Personal experiences with boarding cats?
March 6, 2011 7:02 PM   Subscribe

Personal experiences with boarding cats? Adopters of our foster cat are planning to do this, and I don't really have a way around it; just wondering how worried I should be and whether I should insist on visitation or something. Awesome cat photos inside.

Hi there,

We are very happy with the family who adopted the mom cat we were fostering. She's young, playful, and we've gone to great pains to bring out the best in her personality and not traumatize her when moving her from our place to her new home. As a result, she's flourishing, and I just saw her rolling around on the carpet in her new home having a grand old time and being cute. Here's a picture of her happily snuggled among her new 9-year-old girl's stuffed animals; she's doing wonderfully even though she's only been installed there for about three weeks.

(This 1.7 MB flyer also gives an idea of her awesomeness).

A few days ago, I got an e-mail from them asking for my advice about taking Sarah along with them on a six-hour-away trip, staying in a pet-friendly hotel. They are first-time cat owners and really seem to want to do the right thing, but this isn't really practical as we jointly discovered. I was at a pot luck with other cat people tonight and pretty much everyone agreed this wasn't a good idea. I mention it only to explain why the whole boarding issue wasn't discussed until tonight, so please let's not get into a discussion about cats and long car trips.

After the pot luck tonight, I stopped by their house to let them know what I'd learned and get some final paperwork signed. This is when I discovered they had already made plans to board her for the week.

This is something I wouldn't do with my personal cat, but how bad is it really? She won't be in with dogs. The place charges the same rate for cats as for rabbits, though. (It's "Sunny Acres" in Durham, NC).

I'd love to pet sit her myself, but I just took in a cat who really needs to be solo (he freaked out when his former owners got another cat). Also I don't have a lot of spare time just at the moment -- but we worked so hard to let this girl's personality bloom! I even made cat behavior bingo cards to encourage the little girl to learn to read cat expressions! Maybe she'll be fine, but it seems like a hard thing for a cat to go from a cozy house to a little cage for a week.

Oh, and they're leaving on their trip tomorrow. They'll listen to me, but things are tight.

Does anyone have actual experiences to relate? My only options to help here are returning my current traumatized foster to a tiny cage at Petco for the week (no one else can take them; cat fosterers tend to have multiple cats), or....? I don't know.

They don't know any of their neighbors well enough to ask one of them to cat sit. I've already mentioned the idea of hiring a pet sitter, they don't seem keen on this for some reason. They're new in town.

I could kick myself for not covering this better before the adoption was finalized. I'll do better next time, promise.
posted by amtho to Pets & Animals (22 answers total)
We boarded our cat with our vet when we went away for two weeks and honestly, she seemed more relaxed at the end of it than she has after friends came in to feed her for a 4-day weekend (strangers in *her* house, touching her! The horror!)

A lot depends on the place, obviously, but the boarding alone wouldn't set off any warning bells. Is there a reason it does for you? Did the foster cat have a problem with smallish spaces?
posted by tchemgrrl at 7:16 PM on March 6, 2011

Your other option is to offer to pet-sit yourself. Come by once a day, play with kitty, put out food.

Actually, this might be a nice transition for your ex-foster: familiar person in new home.
posted by orthogonality at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you read the reviews already? If that's the correct pet resort, there's 21 reviews (some not so great) and a letter from the owner in response to a customer's complaint.
posted by plaintiff6r at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011

My family boarded our cats for 4-6 weeks at a time every summer I was growing up. They were just fine, even if they snubbed us for an hour or so right when they got home. IMHO, you (or they) can make sure the boarding place has a vet on call or maybe even ask if there are any happy customers they can talk to, but it's not nearly as big a deal as you seem to think it is. What exactly is worrying you about this?
posted by wuzandfuzz at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cat will be totally fine. People board cats every day.
posted by fshgrl at 7:17 PM on March 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

My cats boarded at Park Vet in Durham, NC, several times, and they generally loved it. They hated the being dropped off part, but once they were settled into their boarding cages they had a great time. Park Vet had a huuuuuuuuge picture window in the cat boarding room that looked out into bird-and-squirrel-filled trees and they were just GLUED to it. We generally sent them with a couple of their favorite toys, but they were just happy with the huge sunny window, their cozy boarding cages, and all the attention from the vet techs. (I have no idea if Park Vet still does boarding, that was a few years ago.)

