Cats are often very independent. They don’t need help using the litter box, they keep themselves active indoors, and some can even self-regulate their food intake. Perhaps, because of this, they are seen as less needy and more able to be on their own, away from their humans.
Unfortunately, this leads to many cat parents thinking that their cats don’t care when they leave for days on end or even work long hours. But, just like dogs, cats depend on their humans for companionship.
If you’re considering leaving your cat alone a lot and are afraid your cat will be lonely if you do, consider the following:
FACT: Cats bond strongly to their people and animal companions.
While many pop-culture depictions of cats show them as aloof or unattached to their humans, research shows otherwise. A 2019 study discussed in Science Daily found that cats attach to their people more than previously thought.
The experiment briefly separated cats from their caregivers, and the reunion was documented and classified by attachment style. The results showed that while every cat may have a different attachment style, the majority of cats look to their caregivers as a source of security, especially when in an unfamiliar environment. The study suggests that “about 65 percent of both cats and kittens are securely bonded to their people,” meaning 65 percent displayed calmer, more relaxed behavior in a new environment when their person was present.
Cats also have the ability to mourn a loss and experience grief. A 1996 study called the Companion Animal Mourning Project found that 70 percent of cats who lost a companion cat showed signs of grieving by becoming more or less vocal than normal. Many surviving cats also became more affectionate towards their pet parents, another sign that they were in mourning.
Stories like this counter the myth that cats barely realize when their humans leave. Vets even recognize separation anxiety as a condition in cats.
FACT: When left to their own devices, cats sometimes live in social family groups.
While most species of cats are solitary (lions being the only exception), feral domestic cats will sometimes be found living in groups when there is enough food, water and shelter to go around. The groups are usually formed of large families of inter-related cats.