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Do Your Cats Know When You’re Leaving Town?

My cats can sense a trip long before the suitcases come out; here are the ways they show it.

Catherine Holm  |  Aug 17th 2015


Cats are uncanny, and I’m often amazed at their ability to sense what’s up. This is apparent when I prepare to travel. But the interesting thing is, my cats seem to sense something is up even before I pull out a suitcase, gather clothes, or do anything that might give it away that I’m going to be gone for a few days.

How do they figure it out?

I admit that they might be picking up on my vibes. I have learned, over the years, to start preparing early (days ahead of time) if I have to be gone for a few days. But often, the last thing that happens (and it might be on the day of departure) is that I pull out the suitcase.

Still, I’m baffled, unnerved, and a little flattered that they seem to pick up on, and possibly even be sad about, my departure. Maybe I’m anthropomorphizing here, but that’s how it seems to me.

I’m organized, to an extent, but I’m also not the greatest at details. So I put a lot of time and effort into leaving the house and leaving things in order so that things go smoothly for the cats and the humans when I’m gone. Maybe the cats pick up on my obsessive worry that I’ll miss some important detail. Some of the stuff I do to get ready to leave (way in advance of packing the suitcase), includes:

  • Putting all my itinerary details on the fridge, and pulling that all together
  • Backing up my computer
  • Taking care of all work; even working ahead if needed
  • Making sure there’s extra cat food and litter, and stocking up if not
  • Doing laundry so that I have clothes for wherever I’m going
bengal-cat-shutterstock_142870015

Bengal cat by Shutterstock.com

That’s what I do. What do the kitties do, even before I pull out the suitcase, even a few days before my departure? The theme seems to be: Things change. Cat behavior shifts in new ways. Not bad ways, but interesting ways nonetheless. Here are three ways my cats change before I travel:

1. They get clingy

In the days before I left to travel for Blogpaws (and days before I pulled out that suitcase), Norton suddenly got very attached to me. He followed me around, wanting to be picked up and held. Norton is a nice cat, but he doesn’t usually act like this. He’s often off on his own, exploring the house and opening any door he can find (his favorite activity). And historically, he’s been a little more attached to my husband than to me. This behavior was unusual enough for me to notice. Was he picking up on my planning vibe, or my attempts to pay attention to detail? Who knows!

2. Unaffectionate cats show love

All my cats are affectionate, but they often have fixed ways of showing it. (For example, Rama likes to head-butt, but doesn’t necessarily like to be picked up – unless it’s on his own rare terms. Jamie is fidgety, and can’t sit still if she is picked up.) In the days before travel, things shift with the cat behavior. Rama will tolerate and even appear to enjoy being held. Jamie seems willing to momentarily settle down, relax, and get snuggled.

3. They stare at me with longing eyes

This is the hardest part of leaving, and one of the reasons that I wait to pull out the suitcase. Last time I left (on the Blogpaws trip), I could swear Norton was looking with eyes that were a little more longing than usual. Do you know what I mean? This is hard to put into words, but there was an expression in his eyes I’d never seen before, a sort of longing or emotion. Now perhaps I was transferring my own emotion about leaving into this perception. I don’t rule it out. But I’ve seen it before with different cats. Bottom line being: I think there’s a lot we don’t necessarily understand about how cats experience their world. They are fascinating creatures and companions.

After all this, it’s no wonder that I pull out the suitcase in secret, so as not to give the cats any more to get upset about. Call me crazy, but I hate leaving them as it is, and I’m not looking for opportunities to make it worse. Perhaps this is why I often wait until the last hour or two to actually pull out the suitcase.

Do your cats act different in the days before you leave to travel, even before any outward and obvious preparation? Tell us in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.