To get a cat or not to get a cat?
July 19, 2021 10:28 PM   Subscribe

It's been suggested that I get a cat to help relieve stress. However, since I'll be going back to working in The Office soon, would it be fair for the cat to be left alone all day without any human companionship? (Other issues as well)

My gf has suggested that I get a cat to help relieve stress , which is tempting. However, in a couple of months I'll be transitioning from working at home to working at the office, so the cat would be left alone all day. I've been given warnings from other concerned parties about cats raising havoc (e.g. kiss those drapes goodbye) when they're left alone all day and starved for attention and/or mental stimulation (though I don't know how much of said warnings have been exaggerated), and how it wouldn't be fair to the cat to be left alone at least 40 hours a week. I would also need to get a note from my doctor saying that said cat is an Emotional Support pet to placate the corporate owners of my apartment (the landlord said he'd be fine with it). Thoughts?
posted by gtrwolf to Pets & Animals (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
This is fine. Consider getting an older cat, not a kitten or young adult. Or get two pair bonded cats so they can keep each other company when you are away. If you tell the rescue or shelter what you’re looking for I’m sure they can find you a cat or pair of cats that fits this lifestyle.
posted by phoenixy at 10:35 PM on July 19 [22 favorites]

Response by poster: Forgot to mention, if I do get a cat, I'd get one that's a few years old from a rescue/shelter instead of a kitten that would still to be trained.
posted by gtrwolf at 10:37 PM on July 19

You should get a cat because you want a cat, not because it has been suggested to you that a cat may do X or Y or Q or M for your life beyond "being a cat." Cats gonna cat. Doctors don't prescribe cats for stress. The clinical trials on cats are inconclusive. My old cat is beside me right now in his usual evening spot purring gently and I'm petting him in between typing this out and this is good, but during the day he is either indifferent or a needy arsehole because he is a cat.
posted by holgate at 10:51 PM on July 19 [43 favorites]

My Ask history has a not-dissimilar saga from a few years ago. I’m so glad I went through with it, this little mousetrap next to me is my best pal. I agree that getting an adult is a good call (it was for me too), but if you want a cat friend or two, nothing you describe sounds to me like a dealbreaker.
posted by jameaterblues at 10:56 PM on July 19 [3 favorites]

Get the cat. I am not sure what you mean to be trained about a kitten. They instinctively learn to use the litter box once you put them in it. In terms of teaching them not to scratch the furniture, get them an alternative to scratch like a scratching post (natch).

As far as being left alone all day, for my cats, that was a feature of me going to work. I did make sure to spend play time with them when I got home. This was all before cameras in the house, but I do wonder what they were up to all day. I suspect looking out the window, sleeping, eating/drinking, and planning their next sneak attack of me while I was sitting on the couch watching TV.

Cats are funny. Personality is not always (never?) evident when you go to the shelter to pick one out. I would say that the older they are, the less likely they are to need companionship all day whether that companion is another cat or a human. If it were me, were I to get another cat, I would get two bonded kittens or cats under 1.

On preview, I concur with holgate that the reason to get a cat is to get a cat, not because someone said to get a cat. You do not seem to know a lot about cats based on what you wrote. I still think you should get one if you want one. There is a first time for everyone. I just would not get a cat thinking your stress issues will be solved. You'll likely be stressing about something else like is the cat scratching the sofa while I am at work or did I forget to leave water or will the Yankees win tonight. Cats can relieve stress as can most pets, but they are not the magical stress relief pill. (That can be found at a dispensary.)
posted by AugustWest at 10:56 PM on July 19 [7 favorites]

Get the cat. Get an older cat, as suggested, or a "forgotten kitten," slightly older kittens people haven't adopted (who are less popular due to "age")

Cats are incredibly independent.. it's one of the reasons we like them. Sure, you may adopt a particularly social or affectionate cat, but chances are, if you do it within the perimeters you've already suggested (older, etc), the cat will just be grateful to be around. If you feel up to it later, cats are* social and do live in colonies, they love having a friend, but they're okay without.

To make circumstances easier for everyone, it's possible to buy robo or auto-feeders that can help enable work or short term travel. Auto litter as well. These devices can make anything required of care so much simpler.

