Should I board my cat while I'm away?
July 30, 2010 2:54 PM   Subscribe

We're going to be gone for ten days for the first time in our cat's short life. Should we put her in a group boarding situation, or leave her at home alone with friends stopping by twice a day? If the latter, how can I transform my front room into a kitty play wonderland?

So, about a month ago we brought one of the offspring of a feral mother inside to be a house cat. (Mom is now fixed and the kitten's two siblings have gone to a different home.) She's pretty well settled in now, but being an only cat she naturally enjoys a lot of human attention.

Unfortunately, in a few weeks we're going to have to be out of town for ten days, and I'm concerned that we're going to come back to find our little stripey one a traumatized nervous wreck.

There is at least one cat boarding place in our area (Los Angeles) that does group boarding, where the cat lives with a bunch of others in a room with lots of toys and stuff. This seems like a good idea, but reading reviews of the place it sounds like some people's cats really, really hate it. One problem is that our cat will only be five months old at the time, so she's pretty small. She did grow up in a feral extended family so she's used to being around other cats, but since they were all her relatives I never saw anyone but her mom be aggressive towards her at all.

The other option is to have her stay at home, confined to one escape-proofable room (where she currently spends her time at night and when we're not home). We will have friends coming by twice a day to look after the other pets, anyway, and hopefully we can arrange our cat-person friend to play with her for a while every day, but I still worry that she'll be lonely.

Which option sounds better? And, if she stays home, what kind of things should I put in the room to entertain her? Currently she has a multi-level scratching post with attached toy on a string, various jingly catnip toys, boxes, cardboard tubes, and packing paper. What else could we give her? Do cats like TV?

I feel very guilty about our being gone so soon after her separation from her mother, but I hope that whatever we can arrange will at least be better than being eaten by coyotes, which we think happened to her aunt the last time we were out of town.
posted by LadyOscar to Pets & Animals (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I might leave kitty at home with visitors. There are some fantastic suggestions for keeping indoor cats happy at the Indoor Cat Initiative.
posted by biscotti at 2:56 PM on July 30, 2010

I always agonize over this. My cat is full grown, but high energy. He's also really shy around strangers, so I think a kennel of any kind would be traumatic.

I have a friend cat sit when I travel and spend a little while with him each day. He seems no worse psychologically when we return (though he did decide to pee on the bed last time. A closed-up room sounds like a great idea). He is unusually cuddly with the cat sitter, but other than that, he's fine. A few of his usual toys (scratching post, jingle balls, etc.) seem to be enough.
posted by parkerjackson at 3:04 PM on July 30, 2010

Best answer: First of all, I'm pretty sure you're violating the unwritten rule of MeFi that states you MUST post pictures of kitties when discussing them.

So. (most)Cats hate change. I wouldn't board her. You've got people coming over twice a day anyway? Win-win! Leave the kitty at home, in the room where she's comfortable at night, and have your pet-sitters wear her out each time they come over. One of those feathers-on-a-stick or a laser pointer would be great for playtime. I'd caution them to not play her so much she starts panting, but she should get some good playtime while they're there.

For her alone time, when my various cats were kittens, they LOVED the ball-stuck-in-a-circle-thing so very much.
posted by cooker girl at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2010 [2 favorites]

Leave her home with visitors. My cat like "Nature" PBS. I would give the visitors some treats your cat loves. That way your cat will look forward to their visits.
posted by fifilaru at 3:05 PM on July 30, 2010

I would definitely leave her at home. She'll be safe in a familiar environment. Peaceful, quiet. Put some things in the room that smell like you guys and/or mama cat. Blankets, towels, etc.
posted by iamkimiam at 3:06 PM on July 30, 2010

I vote for staying home with a visiting cat sitter. This is what I have always done with my cats, and they seemed no worse for wear. I think the best entertainment for a stay at home cat is a window with a view.
posted by Joh at 3:06 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've always, always left my cats at home and had people come in to see to them. This was even when we only had 1 Super Mega Special Princess cat--I was worried that she'd completely freak out if we boarded her. However, we always managed to have some short "trial runs," if you will, before going away any longer than a week. This allowed both cat and me to figure out if everything would be all right--no elimination in unexpected places, no clawed-up furniture, that kind of thing. For ten days, though, I'd be slightly concerned that your kitty might be lonely if she's used to other cats or your company. That's something you have to judge for yourself.

