Do Cats Think We Abandon Them When We Leave?

As a cat owner, have you ever wondered if your furry friend thinks you’re abandoning them when you leave the house? It’s a common concern, as cats are known to suffer from separation anxiety and exhibit stressed behaviors in their owner’s absence. Understanding the cat psyche around this issue is important, as it can help owners minimize anxiety and keep kitty calm and content.

In this article, we’ll explore whether cats actually perceive abandonment when we leave, signs of separation anxiety, techniques to prevent it, and how to ease anxiety upon returning home. Read on for insights into the feline mind and actionable tips to strengthen the bond with your cat.

Normal Cat Behavior

Cats are natural athletes that love to pounce, climb, run, scratch, play-fight, and more. But they are also known for sleeping long hours during the day. According to, cats sleep an average of 15-16 hours per day. This includes both nighttime sleeping and daytime napping. Cats tend to be most active at dawn and dusk when hunting prey is optimal. During the day, they exhibit cycles of eating followed by grooming and then sleeping. This routine provides time to digest food and conserve energy between activities.

Indoor cats especially spend a large portion of the day sleeping and lounging. Without access to the outdoors, they have limited space and stimulation. Short bursts of playtime and activity scattered throughout the day help meet their exercise needs. According to, indoor cats should have at least 3-5 play sessions of 5-10 minutes each day.

Napping and sleeping are a natural part of a cat’s routine. Their frequent rest periods allow cats to store energy for important activities like hunting, playing, and patrolling their territory. So while cats do sleep a lot during the day, it’s simply their natural rhythm and not a sign of laziness.

Signs of Separation Anxiety

Cats with separation anxiety will exhibit noticeable changes in their behavior when their owner leaves or is absent. Some common signs include:

  • Excessive vocalization such as meowing, crying or howling
  • Destructive behaviors like scratching furniture or doors
  • Inappropriate urination outside the litter box
  • Agitation or restlessness
  • Drooling
  • Lack of appetite

These behaviors stem from the cat’s anxiety over being separated from their owner and attempt to either reunite with them or express their distress. The most pronounced behaviors occur within the first 15-30 minutes of the owner’s departure. Some cats even begin exhibiting anxious behaviors in anticipation of being left alone.

It’s important to differentiate normal meowing or minor misbehavior from true separation anxiety. If the signs persist every time an owner leaves and result in destruction or inappropriate elimination, it likely signifies a separation issue that should be addressed.

Causes of Separation Anxiety

There are several potential causes of separation anxiety in cats:

Lack of socialization as kittens is a common cause. Kittens that are not properly socialized during the critical 2-7 week period often fail to develop coping skills for handling change and being alone. This makes them prone to separation anxiety as adult cats.

Sudden changes in the owner’s schedule can also trigger the onset of separation anxiety. Cats are creatures of habit and feel most secure with consistency. Changes like a new work schedule, vacation, or relocation can disrupt their routine. This disruption can cause anxiety when left alone.

Understimulation is another culprit. Cats left alone in an unchanging, unstimulating environment for long periods of time can become anxious, bored, and stressed. Without sufficient physical and mental stimulation, they are more likely to develop separation anxiety.

Providing enrichment through play, scratching posts, perches, and food puzzles can help prevent separation anxiety in understimulated cats. Slowly acclimating them to alone time is also important.

Do Cats Perceive Abandonment?

Cats are intelligent creatures, but their cognition differs from humans. While cats can learn routines, cues, and commands, complex abstract ideas like “abandonment” are beyond their comprehension ( Cats live in the present moment – they don’t dwell on the past or ponder hypothetical futures.

When owners depart for extended periods, it’s unlikely cats perceive it as abandonment. More probable is separation anxiety due to the disruption in their routine and absence of attachment figures ( Cats may act out with anxious or destructive behavior, but they aren’t reacting out of a sense of betrayal – just an expression of stress. While missing their owner, they are not preoccupied questioning if they’ve been abandoned.

With proper preparation and training, cats can learn to become more comfortable when their owners go on vacations or trips. But attributing complex emotions like abandonment to cats anthropomorphizes their experience. Their unease during separations is better understood as separation anxiety, not an existential crisis over assumed desertion.

