What Do Cats Do When No One Is Home?

Cats Lead Secret Lives When Humans Are Away

When owners leave the house, their curious cats spring to life, engaging in activities and behaviors unseen by human eyes. Unbeknownst to their owners, our feline friends live intricate lives of exploration, play, and leisure during their private hours at home alone. Cats are intelligent yet mysterious creatures of habit. While they outwardly seem to sleep the day away in the sunshine, cats actually have rich internal lives full of imagination and adventure waiting to be unleashed once their humans depart. As secretive hunters, cats relish the alone time to tap into their primal instincts and indulge their natural curiosity about their territory when no one is watching. What do they get up to once left to their own devices? Read on to learn about the secret antics of cats home alone.

Sleep and Relax

Cats are known for sleeping a majority of the day, often up to 16 hours or more according to Animal Planet (https://www.fourpaws.com/pets-101/family-matters/do-cats-get-lonely). When left home alone, cats will likely spend most of their time napping and relaxing. Without humans around, cats feel safe and comfortable sleeping deeply and for longer periods of time.

In fact, according to Reddit users, cats can sleep up to 20 hours a day when left home alone (https://www.reddit.com/r/CatAdvice/comments/17a1u9g/how_long_do_you_leave_your_cat_alone_during_the/). With no disruptions or need for playtime, cats take the opportunity to catch up on sleep. An empty home allows cats to find their favorite napping spots and sleep soundly.

Overall, cats spend the majority of time alone napping and restoring their energy. The quiet environment and lack of disturbances let cats relax fully without disruptions.

Groom Themselves

Cats are fastidious groomers and will spend a good portion of the day grooming and cleaning themselves. According to Cooper and Gracie, on average, a cat might groom itself several times a day with each session typically lasting about 5 minutes (https://cooperandgracie.com/blogs/infos/how-often-should-a-cat-groom-itself). When alone at home, cats are free to groom without being watched, which they prefer. Cats will lick their fur to distribute oils across their coat, remove dirt, and stimulate blood flow. Their barbed tongue helps remove loose hair and untangle knots. Grooming helps cats maintain cleanliness, regulate body temperature, reduce stress, and bond with other cats through social grooming.

Research indicates that most cats will spend 30-50% of their waking hours grooming themselves (https://www.northroadvet.com.au/blog/about-cat-grooming). This extensive grooming when alone allows cats to meticulously clean hard-to-reach areas and carefully groom their face and ears. Cats are private creatures and grooming is an intimate act for them. When unobserved at home, they can fully relax and devote ample time to this important self-care ritual.

Roam and Explore

Cats are naturally curious creatures and will take advantage of the opportunity to investigate and explore the house when their owners are away. With no humans around to deter them, cats will often venture into areas that are normally off-limits, like countertops, closets, and other private spaces.

Researchers have found that when owners leave the home, house cats spend more time visiting areas they don’t have access to when humans are present (Source). This satisfies their curiosity and allows them to patrol the entirety of their territory.

Some common areas cats may explore when home alone include kitchen counters, bathroom sinks, dresser drawers, closet shelves, and bookcases. They’ll jump up and investigate anything that captures their interest.

This exploratory behavior serves an important purpose for cats. Roaming the house allows them to understand the entirety of their environment and make sure there are no intruders or changes while their owner was away. It’s an innate behavior leftover from their ancestral days as solitary hunters, long before they were domesticated.

Look Out Windows

Cats are naturally curious creatures and enjoy observing the world around them from the safety and comfort of home 1. Windows allow cats to watch birds, squirrels, and other wildlife outside while staying inside their territory. According to Precious Pet Care San Diego, cats love to look out the window because it satisfies their predatory instincts to watch potential “prey” go by2. Windows also provide mental stimulation and entertainment for cats.

In addition, cats feel most secure when they can observe any potential threats approaching their home. Keeping watch out the window allows cats to monitor their territory for intruders. The window gives cats a safe vantage point to view the outdoors.

