How Long Can Cats be Left Alone?


Dr. Barchas,

Thank you, in advance, for taking a look at my post. I am concerned about grandmother(in-law)’s cat. She passed away in April and previously lived with her daughter since November ’08, when she first became ill.

All this time her cat, a two-year-old neutered male, has been living alone in her house. The family has gone over daily to feed and water him, but other than those brief moments he has essentially been alone. No noise or human interaction.

I work at The Humane Society and offered to take the kitty in when she first passed, but the family was unsure of what they wanted to do with him. He’s been alone for eight months now and I am at my breaking point!

My concern is, will this once sweet boy be able to transition into a new home? How long is too long for a cat to remain socialized, will he need any extra care or attention? I plan on taking him into my home for about two weeks, a) to isolate him for any potential infection, etc. that could be transferred to our cats at the shelter, and, b) to try and re-socialize him to improve his chances of adoption. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

Thank You!

West Virginia

What a sad story. I am sorry for the loss of your grandmother-in-law.

Cats are highly social animals. They have complex emotional needs. They bond intensely to human beings and they need human companionship, preferably every day, to truly thrive. I shudder to think of a cat that has gone eight months in isolation.

Although the isolation has undoubtedly been unpleasant for the cat, there is good news. Cats are incredibly resilient and adaptable creatures. The most important socialization period for cats usually occurs from birth to 20 weeks of age. Cats that are well socialized during that time generally will remain well socialized for life.

The trauma of isolation may have adversely affected your former grandmother-in-law’s cat’s temperament temporarily. But even if it has there is a good chance that he can return to his sweet ways.

My recommendations are the same in this case as they would be for any new-to-you cat. Give him a private area (such as his own room) in the house so that he can feel secure in his new territory. This also prevents the spread of disease.

Try to spend as much time as possible interacting with him. Always let him set the terms of interaction. Do not chase him around the room in order to force him on your lap. Instead, let him approach you. Take a book into the room and read it until he solicits your attention. Speak quietly and be gentle. Read and respect his body language.

Your work at the humane society leaves you well positioned to help this cat. I hope you are able to find a better situation for him.

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