Cats Missing Humans: Do Cats Miss You?
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley April 19, 2019
Cats have a reputation for being independent and many people may assume that they are not as loyal or attached to their humans as much as dogs. For this reason, cats are popular companion animals especially for those who work long hours or travel a lot. Cats are easy to leave behind and do not always require as much care and attention as dogs. However, the idea that cats are uncaring and unattached to their humans is not true. Cats can get lonely while you are away and research shows that cats do development attachment to their owners similar to attachment seen in human children and dogs (Vitale et al., 2019).
Do Cats Miss You When You’re Gone?
Cats can form strong attachments to their human companions and will show different styles of attachment behavior based on the bond they have with their human (Vitale et al., 2019). However, there are mixed results on how cats miss their humans, which may be due to the individuality of the cat. Some cats do appear to miss their humans while they are gone, and some cats may even develop separation anxiety.
What Scientific Research Has Been Done On Cats Being Separated From Humans?
Much of the research that has been done on investigating human-cat relationships, particularly whether cats miss their owners, looks at attachment behavior. Attachment refers to a psychological bond that motivates an individual to maintain proximity and contact with their caregiver. In infants, it is thought to be a survival technique to obtain safety and resources. Because our companion animals have evolved to view us as caregivers, researchers wondered if they would show similar attachment behavior to us as human infants do (Potter & Mills, 2015).
To test this, researchers use the Strange Situation Test where the cat (in this case) is placed in an unfamiliar room with their caregiver. The caregiver will then leave the room for a set amount of time and then come back in. The behavior of the cat while the owner is away and when the owner returns is observed. Some researchers may have a stranger in the room also, or there may be no one else in the room. One study conducted in 2015 did not find that cats have similar attachment styles to dogs and human infants and concluded that cats are more independent than dogs. The cats did vocalize more towards their owner and seemed to prefer their owner to a stranger, but they did not display stronger attachment behaviors (Potter & Mills, 2015).
However, a more recent study found that cats do show distinct attachment styles similar to dogs and humans (Vitale et al., 2019). In this study, three attachment styles were used. The secure base effect is a secure attachment where the cat’s stress level is reduced when the owner is present, and the cat feels confident enough to explore the new environment when the owner is there. The ambivalent attachment and disorganized attachment styles are both evidence of insecure attachment. With ambivalent attachment, the cat remains stressed even after the owner returns and is clingy to the owner. The disorganized attachment is when the cat is stressed when the owner is gone and remains stressed when the owner returns but does not seek contact with the owner (Vitale et al., 2019). The differences in attachment style between different cats and owners may come down to the personality and history of the cat and the owner.
How Do I Know If My Cat Misses A Human Or Another Pet?
Cats are typical pretty clear with their affections towards others. If a cat does not like you, they are pretty obvious about it, and it is just the same if a cat likes you as well. There are some pretty clear-cut signs that a cat enjoys your company and is happy to see you, which just might also mean they miss you while you are gone.
When you come home, your cat may trot towards you with their tail up in the air and they may be meowing or purring at you. Cats that are happy to see you will also often rub on your legs and seek contact with you in the form of petting. If a cat missed you, they may follow you around the house as you settle in and wait for their chance to jump in your lap and snuggle. These are all very positive signs that your cat enjoys your company.
These behaviors will often be similar towards other animals if they enjoy their company as well, as some cats do form close bonds with other cats or dogs in the house. If you bring one animal out of the house for a walk or for a trip to the vet, observe your cat’s behavior when the animals are reunited. If you see any of the above behaviors, it’s a positive indication of your pets' affiliation for one another. There is also the chance your cat may show its ambivalence by just giving you or your other pets a cursory glance and nothing more.
Do Cats Develop Separation Anxiety?
Yes, cats can develop separation anxiety. This behavioral issue in cats does not receive as much attention as it does in dogs because dogs are typically more destructive with their separation anxiety. Cats with improper socialization, such as abandoned kittens are prone to separation anxiety. Sudden changes in your life or schedule may also trigger separation anxiety in cats (Johnson-Bennett). The symptoms of separation anxiety in cats is similar to the symptoms in dogs, including anxious behavior such as vocalizing while you are away, destructive behavior, going to the bathroom outside of the litter box (especially on your bed or clothes), vomiting or drooling, over-grooming, and excessive greeting and clinginess when the owner returns (IPI; Johnson-Bennett).
There are ways to address or prevent separation anxiety in cats. First and foremost, be sure to spend quality time with your cat when you are home. Sometimes we get so caught up in our lives and phones that we forget to actively engage with our cats. Spend some time actively participating in your cat’s favorite activity. That may be playing with toys, brushing, petting, or maybe even enjoy being harness trained and going on walks. The idea is to provide your cat attention and stimulation while you are home so that they are tired and content when you leave. You can also provide your cat food enrichment while you are away to distract them. You can hide food or kibble around the house or in puzzle feeders to keep your cat busy (IPI; Johnson-Bennett).
Another thing you can do to prevent anxiety in your cat is to make sure you have provided them plenty of their own cat spaces. Cats like to have shelves or cat trees to perch on, soft surfaces to lie on, things to scratch and play with, and boxes to hide in. They also like their belongings to smell like them. Be sure to invite them into your living space by doing things like putting a cat tree in the part of the house you spend the most time in. Sometimes cat owners like to hide their cat’s stuff away in spare bedrooms, but this might make your cat feel isolated and as if they don’t belong in the house. Find ways to give them space and time to feel at home so they do not feel the need to focus so intently on you (Johnson-Bennett).
How Long Should I Leave My Cat Alone?
One of the main perks of owning a cat instead of a dog is that they do not need to be let outside to go to the bathroom, which means you do not have to rush home within eight hours to provide a potty break. Some people may leave their cat alone for a day or even a long weekend. It is vital that cats have food, water, and a clean litter box. If you are providing those things, then how long you leave your cat alone is up to you and your cat. Some cats are very independent and do not mind if you leave them alone for a week or so with just someone dropping in to check on them. Other cats may get very lonely and need more companionship while you are away. It is generally not recommended to leave your cat alone for more than 24 hours without someone checking in on the cat, just in case of emergency. If you have a cat that gets lonely and anxious if they are alone too much, then provide them companionship through a pet sitter to prevent more severe behavior and anxiety issues.
In conclusion, it appears as though cats do, in fact, miss their humans when they are gone. Cats form different attachment styles based on the bond they share with their owner. Some cats may even become anxious when they are separated from their owner for long periods of time. On the other hand, there are plenty of cats that are independent and do just fine when their owner is away. It is important to remember that cats are individuals. Always take your cat’s individuality into consideration. If you have a cat who is anxious when you leave, it may be a good idea to be proactive and get them a pet sitter to keep them company while you are away.
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What happens if you leave your cat home alone.
Indoor Pet Initiative (IPI). Separation Anxiety. The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
Johnson-Bennett, P. Separation anxiety in cats. Cat Behavior Associates. Retrieved November 1, 2019.
Potter, A., and D.S. Mills. 2015. Domestic cats (Felis silvestrus catus) do not show sign of secure attachement to their owners. PLoS ONE 10(9):e0135109.
Vitale, K.R., Behnke, A.C., and M.A.R. Udell. 2019. Attachment bonds between domestic cats and humans. Current Biology 29(18):R864-R865.