VACATION AND TRAVEL CARE OPTIONS FOR YOUR CAT

by Joelle Steele

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Who takes care of your cat when you're on vacation or away on business? Do you board your best friend? Ship him off to your mother's house? Hire a cat-sitter? Have neighbors drop by periodically? Or, do you take your cat with you?

I have had cats all my life and have frequently traveled both on business and for vacation. Over the past twenty years I have tried every manner of short-term cat care, often with mixed results. Sometimes I wasn't pleased with the care or my cat wasn't. Other times the arrangement was not suitable to either of us.

Boarding Facilities

In my mind, boarding should be a last resort measure. It is certainly easy for humans, but it is not always so easy on a cat. The first time I had to travel on business I boarded my one-year old indoor cats Puff and Whisper for two weeks. I checked out various boarding facilities and was assured by my veterinarian that I had made an excellent choice. Puff came home sick with diarrhea which she had off and on for a week. Whisper was never the same. He had always been a shy animal but after boarding he was frightened of his own shadow and was nervous and anxious for the remainder of his life. Years later I boarded my then three-year old indoor cat Twinkle for a similar period of time at a facility which I had inspected and which came highly recommended. She came home thin, filthy, and with an eye infection and diarrhea. I have never boarded my cats since.

My friend Doris lives in northern California and is in complete disagreement with me. She regularly boards her cats Kai and Todai when she travels on business and has been taking them to the same facility for almost ten years with no problems whatsoever. My friend Ann regularly boards her ten-year old Himalayan Oliver and has used several facilities: "For short trips I rely on my vet's office, but when I have to be gone for longer than a week I have four different establishments from which to choose. I am satisfied with all of them and I make my choice based on who is the least busy and who will give me the best, most cost-effective care."

Grandma's House

Another option for cat care outside your own home is visiting with friends or family. My mother was always my very best option for responsible and reliable cat care. She loved my cats and always gave them plenty of love and attention. I knew they would be happy with her since they visited there often and were familiar with her house and got along well with her three cats. But, dropping the kitties off with her was not always easy since we lived so far away from each other and on one occasion, Twinkle simply refused to eat or to come out from under the bed and pretty much drove my mother crazy for a week while I was gone.

Rona's mother and father frequently babysit for their six-year old indoor feline "grandson" Bandit. Sometimes Rona has trouble getting Bandit to come home with her when he's having such a good time and being so spoiled by her parents. "He hides and I have to search all over before I can get him home, but I would never even consider boarding him."

My neighbor Jordan travels on business about five times a year and is often gone for three weeks at a time. He leaves his eight-year old buddy Roscoe with his neighbors. Their cats already play together and, "Roscoe doesn't even know I'm gone. To him it's just business as usual." Both Rona and Jordan always leave money behind in case of an emergency, provide food, and bring a small gift as a token of appreciation, or exchange cat-sitting services down the line.

Adult male cat and visiting male catMy cousin boarded her male cat, Poika, with me for about a month. He was a model guest and got along extremely well with my cats, almost from day one. At left, he's sleeping on my bed with my male cat T'ai. Some years later, Poika was in "hospice" at my place, and both of my cats were still friendly towards him.

Professional Cat-Sitters

When I gave up on boarding I tried in-home professional cat care. I contacted a company that advertised this service in the yellow pages and I verified their references. I was assured that they were reliable and they were. A young woman came to my apartment every morning and again in the evening and took care of my three cats. When I moved, I again used this kind of service in another town and the company was reliable and reasonably priced.

My friend Sharon used a cat-sitting service when she went on vacation a year ago and was shocked to find that the service did not show up on the last three days of her vacation. When she came home her cats had been drinking out of the toilet bowl and had ripped open the bag of dry food and were feeding themselves. "I do not know what would have happened to them if the food had not been left out on the kitchen counter or if the toilet seat had been down." When Sharon contacted the company, they said they had written down that she would be back earlier than the date she had given them.

Good Neighbor Care

After moving to the apartment building in which I lived for many years, I relied entirely on my neighbors for cat care when I was away. There were five people in my building on whom I could rely completely for responsible and loving care of my "kids." Usually, I split the cat-sitting between my neighbor Karen, who gave Twinkle her pills in the morning and at night, and one of my other neighbors who took care of the feeding and the litter box detail. For me, this kind of in-home care was by far and away the optimum solution. In exchange for my neighbors' cat-sitting services, I took care of their cats whenever they were away. I continued this practice when I later moved to a house and had two neighbors with cats.

