Can I leave kittens for a month?
December 10, 2009 4:40 PM   Subscribe

[Kitten-filter]: My partner and I would really like to adopt a kitten (or a pair of kittens). The only problem is that every year we leave the country for at least a month, and can't take them with us. Will this be a problem?

Some other details:

- When we are in the country the other 11 months of the year, at least one of us will be home most of the time, so they'll get plenty of attention. I worry, though, that this might make the separation harder when it does happen.

- Generally we leave in July, so if we were to adopt kittens now (age 8-10 weeks) they would be about 8 months old when we left the first time. Does this make a difference?

- Does it make a difference if there are a pair of them rather than one? We were leaning to adopting a pair anyways, but I don't know if this matters...

- When we are gone, would it be better to have somebody come by every few days to visit them, or to house them with somebody for the month? I know cats can be territorial, making me think that a visitor would be best, but that would be a month without much companionship at all...

It may seem silly to be worrying about this now, but we don't want to get kittens if it will be very bad for them when we leave. And the leaving is non-negotiable, for various complicated reasons. We thought cats would handle it better than dogs would, but I still don't know if that means there would be little trauma involved.

While I'm at it, are there other issues we should be aware of re: cat ownership that aren't obvious? (I have used the google and gotten the basic info about vaccinations, etc, etc, but couldn't find anything about this and there might be other issues that don't obviously show up, too. I've never owned a cat before).
posted by forza to Pets & Animals (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When we are gone, would it be better to have somebody come by every few days to visit them, or to house them with somebody for the month? I know cats can be territorial, making me think that a visitor would be best, but that would be a month without much companionship at all...

The best option is to have someone stay in their house, with them. This can be a friend you trust or even a professional pet sitter. Depending on where you live, giving someone a free place to stay for a month might be payment enough for them to look after your kitties. Having someone stop by every few days is not really that great (depending on your litterbox situation, they may need scooping more than that, for example), though you'll know by then if your cats require/prefer more in the way of socialization or are pretty okay just being together. As a bonus, someone taking care of your cats could also take in your mail and water your plants
posted by jessamyn at 4:48 PM on December 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

To answer your basic question, I'd strongly recommend a house sitter. Cats need daily care.

Re non obvious issues, I'd suggest you adopt related kittens, at the same time, if that is possible. Even kittens can have issues with other kittens. If you adopt at different times, do gradual introduction to each other, initially keeping the new one in a separate room.

Contrary to mythology, cats are very affectionate. They just have their own way of showing it. Plan on lots of play and lots of petting.

Also, all kittens are nuts with energy. This is fun but you'll want to secure/put away anything breakable before they come home.

Lastly, you can train your kittens, later cats, but use positive reinforcement only.

Have fun! Kittens are wonderrful! (They're great when they grow up too.)
posted by bearwife at 4:50 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Some advice from a cat owner who travels:
-Yes, get a pair of siblings. is a good place to look at specific adoption groups in your area, and they specify which animals need to be taken together.
-Get pet insurance when they are young, before they acquire pre-existing conditions. Losing two cats in 6 months and spending upwards of $2,000 on each of them was a painful lesson.
-Educate yourselves about stages of cat development, esp. food. They have surprisingly sensitive tummies, and get diarrhea easily.
-Pet sitters are not hard to find, we usually ask a cat-owning friend to stop in every couple of days to see them and play with them. We return the favor when they go out of town. There are also websites for pet sitter referrals but I have not used them.
-Boarding them at a kennel is expensive and traumatic, but you may need to do it if the cats ever develop health issues that require monitoring. Boarding them with a friend is not a bad idea, but they will probably be freaked out for the first few days.
-Get them chipped. Adoption agencies sometimes do this during the spay/neuter procedure, but not that common.

That's all I can think of! Phew, quite a list.
posted by wowbobwow at 4:57 PM on December 10, 2009

Best answer: A pair of kittens is great and they'll be much happier together under any circumstances. You can leave 8-month old kittens with a sitter, that'll be ok, they will bond with you again when you get back. A pair of cats will be ok alone in the house for max 3 days and that's pushing it slightly- they'll be a little lonely and needy at the end. Daily 30 min visits from a catsitter would likely tide them over for a week, but more than that and they'll be too lonely. Cats are indeed territorial so being swapped around is somewhat stressful for them, but I think being lonely for several weeks is worse.

My rule of thumb for my pair of cats is:

3 days-
They're OK alone, with lots of food, backup water dishes, clean toilet left uncovered for one last water source, radio on, curtains open so they can look outside, and treats hidden in random spots for fun surprises.

