handling cat-care while on vacation
July 9, 2014 5:37 AM   Subscribe

We are going on vacation in October and are having a minor disagreement as to the best way to handle the care of our cat while we're gone. SO thinks we should drop the cat off at his mother's house for the week, I disagree. Am I being unreasonable?

This is the first time we are going on vacation together since we got The Stig (obligatory photo here) back in 2011. We will be gone for 10 days. I was thinking we would board the little guy with our vet (whom we like very much). SO says we should have his mother take care of the cat.

SO's mother is a great person, and she's had cats all her life. In the past six months, she's had to put down her two elderly cats - one due to advanced kidney disease, the other due to a large cancerous lump in the abdomen. SO's mom is retired and I'm sure she would love to have a kitty romping around the house for a while and she'd take good care of him.

But I have reservations - the primary one being that it seems like it would be disorienting for our cat to abruptly be dropped off at someone else's house, especially one that still smells like other cats. I worry that he might destroy her place by peeing all over it in a territorial frenzy, or scratching up her carpeting.

I also worry about the possibility of him accidentally getting out. The Stig is an indoor cat who lives in an apartment. SO's mom also always had indoor cats, but she lives in a larger house with many more potential exits, and she lives by a very busy road and about 10 years ago one of her cats at the time got out accidentally and was squished by a truck.

My third main worry is that SO's mom is a frequent caretaker of SO's niece and nephew, ages 6 and 7 respectively, due to their parents' work schedules. Sweet kids but very rambunctious and prone to manhandling animals. SO's mother has actively worked to get the kids better about interacting with pets, but her cats were elderly and tended to just hide when the kids came over, avoiding the potential of having their tails pulled or being aggressively dragged around the house. I do not want the kids manhandling my pet - partially because I don't think it's kind to the cat, and also because he hasn't been around kids that often and I worry that if he is manhandled he will scratch or bite them out of fear, and I don't want the kids to get hurt.

I also think that there is more of a risk of the cat getting loose when the kids are over. They are not as vigilant about keeping doors shut. With the late elderly cats over there hiding most of the time the kids were over this wasn't a problem, but The Stig is still a young guy and very curious and I think if given the opportunity he'd sneak out.

And finally, it just seems weird to me to drop our cat off at someone else's house. I'd rather have SO's mom come over every day to play with The Stig, top off his food, check his water fountain, and clean the litter box, than take him over to her house. I'd be totally okay with his mom even staying at our place for the week as a house/cat sitter (we also have plants that will be neglected during our vacation so that might be helpful), though I don't think she would be able to do that because of her obligations to provide childcare for her grandkids.

I honestly would rather board him at the vet than leave him at SO's mom's house.

SO thinks I am being silly. I disagree. But he may have a point. Does he have a point? How do we move forward from this impasse?

Cat-owners of Mefi, how best should we handle cat-care while we are on vacation?
posted by thereemix to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I agree the ideal solution would be for SO's mom to come over to your place, but if that's asking too much of her, is hiring a cat-sitter an option? Someone to stop by once or twice a day to play/feed/water and bring in the mail. Around here that's cheaper than vet boarding, and I tend to think it's better for most cats to stay in their familiar surroundings than to live in a cage at the vet for that long.

I think the big risk of your SO's mom's place is the kids. I agree that I would not want my cats around rambunctious little kids; they haven't been socialized for it and I don't know how they would react, and wouldn't trust kids I don't know to be careful about keeping the cats indoors.

That's probably the reason I would board instead if those are the only two options. The disorienting thing is going to happen whether it's at your mom's house or the vet, and if your mom wants to take on the risk of a cat-destruction frenzy, that's her call.
posted by Stacey at 5:45 AM on July 9, 2014 [10 favorites]

And finally, it just seems weird to me to drop our cat off at someone else's house.

This is the base issue. Everything else is just you making excuses because of this. SO's mom wants to do it. It is not weird to let people help you when they want to help you. Let her do it.
posted by Etrigan at 5:46 AM on July 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'd present it to SO this way- IF cat gets out/injured/worse, it would damage your relationship with SO's mom. You wouldn't want it to, of course, but it would be hard to get past.