I think you are freaking out way too much over this. Unless you know the cat reacts badly to boarding, the cat will probably have a fine experience boarding and have excellent care. Even my (now deceased) anxiety-ridden cat, generally enjoyed boarding. Or at least the part of boarding where 8 zillion vet techs would come give him pets.

(Incidentally, I have one cat who ADORES six-hour car trips and even liked flying. We would get out his carrier and he'd sleep in it to make sure we didn't forget him, and if he thought we were packing the suitcases and forgetting him, would go NUTS trying to get our attention and then dash into the carrier so we'd pack him too. Mine is, admittedly, a nut job who loves new places and whose idea of a great time is spending the night in a strange motel room so he can explore. But I've been able to train MOST of my cats into competent travelers; kittenhood exposure helps. The anxiety-ridden one never got it.)

Honestly, I think you should calm waaaaaaaaaay down. Boarding is a perfectly normal thing for cats, and at a quality boarding place, there's really far LESS to worry about than with a pet sitter who's in and out a couple times a day. They'll have better supervision and more competent care in case something bad happens.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:18 PM on March 6, 2011 [6 favorites]

Years ago, I boarded my cat at the local vet for a few weeks when I had to move and had nowhere to keep him. The cages were bigger than the Petco ones, and the staff was very nice. They visited him alot (and so did I). I think the barking dogs in the next room stressed him out a little bit, though.

Other people in my life (friends, my mom) have boarded cats too. Generally, all reports are that the cats deal with it reasonably well.

Honestly, I don't get why it's a big deal. Having to board a cat does not make someone a bad pet owner. It's not ideal, obviously, but people do it. Decent kennels will have good staff who care about animals. And, also, it's kind of not up to you anymore, you know?
posted by cabingirl at 7:19 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

It seems to me that the cat isn't yours and it really isn't your place to decide what they should be doing. If they've come to you for advice, and you can't give them advice for whatever reason, just tell them you don't know. (The suggestion that you cat sit is actually a pretty good one) If they haven't asked your input, then you let them do what they need to do and move on.

Then again, I'm not cat people.
posted by Sara C. at 7:25 PM on March 6, 2011 [11 favorites]

If you're new in town you might not know the pet sitters that you can trust. You are, after all, giving them access to your home. You really don't know what they're going to do unless you have had the time to do some research.

As far as boarding goes, I've never had a problem and I'm not sure why you're so concerned about it. Is there some reason particular to the cat or the facility that is causing the concern, or are you just opposed to boarding in general? If it's the latter, I think you're overreacting a bit. The cat will probably be uncomfortable initially but then settle down into its new surroundings just fine.

If it really bothers you, maybe you can offer to cat sit like others have suggested. It seems like you may be placing unreasonable demands on them regarding a cat you no longer own.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 7:28 PM on March 6, 2011

It's not your cat, you can't insist on anything. Luckily, boarding animals is not such a problem, ESPECIALLY for cats who do not want as much attention as dogs. When I was a kid spending time at my mom's veterinary clinic, the staff would let the cats out during down time so that they could stretch their legs, and everyone became very attached to long-term boarders. I've never seen a boarded cat who was visibly uncomfortable or scared after an hour or so. Good vets employ people who like spending time with animals. I'm sure the same is true for pet resorts.
posted by acidic at 7:31 PM on March 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

My wife and I have to board our cat when we go abroad, since there's really no one we can ask to cat sit. Our cat was born behind my old apartment, and we fed her from the time she was old enough to eat solid food. She regularly came into the apartment and spent the night. For whatever reason, she's incredibly skittish, and really only feels comfortable with me. She hides from strangers, freaks out at loud noises, and is, in general, a nervous wreck.

