In time, cat gets used to being home alone

Dear Dr. Spiegel:

I have a 6 year old male cat, Willie, that I adopted from someone a year and a half ago. He has actually had 2 previous owners. When I took him in, I was living with my parents, and my mother insisted that he be declawed. Since then I have moved into an apartment closer to the city of Wilmington.

Willie used to be an outside cat that ran wild, and now he is an inside cat. My problem is that I don’t want to let him out, and I realize that he shouldn’t be outside without claws, but I just feel that he is very bored. He constantly stares out the windows and meows vehemently when he sees other cats outside. Can you suggest anything I can do to keep him more occupied? I work all day, but usually come home at lunchtime and play with him. I give him a lot of affection and love, and we have playtime where he chases a string around my apartment, but I still think he is very antsy.

I thought about getting another cat but I’m not sure how he would take to that. If I did, could you tell me what kind and how old of a cat to get. Willie is a very affectionate, sometimes skittish domestic longhair. Please help.

J.F., Wilmington

Dear Dr. Spiegel,

My daughter has just adopted a cat (under a year old) with a nice disposition. However, he seems shy (newness of the home?) and loves to have her come home from work. He is not, as yet, overly affectionate, but seems to be getting there. She worries about her long work hours and him being lonely. Someone suggested another cat (kitten?) to keep him company. I would appreciate your help.

Mrs. P. H.,Wilmington

Dear J.F. and P.H.,

While you clearly do not have the same cat, your primary concerns are the same. A single cat left alone through the day will get bored. They will spend most of their time sleeping, usually in a place of warmth and comfort. A location with a view (e.g., windowsill) is often a favorite spot, particularly if the sun comes in to warm the area. Cats seldom get into trouble when left alone, simply because when they have nothing to do, they do nothing and are content with that. They may have a bite to eat, groom themselves and settle down for a nice nap. When you come home at the end of the day they are thrilled to see you, because they enjoy your company and, by contrast to the monotony of the day, this is a big event. It does not mean that they were miserable while you were gone, only that they are glad that you are with them now.

Cats enjoy the comfort, security and predictability of routine, and adapt well to regularly scheduled events. Although they may delight in your company through the evening, it does not mean that they do not get accustomed to being alone while you’re at work. They do.

Becoming accustomed to a life indoors after enjoying the sweet fruits of a life outdoors for so long will take a lot more getting used to. This is a longing that even a companion cat will not erase. Though it may help. Without claws, and particularly in an urban setting where the number of outdoor cats per square mile is high, he would surely get into scrapes with other cats. This is something that you should not risk. Some cats will walk on a harness and leash, but in Willie’s case, the passing of time spent indoors will eventually seep in as he faces the immutability of his new lifestyle.

In either case, a companion cat may be a welcome addition. This is something that you can only tell through trial and error. A trip with your cat to a shelter is a fair way to see. Let him get settled in a private room, and then bring in other cats individually. Try to match him with a cat of the same sex and of approximately the same age. Older cats usually do not tolerate the over exuberant play of younger cats, and younger cats want someone that can keep up with their playful stamina. See that they are interested in each other without hissing, growling, or swatting. See that they enjoy being in close proximity to one another and tolerate being followed around by the other. Give them opportunities to play together with the same toys and to eat together out of the same food bowl. Compatibility on these levels will most likely transfer nicely back into your home. But take this step not just for your cat, but for yourself as well.

J.F. and P.H.: Both of these cats will survive and adapt just fine as single cats. The feelings of boredom and loneliness that you ascribe to your cats are largely anthropomorphic projections. While they may enjoy the company of another cat at home, they will still engage in the same behaviors, that is spending most of their time sleeping through the day, and still very glad to see you (or your daughter, P.H.) when you come home.

One last thought: Cat videos! You may have seen or heard about them. If your cat enjoys watching birds or fish in an aquarium, you may want to try one out. If your cat enjoys it, you can borrow a friend’s VCR, get some cables, and record this one or several videos over and over again onto a long blank tape, so that it can play throughout the day.

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