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Your tips for feeding four cats while I'm out of town?
August 9, 2011 3:41 PM   Subscribe

Overnight is one thing, but how can I make sure my four feline snowflakes get proper nutrition while their humans are off on a three-day cross-country jaunt? Given we've got one cat with food intolerances, one super-picky princess, one food-snatcher, and one with what the vet has described as a "highly efficient colon" (meaning she needs wet food every day), things are going to need a bit more consideration and prep-work than just leaving a big bowl of crunchies out. Please, kittyfolks, share your wisdoms!

Normally my partner and I are homebodies, meaning that the extent of our travel tends toward overnights away 2 - 3 times a year. However, this coming October we will be heading across the country on a 3-day trip to attend a Very Important Event (friends' wedding).

This will be both the longest AND furthest trip away from our four cats since we adopted them nearly 2 years ago. I know it's "only" three days, and that I am probably being somewhat of an obsessive hovery cat-guardian, but there are nonetheless a few considerations I wanted to query the hive regarding, most of which relate to food and feeding.

Basically I am concerned about making sure:

(a) everyone gets to eat every day, and

(b) everyone eats THEIR food every day.

Additionally, I wanted to hopefully get a sense of what it is reasonable to ask of a cat-sitter (whether paid or unpaid -- I am willing to pay, but not sure how much the going rate is for certain tasks).

Pertinent details include:

- The younger three kitties (2-year-old ex-feral littermates Brodie, Shadow, and Coraline) are mainly raw-fed these days. Their normal daily diet consists of about 90% raw meat (which I mix up large batches of in advance and freeze/thaw portions of as needed; it includes some organ meat and bone, per "prey model" ratios), 8% canned food (really just a teeny bit mixed with water for "gravy"), and 2% crunchies (dry food, which for these guys is basically "treats"). This sounds complicated but really isn't, at least when I'm home (as the advance prep only needs to happen once a month or so; day to day, it's no more vexing than feeding canned food is).

- The older one (Nikki, who is almost 10 years old) hates almost everything food-wise, and won't even get within ten feet of anything raw, but will always eat Purina dry food and usually (though not 100% of the time) eat certain specific flavors of Fancy Feast wet food. She is also accustomed to eating at specific times, in her own room, with the door shut to keep out scavengers and interlopers -- and then being let out immediately afterward.

Now, what would make the whole thing MUCH easier would be if I could put Nikki in one room and leave the rest of the house for the other three. Problem is, while Nikki isn't super fond of her younger housemates (except Brodie on occasion), she's even less fond of being alone, and she would probably spend the entire three days scratching and banging on the inside of the door until partner & I got back. I don't think she would necessarily be permanently psychologically scarred, but she would definitely be miserable. And ideally I want this to be a "no misery" excursion for ALL concerned, human and feline alike.

As far as what I would want the cat-sitter to do, basically that would include coming over twice each day, scooping all the litterboxes (currently we've got three large ones), putting out raw/wet food for the youngsters, and then feeding Nikki in her room (but hanging around until she was done and then letting her back out into the house-proper).

Partner & I have sort of a reciprocal cat-sitting arrangement with his locally-dwelling parents, in the sense that we're each other's go-to cat sitter -- but for the level of complexity I am looking for it just feels kind of weird to be asking people that I KNOW would refuse to let me pay them. I am not necessarily the best judge of these things, though, so figured I would ping the People of the Internet just in case there was some politeness factor I might be missing or neglecting to consider.

The things I feel slightly possibly weird about are:

(a) asking that anyone else serve my cats raw meat (even though of course I would not require them to wash dishes -- I could even use disposable containers to make cleanup super easy), and

(b) asking folks to hang around while Princess Nikki consumes her victuals within her private boudoir (and then tidy up any bits of dry food she leaves behind, given that the ONLY crunchies she will eat have ingredients that set off Brodie's food intolerances, which when triggered give him what can only be described as the "exploding shits").