Preventing Separation Anxiety

Proper socialization and training as kittens can help prevent separation anxiety in adult cats. Kittens should be exposed to periods of separation from their mother and littermates starting at around 7 weeks old. This allows them to become more independent. Kittens adopted earlier than 10-12 weeks may be more prone to separation anxiety.

Providing enrichment helps satisfy cats’ natural instincts to hunt, climb, scratch, and play. Options include cat trees, scratching posts, puzzle feeders, and interactive toys. Rotating the items keeps cats engaged. Environmental enrichment gives cats positive solo activities and prevents boredom. As the ASPCA recommends, “A cat isn’t missing you when they’re distracted by a food puzzle toy.”

To minimize disruption, maintain regular routines for feeding, playtime, and interactions. Before departures do relaxing activities like brushing. Avoid overly emotional greetings and prolonged farewells. When returning home, calmly greet the cat then go about normal activities. This models coming and going is no big deal.

Treating Existing Separation Anxiety

Addressing severe separation anxiety in cats requires a multi-pronged approach involving behavior modification, medication, and environmental changes to minimize stress.

Behavioral modification training is a key component of treating separation anxiety. This involves techniques like systematic desensitization by gradually increasing the amount of time a cat is left alone. Owners can start with very brief departures of just a few seconds or minutes and reward calm behavior upon return with treats and praise. The time is slowly increased over many sessions until the cat can remain relaxed for longer periods alone. Another technique is providing abundant mental and physical stimulation right before leaving so the cat is more likely to relax and nap while the owner is gone.

In severe cases, anti-anxiety medication may be prescribed by a veterinarian to reduce feelings of panic when alone. Medications like fluoxetine or clomipramine help boost serotonin levels and have been shown effective for feline separation anxiety. These medications are temporary aids while behavior training takes effect and should be used under veterinary guidance.

Pheromone plugins can also help induce calmness during alone time. Products like Feliway contain synthesized feline facial pheromones that create a sense of relaxation and security for many cats with separation distress.

By combining behavior modification, medication, and environmental adjustments, most cats can overcome separation anxiety and learn to feel comfortable home alone for normal periods of time. Patience and consistency are key when implementing these treatments.

Preparing for Departures

A key part of reducing separation anxiety when leaving cats is to make departures as low-key as possible. Cats are sensitive to changes in routine, so try to keep departure cues subtle by avoiding behavior like rushing around and packing suitcases where the cat can observe. According to [resources](, the day before you leave, feed your cat using food puzzle toys rather than their regular bowls. The mental stimulation can help distract them from your upcoming absence. You should also leave recently worn clothing that smells like you in your cat’s favorite spots, as your scent can have a reassuring effect.

Providing Reassurance Upon Returning

When you return home after an absence, it’s important not to make a big fuss over your cat at first. Excited reunions can actually increase a cat’s anxiety by overstimulating them. Instead, make your arrival low-key and give your cat space to calmly readjust to your presence.

Avoid overly effusive greetings, loud voices, and immediate cuddling or playtime. Let your cat approach you first, then give them gentle pets and soothing words of reassurance. Speak softly and move slowly during these initial moments back together.

Once your cat seems relaxed and settled, then you can transition to providing affection, treats, or playtime. However, keep the energy positive but subdued. Overly rambunctious reunions can be counterproductive by riling your cat up too much. The goal is to keep homecomings happy but not overstimulating.

With this calm, gentle approach to arrivals and reunions, your cat will begin to see your departures and returns as just another part of their normal routine. This helps prevent separation anxiety from developing or worsening.


In summary, cats can exhibit signs of separation anxiety such as excessive vocalization, inappropriate urination, and destructive behavior when left alone. This is likely due to theirdependence on social bonds, concern for safety without their owner, and breed tendencies. However, separation anxiety in cats can often be prevented or treated through proper training, providing enrichment, maintaining routines, using pheromones/medication as needed, and reassuring them upon return. While cats may initially perceive our departures as abandonment, with time and care they typically come to understand we will be coming back. By implementing some of the tips in this article, cat owners can helptheir feline friends feel more secure and comfortable when home alone.

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