You have a wonderful vacation planned, a two-week escapade to a sunny island after a long year of hard work and stress. You’ve been looking forward to it for months, but a nagging problem remains: Who should take care of Tiger while you’re away?
How to Decide. What you do with your cat when you take a vacation should depend on your cat’s personality, health condition, age and the resources available where you live. Hiring a pet sitter, kenneling your cat or boarding him with a veterinarian are all reasonable options for care when you aren’t home. Most cats prefer the status quo, so leaving your cat at home where he feels safe and secure under the care of a reliable pet sitter may be the least stressful option for both you and your cat.
Most experts agree that pet sitting works best for cats, especially fearful or shy individuals. A pet sitter will not only care for your cat, but can also water your plants, bring in the newspaper and mail, turn lights on and off and generally make your house look lived in while you are away. Ideally, you should ask someone who the cat already knows, such as a responsible friend, family member or trusted neighbor.
If you don’t know a reliable person who can care for your cat, you can hire a professional pet sitter. Finding the right sitter requires time and effort locating and interviewing potential candidates, so start well in advance of your trip. You can ask your veterinarian or cat-owning friends for a referral to a bonded and insured sitter. If you can’t get a recommendation, look in the Yellow Pages. Call and interview potential candidates on the phone, then interview the sitter at your home. A pet sitter should make an initial visit free of charge to meet you and your cat, and to get the necessary care information. You want someone who is tuned in to your cat and who will not only feed and water them, but spend some time in your home so that they can observe the cat and recognize any possible problems.
Ask the sitter for a list of references. Find out what experience the sitter has with cats. An appropriate pet sitter will be sensitive to a cat’s needs and health issues. Make certain he or she visually sees the cat on each visit and notes if the cat uses the litter box and what food the cat has consumed. If a cat doesn’t eat for several days, this can become a serious health issue.
Have the sitter visit your cat at least once a day, preferably twice. Often, cat owners assume the cat will do well with a visit only once every two or three days, but infrequent visits can be risky. They may seem independent, but cats are not self-sufficient. A lot can happen even in 24 hours. If the cat develops urinary blockage in the morning, for example, he may be in extreme pain by evening.
Tell the sitter what brand of food your cat eats, how much and how often, and where the food is kept. Leave a list of instructions, and include the phone numbers where you can be reached while you’re away, and backup phone numbers of friends and neighbors if she can’t reach you (of course, leave the number of your cat’s veterinarian, as well). Remember, the sitter is not only responsible for your cat but also your house, so make sure she knows whom to contact if any problems arise.
Be sure to quiz the sitter about how she handles medical emergencies. Let your veterinarian know who the sitter is and that she has the authority to bring your cat for treatment in your absence. Some pet owners leave a letter on file with their veterinarians authorizing the sitter to bring kitty if problems arise and saying that the owner will be responsible for any charges.
In other cases, the sitter may pay the veterinarian’s bill and request payment from you later. In all cases, make sure the sitter has a service contract outlining the terms of the service and what is to be done that is signed by both of you. Give the sitter a working key, and make sure she gives you a business card so that you can call while you are away to check on your cat.
If you want to test how your cat will do with a sitter and vice versa, schedule an overnight trip and have the sitter come in while you are gone. Regardless of whom you select, it’s a good idea to do a double check by having a neighbor stop in periodically.
If your cat requires medication or shots, ask if the sitter is able to administer them. If your cat is acutely ill, reschedule your trip. If rescheduling is not possible, then it’s probably best to hospitalize the cat at your veterinarian’s or be absolutely certain the sitter knows what to look for and won’t hesitate to call your veterinarian. A pet sitter charges by the visit. Expect to pay $10 to $25 per visit, depending on where you live. Schedule a sitter well in advance.
Kenneling Your Cat. Some cats, such as the more laid-back personalities, are good candidates for a boarding kennel. Cats that must go outside or those that hide should probably be kenneled so they can be observed.
Use the same methods of locating a good one as you would when finding a sitter. The preference is to select a cats-only kennel or one that has separate facilities for cats and dogs. The noise of dogs is very frightening to cats. Call and ask to visit. Visually inspect the facilities. Assess the kennel’s cleanliness with your nose and eyes. Assess the condition of the other cats. Avoid any facility with sniffling or sneezing cats. And make certain that the kennel does not let the cats intermingle because of the spread of infectious disease.
Look for a cat-savvy kennel owner, one who is pleasant and willing to answer your questions. They should be able to notice signs of illness that might develop and have a place to isolate ill cats.
Look at individual cages. They should be a size that allows cat to move around, and multi-level cages are especially nice. Cages should be made of a sturdy surface that allows for proper cleaning, such as some kind of Formica, hard plastic or stainless steel. In a kennel, the concern is with the spread of infectious diseases, so the cages should be spaced so that the caretaker can clean them with an antiseptic cleaner. When boarding your cat, provide your cat’s own bed for him to sleep in. And bring your cat’s food so he doesn’t have to make a dietary adjustment. Tell the kennel how much to feed your cat and how often.
If your cat has a medical condition that needs careful supervision, or if he needs medication and is difficult to pill, don’t leave him with a sitter or a kennel. If necessary, leave him with a veterinarian boarding facility or a trained technician who can oversee the cat’s condition.
Kennels should ask for proof of vaccinations, so bring your cat’s health certificates with you. A kennel charges by the day and may cost from $10 for basic services to $40 for more luxury-style facilities. Kennels, too, must be booked well in advance.