Because of the reputation cats have as "loners" and "self-sufficient" pets, many people assume that all will be OK if they fill a bowl full of food and leave their cats home alone for a few days when they head out of town. Unfortunately, that's rarely the case.
This is in large part because most cats actually aren't "loners" and "self-sufficient." And it's also because a lot can go wrong (and has gone wrong!) with unsupervised cats in as few as 24–48 hours, including:
- Urethral obstruction (urinary blockage)
- Traumatic injuries
- Getting trapped in closets or basements
Because of the problems that myself and many of my veterinary colleagues have seen with cats that were left alone for a "quick weekend escape," I always recommend having someone keep an eye on your cat(s) whenever you head out of town. This should be the case whether you're leaving for a week, a weekend, or even a single night.
This means finding a responsible neighbor, relative, or friend to check in, feed, and play with your cat twice daily, arranging to have a professional pet sitter (or one of the nurses from your vet's office) stay at your home while you're gone, or even bringing your cat to a dedicated boarding facility.
Which option you should choose will depend on multiple different factors, including: how long you'll be away; your cat's personality and ability to deal with change; whether they have any existing medical conditions and daily medication needs; and, of course, whether you can find a responsible (big emphasis on responsible) friend, relative, or neighbor.
Below I've provided some important information, warnings, and advice to keep in mind, as well as some questions to ask, when considering your cat's care (and your peace-of-mind) while you're away. There's also a treatment authorization form you can download that will help you direct the care your cat might need while you're out of town.
Boarding vs. Cat Sitters
Which option is best for you and your cat? It really depends on your preferences, your cat’s personality and needs, and your budget. A pet sitter might only charge between $10 and $20 per day to check in on your cat a few times per day, while a live-in pet sitter (aka home boarding) or boarding facility could easily run you $50 per day. (Of course, that extra money means more services will be available for your cat.)
Your cat will probably be better suited to one option more than the other. Though every boarding and pet-sitting situation and setup is different, here are a few “generalizations” to help you figure out what type of accommodations might work best for your cat.
Cats That Might Be Better Suited to Boarding
- Get along well with other cats and people
- Well-socialized and unafraid of meeting new cats and people
- Not easily stressed by car rides and new environments (incl. sounds and smells)
- Medical and medication needs that require close monitoring or complicated care (certain boarding facilities)
- Up-to-date on vaccines and have a healthy immune system
Cats That Might Be Better Suited to Pet Sitters
- Comfortable and well situated in your home
- Aggressive towards unfamiliar cats or dogs
- Timid or scared around multiple unfamiliar people and new environments
- Medical or behavioral conditions that could be worsened by the stress of boarding (e.g., diabetes, vomiting, urinary blockage)
- Not up-to-date on vaccines (e.g., a young kitten or cat that’s unable to get vaccines due to a medical condition) or have a compromised immune system (either hereditary or brought on by disorders like cancer, viral infections, or other conditions)
There are also things you need to consider about the specific services of your boarding facility. For example, if your cat requires medical care, it might be best to board them at your veterinarian’s facilities. Also, some boarding facilities are staffed 24/7, which could be desirable for cats with certain medical conditions or those that are prone to getting into trouble (going off their food, developing a urinary obstruction, etc.). Check the suggested questions below to see what you should be asking your boarding facility.
Whether you decide to place your cat in a boarding facility or leave them with a sitter, you should book well in advance so you have enough time to check out the facility, staff, etc. And both options can book up quickly during holidays. It’s usually best to give yourself at least 2–3 months before a planned trip, if possible.
Does Accreditation or Membership Mean Anything?
It’s always nice if your pet sitter lists membership with such organizations as the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International, but it might not mean much. The same can be said for boarding facilities that tout membership to national and international organizations.
There is a significant difference between a membership and accreditation/certification. For example, a private pet sitter can become a member of some organizations as long as they pay membership fees and meet an age requirement. Membership might grant them access to a broader group of other pet sitters as well as tips on running a pet-sitting business. In other words, a membership might benefit the pet sitter, not necessarily your pet.