As for the ESA letter, despite airline concerns, they still remain completely accessible. To help maintain status for other ESA carers, just be a solid cat owner.
posted by firstdaffodils at 11:04 PM on July 19 [1 favorite]

I would get an older pair. I think I probably have had more social cats than the folks here, but mine didn't miss being alone all day as long as they had some companionship.
posted by frumiousb at 12:15 AM on July 20 [7 favorites]

My wife and I spend a lot of time volunteering with a large shelter network. Fostering, shelter work, etc.

There are _so many_ cats in shelters who spend their days in a cage or small enclosure. In Los Angeles the shelter system processes thousands of kittens a year, not to mention all the adult cats. The cats in the shelters get some attention from staff and volunteers (however their time is limited!), but even a single person who works a lot is almost certainly going to give that cat a less stressful and happier life.

Anytime people talk about adopting a cat and worry about being at work, or their small apartment, or whatever --- assuming you are adopting (which you say you would) --- absolutely you can improve a cat's life this way. And, of course, hopefully your own as well :) [I can't imagine my own life without cats]

There are a wide variety of cat "personalities" --- some want to follow humans around all day and love attention. Some are shy. Some are loners. Etc. If you're adopting an adult cat, tell the shelter your situation and they should be able to find a cat that would love to have a home to lounge in by themself (or with a buddy) while you work, and then greet you when you come home.

One of our cats follows my wife around like crazy and doesn't let her out of her sight, and sleeps with her all night. But I've also had a cat that spent 90% of her time alone and just came to humans for the occasional pet and of course food. My other full time cat is fine being alone but loves to just sit next to me while I do things. So there's a wide spectrum of interaction.

Also --- I've fostered close to 100 cats and had 6 that lived with me full time. Only one did any furniture damage, and that was just a specific chair she liked to scratch. (Well, sometimes baby kittens have trouble with the litterbox --- but we're talking about kittens too small to adopt anyway). A solo kitten left alone might well go crazy (they really need a playmate or a lot of time), but an adult cat generally will be fine and you can leave them toys and so on.

If you happen to be in Los Angeles and want any advice about cats/shelters, feel free to MeMail me.
posted by thefoxgod at 12:48 AM on July 20 [5 favorites]

Cats sleep and rest 18 hours a day, which is handily the amount of time most people spend on sleep plus work. When I had a singleton cat, each time I came home in the middle of the day he was deeply asleep. Two months to cuddle and bond sounds like a perfect start to the relationship.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 12:51 AM on July 20 [10 favorites]

Your goal, from the sounds of things, is really about stress management. Your girlfriend - who no-doubt knows you well - has suggested a cat - and has probably given some reasons why (if not, ask her). Listen to her reasons first and foremost because they will have been made with specific reference to you.

As mentioned above - there have been studies in the area - for example this one which showed significant decreases in salivary cortisol amongst groups of students who got to regularly pet cats. But this is all a little removed from day-to day practicality. If your stress manifests as high blood pressure for example, then you would be better off getting medical advice and probably on a range of lifestyle changes. A cat might be present on that list - but would probably not be at the top. Cat ownership can also be potential source of stress too: you may end up worrying about a cat that gets ill or which wanders and gets lost, for example. And cats themselves can get stressed from environmental, medical or behavioural causes - including separation from their owners. If you own a stressed cat it will not help with your condition.

We have 2 cats. Last year they be-friended one of our neighbours who has a very stressful job. He had always said that he was allergic to cats and never wanted them as pets. The cats won him over to the point where, a few months later, he bought two of his own. He has said how much the animals help him calm down - but he also worries about them a great deal. Be aware that this could happen to you: basically a good outcome but the replacement of one stress form with another of a slightly different type. It helps if you love cats per-se - I think. Do you?
posted by rongorongo at 12:58 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

