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What Happens If Cats Are Left In A Dark House?

Have you ever wondered what happens if a cat is left in a dark house? Learn more about how cats feel about the dark, how they see, and how you can help your cat feel comfortable in the dark.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: June 1, 2022 | 8 min read

Portrait of silhouette of cat with yellow eyes in dark on window sill

Cats often seem like fearless animals who enjoy seeking out dark spaces. Because of this association, you might assume that turning out the lights when a cat is at home alone is something they are comfortable with. Because we know there is a lot more to cats than meets the eye, we wanted to look further into the subject of feline behavior and what happens if cats are left in a dark house. Do cats like the dark? How well do they tolerate being left alone when all the lights are off? We discuss this very intriguing issue and more to learn more about cats and what they need to thrive.

Can Cats See In The Dark?

There is a widespread assumption that cats have perfect eyesight and can see very well in the dark. This is a general portrayal of cats as nocturnal creatures of the night. Cats are not nocturnal. They are crepuscular. This means their most active times of the day are the hours around dawn and dusk.

Cats can see in very low light, but they cannot see in absolute darkness, contrary to popular belief. They can see much better than humans in low light because their eye anatomy is slightly different. Cats have a wider field of view, greater peripheral vision (200 degrees wider than that of a human), and more rod cells (sensitive to low light) in their eyes than humans, leading to their increased night vision. The human eye is better at seeing in bright light.

Cats have a structure in their eye called a tapetum that has a mirror-type effect, helping cats see better in low light. Cats also have better motion detection in low light than humans due to the extra rod cells. The distinct shape of a cat’s eye also works to its visual advantage. The slit-shaped pupils of a cat allow for light control, something cats use to help them see and hunt any time of day.

Cat’s eyes are better at seeing in the dark than humans. However, they are nearsighted. This means they need to be closer to things to see them clearly. It is also believed they do not see the same range of color as humans. Cats are very adept at picking up quick, rapid motions. Slower moving objects are more challenging for them to pick up. Felines do not see small details or deep colors, though they can see some colors.

Cats do have much better night vision than humans. However, they cannot see in complete darkness. This ability to see best in dim light may lend to their heightened activity around dusk and dawn.

Do Cats Like The Dark?

Cat sitting in the dark with window light

Cats seem to do well in the dark, and they are often attracted to dark spaces. Part of this is their inquisitive nature. Part of it may be them seeking out areas that feel protected rather than places with no light. Many of these spaces are low light, for example, under furniture, in cabinets, closets, boxes, or other small closed-in areas. However, this alone does to mean that cats like the dark. This may depend on the individual environment and circumstance, just like humans.

Cat’s superior night vision makes them more active in darker hours, but this does not always mean they like the dark. Housecats, especially those who are used to being around humans, may prefer to be active when their humans are. Other cats may prefer the night and increase activity around this time.

While cats have a natural instinct to be more active in the evening and early morning, many house cats can get more active at night if they spend most of the day asleep. For cats that spend their days at home alone, their energy is in reserve until someone comes home and starts interacting. If a cat is not getting enough socialization and physical activity during the day, they will have excess energy to spend at night.

Felines are sensitive animals and often feel stressed. Some cats seek out places of solace because it helps them destress, and often these places tend to be quiet and dim. Cats like to feel protected. They are easily spooked and seek out spaces that feel secure, many of which are dark. Along with a natural instinct to be active in low light hours, this need to feel safe creates a perception that cats prefer the dark. However, whether a cat likes the dark or not is more a matter of individual preference than a species-specific trait.

Can Cats Be Afraid Of The Dark?

Despite being more active in low light hours and having fantastic night vision, cats can still be afraid of the dark. Cats can easily get spooked, which can easily happen in the dark, causing them to feel threatened. Some cats may associate darkness with negative experiences or fear. Just think how you would feel if a giant person stepped on you in the middle of the night or a huge dog suddenly started barking at you in complete darkness. Like us, some cats might be afraid of what they cannot see when all the lights are out.

The idea that all cats love the dark is a misconception. Felines are social animals and learn to rely on interactions with humans and other pets. When they are alone, with the lights out and no noise, they can grow anxious. Some cats will start to cry out, meow, or misbehave at night if they do not like the dark. If you are concerned that your cat has a phobia of the dark, you can check with your veterinarian or trainer.

Some older cats may develop an aversion to the dark. This can happen if they start to have eyesight or other health issues. Other cats may develop separation anxiety and have trouble being alone in the dark.

Do Cats Prefer Lights On Or Off?

Again, this comes down to a matter of instinct as well as individual cat personality. Cats that sleep with or near their humans will develop a preference to be on the same schedule. Other cats may prefer low light, and some might like bright light.

Should you leave a light on for your cat?

