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How long can your pet be safely left at home alone?

People are busy.  Jobs, school, friends, chores, errands, commutes, and travel all keep us away from lazy days at home.  A busy schedule is manageable with proper planning.  When we have companion animals, we have to take their needs into consideration, too.  It is completely understandable that we want to fit companion animals into our lives, regardless of our other commitments.  After all, pets are fantastic.  Nothing cures the stress of a busy schedule faster than our Fido.  But as terrific as animal friends are, they are completely dependent on us, and we have to plan ahead for them. With so many commitments constantly pulling people away from home, there is no doubt that busy pawrents have wondered … “How long is okay to leave my pet at home alone?”  There is no easy answer, as it all depends on the individual pet, such as age, breed, type, etc.

Cats and Dogs

Although generally considered complete opposites, cats and dogs do have some common ground.  Both cats and dogs are, to varying degrees, social by nature.  Both need some measure of companionship, and both can get lonely.  To alleviate loneliness for a cat or a dog while you are away, there are a few things you can do:

·     Make sure that they have plenty of food and water for the day.

·     Provide both with the appropriate toys for the day.

·     Turn on the TV or the Radio, but make sure the station you choose is something calming or else you could agitate your pet even more.

·     Ensure they have access to a potty.

In general, cats will be fairly comfortable left to themselves for the day.  That is because cats are territorial and habitual beings.  Cats have their spaces (which is basically your entire home) and their routines.  So, most cats can be comfortably left alone in their territory for as long as their routine can be maintained.  Of course, there are exceptions, and not all cats will behave the same.  If you suddenly notice that your mild-mannered feline friend is clingy, aggressive, relieving oneself outside of the litter box, or excessively grooming, then your cat may be lonely, and you can try some of the tips already mentioned. However, if your cat is still lonely, you may want to consider adopting a second cat or arranging for someone to come by the house during the day to keep the household happy.

If you know you will be gone for an extended period, the best option is to have a neighbor or professional service provider come and tend to the cat's needs.  Since cats are instantly suspicious of new places and new people (remember, they're territorial), pet boarding is not always a great option, as it can cause stress, which can trigger health issues.

Dogs, on the other hand, are hypersocial beings.  In general, dogs will not enjoy being left home alone for very long at all.  There is a loose consensus that 4 hours is about the longest dogs should be alone.  In addition to the general steps already mentioned, dog people have a few other ways to keep their dogs comfortable.

For example, train your dog to be relaxed alone.  Start with small absences and work up to longer ones.  Be sure to praise your canine companion for good behavior and do not reward barking, howling, or whining to get your attention.  No matter what, make sure that when you are home to give your pup some quality attention.  Walks, bathroom breaks, and playtime are all must-haves.

If you are still concerned about a lonely dog, then organize a social life for him or her.  Ask a neighbor, especially a dog-owning neighbor, to check on your dog while you are away during the day.  Make sure, however, any visiting dogs are friendly.  For more regular companionship for your dog, consider adopting a second dog.  Even a cat could make for great company if your dog and new cat are introduced properly.  If all else fails, look for a professional service to give the attention your dog craves.  

No dog will fare well if left alone for longer than a day and certainly cannot go an entire day without relieving him or herself. Pets need bathroom breaks roughly five times a day on average and should never have to hold their bladders longer than six to eight hours.  So, if you are planning on an extended absence, hire a pet sitter, or find a pet boarding option.

Other Animals

Some pets can be left alone safely for long periods of time, at least certainly for a typical work day, without any problem at all.  Most reptiles, birds, small rodents, fish, etc. require food, water, and a clean spacious enclosure and that is about it.  Besides those simple needs, these independent pets are pretty self-sufficient.  That being said, being alone can get, well, lonely. Taking care of two fish or two hamsters really isn’t much more work than taking care of one. Consider finding your independent pet an independent friend.  Still, if you know you are going to be gone for more than a day, make the proper arrangements.  Schedule a friend or a professional to come to the house to provide the necessities for your pet, or else look into temporary pet boarding options.

Of course, these are all just general guidelines; it is impossible to cover every animal type and breed.  All pets are unique.  Please do some independent research and make it a priority to keep your pet happy and comfortable.

Want to learn more about how long pets can stand to be alone? Then be sure to read these great articles from Psychology Today and  Purina.