What to Do With Your Cat When You Travel

There are pros and cons to both pet sitting and boarding. It really comes down to what works best for your individual cat.

By: Shan213
Have a plan in place before you leave. By: Shan213

Two months ago, my son Zeke and his girlfriend, Jordan, left their cats, Ricky and Rochester, with me while they went on vacation.

In a way, it was a homecoming for both kitties. Rochester had been one of my fosters, and Ricky had spent his youth here playing and wrestling with his good buddy Magwitch.

Rochester spent the first 4 or 5 hours hiding behind a chair. Then he came out and joined forces with fellow kitten Solstice. Ricky, however, was oddly stand-offish. He found all his old favorite spots but didn’t want to associate with any of his old friends. And when he went home at the end of the week, he was a much happier (ex-)camper.

It can be tricky figuring out what the best arrangement is for your pet.

Someone Should Check In Regularly

“In general, cats prefer staying in their home and familiar surroundings,” says writer Amy Shojai, CABC. “Some do well if left alone for a day or two as long as you provide adequate food and water and extra litter boxes.”

You still need to have somebody check on them regularly.

  • An elderly and/or sick cat may need medicating.
  • Kittens should be checked on.
  • And all cats and kittens benefit from a little playtime.

“Cats are much more social than [many people] think, and may react with behavior problems if left alone for extended periods,” says Shojai.

Friends or Family

I’ve usually had friends or family members take care of the cats while I’ve been away.

It’s a good idea to have a backup person, as I discovered when my elderly mother called and told me she’d locked herself out of my house. She’d found a nice stranger who’d managed to open the window, and now she wasn’t sure where any of the cats were. Fortunately, my neighbor Michele went right over, peered under furniture and came up with the right number of cats.

Pet Sitters

That was more than a decade ago. There are a lot of licensed and bonded pet sitters out and about now. You can also sometimes find veterinary technicians who are willing to cat-sit.

“I have 2 trusted vet techs from my animal clinic as pet sitters,” says Amy Tiedemann. “Depending on the circumstances, they either stay over or stop by as needed. This sure comes in handy if one of the cats gets sick or needs special care!”

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The Trouble With Pet Sitting: Cats Hide!

In cat sitting, you seldom see all felines-in-residence. After all, it’s their territory. They know all the good hiding places, and you don’t.

This makes it trickier to tell if a cat has snuck out. It also poses a potential problem if medicating is called for.

“If it’s a house call, it’s a do-or-die situation,” remarks Chris Raimo, who owns The Happy Cat Hotel in Windsor, Connecticut, with his wife, Meg. “You have to get it done at that visit. It’s not logistically feasible to come back. So, the pet sitter ends up “hav[ing] to force the issue with the cat, which can be kind of stressful.”

Boarding Your Cat

The alternative is boarding. And you have options:

  1. Veterinary clinics: On the up side, your cats have on-site medical care. The down side is that they have to hang out in cages.
  2. Kennels: Some kennels have cages set aside for cats. But will your cat really thank you for a vacation that includes canine suite mates?
  3. Boarding (called catteries in other countries): They vary in style. The Cozy Cattery in Wales, for instance, has “11 units to house 2 cats sharing from the same home and 2 units to cater for 4 cats from the same home. All units have heated indoor chalets and covered outdoor play areas.”
Some boarders offer custom rooms and amenities. By: The Happy Cat Hotel/Facebook
Some boarders offer themed rooms and custom amenities. By: The Happy Cat Hotel/Facebook

Among the amenities are full-height sneeze barriers, a security corridor, viewing shelves for rainy days, and heat lamps and heating pads for the older/more delicate cats.

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Catteries can be pricey. And some cats don’t take to being boarded, no matter how lovely and story-bookish the place is. “We didn’t want to have to put the boys to cattery,” says Sirpa Kutilainen, a U.K. cat lover. “They get very stressed with the whole situation and being cooped up in what is essentially one room.”

It all comes down to what works for the individual cat.

“We’re not shifting from one to the other,” says Raimo. “I guess we’ve learned that done right, both [pet sitting and boarding] have their place.”

T.J. Banks

View posts by T.J. Banks
T.J. Banks is the author of several books, including Catsong, which received a Merial Human–Animal Bond Award. A contributing editor to laJoie, T.J. has also received writing awards from the Cat Writers’ Association, ByLine and The Writing Self. Her work has appeared in numerous anthologies, including Chicken Soup for the Single Parent’s Soul and A Cup of Comfort for Women in Love, and T.J. has worked as a stringer for the Associated Press, as an instructor for the Writer’s Digest School and as a columnist.

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