She’s more than your cat. She’s a member of your family. You won’t leave her with just anyone. When you’re away, you want someone to care for your cat as well as you do.
The first step in searching for the right caregiver is to ask your veterinarian, friends and family for referrals. Their honest input and recommendations can give you peace of mind.
Then, decide whether to hire a pet sitter who makes visits to or stays in your home, or board your cat at a kennel or veterinary clinic. Both have pros and cons. With a boarding facility, you can rest easy knowing that your cat is safely confined and supervised by cat care professionals. Plus, boarding facilities can provide the opportunity for socialization, if your cat is friendly. But moving her from her comfort zone into a noisy boarding environment with new people and other animals may be stressful for her. Her space would be more limited inside a kennel than at home. Pet sitters offer your cat more freedom, less stress and more one-on-one attention. They can also check on your home while you’re away. But the wrong pet sitters can be unreliable, and there’s always a security risk in letting someone in your home when you’re not there. Here are some things to look for in both boarding facilities and pet sitters:
- Visit the facility. Check its safety and cleanliness. Cats should be boarded in a separate area from dogs. Does each kennel have a water bowl, bed and litter box? Is the temperature comfortable? Do they have an air exchange system to keep cats healthy? Also watch how the staff interacts with the pets boarded there.
- Do they offer one-on-one playtime with a staff member?
- Do they have a policy for veterinary emergencies?
- Is a staff member onsite 24 hours a day, 7 days a week?
- Is the location close?
- Are the drop-off and pick-up hours convenient?
- How far in advance do they recommend making reservations?
- They should require all cats to be current on vaccinations. If they don’t, go elsewhere.
- Read online reviews, and ask other cat owners if they’ve used the facility.
- If you’re enlisting the help of a trusted neighbor, friend or family member, they must be 100% reliable. You should feel confident that this person takes responsibilities seriously and always follows through with commitments.
- If you’re hiring a professional pet sitter, first get to know her by phone or email. How long has she been working with cats? Does she have a cat of her own? She (and any employees who will be helping) should be insured, bonded, and certified in providing pet first aid. Ask for references and a service contract.
- Invite the pet sitter over to see how she interacts with your cat. Does your cat warm up to her?
- If she doesn’t plan to stay in your home, how often will she visit? Most healthy adult cats are fine with being checked on once or twice a day. Kittens under four months of age should not be left alone more than four hours.
- Meet everyone who will be caring for your cat while you are away, as pet-sitting services may employ more than one person.
- Does she have an emergency backup if for some reason she’s unable to care for your cat?
- The pet sitter should pay attention and take notes while you explain your cat’s feeding schedule, litter box instructions, likes and dislikes.
- Outline communication expectations, such as requesting a daily text or email to let you know everything is okay at home.
Once you feel comfortable with either a boarding facility or pet sitter, it’s time to give them a try. Be sure to leave the following with the caregiver:
- Enough food for the duration of her stay (plus extra in case of emergency) and feeding instructions
- Any medications and dosage instructions
- A phone number where you can be reached, plus an emergency contact
- Contact information for your veterinarian and authorization to treat your cat in case of an emergency
- For the pet sitter, a key or instructions on how to get into your home
- For the boarding facility, perhaps a favorite blanket to make your cat feel more at home
Also, make sure your cat wears an identification tag. Some boarding facilities remove collars and use their own identification to prevent collar-related injuries in kennels. After her stay, talk to the caregiver about your cat’s behavior. Did she seem comfortable and outgoing, or was she skittish and remained hidden most of the time? Did she eat her usual amount of food? Did she use her litter box, or did she go outside the box to show displeasure?
Once you find the right caregiver, you’ll know it. Your cat will eventually feel at ease when you’re away. Then you can breathe a sigh of relief knowing you’re leaving your furry family member in good hands.