We've had two older cats, consecutively as singles, and until Covid both spent plenty of time alone in the house while we were at work. No problems with either of them getting up to anything, no house damage, etc. One adopted straight off the street (though clearly previously domesticated), the other from our local cat protection charity. We would be likely to go with an older model in future, you can get an idea of what they are like from the people looing after them, they are house trained, and quite possibly trained not to do other things you might prefer them not to do (eg neither ever climbs on to kitchen surfaces). Both liked a snuggle.
posted by biffa at 4:13 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I adopted a cat when I was in grad school, and was up front with the shelter about wanting a very chill adult cat who would be happy hanging solo while I was in class/studying all day. They were happy to oblige, and helped me find my soul mate. She was 4 years old, shy with the other cats at the shelter (had only ever lived in a house) and super cuddly in private. She was maaaaybe 1% destructive (very very occassionally used the couch or rug as a stretching/scratching post) - not enough to notice for sure. She was perfectly happy being alone most of the day - even once I started working long hours, on the weekend she'd chill for a while and then peace out for some naps/alone time.
posted by DoubleLune at 4:47 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I’ve been working from home since March 2020. My cats still maintain their routine - hang out for breakfast then they go up to the sunny room for the day and I work. Only difference is they have insisted on bringing dinner time forward, If I weren’t there and still doing my office hours and commute,they’d be fine eating at the old time.
posted by kitten magic at 5:27 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

My husband often said every cat needs a cat, and once we got two cats, I see what he means. Two cats have each other so they don't get lonely. If you can, think about a pair.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 5:55 AM on July 20 [4 favorites]

I live with two cats but zero other humans. The cats adapted readily to having me as their only human. They adapted readily to lockdown and having me around 24/7. They adapted readily to me going back to the office.

They're pretty great at adapting. Most cats will be, I think.

Cat tax.
posted by humbug at 6:28 AM on July 20 [6 favorites]

By all means, get a cat, but as someone who has fostered many and currently has two cats, I'll offer a slightly less sanguine view of cats... they are not necessarily as easy as some of posters are suggesting... cats can cause you stress too!

Single cats, even adults can get very needy and lonely and meow very, very early in the morning (annoying for those of us who sleep). They poop in a box in your house which means it smells or you are cleaning poop every day. They can get weird about food. They can get really weird and start peeing on your bed. They like to jump on high things to purposefully break fragile things. They get hairballs. They scratch the shit out of your furniture. I could go on, but you get the idea.

I LOVE cats, I spend half my time TNRing and the other half playing with my own, and there are certainly moments of absolute zen with my little booshies - but "stress relief" is not my first description of cats.
posted by RajahKing at 8:01 AM on July 20 [7 favorites]

I've been working from home for the past 18 months and my cat either ignores me completely or sleeps 12+ hours in the cat bed in my home office. He wouldn't even notice that I was there if I didn't wake him up periodically in revenge for the way he likes to wake me up at 5am like a maniac.

Your cat will most likely be totally fine while you're at work. Getting two cats that already like each other (bonded pair) may assuage your guilt and probably won't increase the cat-care workload very much.
posted by TwoStride at 8:28 AM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I've been given warnings from other concerned parties about cats raising havoc (e.g. kiss those drapes goodbye)

This part is probably correct. I've owned many cats, and they do destroy drapes and furniture and even scratch up doors and walls. If having those pristine is important to you, you should not get a cat. Or you should get an adult that has been declawed (declawing is terrible, but you can't undeclaw a previously owned cat).

If you get two cats, they should be fine all day when you're at work, but cats can be very needy, as RajahKing says. They can get you up in the morning when you want to sleep. They can sit on your book when you're trying to read. Getting them to the vet can be a hellish experience (highly recommend mobile vets if you have one near you). You can get sick of dealing with the litter box. They can stop using the litterbox. I love cats, but I'm not replacing my last one because I can't deal with the added stress of a cat right now.

I bring up the downsides because you don't seem very knowledgeable about cats. And because I'm not sure if you want a cat or feel like you "should" get one because someone else thinks it's a good idea. I mean, it might be a great idea for you, but you should go into it with your eyes open.
posted by FencingGal at 8:31 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

My cat is my precious angel of stress relief, but she is also a strong-willed creature. Like RajahKing, I want to make sure you have a realistic expectations. My cat, for example, tries to bite me if I clip her nails, so I've resigned myself to not having nice furniture. You can probably try to get a more malleable cat from a shelter or a younger cat who can get used to nail grooming. Cats will scratch things and vomit and jump on your kitchen counters. To me, it's more than worth it.
posted by Mavri at 8:32 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

If you do it, I strongly urge you to get two older cats that are a bonded pair.

