As a cat lover who has never owned a dog, I have a little bit of envy when I see a canine at an outdoor restaurant or spot a pooch happily hanging its head out of a car window. Although I know my kitties adore me and crave my companionship, in their minds, that only takes place in one location: home.
Currently, my husband and I have five cats. We’ve fostered more than 150 felines over the past eight years, so five “foster fails” seems reasonable, right? Admittedly, that’s a lot of kitties to think about when we’re away, and because I work from home, not having a human around when we travel is a bit stressful for them. However, over the years, I’ve perfected my routine and enlisted some help — human and electronic — to set everyone up for success. Here are four things I’d recommend when leaving your cats at home while you travel.
One of the best things I ever did was purchase a timed pet feeder. Automated feeding eliminates the need to have mealtimes, especially when my brood wants to eat in the middle of the night. However, a great side benefit is that the feeder still regulates my cats’ portions while we are away. I’ve also invested in an automatic water fountain and self-cleaning litter box, making my daily life easier and giving me confidence when traveling.
If you’re using anything electronic, though, get your animals used to it well before going away. At first, my cats were petrified of the timed feeder and incredibly leery of the automatic litter box. “It’s important to test run these products for at least a week or so beforehand to ensure they work and your cat understands them,” recommends Josh Snead, who is the CEO of Rainwalk Pets. Additionally, many automated pet devices connect to WiFi or have an accompanying app so that owners see if food is running low or if the device is malfunctioning. Setting things up before leaving on your vacation can help you experiment with how to read and reset your electronics from afar.
Cats are curious creatures. When I’m home I can keep an eye on their antics, and I want to leave with complete confidence that they can’t get into trouble — or at least lessen the temptation — while I’m gone. I’ve found it effective to close doors to unnecessary rooms, limiting where they can roam. This makes it easier for our pet sitter to easily lay eyes on all five felines, especially because one is shy and doesn’t always voluntarily appear. My sitter can quickly take an inventory to ensure they’re all safe.
Also, take note of potential pitfalls for your particular cats. For example, if they like knocking things off the counter, check that you don’t have breakables close to the edge of a table or surface. Some kitties also like to chew cords, climb furniture, or play with potentially hazardous items, such as bread ties and hair elastics. Doing your best to minimize these situations before embarking will give you peace of mind while you’re away.
Most cats can be left alone for a few days or a long weekend if you provide enough food and water. However, if you’re gone for any longer, hire a pet sitter or have a trusted friend check in on them as often as they’re willing. Although cats are pretty self-sufficient, they could get sick or injured, and the last thing you want when you come home from vacation is to take your pet to the emergency clinic. I hire a pet sitter to come and play with my cats for 30 minutes, refill their food and water, and scoop the litter box.
Samantha Bell, who is a cat expert at the nonprofit Best Friends Animal Society, agrees that a pet professional is the way to go, although it’s best to familiarize them with your home and cats before your trip. “Make sure to meet with the sitter before their first visit so you can introduce them to your cats and show them where all the supplies are,” says Bell, adding that you should always let your neighbors know you’ll be gone and that a pet sitter has access to your house.
Unfortunately, things can happen, even when you’re home, so it’s best to have extra assurance when going out of town. Leave a key with a trusted neighbor in case your pet sitter can’t make it or you receive an alert that one of your automatic devices is going haywire.
One time, one of us (not me!) left the wrong key in the mailbox, so I’ve learned from experience to test the key beforehand — thankfully, a family friend was able to help out.
Leave contact information for your regular veterinarian and local after-hours clinic in a prominent place in case your cat needs immediate attention. Also, pets can go without food longer than they can be without water, so I place extra water bowls around the house in case my return trip gets delayed. Although boredom isn’t an emergency, I also leave a few new toys for my kitties to discover, play with, and keep themselves entertained while they lack their standard dose of human interaction until we get home.