Before you know it, the holidays will be here — a time when families and friends gather to share meals and enjoy each other’s company. Often this involves people traveling and leaving their cats for a few days or longer. People who share their homes with kitties face the dilemma of how to best care for them while they are away. In rare cases, cats accompany their people on holiday. Most, however, either stay at home or are boarded at a facility. Unfortunately, some cats are left alone without care — their people think the cats will be fine and will "fend for themselves" if left with "plenty" of food, water, and a couple of litter boxes.
In a perfect universe, cats are cared for at home while their people are away on a holiday or traveling for work. Cats feel more secure at home. They are territorial, and they have established routines, favorite places to nap, windows to look out of, and favored toys. They are used to specific smells and sounds and are accustomed to eating meals on a schedule. Although in most cases home care is ideal, it is not always possible. The next best option is to board them at a facility that can provide great care.
Leaving cats at home to fend for themselves is never an option. They need someone to tend to them every day, ideally twice a day. Unexpected stuff can happen — acts of nature or medical problems. Cats need fresh water, food and their litter boxes scooped at least once a day. Also, some become stressed and develop separation anxiety when left alone. Cats are not OK alone.
Here are some tips for making your time away easier for your cats and you:
When possible, arrange for your cats to be cared for at home. The perfect solution is enlisting a pet sitter or a friend who loves your cats to stay in your home while you travel. Because that is not always feasible, schedule the trusted someone to visit the cats twice a day at the same times every day. Twice a day is much better than once a day. The sitter can feed and interact with them and observe changes in habits that might indicate there is a medical problem. In addition to feeding and maintaining the litter box, the sitter should spend quality time with the cats — engaging them in activities they enjoy.
Be prepared! Before leaving on your trip write out detailed instructions for the cat sitter. In addition to feeding and litter-box maintenance details, include each cat’s treat and toy preferences. List their favorite activities along with any specific behavior concerns. Note how your sitter can contact you and your veterinarian while you are traveling. Just in case something unforeseen happens, hide an extra key outside your home or give one to a trusted neighbor.
Leave a small part of you with the cats. Before leaving on your trip, place small towels and other articles of clothing that have your scent on them in sealable plastic bags. If you are travelling for three days, place three scented items in three bags and tightly seal them. Ask the cat sitter to place one scented item every day on the cat’s favorite hangout place. Your smell will help your kitty feel she is not abandoned.
Phone your cats. Cats know their favorite people’s voices. If you have an old-fashioned landline phone with a recorder, call the kitties and talk to them. Recordings of your voice will also work.
Make it fun. Provide your cats plenty of fun things to do in your absence. Tall cat trees placed next to secured windows provide hours of entertainment. Toys such as ball and tract toys and puzzle boxes double as hiding places for cat treats. Ping pong balls and soft toys are also a must. Make sure that the toys you leave your cats are safe — there are no pieces to dismember or ingest, and none that might accidentally wrap around them. Some inspired cats enjoy watching television and videos. There are commercially available videos created exclusively for felines. They feature birds, rodents, fish, and other critters. Do not leave the television tuned to stations that specialize in programs about animals. Often they show animals who are hurt and in distress. Their cries can cause little cat viewers to become stressed and anxious.
Ease your mind with daily reports. Brief texts or phone calls with the cat sitter will help assure you that your little ones are adjusting well to your absence.
Choose the boarding facilities with care. Some are great — others, not so much. Use your eyes, ears, and nose when checking out pet hotels. Good facilities are clean, smell fresh, and are quiet. You should not hear loud noises and barking in the cat-boarding areas. Remember that cat senses are more sensitive than those of people. Loud noises and strong smells can stress them.
Your cats need spacious quarters. Condos should be large enough to include shelves the cats can climb up to, places to hide, and room for toys and a bed. The placement of the feeding stations is important — the condos need to be big enough so that they are not placed next to the litter boxes.
Check out the dog quarters. Good pet boarding facilities that also accommodate dogs house the dog guests in separate areas so that the barking does not stress the cats.
Meet the staff. There should be enough employees available that they interact with the individual feline guests a number of times during the day. Someone should also be on the premises at night to monitor the cats. Additionally, there should be a veterinarian on call, just in case there is an emergency.
Cat hotels can double as a home away from home. House bonded buddies together for company and security. Pack a suitcase for your cats, filling it with their favorite toys, beds, treats, and food. Do not forget the articles of clothing that have your smell on them. Staff members can place one scented article in the condo every day you are away.
Although it can be hard for people to leave their cats when they travel, responsible and loving care is available. It might not be quite as good as what you can provide, but it can be a close second.
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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior issues through force free methods that include clicker training, environmental changes and other behavior modification techniques. Marilyn is big on educationÔÇöshe feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.