Again, for a single overnight I wouldn't be inclined to figure any of this a big deal, but for three days I just don't have the experience or instinct or info to judge what I might reasonably request. I mean I know I will just need to go ahead and ask at some point, but I want to make sure nothing I am considering asking is liable to come across as tantamount to requesting that they sacrifice a goat in my kitchen or something.

Finally, regardless of who I get to cat-sit (it'll probably be either my quasi-in-laws or my across-the-street neighbors), how might I be able to express my gratitude toward them in a manner they'll accept, if they won't let me pay them money (which is a distinct possibility in either case)?
posted by aecorwin to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Frankly, I've found that the best thing to do with my single spoiled wet-food eating kitty is to hire a pet sitter. Most recently, we had someone come over twice a day, and it was fifteen bucks per day. None of your requirements are that weird at all and an experienced pet sitter should be able to handle it.

(We found our sitter using google.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:49 PM on August 9, 2011


Seriously consider hiring a professional cat sitter. You sound like you're willing to pay anyway and hiring someone would alleviate your concerns about asking a friend or family member to do too much plus you could interview the candidates with your requirements stated up front. I hire mine through recommendations from my veterinarian's office.
posted by jamaro at 3:49 PM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I've cat-sat (?) for someone with cats with roughly the same situation. I don't think what you're asking for is unreasonable, but make sure that if it's a friend, you find someone who's really sympathetic to animals and believes in allergies/intolerances in cats. A professional might be your best bet.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 3:54 PM on August 9, 2011


Our three cats have a similarly complicated eating routine, which includes two wet feedings a day, food additives, and some food sniping. Basically when we go out of town, we either let it go and accept that the generous neighbors who feed them will not hew as closely to our routine as we do (not that they will neglect them, but just that they won't be as persnickety as we are) or we hire a pet sitter.

We disagree slightly as to how big a deal it is that the routine be disrupted and like you, I feel bad asking a favor that's persnickety and complicated.
posted by crush-onastick at 3:54 PM on August 9, 2011


Hire a cat sitter. Our downstairs neighbors have an elderly cat who needs meds and special food blahblahblah and their peace of mind is greatly helped by the professional cat sitter (I think they found him through their vet). We, the upstairs neighbors, go down and hang out with Violet and give her skritches. It all works out.
posted by rtha at 4:02 PM on August 9, 2011


I've done cat sitting for people with complicated combinations of things (not quite what you describe, but not far from it.

The thing I'd consider is the time issue - how far away do the people you might ask live, and how much would they have to upend their schedule to visit twice a day and stick around for a bit both times? Someone who's a mile away is likely going to feel more comfortable with the combo of needs than someone who's 15 minutes away.

With a pet sitter, you're paying them for the travel factor, among other things.
posted by modernhypatia at 4:11 PM on August 9, 2011


Cat sitter! We have an excellent cat-sitter who visits twice a day for feeding, playing, collecting mail, turning lights on/off, etc while we're away. Not only do we get a little note from her letting us know how the visits have gone, but we have the peace of mind of knowing that there's someone providing food, company and entertainment - and making our house appear occupied, too.
posted by impluvium at 4:12 PM on August 9, 2011


That's almost exactly what I do when I cat sit, and it sounds totally normal and not like too much.

I'd talk to the parents before you hire someone else if you think there's any chance they might be miffed that you didn't ask them to do it. Maybe split the time between the parents and the neighbors so they are each doing some? Then that's like a day and a half each.

Leave them some treats to eat while they are waiting for the kitties to eat, and leave a note to have anything they want from the kitchen. They may want nothing, but it's a nice gesture, sort of an "I'm thinking about your comfort" thing.

A nice handwritten thank you note, a gift card to their favorite restaurant or better yet if appropriate a bottle of wine or a little gift basket of things they like, and an insistence that they ask you when they need similar help.

