How to avoid our cat taking an Incredible Journey?
December 20, 2007 1:23 AM   Subscribe

We're heading home for Christmas. How do we make sure the 8 month old kitten we're taking with us doesn't freak out and disappear?

My wife and I are headed home to Scotland for Christmas, and we're taking our cat with us. Long story short, we didn't get our act together quick enough to find a cattery, and this is London, so half the population scarpers elsewhere at this time of year, and they were all solid-booked by October.

My folks live in a village outside Edinburgh, in a pretty quiet crescent street with no through traffic, just people getting in and out of their houses. They have three cats of their own, all outside cats, with a cat flap in the kitchen.

Our cat is approximately 8 months old (we got him as a stray from Battersea in London) and thoroughly settled in. We introduced him to the outside supervised, then unsupervised, then we put a cat flap in about three weeks ago, and he's in and out like nobody's business. He's a pretty chilled cat, especially now that he can go in and out as he likes. We've got an enormous shared garden at home with dozens of other cats around, so he's pretty used to having other mogs around.

My questions are:

a) what's the best approach, first of all to settling him in at my folk's place (we're going to be there for a couple of weeks) and introducing him to the other cats (who range in age and temperament, but are all girls)

b) Minimising the chances of him going outside and getting lost or scarpering? Confining him to the house is unrealistic, as the other cats (and he) are used to freedom of movement, and it's not a magnetic cat flap, so we can't selectively bar him from going out. The back garden is surrounded on all sides by fences, but he could be over them in a heartbeat.

Like I said, my feeling is that he's sufficiently attached to us that he won't disappear, and if we take it slow in letting him recover from travelling and gradually introduce him to the house, he'll be fine, but my wife is really worried about it - any advice appreciated!
posted by Happy Dave to Pets & Animals (13 answers total)
What about a cattery near Edinburgh? This was a eureka moment for my parents once when they were stuck in a similar situation. Maybe it's too late now, but a possibility for next time?

I'm sure other people will chime in with lots of socialisation ideas. But I would try to confine your cat to a part of the house, and I would be hesitant about letting him outside without supervision. Yes, he's used to freedom of movement, but a week or two living in a few rooms isn't going to kill him, and your peace of mind will be much greater. What do your parents do if one of their cats has to be confined when they're ill?

Also, are they all spayed/neutered?!
posted by Helga-woo at 2:27 AM on December 20, 2007

Helga-woo's idea of a cattery near your folks is great, but if it can't be done, then...

Take your kitten's bedding with you, take his own litter and tray, his own toys and food. It's sometimes a good idea to take a days worth of water with you as well.

He should be microchipped before you take him away. This is most important should the worst happen and he escapes. It will give you the best chance of getting him back. Also, make sure you have some clear, current photographs of him so you can make posters to put up if he disappears. A quick release, reflective collar with name tag and contact details is also important.

For the journey (I'll assume you are travelling by car) try and borrow a travelling cage from your vet. These are much bigger than standard cat carriers and allow puss to have some space to move around and also to have a small litter tray. They also allow you easier access to put in some food/water when you have a break on the journey and avoid the puss-leaping-out-in-the-car thing happening. Don't let him out of the cage during the journey. Some Feliway spray in the car would be a good idea too, it will help him be less anxious.

For settling him in when you get there, he will need one room where he can be quiet for probably for about 12 hours, out of the travelling cage, safely away from the other cats. A Feliway diffuser in the room would be helpful. Try to keep his feeding times as near to normal as you can.

I would not risk letting him out at all during the 2 weeks but if you really have no option and he is going crazy, then I think a harness would be a good idea. You need to get a harness today and start him wearing it today, with as little stress as possible. Approach this as if you have all the time in the world, it'll go better. For the first session, just let him wear the harness part but don't ever leave him unsupervised whilst wearing it. Don't pull him on the lead, just follow him around with the lead part loose to start with. If you can manage 3 short sessions a day, then you'll be doing well. 5 - 10 mins per session will be enough to start with.

If you can borrow a travelling cage (or buy one) then this can be used at your folk's house to confine him for short periods (it's also a safe place for him) amidst the other cats after a couple of days. I'd give them all two days before introducing them, and make sure all escape routes out of the house are shut when you do it. If he could have the room where your wife and you are staying as his base room then that would be ideal.

It's tempting to rely on your feelings that he is so attached to you that he won't roam/run far, but it's not wise. Adrenalin is a powerful drug that will be running high in his system during this two weeks. He may be an adaptable, affable fella with you, but the shock of a long journey, new surroundings, 3 female cats and strange people will be enough for him to forget that you represent his safety and well being, and he could just scarper when you are least expecting it. If he gets outside, other cats, dogs, loud noises, people etc can be just enough to send him off in panic.

