With so many people traveling during the holidays, there is always a question as to how to care for the pets while away. Dogs can either be brought with you or you hire a dog walker. No responsible pet owner would dream of leaving a dog alone with no walker or sitter for more than half a day. Yet people seem to think that cats, who can do their business inside of a litter box, and who can eat food set down in a bowl without stuffing themselves into a coma, can stay alone for days -- or longer. Well, my cat loving friends, this just isn’t true.
As a long-time cat owner, I would say that a cat can go 24 hours without anyone in the home, and that is provided the cat isn’t on medication or has litter box issues (in which case a dirty litter box might make kitty opt for the floor) or eats a wet-food only diet.
But when it comes to the 25th hour -- you definitely need someone to come care for your feline friend. And here are 4 good reasons.
1) Yes, cats get lonely. They may not show it as much as dogs, but they do. Many a cat owner can attest to coming home and finding a “gift” of vomit on their favorite shirt when left alone too long. A cat’s way of protesting. Additionally, cats can become depressed and stop eating. A cat can suffer health issues if he or she goes for more than 24 hours without eating. Lonely cats can also become destructive. Kittens especially should never be left alone for more than half a day. They need to eat at least four times a day, and they should be eating wet food for a more balanced diet. Wet food needs to be put down fresh. If you absolutely can’t be there for a day, you can buy an automated wet food feeder. Kittens are also more energetic and can wreak havoc when left alone to their own devices. A single kitten can get extremely lonely very fast.
2) Emergencies. You never know what could happen to a cat left alone for too long. One of my cats got his nail stuck on his scratching post and was hanging there, unable to move. It was a good thing I was home. A kitten I was fostering got stuck under the couch. One cat got a UTI blockage and had to be rushed to the vet to have his bladder drained. Again, good thing I was home. He could have died otherwise. If you are hiring a sitter, always give that sitter a credit card to use in case of emergency, or have one on file with your vet and leave your vet’s information. Your cat may seem perfectly healthy, but cats can go downhill with no warning.
If that doesn’t convince you, take my friend’s experience. Someone broke into her apartment while she was away for Thanksgiving. The burglar got in through a window, and when he left, he left her window wide open. Luckily, her two cats did not escape. But that's probably because she had a cat sitter who discovered the situation within a few hours.
3) Litter box. The vast majority of cats need their litter scooped at least twice a day, or they will stop using it.
4) Christmas decorations. If you’ve got them around when you leave, there’s no telling what kind of mayhem a cat could get into. Cats are particularly prone to eating tinsel, which is dangerous. Make sure that decorations are out of reach before you leave your cat alone.
If you are looking to leave for more than three to four days, I personally think a cat sitter sleepover is a good idea. You can also leave music on for kitty. Make sure the sitter agrees to spend a half an hour minimum twice a day, or at least an hour or two if coming only once a day.
In terms of what to look for in a sitter, Ann Simkins of Small Pet World Sitters says, "We send a cat questionnaire ahead of the meet and greet for the cat guardian to fill out and email back. It provides all information about food, litter, medications, where supplies are kept, vet information, emergency contact information, where the cat carriers are kept, contact info for the building super if an apartment building, any further descriptions about the cats personalities and behaviors. We also send a vet release and contract to fill out and they give to us at the meet and greet. If the cat is a returning customer, we always ask for any updated information."
Simkins will only see a cat every day, not every other day, and she has good reasons. Some horror stories: "During a heat wave, one cat had heat stroke. When we went to make a visit, the cat was lethargic and barely moving. We had to go to the emergency room. The vet said if we had seen the cat the day before, it would have been avoided. We also sat for a woman that had one cat. A family member was doing the every other day. When we went to make a visit, the cat was not there. It had gotten out the day before when the family member went in. We spent half a day looking for the cat, alone. Thankfully we did locate the cat."
Simkins recommends hiring a sitter rather than asking a friend or neighbor to take over. She says she gets a lot of last-minute requests from people whose friends have suddenly flaked out, leaving them in the lurch. And sitters are very busy over the holidays, so last-minute bookings are difficult. Also, it’s pretty doubtful your neighbor or pal will want to spend hours in an emergency room over the holidays with your cat if anything happens -- something a sitter considers part of his or her job.
What a sitter charges depends entirely on the sitter and also where you live, but it’s not uncommon for cat sitters to charge $20-$50 per visit. You can find cat sitters online at petsitters.org or by asking around. Shelters and pet food stores will often have recommendations. Believe me, I’ve heard some stories of irresponsible sitters who showed late, barely stayed, or didn’t show at all, so use someone who comes recommended by friends or a reputable organization.
Will you hire a cat sitter?
Image via E Photo/Flickr