Those are things that make me feel appreciated when I'm the one being asked to do the cat sitting.
posted by mrs. taters at 4:24 PM on August 9, 2011


Oh, and leave a typewritten note that says all of the instructions, because no one is going to remember all of that and it is so nice to have a sheet that lists everything out, ideally in the order I should do it and with any helpful tips or hints or commentary put in there.
posted by mrs. taters at 4:28 PM on August 9, 2011


Nthing the recommendation to hire a pro, who should also be bonded and insured and all that good stuff. They are paid to make sure each cat eats what they're supposed to. Leave the typed/printed instructions as well, including phone numbers for you and the vet. We do this and get texts from the cat sitter as part of the service. It'll be a load off your mind and let you enjoy the trip more.
posted by immlass at 4:46 PM on August 9, 2011


You could look for a professional sitter who is a member of NAPPS, Frequently, they have a base rate for one animal with a couple of dollars added on for each pet after that.
posted by annsunny at 6:24 PM on August 9, 2011


As an amateur (ie unpaid; I already have a job!) but currently almost full-time cat-sitter, none of this is beyond the pale. (I'm doing two weeks later this month with a three-cat household; I'm going for a Training Session tomorrow, which will involve like, notes and checklists.) All this to say: I wish I lived near you! This sounds like a great cat-sitting gig for someone who loves cats (or loves cats too much, ahem) and is known and responsible and desires a place to stay!
posted by RJ Reynolds at 7:41 PM on August 9, 2011


We have a very nice cat-loving neighbour. She understands. When she has holiday plans, we pay someone from a local pet-sitting agency. She's paid to understand. Usually, the same person is available, so we've actually got a regular person at the agency who knows the little guy and does the right thing.

Believe me, people in the pet game have heard EVERYTHING. I doubt your special circumstances even move the needle.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:20 AM on August 10, 2011


Woot, great answers, folks! All are appreciated, and I've best-marked the ones that made me go "huh, I hadn't thought of that!" when I read them. E.g., I didn't even realize professional pet-sitting organizations existed, or that petsitters could be bonded/insured. Also excellent is the idea of leaving "human treats" for the sitter (especially if it ended up being family or neighbors).

As far as hiring a pro (something I am considering more seriously now, given the number of times the idea has thus far been suggested) I would be happy to compensate them for travel time of course, but I would NOT be okay with a stranger (no matter how professional) staying overnight in my house, as RJ Reynolds seems to be suggesting. With any luck I would find someone very local so they wouldn't have to go far. And I do like the idea of being able to write up my specifications in advance and know that someone will follow them because that's what they're being paid to do.

OTOH, if professionals generally expect to SEE all the cats in a household (to perform a headcount, etc.), that could definitely pose a problem. All our (infrequent) visitors are accustomed to only seeing Nikki and maybe Cora. The two boys are still generally extremely shy around humans they don't know very well, and I would not want a sitter panicking because they couldn't find Brodie (or ransacking my house in the process of looking for him). After feeding Nikki the sitter would need to just put the 3 bowls out on the kitchen floor for the youngsters, then leave the premises so that Brodie and Shadow will come out of hiding and eat. Maybe there are petsitters that specialize in shy/semi-feral kitties out there?
posted by aecorwin at 10:56 AM on August 10, 2011


Oh and I should add that they're all indoor-only these days (unless leashed or directly supervised in our fenced-in back yard). So even if the sitter couldn't find all four of them during a given visit, I wouldn't be worried as I'd know they were in the house somewhere! Nikki is a bit of a door-dasher so they'd have to be watchful of that, but I am sure that's basic typical cat stuff any experienced sitter would be accustomed to.
posted by aecorwin at 11:01 AM on August 10, 2011


Any reasonably credentialed professional you hire will come for a "get-to-know-you" visit beforehand, where you explain all the food requirements in great detail, where the litter box is, etc. etc. ad nauseam. At that visit you will have the opportunity to explain that Brodie and Shadow will not be seen by the sitter, ever, and that he/she is free to leave once the prince/princess have finished their meals. No problem.

Fortunately or perhaps disappointingly, there are few things regarding surrogate pet care for which some finite amount of money will not adequately arrange.

P.S. The "human treat" suggestion is a good one, which I have employed myself on occasion. Mostly alcohol and chocolate, but seemingly always greatly appreciated.
posted by slenderloris at 7:32 PM on August 10, 2011


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