My friend Lois has a real menagerie that includes four cats. She and her neighbors regularly exchange pet-sitting services since both households travel frequently. Lois always takes her dog with her but the cats stay home and need care along with the birds, turtles, rabbits, and fish. Like me, she always leaves complete written instructions, money for emergencies, the numbers of various veterinarians, and plenty of food and cat litter.

Travels With My Cat

Many people find traveling with a cat to be somewhat of an oddity. But, I traveled with Twinkle off and on starting when she was a small kitten. I also brought along my other cat Muffin on occasion. Twinkle, like Muffin, became accustomed to car and airplane travel as a kitten and was a terrific traveler. In the car she mainly slept until we stopped for lunch, usually somewhere that I could park under a shady tree and eat. Restaurants were definitely out and I did not like to leave her unattended in the car, even if it was parked in the shade.

Cat entertains visiting cat friend

Twinkle visits her "grandma's" and plays with her "cousin" Zanzi.

On the airline, I booked Twink for a ride in the cabin, never in the baggage compartment. While some cats may require a light tranquilizer, Twinkle had been riding on planes long enough to know that her stay in the little carrier was only temporary and she was very quiet and well-behaved. I always removed her from the carrier when it was X-rayed at the security gate.

Janet and Jack have been taking their two Abyssinians with them on their RV travels since Horus and Isis were kittens. Both cats are leash-trained and are seasoned travelers. While the RV is in motion, Janet keeps them in a sturdy and airy wire mesh carrier. When the vehicle is stopped, the cats are allowed free run of their mobile home and when they are camped, the two are allowed outside on their leashes. Janet says, "I couldn't bear leaving my two ten-week old kittens behind when we bought the RV. They have been traveling with us ever since."

For those who do not have the luxury of an RV on their travels, finding a hotel or motel that will accept a cat can take some doing, but there is a very helpful little book called Pets R Permitted which is a directory of places where pets are allowed. However, if you use this guide you should be sure to call and make reservations in advance and to verify that they are still accepting cats.

When I made a long distance relocation I had to ride in a truck for two days with my cats, T'ai and Tansy. We stayed overnight at a motel that took pets and then for three weeks we stayed at an Extended Stay America in their "pet wing." I used a product call Feliway, which you spray onto carpeting and furniture or a favorite blanket, etc., to make my kitties feel more comfortable and at home in their temporary surroundings, including the inside of the truck. They behaved admirably throughout the entire trip and the hotel stay, so living with cats on the road is a possibility and it doesn't have to be a nightmare.

Pros and Cons

Regardless of what cat care option you choose while you are out of town on business or vacation, there are pros and cons:

• Boarding facilities may be great and convenient if you find the right one. But, a timid cat may find any boarding facility a frightening experience and an elderly cat may be adversely affected due to exposure to disease, the change in routine, etc. In other words, this may be a good option for some cats but not for others.

• Staying with Grandma or the neighbors may be fine if they like your cat(s) and are reliable people. But, even if they seem fine, your cat may not like them, may try to run away, or may act out and destroy their homes. Again, it depends on the cat and the people involved.

• Professional cat sitters can be an extremely convenient option and in-home care is certainly an ideal solution for most cats. But, such care providers should be checked out thoroughly and all the information about the length of the service and the services to be rendered should be verified in writing prior to leaving for your vacation or business trip.

• Neighborly care is not as expensive as professional in-home care, but it is not always an option if your neighbors are not particularly reliable or if your cat is terrified of them. If your neighbor does not like cats, has ever elicited fear in your feline friend, or is the type of person who borrows your car and brings it back dented, call in the professionals.

• Traveling with a cat can be fun if it is not a traumatic first trip for an adult feline who associates the car with a trip to the vet. This is really an option that is best exercised with a cat who has been accustomed to travel from kittenhood.

Remember that cats, like people, come in all ages, temperaments, states of health, and personality types. What is right for one cat may not be right for another. For the health and well-being of your feline companion, make his needs your number one priority when it comes to selecting a vacation care option.

This article last updated: 05/19/2013.

The articles on this Web site are informational only and are not intended to be a substitute for professional veterinary advice or treatment. Cats are not "one size fits all." They are different in terms of breed, age, health, lifestyle, and tolerance for different foods and other substances.