1 week-
Catsitter should come at least 5 times a week, and stay for at least 30 minutes of playing and petting each time. Same rules apply with curtains, radio, etc.

More than a week-
Either a catsitter should stay at my place 3-4 nights a week while I'm gone, or the cats should stay with a friend.

To board cats elsewhere:
I take them with all their gear and a clearly-written set of instructions about their care (for instance, one cat climbs into the tub if he wants fresher water than what's in his bowl, how adorable). I also send them with something of mine to sleep on (my sweatshirt, for instance).

I inconspicuously look around the friend's place for hazards (make sure the friend knows that cats can jump out of windows, make sure the plants are out of reach, no vermin bait lying around, etc).

And I put tags on the cats with the friend's number (they're indoor cats so they don't usually wear collars- but just in case they escape in a strange neighborhood).

One more idea-
When I need my cats to travel, I put them in separate pillowcases, knotted shut at the top- they seem to prefer that to a hard carrier. In the carrier they crouch miserably and wail- but in a pillowcase, they flop out on my lap and purr.
posted by twistofrhyme at 5:08 PM on December 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I've left my cats up to three weeks, either at a good cattery or at home with twice daily visits from a catsitter. They're very affectionate, needy, spoiled animals but have always been fine either way. The trick is to find a good version of either, word of mouth can be really helpful here (I have recommendations in NZ) and don't be afraid to do cattery visits or petsitter interviews before you sign up with something. A good sign for any pet carer is written notes from each visit, particularly if it's someone looking after multiple cats (so a cat sitter going to several houses or a cattery or whatever). That way they don't have to try and remember who's eating and which cat likes it's ears scratched and whatever.

A good cattery will play with them each day, give them plenty of room to run around, supervise all the cats carefully enough to work out their personalities and socialise them appropriately (so they don't fight and stuff) and know them enough to recognise a change in personality that requires a vet visit. Strangely my normally-very-territorial cats who will chase off any cat that comes near their home are happy to hang out with any and all other cats in the cattery, it's more like neutral ground somehow. Apparently this is quite common. A good cat sitter will come feed them twice a day and hang around to play with them at for least one of those visits, will also keep track of their well being, behaviour and personalities so make sure they're doing OK, and you get the added bonus of someone looking after your house too. I wouldn't have the visits any less often than twice a day particularly as my cats are on that feeding schedule anyway. Having someone actually stay in your house would also be fine, particularly as you're going for a fair amount of time.

So yeah, I think you'll be fine. Getting them now means plenty of time to socialise them and find out about their personalities before you leave the first time. This will help you decide the best option for looking after them. I'd say being home a lot of a total bonus, this is the best way to have happy well adjusted kittens (although yeah, kittens are crazy!). Be prepared to lose a bit of sleep the first few weeks since kittens sleep in small batches and are really really awake in between, fortunately the extreme cuteness makes up for it.

One extra thing to think about is the looking after costs money, generally a per day charge for the cattery or pet sitter (which are about equal where I live). It's an extra thing to budget in for any trip which can be a pain. I prefer to save up or shorten my trip than skimp on the care personally. Also most catteries require cats to be vaccinated, this is a good thing, but sometimes the requirements are annoying - like must have been vaccinated in the last six months - so find that out when you work out the timing of the annual checkups (after the initial kitten visits that is). Might be best to do it in June for example.
posted by shelleycat at 5:11 PM on December 10, 2009 [1 favorite]

Maybe I'm cruel, but I've left my kitties alone for up to 2 weeks with someone stopping by 2-3 times a week to check on them. They are always super happy to see us when we get home, of course, but so far they have fared just fine. A month would probably be too long, though, but I think you can make arrangements and not let your travels stop you from giving some needy kittens a home.

As far as a pair of cats, we adopted 2 sister kitties, and I'm very glad we did. They are totally bonded and keep each other entertained, groom each other, and spend most of their days in a cute little kitty pile.
posted by tryniti at 7:00 PM on December 10, 2009

What (almost) everyone else said: definitely get sibling cats, and a month is too long to leave them alone with only passing visits. Our pair are not siblings, and fight like.. cats and cats. When we go away for a week, we have someone stop by to feed them, but anything longer and we park them with my mother -- she has a cat and a dog, and there's a little readjustment, but neither of our cats seem too upset. Definitely happy to see us when we collect them, but hardly traumatised.
posted by coriolisdave at 7:11 PM on December 10, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks everyone, this is very helpful. I've marked the ones I found most useful or comprehensive, but many of them were good. It's especially good knowing what to expect within the different time frames of being gone. And it sounds like there is some individual variation, which is also good to know.
posted by forza at 7:57 PM on December 10, 2009

