennels in a veterinary clinic to high-end pet hotels, but they’re usually not a good option for most cats.
As we’ve already mentioned, cats love their routine and most felines would rather be at home even if it means missing out on the fancy feline hotel.
Instead of boarding, try hiring a pet sitter. This could be a trusted friend, neighbor, or even a service that specifically provides cat sitting. Whatever it is, try to find someone that’s willing to keep your cat on their same routine as much as possible including feeding, visits, and playtime.
Consider TV, Music and Other Background Noises
If you’re a person that keeps the TV on for background noise or is constantly jamming to music (but maybe not singing) then you should try to have the same setup when your cat is gone.
You can use automatic timers or add this to the list of tasks for your pet sitter but this is one of those easy small things you can do to make your cat feel like their routine hasn’t changed that much even though you’re not around.
Help Your Cat Stay Mentally Stimulated
When you go on vacation, your cat suddenly loses a lot of the mental stimulation that they’re used to getting. It might not seem like much to you, but your cat is always paying close attention to what you do and that means constant mental stimulation for your feline friend.
You won’t be able to completely replace yourself but make sure your cat has a chance to look out the window so they can chatter at birds or leave behind a few food puzzles to keep them busy.
Even if you can’t provide a real food puzzle, you can always just add some kibble to unexpected locations like your cat’s favorite cat tree!
Try An Automatic Feeder
Your cat’s feeding schedule is one of the most important parts of their life and most cats are happy to make that very obvious!
That means changing your cat’s feeding schedule is one of the biggest problems you can create, but it’s also one of the easiest to avoid. Introducing an automatic feeder can not only help eliminate your cat’s begging habit but it will also ensure that your feline friend’s meals are always on time- even if you’re on vacation.
There are many automatic feeders to choose from but my go-to recommendation is the PetLibro automatic feeder which you can check out on Amazon by clicking here. Not only will that automatic feeder allow you to feed on several small meals a day, which is ideal for cats, but you can also leave a personalized message to help your cat deal with absence.
Even though cats may not feel loneliness in the same way we do our absence does make an impact.
So even though the word loneliness may not be a perfect choice, our cats do feel something like loneliness when we go on vacation or take a long trip. Said another way, our cats have some kind of response to our absence, even if it doesn’t fit into our experience of loneliness.
The best way to help our cats deal with our absence is to keep them as close to their usual routine as possible. While there’s no way to get around the fact that we’ll be gone, by keeping our cats stimulated and fed on their usual schedule, along with a handful of other small strategies, we can help cats manage our absence.
What do you think?