Looking for advice on leaving the cat alone for a week.
December 30, 2013 11:08 AM   Subscribe

Hard as it is to believe, we are leaving our beloved kitty all alone for the first time since we got him 5 years ago. I'm looking for advice as well as answers to a couple specifics.

So, it's looking like we're leaving our cat alone for a week in our apartment in Portland, Oregon while we visit family out of state next week. Before, our cat has always been in a shared house and has had other known humans there to look after him.

Our building is full of really awesome folks and our neighbors are going to check in on him, feed him his wet food twice a day (he gets a special urinary diet), change his water and scoop his box. But he's going to be largely alone for the entire time.

We're concerned because he likes to go outside sometimes, and he can be very sneaky about bolting out the door and out of the building when someone comes into the apartment. He'll come back in when we call him after a couple hours, but I don't know how he'd react to a stranger trying to get him to come in. So we're considering just trying to keep him inside the whole week. Is this reasonable?

Our cat loves the heater. It's an old beast from 1971. I'm really disinclined to leave it on the entire time we're gone. It isn't that cold here in Oregon, and the cat has a coat and doesn't seem upset when the heater is off (just super happy when it's on). Is leaving the heater off reasonable?

What is appropriate compensation for our cat sitters? I know this depends on a lot of factors, but any sort of starting place would be good. These are friends of ours, in our building, so it isn't exactly a 'formal' hiring situation. Still, I want to do something for them. Do people usually pay cash? Or buy them a bottle of something they like? Or...?

Any other advice on leaving the cat alone? I've read the requisite google-searched listicles, but I'm looking for some insight from the many cat experts here on AskMe.

Thanks so much everyone!
posted by Lutoslawski to Pets & Animals (31 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
$20 a day for a twice-a-day cat visit is the lowest I'd go, if the cat is super low-maintenance. I'd do a gift card rather than cash but that's just me.
posted by Jairus at 11:14 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: So we're considering just trying to keep him inside the whole week. Is this reasonable?

Is he usually inside/supposed to be inside all the time? If so, yes, I think this is perfectly fine. If he's not used to this and will be bored/unhappy, I'd try to find a way for him to stretch his legs while you're away.

What is appropriate compensation for our cat sitters? I know this depends on a lot of factors, but any sort of starting place would be good. These are friends of ours, in our building, so it isn't exactly a 'formal' hiring situation. Still, I want to do something for them. Do people usually pay cash? Or buy them a bottle of something they like? Or...?

Not cash, since they're doing you a favor rather than their job. A bottle of wine or something else that you know they will like and use would be the perfect thank you - and remember to offer to return the favor sometime!

Our cat loves the heater. It's an old beast from 1971. I'm really disinclined to leave it on the entire time we're gone. It isn't that cold here in Oregon, and the cat has a coat and doesn't seem upset when the heater is off (just super happy when it's on). Is leaving the heater off reasonable?

Since people will already be coming and going, can you ask them to turn the heater on when they feed him his evening meal, and off when they return in the morning? That way the heat will be on at night, when it's coldest, and off during the day, when it should be a bit warmer.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 11:16 AM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

So we're considering just trying to keep him inside the whole week. Is this reasonable?

When you say "outside" do you mean outside in the actual outside world or just outside your apartment's front door but still within the confines of the building? I would definitely not risk the former to the responsibility of a neighbor. The latter might be okay, depending how close your apartment is to the actual front door of the building, and how many other possible points of escape there are in your building. Otherwise, yes, I think it is totally reasonable to keep him inside the whole week. It's way better than the alternative, which could be "cat has now escaped into the outdoors in winter and won't come when called," and which is traumatic for everyone!
posted by elizardbits at 11:17 AM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

Treat your cat sitter-friend-neighbors like gold: give them a bottle of wine on the day you leave and give them a gift card or equivalent for $200 upon your return. It's a big deal taking care of someone elses animal. Get a heated cat pad, low fire danger etc. and leave your heat off.
posted by lois1950 at 11:23 AM on December 30, 2013 [12 favorites]

It's fine to have him be indoors for a week. Our kitties are always indoors because they have MURDER on their minds and I like song birds and groundhogs.

