Should You Leave Your Cat in The Dark?

Reviewed By Julie •  Updated: 03/01/21 •  10 min read
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Many cat pet parents struggle with questions about leaving lights on for the feline fur babies. Is it necessary? Do cats need a light on? What’s the right way to take care of cats at night? Do they need a night light? What about when I’m away overnight, should I leave a light on?

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The Stereotype About Cats & the Dark

Many people believe that cats are somewhat nocturnal and that they can see even in pitch darkness. You’ve probably seen your cat’s eyes glow in the dark; this is the reason so many people believe cats can see even in the absence of light. But this simply isn’t the case. Cats can see in limited light, which has been proven by research. However, just as any other living thing, cats need light, too. Let’s take a look at some of the most common questions people ask about leaving their cats alone in the dark or not.

Do Cats Like to Sleep in the Dark or Light

Cats seem to love sleeping; in fact, you may notice your own fur baby sleeping the day and night way, or so it seems! Most kitties tend to sleep an average of between 12-16 hours each day. However, sleep patterns can vary by age and health. For instance, kittens need up to 20 hours of sleep a day. This is because they use up a lot of energy growing up into adults. When it comes to older cats, after the age of 7 years, they may want more rest due to health issues such as arthritis.

So, are cats really nocturnal? Cats are active at night; however, they are classified as crepuscular, which means they are more active at dawn and dusk. Think of cats in the wild—they’re often busy seeking their food at night. Domesticated cats still have this tendency and tend to be more active in the twilight time when their dinners are walking about (here think of mice, etc.). This means your kitty likes to sleep during the day to make sure she has energy enough to hunt at night. And in between rounds of hunting, your fur baby will enjoy a catnap, as she needs to get her energy back up for the next round of hunting.

Having said that, cats will usually adapt to their pet parents schedule. So, your kitty will sleep when more when you’re not around and less when you are. For example, do you get the early morning wake up call of a fur feline across your face? Or perhaps she sits next to your head and meows until she wakes you up? So, when it comes to sleeping at night, left on her own, your fur ball will likely sleep more in the daytime. Then she’ll be more active at night. She’ll probably keep up this schedule until you return.

Should I Leave a Light on for my Kitten at Night?

While kittens can see in low light, it’s probably still a good idea to leave at least a night light on for her at night, especially if she’s new to your home. A light at night can help her to become accustomed to her new home.

Should I Leave the TV on for my Cat?

Many pet parents leave the TV or a radio on when they’re not home. This works for dogs, but does it also work for cats? The answer depends. For instance, if you usually leave the TV on while you’re home, then your cat is used to hearing it. Leaving it turned on when you’re out could have a calming effect on your cat. Hearing the TV in the background can help her feel as if you’re home and it can make her more relaxed. On the other hand, if you usually don’t have the TV on, then leaving it on while you’re away could cause your cat to feel anxious. If she’s not used to hearing background noise most of the time, and then hears strange sounds coming from the TV (such as explosions or really loud, stressful music), she will not be happy.

If you’d like to try leaving your TV on while you’re out, then be sure to not choose a channel or programming that shows other cats. Your kitty may believe these are aggressors on her territory and you may just come home to a TV that’s been knocked down and broken! Instead choose to leave on some soothing music made for cats, such as Cat Lullabies on YouTube. Tunes like this running softly in the background can help soothe your kitty if she’s anxious when home alone.

Be sure to avoid any programming that might be too stimulating for your fur ball! This can include cat videos showing birds, mice, etc. These may also get your cat to knock over the TV in an effort to catch these prey animals!

Can I Leave my Cat in the Dark?

We’ve already dispelled the myth that cats can see in complete darkness. However, what about learning your cat alone, is it OK to leave her in the dark? The short answer is no. Should I leave a light on for my cat?  Yes. She needs light just like any other member of your family. So, if you need to leave your cat alone, it’s helpful to make sure she has minimal natural light. Street lights, the moon and stars provide some light that can be helpful to your cat.

If you need to leave her alone in the evening or even overnight, it can be helpful to leave at least one light on for her in the house. Additional suggestions include using lights or nightlights that have light sensors built in. These will turn on the lights when it becomes dark, so you fur baby will have light when it’s dark out. Another option is to use motion-activated lights as they can create enough light for cats to get around.

Your cat will thank you for leaving on some light for her. For one thing, you won’t trip over her when you get home and she’s at the door to greet and welcome you back home again! In addition, even night lights will make it safer for your kitty to get around the house at night. She’ll also be a little more active and then be ready to sleep when you do get home.

Can I Leave my Cat Alone Overnight?

This another common question and we have some answers for you! If you have a kitten, it’s generally not recommended to leave a little one on her own if she’s under the age of six months. Younger kittens are not mature enough to stay alone and could have some issues during the night.

For kittens over the age of six months, here’s what you can do:

When it comes to grown cats, some of the same methods apply. Remember that your fur baby is not quite the solitary creature she may pretend to be. She will definitely feel a loss when you’re not home. Each cat is different, or course, but many will feel lonely when you’re away. In general, yes, you can leave your cat alone overnight, or as long as 24 hours. Just make sure your feline companion’s litter box is clean, she has enough food and water to last while you’re away. If you do need to be away longer than overnight, then it’s best to find a pet sitter. Again, this can be a family member or a neighbor. If no one’s available, it may be necessary to hire a pet sitter to check on your fur baby. A pet sitter can make sure your kitty has some human companionship and spend time playing with her and giving her attention. They’ll also need to make sure she has fresh food and water. It’s also a good idea to have them check to see if she’s left a mess anywhere. This could be a potty mess, or something she’s enjoyed tearing up, such as paper towels or toilet paper, etc.

Make sure your cat has enough to keep her busy and entertained while you’re away! But you may want to consider putting something away that she might try to play with or chew on. Some cats enjoy chewing on wires, so it’s a good idea to make sure all wires are made unreachable or at least placed so your cat can’t access them. Leave toys scattered around the house where your cat can find them. Fluffy balls, crinkle balls, catnip mice, etc. are all great choices. You might consider also leaving a nightlight or other type of lighting on for her, along with the TV with music to keep her calm.

If your cat has a penchant for lamps or anything she finds fun to play with that’s not safe for her, consider putting these away until you get home, or creating a cat-safe space where she can spend time while you’re away. Just make sure she can easily access her food, water, litter box and have enough space to be comfortable. We hope this article has shed some light on the topic of whether or not to leave a light on for your cat or kitten! And we wish you and your fur baby all the best!

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Julie is a graduate of the University of North Carolina, Wilmington, where she studied Animal science. Though contrary to the opinion of her parents she was meant to study pharmacy, but she was in love with animals especially cats. Julie currently works in an animal research institute (NGO) in California and loves spending quality time with her little cat. She has the passion for making research about animals, how they survive, their way of life among others and publishes it. Julie is also happily married with two kids.

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