As much as we all love our cats, sometimes we just can't take them with us. No matter if we go on an overseas vacation / holiday, or if we have to go into hospital. For nearly every cat owner comes the moment when s/he has to find a possibility to either board their feline friend or to find a cat sitter. In this article I try to outline the different possibilities that you and your cat have. Basically these are either getting somebody to come to your home and to look after your cat(s) or to bring your cat(s) to somebody or to somewhere to stay there and be cared for whilst you are away.
Cat boarding is one of many possibilities how to keep your kitty happy during your absence, but is it the only one? Read More ...
You shouldn't start looking for a cat boarding facility when you need one, you should have a list of possibilities ready prepared for the case you need one urgently. Doing your research and finding out what are the offers in your area are before the need arises, is a smart thing to do. Try to make a list of places and persons that could look after your feline friend depending on how long for you need your cat(s) looked after. Keep also, your cats folder in order and up to date. More to what should go in such a cat sitter and cat boarding folder comes later. For now lets look at the different ways of handling the situation when you need a cat sitter and / or cat boarding facility. First lets look at if you could simply let your cat alone at home:
How Long can a Cat Stay Alone at Home?
Cats are not dogs, they are normally as least as attached to their homes, as they are to their owners. A cat, provided the cat is healthy and doesn't need any special care, can stay several days alone at home. There are a few things you will need to have and to set up that this works, but most cats are actually happier staying in their familiar environment then to be brought to another place. We have successfully left our own cat alone for long weekends. To make this work, you first have to make your house extra cat safe. Is your furry tiger one that tends to get himself in trouble or a laid back couch lion? I wouldn't leave a kitten or very young, adult cat alone at home, but an older cat will just continue to sleep until you are home again ;-) Important is that, before you leave your cat alone for longer, you try it out for just one night. So, how to cat proof your home? Cats that are alone might get bored and investigative, so make sure your cat can't get into trouble. Close all doors and windows and generally cat proof the house. Think also of removing all plants that might be poisonous to a closed off room. Make sure your cat has enough food and water at their disposition, but more to this in the next paragraph:
Necessary Cat Supplies
Litter box, Water and Food
Cats require clean litter, fresh water and food when left alone. As they can't meow at you and tell you their needs when you are not there, you have to provide it in abundance for them.
Water: Put several water bowls in different locations, in the ideal case use one or two water fountains as well. These are great as cats love to drink from running water and the water out of these fountains is not only running, but also clean, filtered and cool, depending on the model you choose.
Food: Dry food keeps best, if your cat doesn't suffer from any health problems and drinks a lot of water, dry food or kibble is your best choice to feed your cat when it is left alone. Either put small bowls of food in different locations, close to the water bowls ideally, or use one or more automatic food dispensers, that offer food to your cat at certain times. Cats find them quite entertaining and wander from one to the other, wondering which “wonder box” will open next. If you fill the first one with fresh instead of dried food, you will make your cat even happier.
Litter box: I strongly recommend to either invest in a self-cleaning litter box or in a second, normal litter box. Cats are very peculiar when it comes to having a clean place where to make their business and if this place is not clean – lets just say you may come home to an unpleasant surprise ;-) Oh, and if you have several cats, all this has to be multiplied obviously!
Toys: Leave your cat some safe toys to entertain itself with and / or let the radio play in one room only. Just make sure that kitty can't get itself into trouble with strings and cables. So, middle-sized round balls and similar ok, but but away anything with strings or springs, in order to avoid that your cat gets caught in them. If you have two or more cats, they normally don't need any additional toys when left alone as they have each other for mutual grooming and playtime.
Pros and cons of leaving your cats alone for a few days
Pros are, that you will have no extra costs, apart of what you spend for additional litter boxes and food dispensers. Your cats can stay in their familiar environment. The only con is the slight risk that your cat might get ill or get itself in some sort of trouble without anybody noticing it. As you are the one that knows your cats best, you are the best one to judge if there is such a risk. You could also ask a neighbor to check into your home a couple of times, not really as a fully-fledged cat-sitter, more like somebody that just has a glance at the feline situation.
A cat sitter is the next possibility. The cat(s) can stay at home and one or more times a day, somebody checks on them, cleans their litter box and provides fresh food and water. Good cat sitters will also spend some time with your cats, playing with them, groom them and / or administer medication to them if that is necessary. Make sure the cat sitter knows your cats beforehand and that you provide him or her with detailed information about all your cats needs and habits. Don't forget to put together a little folder that includes: Your cats papers, the address of your vet, health history / issues, detailed feeding instructions, information about grooming and additional care like the administration of medicaments and the like. The best way not to forget anything is to record over a certain period everything what you do with your cat in a diary and to use this material to formulate the instructions for the cat sitter. Don't forget to include some information about where and how you can be reached in an emergency. And yes, consider also the worst case scenario and give your catsitter instructions what to do if your cat gets suddenly seriously ill or has a grave accident. Don't let the cat-sitter alone in the decision, how much life prolonging treatment to agree to when things really go bad.
Pro's of having a dedicated catsitter are peace of mind and reassurance that your furry friends are looked after in the best possible manner. Con's are the rather high costs, especially if your catsitter comes from farer away. In all cases, make sure to obtain references from previous clients to ensure that the cat-sitter you choose is really trustworthy. In the end s/he will be alone with your cats and in your home.
Cat Sitting Exchange
You look after my cat and I look after yours. This can be the best of two worlds when it comes to costs for you and comfort for your cats. All what I have written above about “Cat Sitter” applies also here, so no need to repeat myself. If you don't know somebody at the top of your head, you can ask your vet or local cat club if they can put you in contact with somebody like-minded. Alternatively you can post in your local yellow pages, craigslist and so on. You need to start looking well before you actually need a cat sitter, to have time to find the best “cat sitting exchange partner” possible.