Because of this, we choose to board her at a veternary clinic, just in case she does get sick. Honestly, she doesn't like it, but she is well cared for. The clinic asks that pet owners provide the pet's food so they have something they are familiar with. Usually, she eats very little for the first day or so, but after she gets a little more acclimated, she starts to eat more. When we get back, and go to pick her up, it does take her a while to get acclimated to being in the house again, and to calm down.

In a perfect world, I wouldn't need to board her, but unfortunately I do. She has always come back healthy, if a little skittish/pissed off at me, which sucks, but since there are no alternatives, we do board her. We made sure to check out people's experiences with the clinic where we board her, and do our best to make her comfortable. So, well, yeah. Boarding isn't the end of the world, and cats adapt pretty damn well.
posted by Ghidorah at 7:33 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: I know she's their cat and I'm very glad of it! We have what I hope is a nice relationship, and they have asked me lots and lots of questions (including advice about this trip), so, while I'm not going to tell them what to do, if I offered a reasonable alternative (if it were necessary, and probably it's not, thank you for the info so far), they'd probably be open to it if it wasn't outlandish.

Thanks so much for the reassuring answers. Here's why I started worrying after reflecting on this, and not in the moment when I was talking to them tonight:

- The facility seems excellent for dogs. The web site mentions playtimes (but only if specifically reserved and paid for), all kinds of services, space for the dogs, etc., but almost nothing about cats. I get that dogs need exercise and attention, but cats benefit from that, too, and this one has in particular.

- Cats are only mentioned specifically on the "rates" page, thus: "Other small pets (cats, birds, bunnies, etc) $12.00". I had a pet bunny; it wasn't nearly as responsive to play and needful of interaction as I think a cat is.

- Here's the only picture on the web site of a cat (I think) cage (upper left, pink). It is bigger than a Petco cage, but it also looks rather boring and much less fun than a house.

The cats are in a separate building from the dogs, so I'm not worried about barking.

Thank you for the information so far; it's helping. The reviews are reassuring, but unfortunately only about dogs.
posted by amtho at 7:52 PM on March 6, 2011

After poking around their website, it does seem pretty dog focused, but that doesn't mean it's a bad place for cats. Honestly, if you'd let your 12 year old neighbor kid come over once a day to feed/water your pet (which many, many people do - I know, I was that 12 year old) your normal boarding place isn't going to be any worse and will likely be much better. Even if it's not the ideal situation and the cat doesn't get to come outside the cage and play or get showered with affection, it will be just fine for one week.

I think the best you can do is recommend that they go to the boarding place ahead of time and check it out (do the cats currently there seem ok?), ask questions including who the vet on call is and what their routine for cat care is, and let them follow their instincts. You trusted them enough to let them adopt the cat, now you have to trust them to make the right decision after getting the information they need.

Thank you for the picture - she's adorable and fuzzy-wuzzy and more people need to remember this requirement for animal questions grumble grumble grumble.
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:08 PM on March 6, 2011

Response by poster: FYI, I personally hired a cat sitter who is slightly loopy and charming and quite talkative and who promised to play with and talk to the cats while she did her laundry in our machines. My cats were very sane when I did this. I regret the times I did not do this.
posted by amtho at 8:25 PM on March 6, 2011

I'm sure that if you offered to visit at the boarding facility, they'd let you.

They might also want to ensure that a new cat doesn't wreck their house out of boredom, stress, etc.--a pet sitter can't prevent a cat from clawing up the couch or pooping/peeing in random places to show their distaste for solitude.