If you do leave her at home, just make sure that absolutely everything that might be dangerous is secured 100%. Boredom leads to ingenuity. Once while I was away, SMSPC managed to open the pantry, find her treats, tear the box to shreds with her teeth, and scatter treats to the four winds. She didn't eat them, she just played with them. Fortunately the container was paper and not plastic, or there might've been trouble.

It sounds like she's got lots of great toys; also include a cozy place to sleep and add an article of clothing that smells like you guys for comfort.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 3:12 PM on July 30, 2010

Your house is your kitteh's territory. And cats are social, but with their own group, meaning other cats they already know and like, and the so called owners who are really kitteh possessions. So most cats really don't like being put in a kennel, even a nice one, with stranger cats.

So, I'd strongly encourage the home with visitors option too. (We do a house sitter for our pets when we leave, but we used to have someone who dropped by twice a day and that worked fine at the time.)

Re TV, cats are different about it. Does your cat like TV? Only one of our four does, and she has weird tastes -- for example, for some reason she really liked the first seasons of Law and Order, at least the scenes that had Michael Moriarty in them. Go figure.

Likewise, I'd leave the toys your kitty really likes, assuming they are safe for her. (I wouldn't leave ribbon or tape or rubber bands with one of our cats. She loves these things but doesn't seem to realize that she really shouldn't eat them.) Most cats adore cardboard boxes, FYI.
posted by bearwife at 3:13 PM on July 30, 2010

Best answer: Just to confirm, you are in total violation of the kitty photo rule; I'm pretty sure I'll have to report you.

But before that, let me just say that yes, you should leave your sweetie at home and have the sitters visit as often as possible. Fill the room with a variety of treats, and have the sitter bring in a new treat or two (or three) while you are gone. Possible simple treats: a rolled up foil ball to bat around, little "mouse babies" (those fake fur mice thingies), etc. If your kittie likes catnip, the sitter can put some fresh nip on your scratching post or a toy, or whatever you have, at some point during the trip.

We usually leave a few articles of our dirty clothing lying around -- I think that offers the smell of us even if we are not there.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:27 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

nthing leave the cat at home. Cats are pretty independent creatures and they're often quite attached to their territory. Make sure you put away any papers or clothes that might be good to cover up pee. You want to make sure the litterbox is the most appealing place to go so there shouldn't be anything else to cover stuff up with. As far as a kitty wonderland - leave the blinds up or curtains open so that it can watch the outdoor goings on. Maybe put a birdfeeder near the window. Then keep the cat's favorite toys available and get a couple new ones.
posted by Quizicalcoatl at 3:46 PM on July 30, 2010

I agree, home with friends stopping by...that works well for us. And, food for thought...give some serious consideration to getting a second cat, especially since yours is still a kitty... leaving two cats home that can interact with each other is a much better situation.... Taking care of two cats isn't a whole lot more work than taking care of one.....
posted by HuronBob at 4:40 PM on July 30, 2010

Response by poster: Sorry, I didn't mean to violate the kitty pics rule! I don't have any current pictures here at work, but here are some from when she was smaller.

It sounds like the consensus is to leave her at home. Thank you everyone for the toy recommendations, and we'll try the used clothing thing, too.

I know she'd like a window seat, but I'm worried about one thing--the advice I've seen is that once a kitten is separated from her mother, it's best to keep them from ever meeting again. Her mother is generally not in the front yard, but I can't guarantee that she'd never walk by the window in that room. Does that sound like it would be a problem? Dust Mite doesn't cry for her mother at night anymore, but a few times she's heard Toonces (the mom) outside calling to her adopted grand-kittens (offspring of the probably-deceased aunt) and has completely flipped out.
posted by LadyOscar at 4:45 PM on July 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I feel guilty about the one cat thing, and we might consider a second in the future, but there are two problems. First, my husband is allergic to cats. I named the kitten trio Pollen, Ragweed, and Dust Mite kind of as a joke to remind us not to get attached to them while we socialized them so they could be adopted by other people. But, of course we got attached anyway, and compulsive vacuuming seems to be keeping the problem in check with just one cat.

