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Do Cats Really Get Lonely? Practical Solutions

Domestic cats are known for their independence but also want their owner's attention and companionship. Cat owners who are away or work for extended periods may worry when their feline is home alone. Learn how to recognize the signs of cat loneliness and the preventative measures you can take if your pet displays behavioral changes.

Do cats like to be alone?

Historically, we’ve considered cats independent, but recent research suggests they are social creatures. This might cause concern when your cat is home alone.

When cats experience stress, they may exhibit territorial behaviors and isolate themselves from other cats. Cats in multi-cat households often develop overlapping 'territories' within the home, as well as favored spots that they're reluctant to share with other feline housemates. This behavior might cause you to suspect that your cat prefers being alone. However, cats in multi-cat households still spend a significant amount of time within 16 feet of each other (a 1999 study looking at 60 households showed about 35% of the time). So, while your cat may like to be alone sometimes, they don't want to be alone all the time.

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Many domestic cats are more bonded to you than to other cats within the household. The majority of cats form secure attachments with their owners. While some cats do well with another cat to pounce on and play with, others will need time to adjust to another cat introduced into the home. Still, some cats prefer to be the only pet.

You should also consider seasonal effects on behavior, particularly for cats who aren't spayed or neutered. Your female cat may periodically show behavioral changes that suggest to you she is lonely, such as excessive affection-seeking or persistent yowling. These are normal changes for a female in heat. A cat will cycle every couple weeks, generally from January until late fall in the Northern Hemisphere, though there are differences based on your geographic location and climate. Cats also tend to be more active in spring and fall, with their lowest activity levels being in the winter. These are also normal behavioral changes for your cat.

Do cats get lonely without another cat?

Cats can be pretty content to live with only humans. However, some felines prefer having feline housemates, as well. Your cat's personality determines whether they are content with human companionship or prefer both human and feline interaction. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Your cat's personality will determine their needs.

Let's delve into the lives of outdoor domestic cats, particularly community or feral cats. Community cats residing in areas rich in resources often form social clusters known as colonies. Within these colonies, cats develop preferred companions, spending more time with certain individuals. Interestingly, female community cats are observed assisting one another in rearing kittens. However, while feral cats may exhibit social behavior within their colony, they typically display hostility towards unfamiliar cats, often taking weeks for newcomers to gain acceptance.

Do feral cats experience loneliness when solitary? It's a possibility. Alternatively, they may recognize the advantages of group living for survival. Even if that's the case, their tendency to develop relationships with preferred individuals is suggestive of social bonding.

Early socialization profoundly shapes a cat's ability to interact with others. Kittens, particularly between 3 and 16 weeks old, undergo crucial social learning phases. Those reared without their mother or lacking exposure to other cats during this period may struggle with social integration. Moreover, positive human interactions during this developmental stage are crucial. Cats that don't learn these social skills might not worry much about being alone.

If you have a multi-cat household, behaviors that would suggest your cats enjoy each other's company include:

  • Grooming one another
  • Sharing beds or sleeping close to one another, especially if touching while sleeping
  • Playing with one another, including friendly wrestling (no claws out, hissing, deep growling, or continuous chasing)
  • Willingness to eat near each other without conflict
  • Touching noses

How to tell if my cat is lonely

Cats can't tell us when they're lonely. Instead, we rely on behavioral changes indicating stress to let us know that our cat's mental health needs a check-in.

Signs to watch for include:

  • Loud and persistent vocalizing, yowling, or meowing
  • Overgrooming that causes bald spots and hair loss or decreased grooming that causes an unkempt coat
  • Urinating or defecating outside of the litter box
  • Changes in appetite
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Cowering in one spot, often a corner
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Clinginess

Sudden behavioral changes may suggest a health condition, such as hyperthyroidism, rather than cat loneliness. If you notice these changes, seek a veterinary evaluation before assuming your feline is lonely.

How to prevent loneliness for my cat

It's essential to watch for behavior changes if you suspect your cat is lonely. Keep in mind that your cat who appears to be lonely could also simply be bored or stressed for some other reason, as the signs of loneliness and boredom in cats overlap. However, boredom typically doesn't manifest severe symptoms.

Social companionship, whether that’s from you or another cat, is certainly one way to reduce both loneliness and boredom. Introducing a new cat is no small task, though. Remember that it can take weeks for a community cat to assimilate into a colony. Introducing a new cat into your home is no different. Your current cat is likely to act territorial for quite some time before deciding they like the new cat.

Not all cats appreciate another feline companion. If adding a new pet to your home isn't an option, the following suggestions may help combat loneliness and separation anxiety.

You can also explore The Ohio State University's Indoor Pet Initiative for more ideas for indoor cat enrichment. Consider speaking with your veterinarian if you are concerned that your cat is experiencing depression or anxiety, as there may be medications that can help your feline friend.

There may be times when your cat is alone for extended periods of time, such as during a holiday or vacation when you're out-of-town. In addition to the suggestions above, consider having friends or family members who are familiar to your cat regularly visit your home. You could also consider investing in an automatic feeder so your cat can continue to have regular mealtimes.

Guide to pet insurance coverage

Don't forget that sudden changes in behavior should not immediately be chalked up to boredom or loneliness. If your cat isn't acting like themself, make sure to seek veterinary evaluation. Pet insurance may help defray the costs of any diagnostics necessary to ensure your cat is healthy. Although pet insurance will usually not cover pre-existing conditions, accident and illness plans (or comprehensive plans) cover diagnostic tests deemed necessary by a veterinarian to rule out medical causes for your pet's symptoms.

If a veterinarian diagnoses your pet with anxiety or depression, or if your veterinarian finds a different medical cause for your cat's symptoms, your insurance plan is likely to cover prescription medicines for your cat's condition. Keep in mind that accident-only plans will not cover costs for anxiety or other mood issues. If your veterinarian finds that your cat's symptoms are due to an accident, such as ingestion of string causing intestinal obstruction, then your accident-only plan may kick in.

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