Private Cat Boarding
Some people are happy to take your cat into their own homes for a shorter or longer period of time. This means normally, that your cat is looked after pretty much the whole day and well looked after. The same safety provisions as for selecting a catsitter apply also here. But this method is ideal for cats that need a lot of attention and / or need special care and / or medication. Again, your veterinarian, local pet shop or cat club might be able to recommend somebody or you could look into your local papers or even craigslist. Pro's of private cat boarding is the nearly full-time care your cat(s) will receive and the con's are the costs which depend greatly on your location. Costs are normally higher in urban areas.
Professional Cat Boarding
A good set and forget option. You bring the cat together with its care instructions and you know, provided you have selected a good cat boarding facility, your feline friend will be cared for in a professional manner. Pro's are obvious such as experience and profesionalism and con's are the price and the sometimes more anonymous approach to pet care.
Points to consider and Questions to ask
The one most important thing you should do before deciding on a cat boarding facility is to actually visiting it beforehand. And to ask questions, many, many questions and to keep your eyes, ears and nose wide open. Here some points you should pay special attention to:
How attentive are the people that work there?
Good signs are if they ask YOU questions about your cat and your own expectations. A good sign is also if they have material like leaflets prepared that set exactly out what they expect you to bring and to prepare before they will accept your cat. A cat boarding kennel that doesn't require your cat to be up to date with its shots, should be avoided at all costs. They will also not require that from anybody else and your cat will run a serious health risk if staying in such a facility. You also should ask questions about the expertise and training of the staff and how do they handle emergencies. Make also sure that they are well connected to an emergency vet or veterinarian clinic.
Make sure you can see all the facilities and especially the future 'accommodation' of your cat. If you can't see this – run! If you can see the facilities make sure that the spaces where the cats pass their time are large, airy, clean and have some views, preferably windows. Are there only cats cared for or also other animals such as dogs and ferrets? Some cats cope well with hearing dogs barking in the neighborhood, others just freak out. It all depends on your cat if you need a 'cats only boarding' or if a 'mixed boarding' would be feasible.
Cleanliness is the most important point to check when considering a cat boarding facility. Where many animals are together, illness and diseases can spread quickly and only cleanliness and utmost care can avoid problems with this and other problem zones like spoiled food. Check visually for cleanliness in the whole facility, but especially in the area where your cat will spend time plus in the food preparation area. Take also a deep sniff and check if it smells clean and airy or damp and stinky.
Vet Care, really big facilities might have their own vet or at least their own veterinarian nurse on duty. That would not be practical for smaller and middle-sized ones, but also these should be well connected to an 24h emergency vet or vet clinic. Ask who their vet is and if 24h vet cover is provided. Some bigger veterinarian clinics even have separate cat boarding facilities available. This might be ideal if you have a cat that is for example diabetic. In all cases, if your cat or cats needs special care and attention because of a medical issue, make sure the people at the cat boarding place are well versed in doing so and have the required experience and education / training.
Other important points will be how the cats are actually accommodated. Are the 'cat condos' big, have several levels, windows, scratch trees? Perhaps even a garden? Can you bring personal items like cat beds, blankets and toys? Is there time and personnel enough so that each cat gets enough attention, grooming and playtime?
How to Find the Ideal Cat Boarding Facility
Like with everything else, word of mouth is gold. Ask your friends, ask the local cat club, the pet shop, your vet, ask as many people as possible and gather opinions. If there are more then one facility in your area, you will soon get a short list together to choose from. And then you can start to visit them and to check them out. Never trust web sites and telephone alone, always visit cat kennels before you check your cat in!
Prices of Cat Sitting and Boarding
It is really difficult to give average prices, as it depends so much on the location and what you expect. I tried to give some indication nevertheless:
- Cat alone at home: Some one-time expenses for extra litter boxes and food dispenser.
- Cat-Sitter: Will start at around $10-15 / per basic visit, more if special care is needed.
- Cat-Sitting Exchange: None, but you will need to cat-sit their feline in exchange.
- Cat-Boarding: Can start as low as $15, but that will give your cat only minimal space and attention in most cases. Cat boarding is one of these 'you get what you pay for' businesses. A good to excellent facility can charge easily $35 or more per cat and day!
Preparing your Cat for Boarding
You will receive detailed information on what to bring from your chosen cat kennel, here just a quick overview:
Health Certification from your vet
Every good cat boarder will want to see proof that your cat is free from parasites (fleas, worms etc) has received all necessary jabs and shots and, generally speaking, doesn't provide a health risk for other cats. Many facilities will only allow spayed and neutered cats to stay.
Cat information and your contact details
As mentioned above, who ever looks after your cat needs to have a basic record of care requirements and some ways to contact you in an emergency.
Micro-chipping or other forms of identification
More and more facilities require now that cats are micro-chipped and / or have another form of permanent identification aid.
Taking Your Cat With You
Some cats do like to travel, if you plan holidays / vacations where you can take your cat, you might want to try this. The most successful way would be if you either go with your own RV or motor home or if you go to some place that does allow pets, such as pet friendly cabins.
Chances are that you will need sooner or later some sort of cat sitting service, so start looking now for what is available in your area. Ask your vet, your cat club, your local neighborhood store if they know somebody and / or if you can put up a notice. In the end, the best recommendation is word of mouth, ask other cat owners what they do when going away without their cats.