Contrary to the popular stereotype of the cold and aloof feline, cats are actually very social animals. In the wild, feral cats tend to form loose, matriarchal colonies, pooling their food resources and sharing the care of young kittens among all the mature females. It’s natural for cats to want company, whether human or feline. That doesn’t mean it’s cruel to keep a single cat. It just means you need to ensure that your cat’s need for company and entertainment is met in other ways.
Is it cruel to have only one cat? No, it’s not cruel unless your cat is alone for extended periods of time. You need to give your cat plenty of attention when you’re home and provide her with toys and entertainment when you’re not around.
You’ve discovered this page because you have questions about your solo cat’s well-being.
- Is keeping one cat alone cruel?
- Do cats need feline companionship to be happy?
- Should you get two cats rather than one?
- If you have a single cat, how can you make sure she’s happy without another cat around?
Keep reading to find out all about caring for a lone cat.
Is it cruel to have only one cat?
Cats are social animals with a strong need for companionship. They’re also playful and curious, meaning that they can get bored easily if they’re left alone without entertainment. If somebody’s at home with the cat for most of the day — or even just outside of work hours — a well-adjusted lone cat is often perfectly happy. In some cases, it may be better for a cat to be the only pet in the house. Anxious, high-maintenance or traumatized cats can sometimes struggle to adjust to the presence of another cat. They might become aggressive and lash out at their perceived rival or become a victim of feline bullying if the other cat is more dominant.
Problems can arise if you’re away for most of the day, if your hours are erratic or if you frequently need to leave your cat alone overnight. You may also find that your cat struggles with loneliness and separation if she has an anxious temperament. Don’t be overly concerned, however. There are plenty of ways to keep a cat relaxed and happy even if there are no other kitties around.
If you haven’t yet got a cat and are trying to decide whether the alone cat is right for your home, you can reduce the chance that your cat will struggle with loneliness by choosing a more independent breed. In general, you should look for a level-headed cat with fairly low activity. The calmer and lazier a cat is, the less likely she will be to become lonely or anxious. If you’re not around, a cat with this kind of temperament and energy level will simply relax and nap the day away until you come home. Personally, I’m a big fan of the sturdy British Shorthair as the only cat. BSH kitties are stoically independent and do very well on their own during the day. Other breeds noted for their calm disposition are the Russian Blue and the Persian cat. The Norwegian Forest cat and Maine Coon are also quite independent and do well as only cats; however, they have a lot of excess energy.
While you’re at home to play with and pet your cat, it’s easy to tell whether she’s happy or unsettled. It’s a little harder to be sure that everything’s okay when you’re not at home to keep an eye on her. Signs that your cat is not enjoying her alone time include obsessive and destructive scratching (cats need to scratch but if they’re destroying everything within reach, you have a problem), spraying, accidents outside of the litter-box and pathological over-grooming. The latter will show up as bald spots in your cat’s fur and extra hairballs. If you’re worried that your cat isn’t doing well, consider setting up a web-enabled camera or two so you can check in on her during the day.
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My cat acts out when she’s left alone. Should I get her a friend?
Cats who have suffered from abandonment or neglect, or who simply have clingy personalities, can struggle when left home alone. While most cats will be fine when left to occupy themselves during the usual workday, there are some individuals who might struggle with separation. Anxiety can cause your cat to engage in unwanted behaviour, such as the aforementioned destructive scratching or pathological grooming. To avoid this, some people choose to get an additional cat as company.
Getting a second cat isn’t a bad approach — two cats can play together and keep each other occupied while their human caretaker is away — but it does come with potential problems. As we’ve already noted, cats don’t always get along. Instead of a friendly companion, you could potentially be bringing a bully or a victim into your home, compounding the issue. You’re also taking on the additional responsibility that comes with a second cat. Two cats mean double the joy of pet ownership but they also mean double the vet bills, double the food, double the grooming and so on.
Some cat owners, instead of acquiring a second cat, choose to get a different animal such as a dog. I would personally exercise a lot of caution here. It can certainly be a successful tactic and there is any number of cats and dogs who happily spend time together; however, you do need to be aware that things don’t always work out. Cats share common psychology and body language and are able to negotiate to share a space together. Another animal, such as a dog, may misread a cat’s cues and inadvertently antagonize the other animal. If you do leave your cat alone with a dog, you will need to make sure that the dog is very well trained and socialized to interact with cats. The two animals will need to have plenty of supervised interactions before being left alone together. The cat should also have a bolt-hole which the dog can’t access. Some dog breeds are better with cats than others; golden retrievers, beagles, pugs, and papillons are all noted for being good cat companions.
Another option is to have a human companion pop into the home while you’re away. Even a short visit from a familiar, trusted cat-sitter can break up the day and help your cat feel more secure. A responsible person who can spend an hour or so with your cat can make all the difference if you need to be away from home for a longer period.
Supporting your solo cat
Before you resort to hiring a cat-sitter or getting a second cat, there are plenty of tactics you can employ to help your pet feel relaxed and happy when you’re out of the house. First of all, ensure that when you’re home with your cat you spend plenty of quality time with her. You need to engage your feline companion in social activities. For your cat, this may mean extended lap time with lots of petting, or just time spent being companionably close in the same room.
You should also make sure that your cat gets sufficient energetic play. Cats tend to be bundles of energy which they need to express in healthy ways. It’s important that you give your cat plenty of physical play, chasing teaser toys and running around as much as possible. Some cats can learn to love walking on a harness and lead; if you can persuade your cat to take the harness, this can be a great way to stimulate your cat and help them burn off any excess nervous energy.
Your cat’s environment should be rich and stimulating too. If your cat has nothing to do all day but trudge from the bed to the food bowl, occasionally batting around a stuffed mouse, you’re much more likely to come home to a shredded sofa and an anxious kitty. Make sure your cat has plenty of interesting spaces to explore, with perches to look down from and cozy spots to hide in. A cat habitat is perfect for this but you can also provide simple shelves and perching spots, and boxes with bedding inside for your cat to burrow into. Tunnels and cat tents are fun for your pet to explore and don’t cost much.
As well as the usual catnip-stuffed mice and similar toys, look for interactive toys that will engage your cat. Your pet may be happier alone if there are engaging and exciting toys to play with. Battery-powered teaser toys that move around unpredictably are a good choice, although the downside is that you’ll need to keep replacing the batteries. Food puzzles are also great for keeping cats engaged; chasing around a treat ball for a reward of kibble entertains your cat and means that they’ll snack more slowly between meals.
Keep in mind the fact that there are countless people with lone cats who go to work every day and have no problems at all. Most cats will be fine on their own during the day and won’t suffer unduly if you’re away for a night or two. Just make sure your cat has all the food and water she needs and give her plenty of attention and affection when you’re home.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.