How Long Can Cats Survive on Their Own? The Answer May Surprise You


Cats can make great pets for busy owners, as they are relatively independent animals that can often be left alone for periods of time. However, there are limits to how long you should leave a cat home alone. The main factors that determine how long cats can comfortably be left alone include the cat’s age, health status, personality, enrichment in the home environment, and access to food, water and litter boxes.

This article provides guidelines on ideal durations, factors to consider, and how to prepare the home so your cat remains happy and healthy while you’re away. The goal is to help cat owners determine reasonable time frames for leaving feline companions unattended.

Ideal Duration

The general recommendation for how long cats can be safely and comfortably left alone is less than 24 hours. Feline litter box issues associate with cat personality, breed … Ideally, the maximum time a cat should be left alone is 12-16 hours. This gives the cat enough time to eat, use the litter box, play, and get the sleep and social interaction they need without becoming stressed or anxious. Cats are natural loners, but they still require some socialization and environmental enrichment. Leaving a cat alone for more than 24 hours at a time places them at risk of developing behavioral issues and health problems.

Age and Health

A cat’s age and health status can significantly impact how long they can be left alone safely. Kittens and elderly cats generally require more frequent care and supervision than adult cats in their prime years (What to Expect When Your Kitty Becomes a Senior Cat).

Kittens under 6 months should not be left alone for more than 2-4 hours at a time. They need frequent feedings and socialization at this stage. Senior cats over 10 years old may suffer from conditions like kidney disease, arthritis and dementia that require more vigilant care and medication administration (How Your Cat’s Behavior May Change with Age). An elderly cat should not be left alone for more than 4-6 hours.

Cats with medical issues like diabetes, hyperthyroidism, dental disease, cancer or incontinence need specialized care and medication on a strict schedule. They should not be left alone for more than 3-4 hours at a time. Monitoring cats with health problems is crucial for managing their conditions and ensuring their safety and wellbeing.


A cat’s personality can significantly impact how well they handle being left alone for periods of time. Anxious, needy, or destructive cats may become stressed when their owner is away, while more independent cats are perfectly content entertaining themselves. According to the ASPCA, kittens and high-energy cats often get into trouble when left unsupervised, while mellower adult cats are more likely to simply sleep Aggression Between Cats in Your Household – ASPCA. Destructive behaviors like scratching furniture or knocking things over are signs your cat may be suffering from separation anxiety. On the other hand, confident, non-destructive cats are able to spend more time alone without incident. Getting to know your cat’s unique personality and preferences is key to determining how long they can comfortably be left alone.

Litter Box

Proper litter box setup is crucial when leaving a cat alone for extended periods. According to this article from the AVMA, inappropriate urination outside the litter box is one of the most common behavior problems reported by cat owners. Cats should have at least one litter box per cat, plus one extra, placed in quiet, accessible areas of the home. Boxes should be scooped at least once a day and completely cleaned out weekly with litter regularly replaced to prevent odor buildup which can deter use. If a cat begins soiling areas outside the litter box, the mess should be thoroughly cleaned as soon as possible with an enzyme cleaner to remove all traces of smell and prevent the cat from repeatedly soiling that spot.

Food and Water

Cats need access to fresh food and water even when alone for extended periods. According to PetMD, cats should not go more than 24-36 hours without eating or they risk developing hepatic lipidosis, a serious liver disease. When leaving your cat alone, make sure they have access to their normal amounts and types of food. Feed wet and dry food as usual and refill water bowls before you leave.

If you will be gone longer than a day, consider leaving out extra food. An automatic cat feeder can dispense portions at set times to ensure a consistent feeding schedule. Just be sure to store extra dry food properly so it does not spoil. When preparing multiple meals, divide canned wet food into portions to avoid waste. Provide at least one bowl with fresh water in multiple locations.

Monitor your cat’s food and water intake before leaving them. Increased appetite or thirst could signify an underlying medical issue to address first. Cats prone to gorging when free-fed may need more structured meal times. Limit food access if your cat has obesity or diabetes. Dehydration is also a risk, especially for sick or elderly cats. In these cases, consider having a pet sitter check in to replenish food and water.


While cats are quite independent, it’s still important to provide enrichment to keep them occupied and engaged when left alone for extended periods. According to the ASPCA, environmental enrichment creates “a fun and safe place full of a variety of toys and spaces that will help banish boredom.”

Some great enrichment ideas include:

  • Puzzle feeders or treat-dispensing toys to keep your cat mentally stimulated (source:
  • Cat trees, scratching posts, and high perches so they can climb and survey their territory
  • Ball tracks or tunnels for hiding and playing
  • Catnip or silver vine to roll around in
  • Interactive toys like feather wands, laser pointers, and automated mice

Make sure to rotate toys to keep things interesting. Providing a stimulating environment with lots of enrichment can help prevent boredom and destructive behaviors in cats left home alone.

Preparing the Home

Before leaving your cat home alone, it’s important to take some steps to cat-proof the environment and set them up for success while you’re gone. Here are some tips for preparing your home so your cat stays happy and safe:

Hide or cover any dangling cords from blinds, lamps, etc. Cats may be tempted to chew on them. Make sure houseplants are out of reach, since many common plants are toxic to cats if ingested. Secure trash cans and put away any food or other items your cat could get into.

Provide your cat’s preferred beds, toys, and scratching posts so they have familiar comforts. Consider leaving out puzzle feeders or hiding small treats around the home so they can entertain themselves. Have fresh water easily accessible in multiple spots.

Leave a radio or TV on at normal volume so there are soothing voices and sounds. Consider plugging in Feliway or similar calming pheromone diffusers. Close off rooms like bathrooms where your cat could accidentally get shut in.

Make sure all exterior doors and windows are securely closed so your cat can’t escape. Give your cat plenty of pets and affection right before you leave to set a positive tone.


While cats are independent pets, it’s still important to check on them regularly when you’ll be away for an extended period. The AVMA recommends having someone visit at least once daily to check food and water, scoop litter, play with the cat and monitor their overall health and mood ( AVMA).

For shorter trips under 24 hours, most healthy adult cats will be fine on their own with minimal disruptions to their routine. However, kittens and senior cats with medical issues may need more frequent attention. Consider having a friend, neighbor, pet sitter or relative stop by at least once to check on food, water and litter. Some automatic feeders and pet cameras can also help monitor your cat remotely.

If possible, it’s best to have someone familiar come and stay in your home when you’ll be away for multiple days. This allows for regular social interaction, playtime, and monitoring in a stress-free environment. Boarding at a kennel can work but may cause anxiety in some cats. Whatever option you choose, be sure your cat’s basic needs are met and keep an eye out for any behavior changes upon your return.

When to Call the Vet

Cats left alone for long periods can sometimes develop signs of distress that indicate an underlying health issue. Here are some signs that it’s time to call the vet:

  • Excessive vocalization or crying
  • Aggressive behavior like hissing or biting when you return
  • Lack of interest in food or water
  • Lethargy or lack of normal activity
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Accidents outside the litter box
  • Destructive behavior like shredding curtains or furniture
  • Hiding and unwilling to come out

Cats are good at masking illness, so any significant change in behavior after being left alone warrants a call to your veterinarian. They can examine your cat for underlying medical issues like bladder infections, digestive problems, or arthritis that may be causing distress. The sooner these issues are diagnosed and treated, the faster your cat will return to their normal happy self.

Kittens, senior cats, and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be especially prone to separation anxiety and decline more rapidly when left alone. Call your vet promptly if a vulnerable cat shows any abnormal behaviors after being on their own for extended periods. With proper care and treatment, your beloved feline companion can maintain their health despite necessary alone time.

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