If these are folks who are friends and who are doing you a favor, a nice present (Craft Beer, Wine, Salami) is fine compensation. along with a thank you dinner if you feel inclined. We pay our friends to come sit with out kitties in our house and we give them $100 for the week and stock the fridge with yummy treats. You know what you can afford and you know your relationship with the folks, I'd err on the side of generocity.

One thing that might be nice is to leave behind little presents for the kitty for your cat sitter to give to him every day. A new feather ball, a Kong with treats, etc. He'll associate the sitters with FUN!

Here's a link to a heated cat bed on Amazon. Our cats won't get under the covers, but they love to sit on warm electronics. So this would be a nice place for Kitty to be warm if the heat is off.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 11:27 AM on December 30, 2013

So long as someone is making regular check-ins to make sure the cat has plenty of food and fresh water, and the litter box is clean, I don't think it should be a problem. Most any vet will tell you that cats are a lot more solitary by nature than we like to suppose they are.
posted by slkinsey at 11:29 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

You are right, don't let your cat outside in this situation. Both our cats are very seasoned indoor/outdoor cats, and we keep them indoors when we are out-of-town, just to be on the safe side.

Ditto the heated cat bed, ours have three, and make use of them all year round, except in the hottest days of summer.
posted by nanook at 11:30 AM on December 30, 2013

If the cat has never been alone without you, neither you nor your catsitters should worry if he's a little shy about them in the context of a changed routine.

This may be obvious, but ask them to snap a smartphone photo for you when they go in to visit. This will make you feel much better.
posted by Theophylactic at 11:32 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

I pay my professional (bonded, insured) cat sitters $35 per visit. They play with Cosgrove & Little Kiwi for 30 minutes each time they come, as well as taking care of food, water, and litter box.

If you're worried that beloved kitty will run out the door when the visitors open it, just ask them to open the door a few inches and then slam it shut a couple of times before actually coming through. That makes the area by the door less safe and beloved kitty will back away from it rather than run through.
posted by janey47 at 11:33 AM on December 30, 2013

We just left our kitty alone for a week over Christmas and we had the neighbours come in twice a day to feed her.

Don't overthink this - your cat will be absolutely fine. Trust me on this. You'll feel guilty and sad at leaving him alone (especially if this is the first ever time) but trust me, he'll be OK! Cats sleep for most of the day anyway and as long as he has food and water - no drama here!

Make sure you tell your neighbours that the cat may try to bolt from the apartment and just make sure they are extra cautious when coming and going.

I like the idea about the heat pad if you're worried about the old heater. Personally, I'm shit scared of something burning down my apartment so I wouldn't leave the heater on. Kitty will be fine, he's got a fur coat on.

Instead of money, I think you could take neighbours out for dinner - that's what we usually do, or buy them some alcohol. Just make sure they know you are grateful and say Thank You. Really though IMO, popping in for 5 minutes to feed the cat isn't that big of a deal - especially if they live there.

Be prepared for Mr Cat to be aloof when you get home. Our cat likes to ignore us for the first 2 hours just to show us that she wasn't bothered we were gone, but the extra cuddles and headbutts will start once you get back into the old routine!

If you're really worried, you could always asked the cat sitter to send you an email or a text every day giving you a bried update. I also like to stick a "to do" list on the back of the front door so that when the cat sitter leaves, they can be sure everything has been done - this could be especially useful if you want them to be conscious about a cat trying to escape. (I'm anal)
posted by JenThePro at 11:34 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

This is a perfectly reasonable plan. Maybe leave a pile of warm blankets near his favorite sleeping spot for him to curl up in if he wants to get warm. Leave some blinds up/curtains open so he can look at stuff outside to ward off boredom. Leave some toys on the floor for him to bat around.

