Ways to Help Your Cat Adjust to Your Change in Schedule
Updated: Jun 3
Although a change in routine can be stressful, there are ways to help your cat adjust to the new routine, whether you're home more or heading back to work.
Maya loves my son above all others. She loved having him around during the pandemic. She would sit on his lap during online classes. Maya's had to adjust to him not being around as much anymore.
During the height of the pandemic, I saw a lot of headlines that dogs are happy and cats want us to return to work. But, from what I saw, I don't think that's true. It might be true in a busy household with little kids who might interrupt a cat's extended nap and down time, but I think for a lot of cats, they got used to us being around. There's constant attention, a warm lap, and more activity to keep them entertained. Cats have gotten used to this lifestyle. Many of my clients have had to return to work either full-time or on a hybrid schedule. This can be hard on our feline companions who have gotten used to extra snacks and snuggles during the day. What happens when we have to go back to work? How can we make this less stressful for cats?
Here are my top suggestions to keep stress and possible separation anxiety to a minimum:
Routine and Schedule
Figure out a schedule that you can maintain on most days when you return to work.
Have you been giving your cat a mid-day snack? Start moving the time for the snack earlier and earlier (or later and later) so you can provide it before you head to work (or after you return). Cats are designed to eat small meals throughout the day. I often recommend feeding cats at least three wet food meals which you can still pull off with an in office schedule by providing your cat a breakfast, post work meal and before bedtime meal.
A puzzle feeder can help by providing enrichment while you're not at home. Before you leave for work, add kibble to the feeder so that when your cat is hungry, she can work on the puzzle to get herself a snack.
Be mindful of the attention you're providing your cat during the day. You don't have to ignore your cat if she approaches you, but I recommend not going out of your way to provide so much attention during work hours. Provide attention in the morning and evening, if that's what you'll do when you return to work. If you keep it to your work schedule, then it will be less stressful when you return to the office.
Mental Stimulation & Exercise
Your cat may enjoy your company because she has more things to focus on when you're home. Ensuring your cat is getting playtime every day is one of the best things you can do for your cat. Schedule a playtime in the morning and evening to ensure your cat is getting exercise and an opportunity to pretend hunt which is great for a cat's emotional health.
Also consider what your cat has to do when you're not there. Does she have access to a window in the sun? Self-play toys? What other types of stimulation can you provide when you're not there.
Rotate Cat Stuff
Being stuck inside during the pandemic gave us all a good idea of what our cat's lives are like. It's pretty boring! Boredom is stressful. Help prevent this type of stress by mixing it up. Only keep out a handful of toys at a time. Strategically place them around in fun places for your cat to find such as the windowsill or peeking out from under the couch. Rotate the toys every fews days or every week to keep things exciting.
You can also change the environment. Add a delivery box, tunnel, cat carrier and switch up their spots every week. Cats like novelty. Keep it exciting.
Special puzzle or toy when you leave
Most of the time, if you've played with your cat, fed her breakfast and set out a food puzzle before you leave, your cat is likely to going to be napping quite a bit of the day while you're gone. If you're worried your cat will miss you as soon as you walk out the door, get a special toy or puzzle with treats to leave out right before you leave. This way, she has something fun to do while you're gone, and can make a positive association with you leaving.
For safety tips while you're not home, check out this article by Porch where I'm quoted along with other animal experts. Feel free to reach out if you need more cat advice.
About the author: Jennifer Van de Kieft is a Certified Advanced Feline Training & Behavior Professional located in Brooklyn, NY. She provides virtual consultations throughout the United States. She owns Cat Advocate, a feline behavior consulting company. She provides cat guardians with the strategies, tools and knowledge needed to address their cat's behavior issues.