Vacation Care for Cats: Top Tips to Ensure Happy Felines at the Boarding Cattery
When cat-owners take vacations away from home there’s always the question of how the cats are going to be cared for. Should a friend or neighbor visit the property daily to attend to them? Could a family member live in the house? Or could the cats settle into a boarding cattery?
If the option of a boarding cattery is selected, then following these top tips should ensure that you choose the establishment wisely and don’t come back to any nasty surprises.
1. Be Prepared…
Choose and book a boarding cattery well in advance of your vacation – you’ll need to do this very early if you want to secure spaces at one of the better facilities.
On your short-list of catteries, include ones that are personally recommended by satisfied friends or family; an advertisement can never tell you what it’s really like.
Make sure your cats are still going to be vaccinated up-to-date at the time of your planned departure; boarding catteries won’t take unvaccinated cats.
2. Check Out the Facilities
Make an impromptu visit to each cattery on the short-list, requesting to see all the cats. Choose a time of day when chores should have been completed; mid-afternoon is probably best. This will give a fair insight into levels of care and cleanliness, and you’ll see if other cats seem at ease or distressed. If cattery personnel will not show you around within a half-hour waiting period, give this establishment a miss. Of course it is possible you’ve simply caught them at a busy time, but it’s better to be safe than sorry. If cattery personnel suggest you return on another day or much later that day at a specific time, thank them but don’t take up the offer since you really need to see a cattery when your arrival isn’t expected. Any cattery can ‘clean up’ nicely, given a few hours’ warning!
Be prepared to travel some distance to find a good cattery.
When evaluating facilities keep the more critical issues top-of-mind; don’t choose a boarding cattery primarily on price. If you only think a kennel is ‘adequate’ rather than excellent, and especially if you feel it may be lacking in the areas of cat care or hygiene, move on to the next. It can wind up costing you far more in veterinary bills if you have a sick or stressed cat when you return, so select a cattery that’s as comfortable as possible and where staff appear very conscientious in animal care and cleaning standards.
3. Cat Care and Hygiene
When evaluating each cattery, by all means ensure that your cats will have plenty of space to exercise but choosing a cattery with the largest kennels isn’t the most important factor. More critical are issues such as cleanliness and hygiene, cat care knowledge, level of interest in your pets’ details, numbers and functions of staff available, evident rapport with the cats in residence, and attention to care factors such as eye-care and provision of comfortable kennels.
Look out for signs of attention to hygiene. If you see kennel staff handling cats or entering cat kennels when you visit, notice whether they wash their hands or use anti-bacterial hand gel between touching each pet.
Kennel structure should not be timber as this harbors fungal spores and bacteria. Many cats carry skin diseases and you don’t want your cat contracting anything. Look for a cattery where the kennels are made of PVC for easy disinfection.
Kennel construction should ensure that residents can’t sneeze on neighboring cats, or intimidate others. There should be a solid divider between kennels, preventing both of these occurrences. Some modern kennels use glass or Perspex dividers, facilitating cats to see but not contact each other. If your cat might enjoy seeing other cats around him and feel more stimulated in that environment, then this is a consideration. Conversely, this just won’t work for nervous or territorial animals.
4. General Cat Welfare
Try to find a boarding cattery with a double-door system, ensuring cats never manage to escape when their compound or kennel is opened; there should be a secondary corridor to contain the cat, or an escape-proofed compound surrounding the entire block of kennels. Cats that go missing from cattery will often not be found as they’re in an unfamiliar location. Have your cats micro-chipped in case one does escape.
Don’t choose a kennel that also takes dogs unless you have a very laid-back cat! Even the sound of dogs barking upsets many cats. Similarly, be aware of how close the kennels are to any passing traffic; cats that are not used to these sights and sounds may be frightened.
In colder weather, kennels should offer a small, snug, covered area for sleeping, and a further dry area for eating and sitting where wind and rain can’t penetrate.
There should be provision of a heated bed unless the weather is consistently very warm; older cats and those with health issues may need a heated bed even in fairly temperate weather, and remember that temperatures do fall dramatically at night. Cats that don’t usually go outside are especially susceptible to feeling the cold.
Make sure there’s plenty of space for two cats or more, as appropriate, if you’re booking them in together. Are there two heated beds or one large enough for two cats without them being cramped? If your cats are not used to being in close proximity to each other when sleeping, having only one bed area may cause friction and leave the weaker or less assertive animal quite literally out in the cold; look out for a kennel offering doubled-up comfort facilities.