Yes, you should leave a light on for your cat. She cannot see when there is a total lack of light. Your kitty needs some bit of dim light to at least navigate. Keeping windows open, a nightlight or another means of light for your cat will make her feel more comfortable. Cats do best in light that is neither totally dark nor very bright.

Should you leave a television on for your cat?

Leaving the television on for your cat will depend on your unique situation. Some cats may feel comforted if the tv is on, especially if the house is loud when people are home or if the tv is usually on all the time. However, for some cats, the television can be too stimulating and may cause them to start acting out. In some cases, the cat will even attack the television, which can cause injury to the cat and damage to your home. There may be benefits to playing cat music or a noise machine because we know they like the sound of our voices.

What Happens If Cats Are Left In A Dark House?

A long hair orange and white Maine Coon cat sits inside a home at a sliding glass door's window and looks out over a patio and city lights in the evening.

Cats left alone in a dark house are not likely to be happy for long. They need some sort of light, so leaving blinds open and light on somewhere will offer them comfort. Cats need to be able to move around and do not see well in complete darkness.

Some cats will do fine in a darker house, and others will get spooked and start to feel abandoned. Pay attention to your cat and the clues she leaves you. Look out for bad behavior, a change in eating habits, or other behaviors that seem out of character. To be safe, keep a light on for your cat, toys, clean water, and a small amount of food.

Should A Cat Be Left Alone Overnight?

Leaving cats alone, especially in a dark house, overnight is risky. They can feel abandoned, scared, and anxious. These feelings can cause cats to act out by scratching, chewing, and even relieving themselves outside the litterbox.

For confident kitties and those who do well alone and in the dark, leaving a cat for 24 hours should be okay, but leaving your cat home alone for a prolonged time is not ideal. Your cat might not be in the best mood and can be skittish when you return. Leaving out clean litter, fresh water, and food is advised. Not too much food, as they may eat it all as soon as you leave. Ideally, having someone to check on them at least once in that time is a good idea.

Cats can suffer from stress and separation anxiety, which can worsen if left alone. Stress can change eating behaviors, causing them to overeat or not eat at all. They can become lonely, withdrawn, scared, and even aggressive.

If you need to leave your kitty overnight, it is best to have someone check in on her a few times or get a pet sitter to stay with them. This will let her know she has not been abandoned and give her the comfort of human interaction. Even if she is timid and does not want to cuddle and play with them, she will at least know that she is safe. A kitty sitter can sit for a while, turn on the television, and even eat a snack, just so she sees that people are still around and that food, water, and attention are near.

Ways To Help Cats Handle The Dark

  • Your cat might do well with a puzzle bowl if they are left alone from time to time and get anxious.
  • Toys, a cat tree, cat tunnels, high-quality, clean litterbox.
  • Medications, talk to your vet if your cat’s behavior at night or in the dark gets out of hand. They can help determine if there are health issues and if a medication can help.
  • Comfortable, soft spots to rest.

Things To Consider

Cats can suffer from separation anxiety, which is detrimental to their health. Being alone in the dark may be a traumatizing experience for them. Emotional distress in a feline can manifest in aggression, loss of appetite, digestive distress, vomiting, diarrhea, and voiding outside of the litter box. Take note of how your kitty behaves in the dark and take steps to make sure she feels comfortable. Something as simple as a night light or open blind can help her feel more comfortable.

Feline’s eyes work differently than ours, giving them better night vision. This does not mean they can see perfectly in total darkness or prefer the dark. Cats have a natural instinct to hunt in the hours near dusk and dawn. This makes them more active in darker hours of the day. However, it is not always a preference for the dark.

Every kitty is unique and will develop a likeness or aversion to the dark depending on their living situation and genetics. Pay close attention to your cat and consult your veterinarian if you are worried about their behavior. Along with your vet, a cat trainer can also help you make your cat feel more comfortable in the dark.

Consider looking into a pet sitter or having your cat stay with someone if you need to be gone for more than an overnight trip. Do not leave them in the dark overnight and keep some form of dim light available.

Final Thoughts

Cats are more active at night and have much better vision in dim light than humans and some other animal species. What happens when cats are left in a dark house depends on the cat and how comfortable they are in darkness and alone. While they may be okay at home in dim lighting all day, overnight is different. Day or night, leaving a cat in total darkness is never a good idea. While they have fantastic night vision, they cannot see in complete darkness. Felines do not have extraordinary eyesight in the dark, and they need some form of dim light to see.

Pay attention to your cat and how she behaves when you are gone to learn how she feels about the dark. You can test how she feels about the dark, using tools like a webcam or simply turning off the lights and quietly observing her. Do not assume your kitty will be okay with being left in the dark, and take precautions, so she feels safe, secure, and loved even when you must be gone.

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