Is Your Cat Giving You the Cold Shoulder? How to Tell if Kitty is Mad at You for Leaving

Cats form attachments to their owners

Cats can form secure attachments to their owners similarly to how dogs bond with humans, according to a 2019 study from Oregon State University published in Current Biology ( The study found that most cats show signs of a secure attachment to their owner or caregiver, such as greeting them when they return home and following them around the house.

This attachment behavior in cats is believed to be driven by the same hormones and neural mechanisms that establish bonding in other species, including between human parents and children. Just like human attachments, cat-owner bonds can vary in security and intensity based on factors like early life experiences and caretaking styles. Overall though, it’s clear cats form meaningful connections to their human caretakers when treated well.

Cats may experience separation anxiety

Some cats show signs of distress when owners leave like vocalizing, inappropriate urination, destructive behavior (de Souza Machado, 2020). A 2022 study found that separation anxiety in cats jumps well over 700% in only two years, with inappropriate urination being the most common sign (Green Element CBD, 2022). This anxious behavior usually occurs in the first 30-60 minutes after the owner leaves, according to veterinarians (DVM360, 2022).


de Souza Machado, D. (2020). Identification of separation-related problems in domestic cats.

Green Element CBD. (2022). Study: Prevalence of pet anxiety in the US.

DVM360. (2022). Pet owner survey reports separation anxiety statistics.

Cats have excellent long-term memory

Studies and anecdotal reports show cats can remember other cats and humans for years after not seeing them. According to PetMD (, cats have excellent long-term memory abilities that allow them to recognize familiar faces even after years apart.

This long-term memory is an evolutionary advantageous trait for solitary hunters like cats. It allows them to distinguish friends from potential threats, even if they have not encountered those cats or humans for extended periods. For indoor cats, this means they likely remember their owners even after just a short vacation trip or time away ( So while cats may seem aloof at times, their long-term ability indicates they do indeed remember the important humans and animals in their lives.

Leaving cues help prepare cats

Cats are creatures of habit, so establishing a routine with cues before you leave can help prepare them for your absence and minimize anxiety or stress. Some things to try:

  • Feed cats right before leaving so they associate a full belly with your departure. This mimic’s cats’ natural cycle of hunting, eating, then sleeping (source).
  • Initiate playtime or engage in a favorite game. The exercise can make them sleepy when you go (source).
  • Avoid prolonged goodbyes which may create anxiety. Exit calmly and matter-of-factly.
  • Have a consistent phrase like “see you later” as you leave to reinforce the routine.
  • Set out a favorite toy or treat right before exiting.

Establishing these leaving cues can help signify that your absence is temporary and that the cat will be okay. With repetition, the routine becomes familiar and reassuring.

Cats understand habitual actions

Cats are observant creatures who learn our daily routines and come to associate certain actions with us leaving the home, according to a 2013 study published in Applied Animal Behavior Science. For example, getting dressed, putting on shoes, or picking up keys are all visual cues to a cat that you may be departing soon.

So if you abruptly break your normal leaving routine one day, it can confuse your cat initially. They may watch you closely or meow for reassurance if your actions seem out of the ordinary. But cats are adaptable and will learn new associations over time.

Cats Relax and Sleep a Lot While Alone

Cats are known to sleep 12-16 hours per day on average during their normal routine [1]. This includes both nighttime sleeping as well as periodic napping and dozing during the day. When left alone for periods of time, it’s likely that cats simply sleep even more than usual.

Studies on the sleep cycles of cats show they alternate between phases of sleep and wakefulness about every 1-2 hours normally [2]. So when alone, cats likely just spend more time in prolonged sleep states. The average cat sleep cycle contains about 26 minutes of wakefulness followed by around 79 minutes of sleep [2].

Cats are natural sleepers and will simply catch up on rest when their owners are away. Their ability to sleep deeply helps them conserve energy as well. So while an owner is gone, a cat is probably just happily snoozing more than usual.

Cats greet owners happily upon return

Most cats will come greet owners when they come home after an absence, showing they recognize and missed their human companion. According to a 2022 study from Oregon State University [1], over 64% of cats demonstrate affectionate behaviors within the first few minutes of their owner returning home from work. These behaviors include purring, rubbing against their owner’s legs, and kneading or treading with their paws, which all indicate happiness at the reunion.

This is because cats form secure attachments to their owners who care for them. While cats are independent animals, they are still social and form bonds with humans who feed them, play with them, and give them affection. So despite their reputation for aloofness, most cats do genuinely miss their owners when separated and show their affection when reunited after absences like a day at work.

Pheromones and toys can ease separation stress

Synthetic feline pheromones like Feliway can help relax cats when their owners are away. Pheromones are chemicals cats produce that signal safety and contentment to other cats. Diffusers and sprays containing synthetic versions of these pheromones can have a calming effect and reduce signs of separation anxiety (PetMD). When owners leave, turning on a pheromone diffuser can help ease a cat’s stress.

Providing interactive toys and food puzzles can also keep cats happily occupied in their owner’s absence. Toys that dispense treats or encourage play and hunting instincts engage a cat’s natural behaviors. Rotating different toys keeps cats mentally stimulated. Food puzzles make cats “hunt” for meals. With enjoyable solo activities, cats worry less about a temporarily missing owner.

Get help for severe separation anxiety

In extreme cases where a cat’s separation anxiety has become debilitating, veterinary intervention and medication may be necessary to help improve the condition (ASPCA as cited in MetroVet). Medication can help reduce anxiety and make behavioral modification therapy more effective. Some commonly prescribed anti-anxiety medications for cats include amitriptyline, fluoxetine, and benzodiazepines.

Cats with severe separation anxiety should also go through more rigorous conditioning training and behavior modification under the guidance of a veterinary behaviorist. This professional help is important because separation anxiety tends to worsen over time without proper management. The earlier it is addressed, the better the long-term prognosis (PetMD).

While mild cases can be managed at home with preparation and environmental enrichment, cats with moderate to severe separation anxiety require prescription medication and tailored behavior therapy from a veterinary professional. Left untreated, the anxious behaviors can intensify and negatively impact the cat’s quality of life.

Cats are independent but form bonds

Cats are often characterized as solitary, independent animals. While they do not live in social groups like dogs, cats are social creatures that bond with their human families. According to the Merck Veterinary Manual, cats are “highly social animals” that form close attachments with owners who interact frequently with them.

Cats communicate their affection through actions like rubbing, kneading, purring, and sharing sleeping spaces. A cat sees their owner as a source of security and comfort. While independent in nature, bonded cats even greet their owners at the door when they return home.

Despite forming close bonds, cats are still solitary hunters able to entertain themselves while alone. Providing environmental enrichment with toys, scratching posts, and pheromone diffusers can ease any stress during separations. Cats are quite resilient and adaptive as long as their basic needs are met.

So while cats are independent creatures, they form strong social bonds with their families. With proper preparations for their daily care, cats can thrive when left alone for periods of time.

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