This article provides a guide for feline behavior professionals to help their clients decide on the best care option for their cats when they’re away from home.
Pet owners often worry about leaving their animals in care while they take a well-earned break. As a cat behavior consultant, I am often asked for advice on what’s best for a client’s cat and, as many of these cats are known to me because they have had a current or previous behavior issue that we’ve been managing, the decision is not always easy.
Leaving a cat in the care of someone else while their owner is away can be stressful – for both the human and their feline family member. Making the right choice can mean the difference between a relaxed cat upon the owner’s return and one that is stressed to the max – or anywhere in between!
With stress being a major player in many feline health conditions and behavior issues, it’s effect should not be underestimated.
Meeting a Cat’s Individual Needs
It’s also important to keep in mind that, like with most things, what’s right for one cat may not be right for another and it’s crucial we take each individual cat’s needs into consideration when we are looking at the options.
The following information is aimed at guiding owners through that decision-making process so they can, hopefully, arrive at the best possible outcome for them and their cat. When deciding between a cat sitter or cattery, the choice may be influenced by the following factors:
- The cat’s age – a young cat may be perfectly adaptable to a cattery environment; an older cat may feel more secure in their own home environment.
- The cat’s health – if the cat has health issues requiring regular medication, the owner needs to find someone who is trained and competent at providing this service. For example, diabetic cats generally need two injections of insulin a day, so whoever looks after them needs to be comfortable and confident with this procedure. The same goes for a cat that needs to have tablets administered. Missing medications or not having them dispensed correctly could be detrimental to the cat’s health.
- The cat’s personality and temperament (including how sociable the cat is to people and other cats) – a cat that is not sociable with other cats may find a cattery environment very stressful. A cat not sociable to people may find a cat sitter they don’t know living in their home very stressful. If not sociable with either cats or strangers, then it may require careful consideration of what is the least stressful option for the cat.
- The cat’s normal lifestyle – a cat with free access to the outdoors may find confinement in a cattery very stressful. A cat that has a regular routine at home in terms of feeding, playtime etc. may find changes to this routine stressful (in a cattery or cat sitter scenario) unless it can be catered for.
- The risks present in the environment the cat lives in – a young, playful cat, left to its own devices in the home may be at risk from hazards such as electrical cords, poisonous household chemicals, getting stuck in small spaces etc. They may be safer in a cattery unless a live-in cat sitter can monitor them more fully.
- Previous experiences of care whilst owner was away – a negative experience with a previous cat sitter or cattery may have had a lasting effect on both the owner and their cat.
Once all of these factors have been taken into account, it’s time to look at the pros and cons of both options.
If the cat is easily stressed by being moved out of their territory (including old cats who are often most comfortable in their familiar home environment, or those easily stressed by the presence of other cats), a cat sitter may be a good option.
Within that option, however, is a further subset of options – a ‘live-in’ cat sitter or a ‘daily/twice-daily visit’ cat sitter. Again, this will depend on what is best suited for the individual cat.
Old cats that sleep most of the time and enjoy routine feeding times, or less sociable cats that live outdoors and don’t enjoy human interaction may be absolutely fine with a cat sitter visiting once or twice daily at allocated times.
Younger cats and those that love human interaction may be better suited to a live-in cat sitter.
Either option needs to be carefully considered – including making sure the cat sitter is experienced, has appropriate insurance, a current police check and solid testimonials.
A pre-visit should also be arranged to enable the owner to meet and check theirs and their cat’s comfort levels with the sitter prior to making any final arrangements. If the sitter won’t provide all of the above, it is best to move on to another sitter.
A cattery may be a good option for a variety of reasons. If it’s well run and well designed, the cat will be safely contained in their own clean, secure unit, fed their own diet, given appropriate human interaction, and taken for veterinary care promptly if they become unwell.
However, not all catteries are run well and, just as with cat sitters, it’s very important to do some research. A good cattery will allow potential new clients to visit and inspect the set-up prior to making a booking. This is the opportunity to see what’s provided, and ensure that it includes the following:
- A high level of cleanliness, no offensive or over-powering smells and separate areas for the cleaning of food/water bowls and litter trays.
- A cat-only facility which does not involve the sights, noises and smells of other species.
- A calm, relaxed environment in which the current boarders seem relaxed and happy.
- A good ambient temperature and good ventilation.
- Friendly, competent, well-trained staff who are only too happy to answer any questions and have no problems with catering for the individual needs of each cat including giving medication, providing the cat’s normal diet, providing interaction and playtime (or not, depending on the cat), and allowing some items from home with the cat’s and owner’s smell on it such as a toy or some bedding.
- Single units for individual cats which provide appropriate space, separated resources, perching areas, hiding places, toys, and scratching facilities.
- Options for bonded cats to share a unit.
- A layout designed so that there are no opportunities for cats to stare at one another without escape.
- Ideally, a safe, secure outdoor run or at least a window with a view to outside and a perching area.
The cattery’s website should include plenty of quality information and testimonials – and a good sign is the need for advanced bookings due to its popularity. If the cattery does not allow inspections or if the owner sees anything that doesn’t meet their cat’s needs, it is best to move on to another cattery.
Cats and Routine
Whichever option the owner decides to go with, their cat will let them know how it went when they return and it’s important to give them advice on what to look for.
Upon returning home, whether it is the owner returning after a cat sitter has been in the house or if it is the cat returning from a cattery, regular routines should be in place immediately and calm, relaxed interactions should ensue so that normality can return as smoothly and as unhindered as possible.
If the cat is generally happy and relaxed with no new health or behavior issues, you can assume the choice made by the owner for the cat’s care was a good one. If, however, the cat appears stressed and unable to settle back into their normal home routine, even after a day or two of readjustment, then a vet visit may be helpful – as well as considering other options next time the owner needs to be away from home.
To many cat owners, the above decision-making process may seem a laborious undertaking. But the dedicated ones will understand, with your guidance, that the effort put in will not only be of potentially huge benefit to their cat – physically and mentally – but will hopefully also allow them to enjoy their holiday more, safe in the knowledge that their cat is being well cared for in their absence.
- Atkinson, T. (2018) Practical Feline Behaviour: Understanding Cat Behaviour and Improving Welfare. Oxfordshire, UK: CABI
- International Cat Care. (2018). Choosing a Boarding Cattery