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Can You Really Leave Your Cat at Home Alone While You Go on Vacation?

Christie Long is a small animal veterinarian with 10 years experience in medicine, surgery, and acupuncture. As PetCoach's Chief Veterinarian, she directs a global team of veterinarians fielding inquiries regarding all aspects of pet car...

Unlike dogs, people assume it's OK to leave cats home alone — is it true?

Cats are the ultimate low-maintenance pet, right? Maybe. It’s true that most of them will tolerate being left alone for a few days, but how long is too long? Read on to get some pro tips for how to successfully sneak away for a few days and keep your cat(s) happy at the same time.

Does your cat have a friend?

My cats love each other — most of the time. We have left them alone for brief periods of time, and they’ve done just fine; however, we do usually find at least one spot in the house with a clump of white hair (Sid) and a clump of black hair (Sneaky). Even the best of friends can get sick of each other after a couple of days of togetherness, so be sure not to push your absence too far. Two or at the most three nights away is probably the maximum you should consider.

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Special considerations for cats with health issues

If your cat needs regular medication, such as insulin injections or oral drugs, you just can’t leave them completely alone for days on end without risking a medical crisis. And even though there are some very competent pet-sitters out there who are capable of medicating cats, consider whether your cat’s health is potentially frail enough to warrant boarding in a veterinary clinic while you’re gone. That way, you’ll be sure that if your cat decompensates in any way, someone with medical knowledge will be able to recognize it quickly and start prompt treatment.

Get a little help from your friends

If you’ve decided to forgo a boarding kennel or pet-sitter in favor of leaving your cat alone for a few days, consider having a friend or neighbor stop by to check on him every day or every other day. Cats that are especially social will get profoundly bored with no interaction for days on end. This is really important if they’re solo — imagine how you’d feel all alone for three days with no one to talk to!

Cat-visiting is a great job for responsible neighborhood kids. You can offer a little bit of financial incentive to a preteen or teenager in order to have them visit, provide a few treats, maybe a bit of brushing (if your cat is into that) and a little bit of playtime and social interaction. As not only a veterinarian, but also as a longtime cat owner, I can tell you that even though cats get the reputation of being somewhat haughty and aloof, they are social creatures that enjoy relationships with humans, other cats and even dogs.

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Be on the safe side when estimating water consumption

When we leave Sid and Sneaky for a few days, I’ll typically move them from their normal feeding regimen of kibble for breakfast and canned food for dinner to a kibble-only diet. That’s because canned food quickly goes south when it’s left out for more than an hour or two, so leaving enough for several days really isn’t an option.

Because dry food has virtually no water, a cat that eats a dry-only diet has a much higher requirement for water than one that gets an all-canned or partially canned diet. Remember this when you’re going away for a few days and leaving dry food for your felines and fill a couple of extra water bowls to compensate.

What about automatic feeders?

Automatic pet feeders can be programmed to offer a premeasured portion of food to your pet at times that you set. This allows you to feed a measured amount at normal mealtimes so your cat doesn’t settle himself down for the weekend in front of that giant bowl of kibble you hastily poured before dashing out the door.

I don’t love automatic feeders as a routine solution because food-fixated cats have been known to spend their days in anticipation of the magic door popping open to reveal fresh food, then gorging themselves to the point of vomiting. So if you use one, only use it for the short period that you’re gone.

Litter box math

Cats like clean litter boxes, and really, who can blame them? Optimally, you’re cleaning the boxes every day to make sure your cat has a clean place to go. But if you’re out of town, clearly you can’t do this, so how do you manage?

The obvious answer is to employ a couple of extra litter boxes in your absence. Ideally, you’d add an additional box for every day you’re gone. If you’re planning a trip out of town, it might be a good time to consider investing in a self-cleaning litter box; however, make sure you don’t introduce it right before you leave. Cats are creatures of habit, and they need a bit of time to adjust to new gadgets in their lives.

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Consider employing a high-tech solution

The ultimate answer to leaving your cat at home alone for a few days is being able to interact with him while you’re gone. In “The Health Conscious Feline Holiday Gift Guide,” I talked about a device called the Petcube, which allows you to video chat with your cat (OK, maybe you’re the one doing the majority of the chatting, but you get my meaning) and play laser-pointer games with him all from your smartphone. You can even share the app with friends and family so everyone can pitch in to keep Fluffy occupied while you’re out of town.

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