And yes a bottle of something nice or a gift certificate is fine for friends.
posted by greta simone at 11:36 AM on December 30, 2013

I get paid $40 to check up on my neighbor and her boyfriend's cats (different houses, same neighborhood) for a week. I also did 2 visits a day. We are family friends so I would do it for nothing, but a little compensation is always nice.
posted by Aranquis at 11:40 AM on December 30, 2013

I just got back from being gone for ten days, and my cat BuddyFriend had only two little check-ins during that time. She is absolutely fine. Cats are pretty robust creatures.

I own all-automatic cat helpers (a feeder, water fountain, and a Litter Robot) and my cat is not interested in people that are not me or my roommate, so having someone come feed her or play with her isn't really necessary. I left a few extra bowls of water and food around in case we lost power, but other than that, the "cat-sitter" didn't need to do anything but make sure BuddyFriend was still alive and being her usual grumpy-around-visitors self. Oh, and that all the robots were functioning properly.

I left her toys, which she (as usual) did not play with, and made sure to give her a bit of extra attention the day before I left and the day I got back. She's back to her old self now, sleeping on the edge of the couch.

I felt a little bad about it, but she had the run of a warm house, a ton of extra food, and this all beats her life on the streets or her six years in the shelter. A few days alone will be totally fine for your little munchkin as well.
posted by k8lin at 11:41 AM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Your cat will barely notice you were gone. Don't sweat it too much.
posted by empath at 11:48 AM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Memail me for a referral to a great pet sitter in Pdx.
posted by dchrssyr at 11:56 AM on December 30, 2013

It will ruin your trip if you get a call saying "I let Fluffy outside and now I can't find him." Much better to keep him inside. It's only a week, sheesh. He's not going to go insane or start making ennui-filled YouTube videos in poorly-spoken French.
posted by desjardins at 11:58 AM on December 30, 2013 [8 favorites]

You can leave the TV on the Nature channel with the volume low; sometimes cats like watching.

Put at least some of your usual lights on a timer that is near your typical schedule to keep a routine going.

Also, leave a couple of unwashed undershirts of yours around for a familiar, comforting scent.
posted by adipocere at 12:02 PM on December 30, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ruthless Bunny beat me to it but I was going to recommend the heated cat bed on Amazon. We've never had a cat before but our kitty has loved it ever since I deposited her in it.

We paid a guy $20/visit to check on our cat but he's not someone we know. If someone is just dropping by once, I wouldn't worry about it but if someone is checking on your cat every day for a week, I'd at least make them a batch of cookies. It'd be great if you could offer a neighborly favor in return, like bringing in their mail when they go out of town. This isn't too big of a deal but if you're kind and generous, they'll be more willing to check on Fluffy for you the next time.

If you're concerned about the cat running, can you do something like leave a box of treats by the door for the cat visitor/sitter? If they could perhaps throw something away from the door so the cat has something to chase instead of darting out the door, that might work.

And I agree that you shouldn't overthink this. We've only had Caturday since October and we've had to leave her for a few days for Thanksgiving and Christmas. She was fine both times.
posted by kat518 at 12:17 PM on December 30, 2013

close your bathroom doors first, or your cat will go in there, grab the dangling end of the toilet paper and carry it to every corner of your house in kitty triumph.
posted by bruce at 12:22 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

When I left my cat home alone when I was away for over a month this summer, I had a close friend come every day, and in addition to what you said he played with her when he was there. He loves my cat and wasn't expecting any compensation, but I gave him a case of his favorite beer (which he was thrilled to receive), and also cancelled a $50 debt he owed me. My mom usually gives her neighbors $40/50 for a week of cat care (2 cats). So this depends on your means and how much of a pain it is for them to care for your pet.
posted by DoubleLune at 12:36 PM on December 30, 2013 [2 favorites]

Mr. BlueHorse took a medium-sized pet carrier we found in a thrift shop and cut a hole in the top for a heat lamp with a standard 40 watt bulb. The ancient cat-who-will-not-die warms her old bones constantly and can't be pried out of there.
posted by BlueHorse at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2013

coming in to nth the heated bed or pad. we have one of those heated cat beds linked above and I absolutely recommend it over leaving the heater on. It's the best cat-related purchase we've made. I don't know what sort of heater you have, but I'm fairly certain the heated pet beds are likely safer for the cats and more energy-efficient than leaving the heater on for them to sleep on.