Visible in every kennel should be a variety of things to occupy the cats, such as play tunnels and observation platforms for cats to climb, allowing them to observe things from a high position where they feel most safe. A cat-tree or a sisal post should be available for scratching purposes, although you may wish to take your own along for hygiene reasons. As cats become depressed when bored or receiving insufficient attention, they’ll certainly need an environment offering more than just a couple of ‘token gesture’ cat toys.
Ask about the experience and qualifications of the cattery Manager, ideally looking for someone with either veterinary nursing or animal behavior qualifications. This isn’t mandatory but is an added benefit; you’ll know that their enhanced knowledge will help to recognize problems at an early stage and settle your cat if he’s especially anxious or sick.
5. Appointing a Representative
Ask a trusted person to act as your representative in your absence.
They’ll need to pop into the cattery where your cats are staying once or twice a week, by prior arrangement with cattery personnel. Again, kennel staff should be amenable to this but if they aren’t then don’t use this establishment. The purpose of your friend’s visit is to give your cats some quality company and to send you an email or text message to tell you how they’re doing.
Give your friend permission to liaise with your veterinarian should any health issues arise, and provide them with full contact details for your vet practice.
If your representative fails to contact you to provide updates as agreed, make sure that you proactively try to contact the person; it might well be that there have been problems getting through to you. Your cats are still your responsibility even when you’re away, so make sure you remember them and stay in contact to check they’re being well cared for.
6. Delivering Your Cats into Cattery
If you’re aware of any health issues, ensure your cat has seen the vet recently so that you can give the cattery an up-to-date history and instructions. Any major treatments required should already have been addressed by you and your vet; don’t deliver animals into temporary care knowing they could easily present with issues you should have sorted out. For example, if your cat has dental decay and needs extractions or a tooth de-scale, get this done ahead of him attending cattery; a sore mouth combined with the stress of cattery could cause him to stop eating.
Deliver long-haired cats into cattery with coats that are either trimmed or stripped-out, so that the undercoat cannot tangle. It is unreasonable to expect a busy cattery to spend a lot of time grooming and de-matting longhaired cats, and they can give your cats more attention in other important ways if they don’t have to spend time in a tussle with tangles. It will also become stressful for your cat if every time he sees a kennel worker, he knows he’s going to get his tangled coat pulled about.
Take plenty of your cat’s preferred food to the cattery so that personnel don’t give your animals an unfamiliar diet. New feeds at a time of stress will invariably cause an upset stomach.
Take along your cats’ grooming tools, ensuring they’re marked as belonging to you. They should be cleaned and disinfected before you hand them over.
You’ll need to hand over your cats’ vaccine certificates when your pets are actually being admitted, so make sure you can find them several days ahead of departure.
Ensure the cattery receives copies of any relevant veterinary or behavioral reports, or at least some thorough notes prepared by you.
Remember to hand over any medications even if they’re only required periodically. Include a note on how medications should be administered.
Make sure the cattery receives full details of your veterinarian and also your own contact details. Although you’ll be on vacation and possibly out of the country, you need to remain contactable in case of emergencies.
7. Giving Veterinary Instructions
Speak to your veterinarian before you depart, giving clear instructions that they can carry out required procedures or administer necessary medications without your further permission should something needing urgent care happen to your cats in your absence.
Make sure your veterinarian is also aware he can accept instructions from the friend whom you’ve appointed to visit your cats; give the vet your friend’s contact details.
Ask the vet whether you need to sign paperwork authorizing your friend or the cattery to speak with your vet when you’re away.
8. Returning Home…
Owners of several cats frequently place their more confident or robust animals into boarding cattery, and nervous or sickly cats elsewhere, perhaps with friends or family. If you’ve only placed some of your animals into cattery, then isolate these cats from the others for at least 48 hours once you return home. This will allow any illnesses to begin to show. Don’t risk kennel-contracted diseases transferring to your other pets.
When cats have been separated for a week or more, many take time to adjust back into the larger feline group; a period of settling the cats back in separately can prove beneficial to avoid stress-induced conflicts between the two groups of cats.
Be especially vigilant for any cats returning from kennels with symptoms, however mild. Keep a close eye on any cat that’s stopped eating, is sneezing frequently, has runny eyes, or appears to have itchy skin; take it to see a vet in any of these cases. Itchy cats or animals with obvious fur loss should be examined for the presence of ringworm as a matter of urgency, as this unpleasant skin infection is often transferred in catteries. Ringworm causes hair loss and sores; it’s very irritating as well as highly contagious, easily spreading to other pets and humans.
If you thoroughly researched all the available catteries before finally placing your cats, you should find relaxed and healthy cats on your return home. However, do remember that cats that are naturally stress-prone or nervous may appear frightened when you go to collect them and this is not necessarily a sign that they haven’t been well cared for.