Get a pet sitter to come to the house or get SO's mom to come to the house. Problem solved.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 5:46 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

It's definitely best to keep the cat at home and have someone come over to take care of him, even if you have to hire a cat sitter.
posted by Jacqueline at 5:48 AM on July 9, 2014 [11 favorites]

Yes, anytime we go on vacation we have someone come over to our house to check on Kitty. It's much less traumatizing for the kitty.
posted by Librarypt at 5:52 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

If The Stig smells other kitties at SO's mom's house, his behavior could be very problematic. I'd definitely point that out!

Even if he doesn't mark, the growling can be very unpleasant for all concerned!
posted by jgirl at 5:57 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't understand. If kitty doesn't take special medication or something, can't you just have someone come over once a day (maybe even every other day) to feed him and empty the litter?
posted by k8t at 5:58 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I was thinking we would board the little guy with our vet

I can't imagine how leaving the cat with your SO's mom would be more traumatizing to the cat than boarding her at the vet. From the cat's point of view, having someone come in once or twice a day to feed it / clean the litterbox would be the best solution. There are people who do this as at least a supplemental job, most of them are comfortable medicating the cat as well. You could even check with your vet to see if they know anyone - they might even have a vet tech who moonlights as a catsitter.
posted by mr vino at 6:00 AM on July 9, 2014 [14 favorites]

Parts of what you're saying definitely don't make sense, such as the idea that your SO's mom's house might be stressful because it's unfamiliar and have the lingering odor of other cats, but somehow the vet's place, which is also strange and will have the fresh odor, noise and sounds of many other cats and dogs, will be less stressful. That makes no sense. Moving him anywhere will probably be somewhat stressful, but I suspect a strange house is likely to be the less stressful of the two.

Do you have some reason to mistrust your MIL? If you have to move the cat somewhere, then entrusting him to a long-term keeper of indoor cats seems fairly ideal. I expect that she knows enough about cats and kids to keep them all safe.
posted by jon1270 at 6:00 AM on July 9, 2014 [7 favorites]

Nthing pet sitter, it's what I do as well. When friends are in town who love my kitties, if they offer to drop by, that's cool as well. Kitties get to play with moar people!

Be sure to interview pet sitters first – you'll want to know you can trust yours. A couple years ago I went to Australia for four weeks, and an acquaintance who loves cats was supposed to stay in my place for two of those weeks. As a result, we set it up so pet sitter and acquaintance had each others' phone numbers; the pet sitter would sit for the first two weeks, then hand over the keys to acquaintance. The pet sitter gave her the keys to my place as agreed, and then the acquaintance... decided my place smelled musty and so went to a hotel, leaving my cats locked in my home, with no more than an FB message to say she refused to set foot in my place again. While I was in Australia!!! Thank GOODNESS the pet sitter checked up with her and with me – she was able to get the keys back and took time from her fully-booked schedule (it was Christmas!!) to take care of my kitties anyway, for the remaining two weeks.

Always. Interview. Your pet sitter. :) Ask the what they do in case of emergency, though they should offer that info up-front: meaning they should ask you for your vet, describe how they handle vet expenses, etc.
posted by fraula at 6:00 AM on July 9, 2014

Not to thread-sit but thought I should clarify: In thinking this over while writing the question I realized that I'd much rather have SO's mom come to the house each day to feed him/play/empty the litter, instead of boarding him or taking him to her house.

I do not mistrust SO's mom - she's a good egg and loves cats. I mistrust the little kids who are at her house 4 times a week.

I also mistrust our cat's ability to not freak out at the smell of other cats that he cannot see. The last time I house/pet-sat for my friends he peed on my duffel bag when I came home because presumably it smelled like unfamiliar cats and dog.
posted by thereemix at 6:05 AM on July 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I would never, ever leave my cat at someone's house if I thought there was a possibility of the cat getting loose - and it seems like a cat in an unfamiliar place with unfamiliar people is much more likely to bolt and then really run away, as opposed to going out into the yard for a look-see.