Second, while we "fixed" the feral cat problem, we still have several cats living outside, and bringing extra cats into the equation seems kind of excessive.
posted by LadyOscar at 4:49 PM on July 30, 2010

Our cats seem to like music and ignore the TV unless it's a nature program with birds or cats. The one on cats freaked them out though. Could your friends turn on the radio in the morning and turn off when they come back. I've had several cats who'd push open the bathroom door while I was getting ready for bed and had the radio on. They all seemed to like it.
posted by stray thoughts at 5:31 PM on July 30, 2010

omgs!! so cute. I loves me a stripey butt!!! nthing leave the kitty home with a sitter. its what I've always done and although yr kitty may be a little lonely at times she wont be traumatized (which she may at the kennel...)

have a trusted and familiar friend come by once a day to feed, pet, play etc. leave lots of toys and stuffies for her :)
posted by supermedusa at 7:30 PM on July 30, 2010

Agreed to leave the kitty at home and have people check in. Kitties are territorial, and a new place (even temporarily) will freak her out. For all she knows, you'll have given her away. :( We've always left our cat at home and had someone check in 2x a day (no other option but 2x a day since our cat is diabetic and needs an insulin shot every 12 hours), and it's always worked out fine.
posted by miltoncat at 8:06 PM on July 30, 2010

So freakin' cute. I love her! I'm glad you asked this question. I didn't know it was so common to get a cat sitter and I wondered if I was being a snowflake begging my friends to cat sit. Clearly it's a normal thing to do.
posted by parkerjackson at 9:34 AM on July 31, 2010

Since the general consensus is that kitty should stay at home, I'll just say this:
I'd say make sure it's a cat person you're asking to come by and check on Dust Mite. I had a friend more than willing to check in on my cats twice a day for five days, except he didn't realize he had to clean the litterbox. I came home to what would never, ever be described as a pleasant house since they cats had decided the litterbox altogether as it was too dirty. I'd say even if it is a cat person, make sure you tell them how often you clean the box so Dust Mite doesn't get any ideas.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 9:38 AM on July 31, 2010

Agreeing with the general hive consensus. Keep kitty at home, leave radio on low volume during the day (talk radio is what we usually do for the dog and cat), a couple fun toys and scratching post, and a cat-friendly person to check on her and feed her/water her once a day. I wouldn't worry too much about her seeing her mother or any other cats through the window, I doubt that would traumatize her or really matter much.

And I definitely agree with shesdeadimalive above, enlist a responsible cat-lover person who understands how to take care of cats (if their litter is too dirty they will just pee and poop anywhere--I found that out the hard way once due to laziness). My stupid jerk of a brother was supposed to watch our old family cat for 12 days while my Mom and sister and I went to Europe. When we came home, we found out he just left a bunch of random bowls full of dry catfood and water and only checked on her once (the day before we came home). How all the water didn't evaporate and she didn't get dehydrated, I'll never know, but I can tell you she gave us a lot a shit when we got home (and this cat is practically mute).
posted by 1000monkeys at 10:49 PM on July 31, 2010

Response by poster: We're back! We set up the kitty room with a TurboScratcher, window seat, blanket we'd slept with to give it our scent, empty boxes, paper, cardboard tubes, and a large selection of scratching things and toys. Right before we left we discovered that while our cat likes us, she is apparently terrified of all other people including our cat-sitters. However, everything turned out fine and our cat-loving friend eventually managed to get her to come out from under the sofa and accept being petted. Since we've been home she's been acting normal and not ignoring us or peeing in our shoes or anything.

Thanks so much to everyone for the great advice!
posted by LadyOscar at 4:53 PM on September 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

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