The Best Way to Keep Your Cat Happy When You’re Not Home


Whenever my cat, Penny, gives me that face when I’m about to walk out the door, I always start to feel guilty.  You know the face — the one that says, “Seriously? You’re leaving me again?”

As much as I’d love to spend my days cuddling and playing with Penny, necessity dictates that I must, on occasion, leave my apartment. Still, I’d like to do everything I can to keep my cat happy in my absence. So I consulted with Oscar E. Chavez, DVM, MBA, Member of the American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, for some of the best ways to keep Penny happy and entertained while I’m out.

Here’s what he suggested:

  1. Hit her with the pheromones. Feliway pheromone spray is calming and can work wonders, says Dr. Chavez. “There are plug-ins that you can plug into sockets that are at the cat’s level as you step out,” he suggests. “I would put the cat in a room with plenty of enrichment — toys, food, water and a litter box — and then put a Feliway plug near the door.”
  2. Close all the windows and drapes. People feel like they need to leave drapes open to give their cats some sun while they’re out, but allowing your cat to see outside could actually have the opposite effect. “Cats respond anxiously — sometimes exaggeratedly — to outside cues and other neighborhood cats, dogs or people,” says Dr. Chavez. For example, if there’s a new cat in the neighborhood, and it passes in front of your cat’s window, or if your cat smells it, your cat may go to the bathroom near or on the drapes to mark her territory, or may end up clawing at the curtains.
  3. Provide a hiding place. If your cat is particularly anxious, or if you have multiple cats and suspect one may be a bit of a bully, it’s important to make sure each cat has its own territory. “Cats are notoriously territorial and naturally solitary,” says Dr. Chavez. “Keep cats in their own spaces, and provide hiding areas that other cats cannot reach.” Large paper grocery bags and independent rooms are always effective, according to the vet.
  4. Fend off boredom. Cats are intelligent and easily bored, which can stress them out, says Dr. Chavez. “Think about it like leaving a very hyper child at home himself,” suggests Dr. Chavez. “Eventually, your cat will become stressed or bored and scratch or destroy for fun.” Keep cat trees with multiple levels and various perching sites and alcoves on hand — something that’s complicated and stimulating. Scratching posts, hanging toys and food puzzles are also great ways to keep cats occupied, as long as you change them around often to keep them new and exciting.

Invest in a running water fountain. According to Dr. Chavez, cats are adapted to be finicky about their drinking water. “[Most cats] love tap or running water, which is great when you get home and can turn it on, but if you’re not, then your cat is dehydrating itself until you come home,” he said. “Pet stores sell various fountains of all shapes and sizes. I recommend you buy two or three different ones, and test each one with your cat to see which she prefers.”

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Cheryl Lock is an editor at Studio One. Her work has appeared online at Petside and Pet360, as well as in print in publications like Parents, Family Circle and Runner’s World. She lives in New York with her adorable rescue cat, Penny, and a rabbit named Nugget.

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