I would hire a pet sitter, if possible, or pay a friend or the responsible teenage children of a friend (responsible ones only). Failing that, I'd much prefer the vet, since they're less likely to engage in foolery about doors.
posted by Frowner at 6:06 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Why does your SO want to drop the cat off instead of having his mother come over?

You understand your position quite well, but once you understand his position you'll be able to find ways to alleviate his concerns and/or appropriately weigh them against your own.
posted by the young rope-rider at 6:11 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

It doesn't really matter what your reasons are for not wanting to leave the cats with your MIL, the fact is that if you do go that route, you'll be worried your entire vacation. If it were me (and my slightly neurotic attachment levels to my cats) that worry would be enough to ruin the entire vacation. And heaven forbid something actually happen to the cats at MILs house, you are going to resent your husband for it. That alone would be enough to say f' it, I'm getting a (interviewed, vetted, trusted) pet sitter, for the sake of the vacation and potentially the marriage. Never mind the cats happiness, which would also be with the sitter, at home, in their space. Cats don't like change, it's stressful enough for them to have you swap out their 'people' for the time. If you can help it, they'd much prefer if you don't swap out their 'space' as well.
posted by cgg at 6:12 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

The first time I went on vacation after getting my cat, I thought it would be best to leave her at a friend's house. This was a mistake. The friend had lots of other animals in the house, my cat was traumatized at being in an unfamiliar, weird-smelling place with lots of other cat scents around. She ate very little and cried the whole time.

Generally, I've found that the best scenario is to leave her at home and have neighbors or a friend stop by and check on her when I'm away. I don't think it's necessary to have someone stop by every single day for most cats, unless there is a health issue involved. If I'm gone for a week, my cat does fine with being checked on several times in a 7 day period. Have someone (friend, neighbor, family member) clean the litter, top off the food and water, and she's good. For shorter trips (~3-4 days), I've left her alone with plenty of food, water and ventilation, clean litter -- and she's been fine. She much prefers being in a familiar space than being uprooted and stuck somewhere that feels foreign and scary.

I also agree with Frowner. I would never leave my cat in a home where there was a chance she could get out. Like you, I would also be worried about random kids playing with (or, more likely, scaring) my cat.

Leaving the cat with the vet does not sound like a good idea either. My cat is generally frightened and upset when she visits the vet. Your cat would essentially be stuck in a cage for a week, right?

Just leave your kitty at home and get someone trustworthy to stop by and check in. I'd also suggest leaving clear, written instructions for any specific aspects of cat-care that are important to you.
posted by Gray Skies at 6:12 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

You have until October; sounds like you need to schedule a bunch of play dates where you bring Stig to MIL and have the children over both at your house and your MIL so they can interact with the Stig. Asking someone who has other commitments to come to your house everyday is a pretty big ask. That is when you hire someone (unless she offers, in which case you give her a really nice present/look after the kids a bunch of times to give her a break).
posted by saucysault at 6:13 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

If the two options here are vet vs SO's mom, I'd go with the vet. You're going on vacation, which should be a delightfully relaxing time for all involved, and it sounds like if you concede to letting The Stig stay with mom, you'll spend the entire time fretting about how it's going - and that's not exactly relaxing for anyone. I'd frame it that way to your SO, too, since presumably they're invested in making this a good vacation.

Is your SO worried about offending mom (who offered or already agreed) by changing the plans? Or about the cost of the vet boarding? Or something else that you could find a way to work around? There's likely some way to keep things smooth and you've got a bit of time to brainstorm it before October rolls around.

(If you can find a way to have someone come in to feed/water/scoop for your cat-friend AND take care of your plants, that sounds like the best option of all. And probably less costly than the vet boarding and more relaxing for kitty!)
posted by VioletU at 6:18 AM on July 9, 2014

My cat is 13 and incredibly delicate and darling and the absolute apple of my eye. Both options you presented -- vet boarding or going to someone's house -- would stress her out to no end and she would spend a full ten days hissing and spite-urinating on every human she could find. Having someone come in every day to pet, feed and scoop her causes absolutely no stress and she is safe, happy and secure. So I would suggest doing that if at all possible.
posted by kate blank at 6:31 AM on July 9, 2014

Generally, cats are more place fixated than people fixated. That is, it is probably more important to your cat to stay in her own territory, than is the question of who in particular feeds her.
posted by Omnomnom at 6:34 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I agree with others that having her stay at your place (sans kids) or having her come by every day are better options than The Stig staying at her house or being boarded.