I would not let them out. We have 2 cats that have an outdoor specially fenced enclosure and who are both trained to walk on harness. When we are out of town, our cat sitters are specifically instructed not to let them out or to try walking them because we just don't know how they'll react, even with strangers they like. Accidents happen, and I'd rather not tempt fate.

That said one of the things I have been diligent about is keeping a short list of good friends / close neighbors who also have pets and who don't mind coming by to hang out with / interact with our cats for reciprocal pet-duty. 2 of our cat-sitting regulars are grad students who cannot otherwise keep pets, and who live with roommates in fairly dismal housing. With that in mind we are glad to pay them to do a combo of pet- and house-sitting, which may or may not be feasible for you and your friend group. Our house is pretty nice and we keep the guest room ready for drop-ins anyhow, so our friends are happy to hang out here / watch Netflix / HBO / game or whatever in addition to giving the cats some run-around time with the catnip / laser pointer or whatever. Our cats are both pretty chill and sociable, even the shyer one these days, and most of our friends are a bit crazy-cat-people like ourselves, so it all works out well. One thing that really helps is the luxury of having help from friends who genuinely like our cats, and who the cats genuinely like in return. But honestly, even if you're talking about someone who runs in, tosses some food at them and splits, your cat will be just fine.

A typical cat sitting scenario for us is being gone for 4-5 days or a week, and one or two of our cat sitting contingent sharing care duty. Our neighbor is a morning person and is happy to stop by on his way out the door to go running at 6AM to do our morning feeding routine. Afternoon and late meals are typically handled by the grad students, and we're flexible on whether the cats get fed 2x daily or 3x; just depends on who's available and when. Cats are very adaptable and ours aren't the sorts to tear up the house in fits of frustrated boredom or go on a revenge-pissing spree. Usually the grad students or one of our other friends will hang out at the house for 2-3 hours in the evening to feed and play with the cats, scoop boxes, study, watch a movie, game, eat and generally chill out. My good friend / ex roommate recently had a minor falling-out with his SO that coincided with one of our trips out of town, so he elected to stay over a couple nights while we were gone, which was fine with us, helped with some of his stress, and made the cats happy, too.

Since we have a somewhat high-maintenance feeding schedule, we do also pay our friends in varying amounts of: cash / gift cards / beer / wine / dinner / reciprocal cat-sitting too, over and above letting them use our house. I feel like pet care compensation kind of depends on how much service you're getting, especially when you're comparing personalized play service / interaction type care like our friends tend to give versus the human equivalent of an automated feeder. As far as what kind of compensation, well I don't think any one answer fits all scenarios here either. Our grad student friends ALWAYS appreciate cash; the affluent neighbor across the street prefers a thoughtfully selected bottle of wine, my ex roommate likes craft beer and my husband's college roommate enjoys gamer geek stuff and Amazon gift cards. YMMV on that one and don't be afraid to ask people for what they want. We're also ok with our friends hanging out at our place, tho - we have close trusting relationships with all of these people. So ymmv depending on how close you are with your cat sitting clan.

All in all, your cat will be fine. I would definitely reiterate the "watch the doors" and "no outside excursions, please" rules while you're away, and don't feel guilty about leaving. My husband and I are both grade-A level crazy cat people (seriously, you should see both our Facebook feeds...) and somehow both our super-clingy, super affectionate joined-at-the-hip cats have forgiven us every time we've gone out of town and left them with (not so) strangers.
posted by lonefrontranger at 1:20 PM on December 30, 2013

The first few times we left Bonus Cat at home, we set up a webcam in his favorite room and checked every so often to make sure he was still alive. We quickly discovered that when he's home alone, he just naps a whole lot. I wouldn't go as far as setting up a camera for your kitty, but it's a safe bet that he'll just nap and look out the window and do all those other things he does when you're at work or asleep.

Keep him inside, leave a little extra food and water to tide him over until the neighbors stop in, set up some additional cozy spots around the house. If there's anything you'd like to show your neighbors/sitters before you leave, like how you would deal with a cat trying to sneak out the front door, invite them over a few days before you go.