Yes, I know, many cats wouldn't do that, maybe this cat wouldn't do that, but they still don't know her very well and might want to keep the good vibes going with an intact home.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:26 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

(she is super adorable)
posted by you're a kitty! at 8:51 PM on March 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

We had to take our adult cat to a hotel for two nights when a storm knocked out power and he hated it, hid underneath the bed the whole time. Clearly he didn't get that the trip was temporary and he did not approve of his "new" digs.
posted by Mertonian at 9:39 PM on March 6, 2011

I have successfully boarded my cats when it was not possible to have a pet sitter come in to look after them once a day. I am a worrier and felt guilty about it, but in the end, they are cats and really, as long as their physical needs are met and they are in decent surroundings with the occasional person coming to interact with them (you can check with the kennel about that--most good boarding kennels will have some time in the day when they let the cats out and about safely), they will be reasonably content. No, it's not ideal, but a week in a boarding kennel is definitely not cat abuse or neglect or anything to get worried about. I do think since she is so new to their home, it's probably better that she's boarded rather than left there alone for most of the day with a once-a-day pet sitter anyway.

Re: small size of boarding kennels--I've been told cats prefer smaller spaces when being boarded; if they're free to roam around larger unfamiliar places it stresses them out because there's so much more territory to protect. So while to a human it may represent constraint, to a cat a small kennel may represent security. You could always give the adoptive family some toys she could play with in the kennel while she's there if you're worried she'll be bored.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 9:59 PM on March 6, 2011

My two cats hate boarding, the last time we did it they came back stressed and with fleas. This place came recommended and wasn't cheap either. These days we get a catsitter. It works out cheaper and they get to stay home. We would only board them now if there was absolutely no other option.
posted by Jubey at 12:06 AM on March 7, 2011

As long as it's a good place with runs for the cats and so on, she'll be fine. I used to board my cats at a lovely little place just outside London, and they always seemed entirely untroubled by the experience.

If you are still worried, go see the place and get a feel for the owners and the site. People who do this are usually cat lovers themselves (as they should be) but it doesn't hurt to make sure the place is clean and bright and open, and the inmates look happy and well looked after.
posted by Decani at 3:39 AM on March 7, 2011

"I've been told cats prefer smaller spaces when being boarded; if they're free to roam around larger unfamiliar places it stresses them out because there's so much more territory to protect."


I have a relative who's a nothing-but-cats vet and she says a lot of owners fret over their cats in boarding cages or being locked in the bathroom (such as when introducing two new cats but keeping them apart for a couple of days, or when one cat has a procedure and has to be separated from the others, and in many homes the only practical room for this is the bathroom). She points out that to a cat, a bathroom with a window is basically an amusement park with tons of shit to climb on and small enough that they can feel secure in it pretty quickly (especially important when new to a place, or recovering from illness or surgery). Typical boarding cages are similar. They don't notice the smallish size the way a dog or a person would, not over a few days, and certainly not if they get to stretch their legs now and then!

And then I remember how often I find my weird cat bunched into SUPER TINY spaces under furniture or between things or in things, because the smaller, the cozier and safer for him, and I think, yeah, cats are weird. My high-anxiety cat used to go live in a cabinet for a few days whenever he felt stressed. He'd learned to open kitchen/bathroom cabinets, and if life was getting him down, he'd just find the smallest cabinet with the smallest cat-sleeping space in it, and go live there for a few days, only coming out for food. It's surprising when you go to get new toilet paper and, oh, hello, cat! We used to put some ratty old towels in his favorites so it'd be cozier for him. We offered him different cat-specific hiding places/structures/etc., but he liked cabinets with tons of crap in them.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:18 AM on March 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the (awwww extremely adorable!) kitty will be okay. Maybe suggest that you could visit at the boarding facility if they'd like, just because you're not familiar with cat boarding and also want to see the widdle sweetie (I'm not familiar with cat boarding either - hopefully the facility allows visits like that? I bet you could say she's adjusting to major life changes and you want her to see a familiar face. or something.)

I really just posted this because I wanted to say cat behavior bingo -> "cat loaf" made me go "eeeeee!"


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