Leaving for the Holidays? Tips on Holidays and Cat Care

The holiday season is prime time for travel. If you can’t take your cat with you, who watches him while you’re away? See tips on holidays and cat care here.

A black and white cat sitting in a suitcase, ready to travel.
A black and white cat sitting in a suitcase, ready to travel. Photography by humonia/Thinkstock.

The holiday season often 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. Here are some tips on how to handle the holidays and cat care — properly.

Ask yourself: What is best for the cat?

A gray cat looking out a window.
You can’t just leave a cat home alone to fend for himself. Photography by lkoimages/Thinkstock.

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 the holidays and cat care easier on both your kitty and you:

Holidays and cat care: Have a cat sitter come to your home

  1. When possible, arrange for your cats to be cared for at home. The perfect solution is enlisting a cat 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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 traveling 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Holidays and cat care: Boarding

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Tell us: How do you handle the holidays and cat care? Do you take your cat with you, have a sitter come to your house or board your pet?

Thumbnail: Photography by humonia/Thinkstock.

This piece was originally published in 2015.

About the author

Follow Marilyn, the Cat Coach on Facebook!

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.

Read more about cats and the holidays on Catster.com:

29 thoughts on “Leaving for the Holidays? Tips on Holidays and Cat Care”

  1. I will have to go abroad due to a business meeting, and since I can’t bring my cat with me, I’m thinking of leaving her in a cat lodging facility instead. Well, of course, I’ll keep in mind to check whether the facility is clean and quiet. You’re also right that it would be best to verify whether the prospective facility has an on-call veterinarian.

  2. Pingback: Conseils pour réduire le stress des vacances de votre chat | playfeed

  3. It is so great that you mentioned that leaving cats at home to fend for themselves will never be an option. When I was younger, one of my parent’s friends left her cat alone for a week while she was out on vacation and her cat ran away and never came back. I am planning a vacation now, and I am thinking of finding a pet sitting service that I can trust to make sure my cat never has to fend for herself.

  4. I’m only going away for a little over 24 hours but its the longest we’ve left the cat, he doesn’t like when we go to work or go out all night, hes a bit of an anxious cat so I am a bit worried about him. We have someone coming in to give him his evening meal and play with him for a bit so it should be ok, though he is not going to like not being let out (we cant allow it as he will go looking for us and the friend will have a hard time getting him back in!). I was wondering though about recording my voice, we have some ASMR sounds that we plan to put on loop for him as it relaxes him and was thinking about sticking a recording of me talking to him for a little bit but worry that it might upset and confuse him more than not doing it.

  5. I like your suggestion to find a pet boarding facility that offers daily reports so we can have peace of mind that our pets are doing okay. My husband and I will be travelling together next month so we can attend a fan convention, but I’m feeling some anxiety about leaving our cats. I’m glad I read your article because finding a pet boarder that will contact us regularly should help me feel a lot more comfortable!

  6. Pingback: An All Points Guide on Getting Your Cat the Best Treatment During the Holiday – PDXPETDESIGN.COM

  7. Some good tips in there.

    I don’t have a cat but with our two dogs we always try to get a house sitter as the dogs are used to the environment and are a lot more relaxed.

  8. After reading this, I’ve decided to leave my furbaby home and not send her to Grandma’s. Thanks for the tip of having someone look in on her twice a day!

  9. Thanks for mentioning how a cat should stay in a good pet boarding service while you are away. I also like how you said that they should have enough space to walk around and stretch out. My husband and I are looking for a good pet boarding service; thanks for the tips.

  10. I’d like to go on holiday but I like my cat is safe is there a good place where I can leave her and how much

    1. Hi Caroline,

      These pieces might provide some insight on cat sitters:

  11. Another great article. I have two kitty babies and am in the process of trying to find sitters. My new baby loves to watch tv…imagine that. So I’m sure the videos tailored to cats would work well for her. Thanks for the tips and for owning such a fab site!

    1. I’m not sure if you’ve heard of Pluto tv, but it’s a free app and there’s a channel that’s dedicated to cat videos. I leave it on for my cat while I’m at work

  12. Pingback: Leaving Cat Alone for a Week? – Preparation for Vacation Without Cat

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