Rather you than me on this one Happy Dave, good luck!
posted by Arqa at 2:32 AM on December 20, 2007

Yes, all cats are spayed and neutered.

But I would try to confine your cat to a part of the house, and I would be hesitant about letting him outside without supervision. Yes, he's used to freedom of movement, but a week or two living in a few rooms isn't going to kill him, and your peace of mind will be much greater.

See, that's the thing - my parental home is the kind of slightly chaotic place where doors are left open, cats are everywhere and there's two teenagers and umpteen visitors around all the time. We'd either have to confine him to the one room we're in (not practical, as it's pretty small, a cat box would stink it up but good and it's used during the day as a general study/computer room) or confine him to the hall and upstairs rooms (again, simply not practical, too many people moving around and other cats who are able to headbutt doors open if they're not closed firmly).

He's going to get outside some way or another, and what I'm looking for is ways to make that going outside as stress-free as possible and make sure if he does go exploring, he's going to come back. If we try and confine him, he will get out.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:36 AM on December 20, 2007

Arqa, thanks for the thoughts - we'll look into a harness. I may see if the folks are willing to somehow lock the catflap, but I don't think it can be locked.

He is already microchipped and we have lots of recent pictures of him, so that's good.

We're not actually going by car, we're taking a sleeper train, with a private cabin. If you pay for the deep cleaning afterward, you're allowed to transport animals. As it's an enclosed cabin, he should be able to come out and stretch his legs, and the cabins are so small there's no chance of him disappearing.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:43 AM on December 20, 2007

My guess is your biggest problem will be w/ the other cats accepting him. I've got the same issue occasionally when I head home, and have to reintroduce my cat to my parents' cats each time. Probably the best thing you can do is not care. They're cats and if they don't get along who gives a's only for a couple weeks.

As for letting him outside at a new place, i'd say let him roam. I've moved 3 times in the past couple years and the first thing I always do w/ my cat in the new territory is let her out. She's got enough sense to come back for snacks.

It sounds like the area you're gonna be in is safe I'd personally try the same.
posted by pilibeen at 2:47 AM on December 20, 2007

If it were me, I wouldn't take a chance with allowing him to roam. Yes, he is attached to you, but at this point only in the context of your home. New spaces can create confusion. (Unscientific, anecdotal evidence: We had a cat who ran off and never came back the first time she was brought outside at a new home.)

Could you buy/borrow a crate that would ordinarily be used for a [fairly large] dog? We have one that folds up flat and could be checked as luggage if we were to travel with it. That would be slightly less confining than a regular travel box and could be set up in a corner in your room with all the fixings inside (food, water, litter). Then all you'd have to worry about is litter stink, which is fairly easy to fix.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:09 AM on December 20, 2007

It is a long drive to Scotland. There are many catteries on the way. Drop him off and pick him up on the way back. All too risky otherwise.
posted by A189Nut at 4:30 AM on December 20, 2007

That's a lot of logistics and worry. If I were you I'd be looking for someone in London who could drop by to feed your cat and hang out with him a bit. A friend, a friendly neighbour, surely there must be someone in London who would do this, and let you travel without cat worries? Vets sometimes know about cat-minding people who are established as reliable, too.
posted by zadcat at 11:32 AM on December 20, 2007

In my experience, it is WAY more stressful for the cat to move locations than to be left alone. They are really territorial, and freak out if they're not in their scent-marked territories. (My extremely laid-back cat took six months to adjust to a new apartment.) I'd see if there's anyone who can look in on your cat every three days or so. He won't be happy, but he'll deal. Failing that, cattery or confinement in a small section of the house.
posted by ilyanassa at 2:21 PM on December 20, 2007

Well, we're in Scotland. We went overnight on the sleeper, and took things very slowly, and let him out to look around in our sleeper compartment. He seems to be doing just fine. I'm in the study at my Dad's with him right now, and he's looking around and rubbing his face on everything.

The catflap can be blocked with a slide-in panel, so we're going to keep him in the study the first couple of days, then block the catflap and let him into the rest of the house so he can meet the other cats. He had a brief encounter with the alpha female when he arrived. She hissed, he growled a bit. Nothing too crazy.

Thanks for all the advice - we've called around the catteries in the Edinburgh area, and, as I suspected, they're all jam-packed. I'll try again today, but I think it might be a non-starter.