I've had my partner's parents stay over full-time, and I've had a professional cat sitter come by daily. The parents were good because they were better able to monitor for pee/poop accidents, but the cats pretty much spent the whole time in hiding. They also hide from the cat sitter, but they have free reign of the house the other 23 hours of the day, so I think that's a plus.

These days, I always hire the cat sitter when we'll be away for more than two nights. It's really a relief!

If those aren't options, maybe you can talk to your SO's mom about confining The Stig to one part of the house, and limiting the kids to the rest of the place. This might be feasible depending on her house's size and layout (especially if there are interior doors that she can lock). If that can't be done, then I'd be tempted to go with boarding, too. It's traumatic for him, but it will give you more peace of mind about his safety.
posted by neushoorn at 6:35 AM on July 9, 2014

I'd put out a feeler on facebook to see if any friends who live near you would be able to cat sit (drop in regularly and take care of the cat necessaries and give the critter some attention). If I lived within a reasonable distance, I'd be happy to cat sit for any of my friends, and I say this as a person who is both allergic to and generally dislikes cats. It's just that I have a dog and I know how time and need demanding pets are. I (and I'm sure many other people) would be happy to lend a hand in this situation.

I agree with you and others that sending her off to mom's place doesn't sound like the best idea.
posted by phunniemee at 6:39 AM on July 9, 2014

I might be willing to send him to the mom's house if a) he knew mom and got along with her; b) he would be kept in _one_ _room_ rather than roaming the whole house. One room is a nice safe place, easier to "know" completely and feel safe in (fewer hiding places for potential predators). Whenever you introduce a cat to a new place, you start with the cat in a small room like a bathroom, then gradually enlarge the territory (a master bathroom/bedroom works well for this), but in 10 days the territory should stay small.

I agree with the above folks about hiring a pet sitter, though. You might consider having Mom on some days, and pet sitter on other days. Mom might hang out and really play with the cat when she comes (she's probably going through cat withdrawal - maybe it's kitten time?)

You could present it this way: "Hey Mom, would you be willing to come hang out with The Stig some of the days we'll be gone, maybe every third day, or weekend days (whatever is most convenient), or something? We'll get a professional pet sitter for the other days. Just let us know which of these days would be convenient for you. I know he'll be happy to see you!"
posted by amtho at 6:59 AM on July 9, 2014

One other note: 10 days is kind of a lot. In the past, I've been lucky enough to have 2-3 friends willing to help so they don't have to come _every_ _day_; this works best with a people-loving cat, though.
posted by amtho at 7:00 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Your trip is not until October. Have you considered doing a "sleepover test run" with The Stig at your SO's mother's house? (Depending of course on how well The Stig travels - my Digby cries like a little bitch in the car and it is traumatic for him, so he travels as little as possible.) Invite the children as well and see how they all interact.

I think this would be a fair offering to your SO as a way to come to agreement. If all goes well - great! If not, then your SO will know you at least tried his way and it didn't work.
posted by NoraCharles at 7:11 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Test run would be good if not for the concerns about kids and getting outside - neither of these are likely to be involved in a one-night stay. Getting outside only has to happen once in the entire 10-day vacation for a really bad result; establishing a pattern or low probabiliy won't prove it can't happen.
posted by amtho at 7:25 AM on July 9, 2014

tl;dr. The best solution is to let the cat stay at home and have a cat sitter come by once a day to visit, feed and clean up. Second best is the vet. Least preferred is some random unfamiliar scary environment (mother's house) unless the cat already has a hiss-tory (sorry) there.
posted by JimN2TAW at 7:32 AM on July 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Obviously you know mom better than we do, but I have had a bad experience with this very scenario. We used to take our cat to my in laws' house when we went out of town. We had some strict rules about him staying in a certain part of the house, eating a measured amount of his specific foods, and being kept away from the dogs who freaked him out. These rules helped us feel comfortable leaving him there. Anyway, at some point we discovered my mother in law was basically breaking all of these rules. She thought they were silly, and she was treating him like a "grandson" by spoiling him. Even if some of the rules were silly, they were important to us and she told us she'd follow them.