Accreditation and certification, on the other hand, usually means a member was provided with some form of training and testing. This could take the form of everything from online courses and videos to hands-on training and testing.
So don’t be too easily dazzled simply by a membership or certification certificate. Whoever you choose to watch your cat(s), regardless of their memberships or affiliations to national organizations, make sure they can give satisfactory answers to questions about their qualifications.
Questions to Ask a Boarding Facility:
- Will they allow you to inspect the cat housing areas and is the facility clean? (Does it smell good?)
- Are the cats’ living spaces large enough with bedding, perches, multiple litter boxes, and adequate food and water?
- What kind of interactions will the cat have with people? Do they get cuddle time? Play sessions?
- Are they insured, bonded?
- How do they handle logistics and payments for emergency veterinary services, if they arise?
- Is there always at least one competent staff member on site? What about overnight?
- What training do staff receive?
- What additional services do they provide? (e.g., grooming, bathing, etc.)
- Do they have an in-house veterinarian, on-call veterinarian, a relationship with a local veterinarian (or veterinarians)?
- Do they work with your specific veterinarian?
- How are the cats housed — in cages, "condos," private rooms, etc? Are there communal spaces, where multiple cats interact?
- Is the space temperature-controlled (heating and AC)?
- What type of food will your cat be fed, how much, and how often? Can you use your cat's own food?
- How do they handle regular medications your cat might need?
- Do they have an emergency evacuation plan that you can review?
- What is their vaccination policy and requirements of the cats that board there?
- Will you receive regular photos, videos, live video streams, or other ways to check on your cat?
- What questions are they asking about you and your cat?
- A good boarding facility should be as careful in screening you and your cat as you are of them, asking about your cat’s medical history, vaccinations, and personality in order to best place them within the facility.
Questions to Ask a Pet Sitter:
- What training has the sitter completed?
- Do they know animal CPR?
- Can they provide proof of commercial liability insurance?
- Do they have a plan in place to bring your cat to a veterinarian if there is an accident or other emergency?
- What services do they provide and what services will they not provide (brushing, play sessions, frequent checking and scooping litter boxes, etc.)?
- If they will do the pet sitting in their home, how many other pets live in the house your cat will be staying in, and/or how many do they pet sit at one time?
- If your cat needs regular medications, are they willing and capable of giving them correctly and on the required schedule?
- How will they handle payment for emergency veterinary services, should the need arise?
- Will they send regular photos, video, or other updates to show that your cat is OK?
- Can they provide references from other clients?
- Do they have a fee and services contract?
- What questions are they asking about you and your cat?
- A good cat sitter should be as careful in screening you and your cat as you are of them.
Arrange a Visit and Put It in Writing
Before you settle on a boarding facility or sitter, visit the facility or meet with the sitter. It should be a red flag if a pet sitter doesn’t ask to meet with your cat before taking them on as a client. Likewise, if a cat boarding facility won’t allow or is reluctant to let you inspect the boarding area, this should be a warning sign.
If they pass that “sniff test,” and answer your questions satisfactorily, then it looks like you’ve found your cat’s vacation accommodation. It's also good to put things in writing so there’s a hardcopy set of instructions about caring for your cat. Include such information as your cat’s feeding, medication, play, and other needs — especially firm rules about whether your cat is allowed outside!
How Will Your Cat Be Medically Cared For in Your Absence?
Speaking of putting things in writing, wherever your cat will be staying in your absence, be sure to include a clear plan for providing your cat medical treatment, should something happen while you’re away. By providing a signed treatment authorization form, you can spell out how a surrogate should care for your cat in an emergency — such as how much money they can spend — so precious time isn't wasted should they be unable to get a hold of you.
Fill out the form below to download the treatment authorization & pet medical history forms and get started with your plan today.