Compensation depends on how close you are to your neighbor and how difficult the job is. I'd offer them at least $10-15/day, and get them a nice bottle of their preferred drink if they refuse the money. I'd probably mention pay before you leave to avoid awkwardness later.
posted by Metroid Baby at 1:30 PM on December 30, 2013

Is the cat box is in the bathroom? Make sure there's no way for your cat caretakers to accidentally close the door behind them or the cat will shit all over the wool rug your grandmother made by hand that is your mom's most cherished possession.
posted by Room 641-A at 2:17 PM on December 30, 2013

Others may disagree, and there may be regional and class differences, but I'd suggest showing your appreciation in a way that makes it clear this *isn't* compensation unless you have very specific reasons to believe that your neighbors would prefer to be paid. It may be irrational and wasteful, but people really do treat favors they do for friends very differently from jobs.

Once you start naming a dollars/day figure, it becomes a business transaction rather than an social obligation, and both you and your neighbors will begin to think of it as such. In may places, the esteem of neighbors is worth a lot more in cash than you'd pay a professional cat sitter. (As an example, I care for the pets of neighbors and colleagues a few times a year. But, as someone with enough money and far too little time, there's literally no way any of them could afford to pay me enough to pet-sit professionally. I'll happily do for free what I'd refuse to do at any reasonable price. But, I rarely have trouble finding reliable people to care for my cat when I'm away on short notice, which is worth a lot.)

Bringing back a souvenir from your trip is a thoughtful touch - foods are always nice. Failing that, wine, spirits, coffee, or exotic treats tend to be appreciated while remaining safely on the polite side of the "not actually a payment" line. If you're close enough friends, take them to a nice dinner when you return.

Also, don't worry too much about the cat. He'll be fine indoors for a week. Make absolutely sure he can't run out of water even if your neighbors turn out to be flakes who forget about him. Spring for the heated bed if you want to be extra nice.
posted by eotvos at 2:29 PM on December 30, 2013 [4 favorites]

I think buying a gift certificate to a place they like to eat at (perhaps for $70-100) is good. This means that you can ask them again if you need to, and covers issues like the cat deciding in a fit to go to the bathroom somewhere horrible (as happened when I was cat-sitting for a friend) without you having to feel too awful about the clean up. Failing that, a really nice bottle or two of wine.

Letting out the cat is creating far too many stressful situations, I would say - you really don't want to end up your neighbours having to search for him for hours if he decides to stay out a bit longer than normal.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 3:51 PM on December 30, 2013

Our next door neighbors pay my kids $10/day for twice a day feeding and hanging out while the kitties eat, but I think it's on the way-generous side, especially since all they're doing is walking next door, so no paying for gas or anything.

I'd plan on keeping kitty in, and warn them that he may attempt to escape - and hope that they're "cat people" and understand, because houdini-mode is pretty typical cat behavior. And if they don't already have at least a little acquaintance with kitty, it'd be a good idea to intro them ASAP, and do it a couple times, just a few minutes here and there - it'd help keep stress to a minimum, rather than kitty be in OMG Someone's Invading My House! mode.
posted by stormyteal at 4:20 PM on December 30, 2013

Oh my, and didn't look at your kitty pic til after I'd submitted... that is an absolutely adorable puddle of cat!
posted by stormyteal at 4:21 PM on December 30, 2013 [3 favorites]

Do your friends have pets of their own? We exchange pet care with some other cat-owning friends all the time. No money changes hands.
posted by bink at 5:56 PM on December 30, 2013

Response by poster: This is all really excellent advice everyone! Thanks so much. I feel a lot better.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:11 AM on December 31, 2013

Response by poster: Just wanted to let every know that the trip was great and our kitty did very well with us gone. We got everyone some bottles of good wine and are exchanging pet care this week for one of them while they're out of town.

Thanks again for all your help everyone!
posted by Lutoslawski at 12:47 PM on January 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

« Older Bridged DSL Modem Still Broadcasting SSID cause...   |   Suggestions for online (Mac) computing tutorials Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.