So, we stopped taking him there, and HUGE multi-year family drama ensued, where she was livid that we no longer trusted her to watch him. Even to this day I'm sure if someone brought it up, it would cause a fight.

So now, our cats don't leave the house, and they're checked on my professional cat sitters. Never family or friends. Professionals don't mind following the rules even if they're silly, and they don't ruin thanksgiving if you stop hiring them.
posted by primethyme at 7:42 AM on July 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have bent over backwards to have people come sit with our kitties. Take a poll among friends, summer is the perfect time of year to have young adults house/cat sit. There are kids, younger siblings, people with roommates they'd like a break from, etc. I'd pay about $100 and stock the fridge.

Our cats are spoiled rotten, so they're used to getting pets, love, scratching up the furniture, and would freak right the fuck out if we dropped them off somewhere.

So option #3 is best. Have a cat sitter, or failing that, have people come by to feed and love on The Stig (Who looks like a fluffy-tummy-lovey-dude).
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:15 AM on July 9, 2014

Cat-sitter technique: if you trust your cat sitter, making your washer/dryer available can be very nice for them, and lead to more time they spend at your place.
posted by amtho at 8:53 AM on July 9, 2014 [4 favorites]

The Stig is so cute!

Another vote for getting a cat sitter, whether it's SO's mother, a friend, or a professional cat sitter. This is what we do when we go out of town. In our case, I have a friend who house-sits and pet-sits when we're both out of town. (Our place is closer to her work than her place is, so it's a win-win for everyone!) But as long as someone comes by daily to feed The Stig, change his litter, etc., he should be fine. I agree that it is much more disruptive and upsetting for a cat to go to unfamiliar territory.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:32 AM on July 9, 2014

Do you live in NYC? I might be able to cat sit for you (and stay at your place to keep the kitty company). Feel free to Memail me...
posted by three_red_balloons at 10:00 AM on July 9, 2014

Cats are territorial and will almost always be better served by staying in their nice comfortable home and having a human minion come by periodically to refill the food and water, scoop the box, and give them some play time.

The best solution for us has been a close-living friend with a cat; we swap off cat-sitting duties.
posted by oblique red at 2:03 PM on July 9, 2014

The last time I house/pet-sat for my friends he peed on my duffel bag when I came home because presumably it smelled like unfamiliar cats and dog.

This is a thing you need to discuss with your SO's mom. Stress that you think that it might be problematic, and you don't want anything to happen. If possible, don't do an end run around your SO, but see if you can discuss all the issues together. SO's mom might be fine with coming over, (although it's a PITA, IMO to have to do that with no compensation.)
posted by BlueHorse at 4:57 PM on July 9, 2014

Oh we would definitely compensate her! She'd refuse money from us but we definitely are planning on giving her some sort of gift basket or gift certificate...or a bottle of wine...or a nice dinner out. Or something.

We have decided that we would prefer to let The Stig stay at home rather than uproot him and risk him going all territorial-nutso on SO's mother's house. We're also planning on asking a couple of our friends to cover Stig-duty on some of the days we are out so it doesn't fall all on her (though she only lives 20 minutes away and the grandkids live halfway between our apartment and her house). We've got a few months to iron out the details.

Thanks as always to you all for helping us come to a decision on this! Cat-loving Mefites are the best! :)
posted by thereemix at 5:24 AM on July 10, 2014

BTW thanks so much for the offer three_red_balloons but we actually live up in the Hudson Valley (I'm one of those Metro North commuters) so that would be way out of the way for you. But again, thank you for the offer. You are very sweet. :)
posted by thereemix at 5:26 AM on July 10, 2014

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