(a) Two are, if anything, less work than one. They will keep each other company while you're at work, and will be a lot less clingy and needy than if they were alone. They should also be less destructive because they're often expending their play energy on each other than on, say, your drapes.

(b) Get a bonded pair because they already know and like each other (introducing adults can be... unpredictable). Also bonded pairs can struggle to get adopted, so you're doing good.

(c) Get a cat that is at least middle aged (a few years old might not cut it). A long time ago, we got a cat that was a couple of years old, and he was a high-energy maniac who was not very cuddly. As he aged, he mellowed and became much more cuddly and friendly and interested in people. I have seen that with other cats too. I would recommend minimum five years old, and ideally older. Senior cats are delightful and often languish at shelters.
posted by ClaireBear at 9:31 AM on July 20 [2 favorites]

I want to chime in with a few more thoughts:

Cats are their own creatures, not a stuffed animal for your stress relief. That perhaps sounds harsh but I don't mean it harshly. Cats just are quirky little beings with their own wills and agendas and personalities, and unless you get a cat because you would enjoy living with a cat, I think you might find the whole experience stressful and unpleasant. I love cats, and have had them for almost 20 years, but they're much more like (adorable) weird freeloading roommates than stuffed animals. Let me give you a few examples of life with a cat:
- They are crepuscular, and often wake up at 4 or 5am and cry for attention. My previous cat, if you didn't respond to that, took to sticking his paw under the bedroom door and rattling it loudly until you did. We needed two doors between us and the cat at night.
- On the occasions I napped with the cat during the day, if he wanted me to get up, he would repeatedly pat my cheek with progressively more force, and then bring out his claws if I failed to respond.
- We also had to put tin foil on the counter in a bid to try to stop our cat from walking on our counters (ultimately unsuccessful).
- Cats often get extremely annoying around mealtimes if they are food motivated.
- They can also be extremely picky. My first cat, whom we were trying to transition to healthier food, picked out and ate each of the Friskies kibble pieces and left all the Science Diet kibble in the bowl, and went on a hunger strike when we tried more drastic measures. My previous cat would only eat pate, not chunks, and only liked particular flavors. He would only drink water out of a flowing fountain, not a bowl.
- And if they are high energy and you don't give them enough stimulation, they can be destructive.
- Clipping my cat's claws and getting him in a carrier are both experiences in which he has drawn blood, and have been deeply unpleasant.
I have previously described my cat as a dictator in a tiny fuzzy body (which is as hilarious and adorable as it sounds, which is partly what I love about them). Cats are willful and more persistent than you. Ultimately, cats are very hard to train: rather, they train you to accommodate their quirks. I say this as someone who loves cats, is essentially obsessed with cats, spends breaks watching cat videos on YouTube, and wants to get involved in local cat rescue.

Relatedly, cats are inherently somewhat destructive to property. In my experience with multiple cats, it is almost impossible to get them to stop them sharpening their claws on your furniture. It can be mitigated somewhat by purchasing scratching posts of the sort that they like, but not completely. They LOVE tipping over full glasses of liquid. Also in my experience, they vomit (sometimes with hairballs) every few months, usually where you'd least like them to (carpet, hardwood, etc.). If/when they are sick, they sometimes pee on the floor or furniture, and that smell is pungent and virtually impossible to eradicate. I would be somewhat hesitant to have a cat in a rental apartment, and I would definitely be prepared to lose my deposit. All of this is definitely worth it to me because I find living with cats very fulfilling, but YMMV.