When I was in college I cat-sat a few times for a woman with two cats who usually spent about a month out of town every summer. She paid me very well, but for at least one of the summers I would have been happy to do it just to have a free place to stay. What she paid me was probably about what it would have cost her to board her cats but this way her cats were much happier, her house was occupied, and I also did things like pay her bills with they arrived in the mail. If you live near a college or university, consider trying to find a student who can help out. Especially if you can find a student who is in a transitional period with housing, or goes to a residential school that totally closed down in the summer like mine, or who lives at home and would love to get away from his or her parents for a few weeks.

It may be a little riskier than a professional pet sitter but if you can get personal references it's probably worth a shot. I met the woman I worked for from a friend who had watched the cats for the last two summers and when it no longer worked for me to do it I referred her to another friend of mine.
posted by horses, of courses at 8:36 PM on December 10, 2009

I can recommend the best cat sitter in NYC. MeMail.
posted by JimN2TAW at 9:43 PM on December 10, 2009

agreeing with horses, of courses.

i cat-sat for six weeks in a condo (radiator-heated, too, mmm so much free heat) for a guy who was working in l.a. and had two kitties.

this was such a boon -- it let me save up enough money for a security deposit on my own apartment -- i gladly did it in exchange for free rent/bills. cats will adjust just fine to strangers in the house and i think it must be better for them than going to live in a cattery for a bit.

a friend of mine sent me the listing for cat-sitting off the university list-serv where she worked (and where this fellow was a phd student). my gentleman friend and i met him a few times, everything seemed kosher and we went with it. it was an excellent situation for all -- he got someone to take care of kitties and make sure the house didn't burn down, we got a free place to live.
posted by chickadee at 4:42 AM on December 11, 2009

I would have someone stop by regularly, but unless that person is someone that the cats know well and are ok around having that person in the house for long periods of time will likely make them uncomfortable. Were it me I would just have them clean the litter box, make sure that the water and food are fresh and full and maybe hang out for 15 minutes to see if the cats take an interest, otherwise just repeat a couple of times a week.

Some things you should know about cats in general. Well they stink, I grew up with dogs and I had always heard about how clean and smart cats are, and that is all a lie. One of my roommates moved in with a cat in May and the cat recently moved out and the house smells so much better now, I was literally shocked at how gross the thing was. If they get pissed off, or if they feel they are not getting attention their first choice of action is often to destroy something you care about, I imagine their thought process is something like "human with glasses did not pet me enough this morning, I will take a dump on his bed, you are doing your laundry in the basement but you are not petting me right now I will pee just outside of my litter box so I know you can see me doing this". They are generally really good about not having accidents, but seem to make no effort to cough up their hairballs (that was also a new discovery for me, quite possibly the foulest thing I have yet encountered) in the litter box. There is also the scratching furniture and rugs, and the sneaking up on people. I am not going to say that they are bad pets, because there are many people who love having them around, but you need to think about whether you really want one.
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:28 AM on December 11, 2009

Also sweet mother of god get a short haired breed, they shed constantly and it gets everywhere!
posted by BobbyDigital at 7:31 AM on December 11, 2009

BobbyDigital, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that your cat experience was a one-shot.

Slightly off-topic, but hopefully it will give the OP some things to think about- I've had a cat for about 3 months now, after having been a dog person my whole life. (We actually just took her on what turned out to be a 14 hour journey in a crate and she handled it marvelously). We use clumping litter and scoop her litterbox twice a day (OP- clumping litter is AMAZING. If price is an issue, the Special Kitty clumping litter from Walmart is just as good as the more expensive stuff. Seriously- we go through so much less litter). Anyways, there is NO smell. Her litterbox is kept in my bathtub when I'm not using it (with a mat to stop litter from actually getting into the tub) and I have no air fresheners of any kind and no scents in the litter. We frequently have visitors to our apartment that use the bathroom and don't believe the litter box is there until they see it themselves. Also, despite having had to leave our cat for about 4 days with a friend checking in on her once, and her occasionally being very upset with us, she has never done anything spiteful. Your roommate may not have scooped the litter box often enough (cats won't use their litter box if it's too dirty- could be another problem), may not have provided enough good scratching surfaces (a $9 scratching post from walmart occasionally sprinkled with catnip insures our cat never uses anything else to scratch)

OP- a great site for all questions cat related is forum.
posted by kro at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2009

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