Here's How Long Your Cat Can Actually Be Left Alone

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One out of every four American households currently owns a cat, according to the American Veterinary Medical Association – which adds up to more than 58 million pet felines in all. Anyone who's ever shared their home with a cat will tell you that they really are a purr-fect (yep, we went there) companion. They're less noisy and messy than dogs (apart from the occasional hairball), but just as affectionate. They don't need to be walked, and their exercise can be done indoors. They can even be trained to do tricks, as long as you keep the treats coming.

Cat owners also appreciate their pets' rep for being independent. Unlike dogs, most cats don't need to be near their people at every waking moment. But that same independent nature also perpetuates one of the biggest myths about cats: that they can be left on their own for hours — or even days — at a time. That assumption is inaccurate, at best, and at its worst, can be dangerous.

Leaving your adult cat at home while you work a regular eight to 10 hour day is generally considered safe, according to Rover. Young kittens are a different story. Cats four months and younger shouldn't be left alone for more than four hours at a stretch, per MyPet; only at the six-month mark can you reasonably leave them on their own for a longer chunk of the day. Even then, you may want to restrict them to a kitten-proofed room with their food, water, and litter box.

If you're vacationing, your cat will need some company

What if you plan to be away for a longer stretch? Some cat owners routinely leave their pets on their own when they go off for the weekend, but that isn't always the wisest move. As Great Pet Care pointed out, people tend to leave their cats with a heaping bowl of food to tide them over for those two days, which puts kitty at risk of overindulging and getting sick. A better tactic is either to invest in a timer feeder (like this one from Amazon), or to put smaller dishes of food in various places around your home.

Still, food is only one of the things your cat needs to be truly content. Even if your fur baby seems aloof when you're home, they still need human interaction and comfort, and can actually suffer separation anxiety when their people are away for too long (via Hill's Pet). Leaving your cat unsupervised for too long can also put them at risk for illness or injury from falls, choking hazards, or temperature extremes. To ensure your cat's mental and physical health, hire a trusted cat sitter to drop in once or twice a day while you're gone. They can check on your pet's food, water and litter, make sure there are no obvious hazards around, and give your cat some playtime, a brushing session, or just some company to reassure them that everything will be okay until you come back home.