As expected, the nature of my parental home (Dad wandering into the study, forgetting about the new cat, and leaving the door open, which has happened twice already) means that it's going to be incredibly difficult to confine him to one room beyond the first couple of days. I'd rather we slowly introduced him to his new surroundings, firmly controlled and with a bolt hole to go back to than he gets lucky and makes a sudden leap for freedom and finds himself outside.

Next year, I'm booking cattery slots six months in advance. It's not worth it for the stress to the cat and us - if we'd had any other choice we'd have left him in London, but all our friends are out of town too.

I'll update on how he adapts, for any future readers.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:12 AM on December 21, 2007

Final update:

Well, no Incredible Journey was taken. We're back at home now, and the kitten is curled up beside me here on the sofa giving himself a bath. For the benefit of future cat-owning Mefites, here's what we did:

1) Following the advice in this thread, we decided not to risk letting the cat out. He was allowed the run of the house, and my family were very careful about keeping him indoors. The catflap had a drop-in portcullis style panel that blocked it, so we would pop that in during the day, and let the other cats out if they yowled. At night, we unblocked it and kept him in the room with us.

2) For the first day or so, we kept our kitten in the room we were staying in. We put his travelling box under the desk (the room is used as a study) to create a nice bolt-hole for him. We also took a deep tea-crate style plastic box and filled it about a third full of cat litter (his normal litter tray was too bulky to bring with us). The depth of the cat litter meant he had a good amount to dig around in and cover up his doings, meaning we didn't choke if he chose to go in the middle of the night. We also kept his food and water in the room, effectively making it his base. He spent quite a bit of time in there, and we would confine him to that room and unblock the cat flap if we were going to be out for more than a couple of hours, so the other cats could get out.

3) He got on alright with the other cats, although we had four or five days of hissing and circling to start with, especially with the alpha female. After a proper 'ball o' cat' catfight in the second week (fur literally flying), they seemed to back off and by the time we left they were sleeping happily on opposite ends of the same sofa.

4) We had one escape in the two weeks. He managed to slip out while my wife was going out into the back garden (he was waiting under the kitchen table and darted out before she could stop him). He muddled around in the back garden for a bit, then disappeared under the fence into the back garden when we busted out my Dad's diving torch to try and spot him. We backed off and went inside, leaving the door open, then I went outside and and waited til I heard a very quiet mewing, then called to him. After a couple of laps round the garden, he sauntered back in the door looking utterly unconcerned.

Thanks for your thoughts and suggestions Mefites, on balance I think it was sensible (and easier than I thought it would be) to keep him inside. Now, I better unlock the catflap and let him go and re-mark all his territory.
posted by Happy Dave at 5:02 AM on January 3, 2008

Thanks for the update Happy Dave. I'm really glad it went well and you all came back intact! Sounds like you handled the escape brilliantly :)
posted by Arqa at 8:30 AM on January 3, 2008

Glad to hear the journey went well ... just thought I'd add my comments to the thread. You did the right thing not letting him out. Cats get stressed in new locations with new smells and there is a high risk of them escaping and not coming back.

We are a cat veterinary clinic in London and the advice we give clients is generally

1. The best outcome for your cat is for you to arrange with a neighbour or somebody to look after them at your home. Generally someone popping in once or twice a day is sufficient. A professional cat sitting service is the best option. Make sure you ask for references before handing over your keys. There are plenty of professional cat sitters in London but they do tend to get booked out at peak times. Try local vets also as many have nurses who moonlight as cat sitters, and they are also alert to the signs of potential health problems.

2. Second best outcome is to leave him in a cattery. Again, spaces do tend to be limited in holiday times in London but if you have a car there are plenty of nice ones with outdoor space within 30-45 mins drive.

3. If you do take them away never ever let them out. The risk of them being disorientated or not wanting to return because it is a strange stressful environment are too high.

4. Whether they are in a cattery or you take them with you make sure you surround them with familiar smells and objects. Take their bed, scratching post, favourite jumper, toys ... anything that will remind him of home. This will reduce stress and also increase the chances of him coming back if he does happen to escape.

5. Don't change his diet. If you are feeding him a special food that might not be available wherever you are going, then stock up for the trip.

6. If there are other cats there do not mix. Keep them in separate rooms with separate litter trays, eating areas and play areas.

7. If your cat is old and not used to travelling or suffers from an ongoing medical condition the kindest thing to do is to make sure he is looked after by a trained cat sitter or veterinary nurse. Many vets also have boarding facilities on site but make sure you check them out first as you do not want him caged in an area that has the sight, smell or sounds of strange dogs as this is the number one cause of stress for cats at the vets.
posted by www.KittenToCat.com_Cat-Vet-in-London at 10:49 AM on July 7, 2008

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