In short, what I'm saying is that I think you need to figure out if you would actually enjoy living with a cat. I would suggest contacting your local rescue groups and asking if you can foster a middle-aged or older cat or bonded pair. I think within a month or two, you'll figure out not only whether they help relieve your stress but also whether you like the experience.
posted by ClaireBear at 10:00 AM on July 20 [8 favorites]

I love my cat (cats, if you count the feral we look after) but I agree with others that having one isn't always relaxing. They can be quite therapeutic, and having them around was immeasurably helpful this past year (nothing combats COVID stress like a kitty snuggle) but they can bring in other new stresses to your life. They can be destructive, although providing an outlet (scratchers, play time, etc) can help quite a bit with this. Carriers and vet visits can be their own challenge, particularly if your cat is like ours and hates carriers. Travel is a bit more complicated - you'll need to get a pet sitter or a friend to feed/litter/check on them if you're leaving town (would not recommend boarding, cats are territorial and will be less stressed at home). As you mentioned, finding a place to live can be more complicated as well, I had all sorts of issues when we were still renting. And moving can be an absolute nightmare. I'm dealing with the latter one right now - I will likely have to relocate internationally for work next summer, and you don't even want to know how complicated and expensive it is to take a pet out of the country, I'm already stressing over it.

That being said, I don't regret having cats for a moment. They are quirky and have so much personality, and can be quite entertaining at times. Mine is an older shelter kitty (7 yrs old when we adopted her) who didn't get along well with other cats or kids and preferred quiet, so our two-adult zero-kid household was perfect. She has adapted to us being home a lot, but still seems to be totally fine when we're gone (at work or traveling), other than occasionally being a hissing PITA to the pet sitter because well, she's still a cat.
posted by photo guy at 1:26 PM on July 20

A friend who got a cat for stress relief chose to foster an older cat with a chill personality. The caretaking of the cat introduces a routine and is in itself therapeutic, like a purring houseplant. That cat is getting adopted soon so she will foster another before she moves countries, the only reason she isn’t adopting her current cat. Look for a foster to adopt situation if you’re not certain about a cat full time because if you bond, you can change your mind and adopt that cat. Definitely talk personality with the shelter. My cats have ranged from psychotic and obsessed with me to relaxed loners.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 4:53 PM on July 20 [1 favorite]

I have had many cats over the years. I have several cats now.

I agree that you want a mature, bonded pair with a reputation for being easygoing. They may get a little wound up in their new environment early on. This will pass, almost surely. Give them nooks and bowers they can hole up in, separately or together.

You may want to avoid Siamese and related breeds, which tend to be vocal, demanding, and clingy. High-strung, some people call them. (Many of my darlings have/had similar heritage and I have adored them without limit, but “chill” they are/were not.) Don’t sweat this too much: the overwhelming majority of rescue cats have no traceable pedigree anyway. Longhairs of any kind are prone to mats and hairballs.

Fostering with a possible endpoint of “foster fail” (that is, permanent adoption) is a good strategy. You can get a feel for whether cats suit you, and the worst-case scenario is that you buy them some time on their way to a forever home.

And yes, consider carefully whether you are a cat person. Go into adoption knowing that they’ll be weirdos who do weird things, and that one day they’ll break your heart. Messes happen. Furniture will look dated in ten years anyway. This is for life; they get to leave you first, that’s just the deal. I’ve seen mine through diabetes, feline AIDS, emergency treatment for urinary blockage, asthma, and kidney failure, to name a few. I wouldn’t trade the memories for anything.

Don’t go into it if you’re entertaining even the slightest thought that you can just give them away when you move/have a kid/whatever. That’s not how it works. You are committing to be their family, for keeps.

Good luck!
posted by armeowda at 8:48 PM on July 20 [5 favorites]

get two cats
posted by Jacqueline at 3:55 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

I agree you should get two cats--rescue groups always bonded pairs (kittens or adults). I adopted a cat during lockdown and am getting another one now that I'm returning to the office, and I wish I had gotten two to start with. They will keep each other company while you are at work. You'll need to provide playtime (cat dancer, feather toys, springs) and a scratch post or two. Wet food is healthier and provides more hydration. The best thing I did for my cat was put a box with a soft fleece on the window ledge, where he spends endless hours watching the birds. I recommend pet insurance (Pumpkin or Wagmo seem good). I didn't have insurance and my cat had a mysterious liver disease which was very expensive to diagnose and treat, and I'm getting insurance for both as soon as I get a second cat. There is work involved of course, but pets bring so much warmth and love to your life. Enjoy your new family member(s)!!
posted by butterbean at 6:09 AM on July 22 [1 favorite]

« Older Chest freezer for cold (but not frozen!) storage   |   How to learn how to stand up for yourself? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments