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Will My Cat Miss Me When I Go Back to Work?

Believe it or not, cats care when you leave them alone. A behaviorist offers 5 tips to make post-pandemic life easier on them.

by Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA
June 18, 2021
orange cat looking out window
This Is Me / Shutterstock

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It’s been 15 months of you and your cat binge-watching The Sopranos, staring at birds from the window, and listening to your neighbors argue over things like whether or not “irregardless” is a word. It’s been a complicated year-and-change, but you guys have never been closer.

Lots of pet parents have been wringing their hands over how to prepare their dogs for their return to work, but there’s been less conversation about how cats will take it. Will they even notice? Will they even care? The short answer is: Yes, they will. While cats are known to be independent, they’ve also undoubtedly grown accustomed to the extra attention, cuddles, and comforting sounds of more activity at home. Just like dogs, they’ll need some support if your schedule is about to change. Here’s how to smooth the transition.

1. Slowly increase time away

If you’ve been attached at the hip throughout the pandemic, start gradually. Run errands or take a longer walk on your lunch break to ease your cat into longer periods of solitude. Jumping from 24/7 companionship to eight or more hours away can be a shock to anyone. Get in the habit of waking up, taking a shower, and getting dressed like you would if you were headed to the office. We know this is the worst part of re-entering society but practicing it will not only help you adjust, it’ll help your cat too.

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2. Schedule daily playtime

Before you leave the house, make time for play. If you’ve been playing for two hours throughout the day during the pandemic, split that up into smaller segments, spending more time together before you head off to work. If your cat is food-motivated, invest in cat food puzzle toys, which will keep them busy while you’re gone. But don’t pick a super challenging one — if your cat is already bummed about you going back to work, you don’t want to make it harder for them to eat. Start feeding them from a puzzle toy now, so they get the hang of it.

3. Introduce calming aids

Calming pheromone diffusers can help ease the transition by releasing an odor-free vapor (which mimics nursing pheromones to reduce aggression and anxiety) that can span a 700-square-foot space. You may also want to consider playing music or keeping the TV on while you’re gone. There’s some indication that an increase in anxiety when pets are alone has as much to do with how quiet the house is as it does with us not being with them. Curate a post-pandemic house party mix!

4. Don’t adopt another cat...yet

While you may be considering adopting a friend to keep your cat company, introducing two new cats is no quick fix. Expecting your cat to adjust to a new schedule and a new roommate could be overwhelming. Hold off on major familial changes until everyone is back in the groove of things.

5. Take note of stress behaviors

We all cope differently — cats included. Excessive meowing, over-grooming until their hair falls out, pooping outside the litter box, and hiding under the bed are all signs that your cat could be stressed out and isn’t adjusting well. If you notice any of these behaviors, increase play time, ask a friend or pet sitter to swing by and spend an hour with them while you’re at work, or seek the guidance of a cat behaviorist. If only they could help us adjust to leaving our cats.

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Lindsay Hamrick, CPDT-KA

Lindsay Hamrick lives in New Hampshire with her three dogs, chickens, and an assortment of rotating foster animals. She forces her elderly chihuahua, Grandma Baguette, on overnight backpacking trips, can diaper a lamb with one hand, and while she’s a long-time Certified Professional Dog Trainer, 66.7% of her dogs still won’t lay down when asked.