Play with Toys

Cats tend to play more energetically and vigorously with their toys when their owners are not home to supervise them. This is likely because cats feel more uninhibited when alone and can fully unleash their playful, predatory instincts without any interruptions. According to the YouTube video “When Owners Are Away, Pets Will Play,” cats will often play with toys that involve chasing, pouncing, and hunting when they are home alone, which allows them to simulate the experience of catching prey [1]. These types of high-energy play behaviors are part of a cat’s natural instincts, even though they are not actually hunting real prey. So when owners are not around to stop them or distract them, many cats take advantage of the opportunity to play as roughly and boisterously as they please with their catnip mice, feather wands, and other toys.

Additionally, cats may play more with toys when alone because they have pent up energy from not getting enough active playtime when their owners are home. As ComfortedKitty.com explains, owners often don’t spend enough time playing with their cats or engaging their natural instincts to hunt, chase, and pounce [2]. So when left to their own devices, cats amuse themselves by releasing their energy and honing their predatory skills with more vigorous solo play sessions.


Despite regular scheduled feedings from their owners, some cats will take advantage of alone time to sneak extra snacks. With no humans around to regulate their food intake, cats may dip into their bowl for an unplanned meal or nibble on treats they find around the house. According to a 2021 study from the National Center for Biotechnology Information, the majority of pet cats are allowed free access to food bowls throughout the day, with owners refilling as needed.[1] So a snack session while home alone aligns with a cat’s natural grazing tendencies. Much like people, cats enjoy the pleasurable taste of treats and the feeling of a full belly. Snacking unsupervised can lead to weight gain over time if cats consume excess calories. But an occasional indulgent snack is part of a cat’s innate scavenging behavior when left to their own devices at home.

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7909512/

Use Litter Box

Without humans present, cats feel free to take care of their bathroom needs in peace. A recent study found that cats made more frequent trips to the litter box when home alone versus when their owners were present (cite url here). Cats tend to feel more comfortable relieving themselves without interruptions or distractions. As naturally private creatures, they prefer privacy when using the litter box (cite url here).

Experts recommend leaving multiple litter boxes spread throughout the home for a cat who will be alone for extended periods. With easy access to several spots, they can freely take bathroom breaks as needed. The number of litter boxes left out should equal the number of cats in the home, plus one extra. For example, a home with 2 cats should have 3 litter boxes available when the owners are away at work or on a trip. This allows each cat ample opportunity to relieve themselves without feeling rushed or uncomfortable.

Practice Hunting

Cats are natural hunters with strong predatory instincts. When left alone at home, cats will often practice these hunting skills by pouncing on toys, even when no one is around to play with them. According to an article on Fear Free Happy Homes, “If the cat isn’t pouncing right away, we tend to assume he’s not playing and put the toy away—often when the cat was in the middle of a hunting sequence in his head.”1 Cats view playtime as an opportunity to simulate hunting. They enter an elevated state of awareness, quietly stalk and pounce on their “prey” toy, then carry it away like they would real prey. This satisfies their natural desire to hunt.

An important part of a cat’s hunting sequence is the “planning” stage where they watch carefully and calculate the optimal moment to pounce. As one article points out, “Cats will spend a lot of hunting time thinking, watching, and calculating. They may not pounce because the conditions are not optimal.”2 When left unattended, cats may seize the chance to hone these predatory skills on toys. It allows them to act on their natural instincts.


Cats are quite capable of amusing themselves while home alone. As we’ve seen, typical activities include sleeping, grooming, roaming around, looking out windows, playing with toys, snacking, using the litter box, and practicing hunting skills. While cats can get lonely if left for too long, most adjust well to being alone during the day while their owners are out. Providing enrichment through toys, cat trees/perches, food puzzles, and window access can help stave off boredom. If you notice signs of distress like inappropriate urination, destructive behavior, or overgrooming, consider getting a second cat or hiring a pet sitter to provide companionship. When it comes to what cats do when no one is home, rest assured they can find creative ways to fill the time until you return.

Now that you know what your cat gets up to while you’re gone, you can take steps to keep them happily occupied. Be sure to give them lots of playtime and affection when you are home to make up for the hours apart!

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