Most of us appreciate some “alone time” but nobody wants to have so much time alone that they feel “lonely”. This may be a reason why one of the biggest barriers preventing non-pet owners from acquiring a pet is the concern that their new companion would be alone for long periods while they are out. In fact, concerns about leaving pets home alone ranked second only to not being allowed to keep a pet in a property as a reason for not keeping a pet at all. Indeed, 37% of non-pet owners said that fears their pet would be alone too much kept them from sharing their lives with a dog or cat.
These concerns were strongest when considering a canine companion, with 40% of non-dog owners citing concerns about leaving dogs alone, compared to just 27% of non-cat owners. There are good reasons for this discrepancy: in general, people feel that dogs have been bred to be highly interactive and dependent on people, compared to their feline counterparts that people feel are more independent. But prospective pet owners shouldn’t be fooled by species stereotypes. Dogs and cats both enjoy human company – but both can also be content if they’re home alone.
how much time do pets really spend alone?
These days it’s not uncommon for multiple members of a household to work full time. Then there are other commitments, like sport and social activities – not all of which are pet-friendly – that can require extended periods out of the house.
So how much time are our pets spending “home alone”? Well, surprisingly few. Some owners in our survey reported that their pet was never home alone. In some cases this was because one member of the household was always home at any given time. In other cases it was because the animal attended a day care or minding facility, or went with the owner when the owner left the house.
The majority of owners left their animal home alone at some point during the week: around 38% of pet owners reported that their animal was home for less than 10 hours in any given seven-day period. Another 28% of pet owners reported that their pet was home alone for between 10 and 19 hours a week. Less than one-third of owners reported that their animal was home alone for more than 20 hours per week. This includes 14% of owners who reported that their animal was home alone for between 20 and 39 hours per week. Only 13% of owners had pets at home by themselves for more than 40 hours per week.
Interestingly 36% of the pet owners surveyed worked full time, yet as indicated above, only 13% of pets were home alone for more than 40 hours. It would appear that whilst many pets have the potential to be left alone for long periods of time, in reality their owners make arrangements so that they are not.
On the whole, dog owners reported that their pets were home alone for fewer hours than cat owners. This may be in part because dogs can more readily join their owners on excursions outside of the home (for example, on visits to family or friends). It may also be due to a perceived need on the part of the dog owners to be with their pets as much as possible.
what do pets do when they are home alone?
This is a tricky question to answer, as unless you have cameras installed in your home it is impossible to tell what your pet or pets get up to in your absence. The good news is that pets are creatures of habit. In the main, they treat their owner’s departure as part of their daily routine. Alone-time is also a chance for animals to sleep, something they spend a lot more time doing than we do. Cats in particular are renowned for their almost insatiable appetite for sleep, with the average indoor cat snoozing for 16 to 20 hours per day. Older cats may sleep for even longer. Studies examining brain activity in sleeping cats have found that cats spend 30% of their sleep time in deep sleep, with 70% in light sleep (“cat nap”) phases. Many dogs spend the majority of their day sleeping – in fact, it is thought they may spend as much as 14 hours per day asleep, although this can vary significantly depending on the breed and age of the dog. Other activities for dogs include interacting with and playing with toys or household items, playing with other companion animals in the household and eating.
What dogs do during the day will depend on the individual and whether they are anxious about being left. Not all animals cope equally with alone time. Some dogs may suffer from separation anxiety, which is a medical condition that can result in problematic behaviours. Fortunately there are ways to help improve your pet’s chances of coping when they’re home alone.