Boarding your cat isn’t a subject that should be taken lightly. We are a much more well-travelled society than we used to be, despite cat ownership also being at record levels, and this means we are also increasingly likely to have the need for a cat boarding facility at some point.
Any change to a cat’s environment is potentially very stressful for the animal. They may look nonplussed and uninterested most of the time, but that’s simply because they know their surroundings and are comfortable in the knowledge that everything will always be where it should be.
Take a cat out of that quite literal comfort zone and, if not done sensitively and with the cat’s welfare at the forefront of the choice of boarding, they will quickly become very stressed.
Where most dogs have a tendency to retire within themselves when confronted with significant change, many cats become agitated and some will even become aggressive, most will stop eating and will have a tendency to stop grooming and hope that all the stress will just go away.
Studies show that cats spend over 90% of their time either resting or sleeping, but when suddenly confronted with other cats or a boarding cage that doesn’t give them enough room, their activity levels can increase significantly – especially overnight or when alone. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the size of the cage isn’t as important as the cat not being able to see or have any kind of contact with other cats.
If a cat feels safe and secure with no threat from other cats, it will quickly adapt to its new temporary home, and will quickly settle into the pattern of 90% rest that it has at home.
Even though isolation is important, there are other things to consider. Cats are – no surprises here – fastidiously clean animals, and are far happier with separation between food, bed and toilet.
So, although cage size may be secondary to visual threats and distractions, a larger, custom built cage will mean the cat will not only have the horizontal space it needs, but preferably the vertical space that is more in keeping with its instinctive environment.
Cats live vertically and only ever hit the ground when there’s no other way of getting from A to B. That doesn’t mean they need 10 metres of vertical space to be able to move into, but it is hugely beneficial for them to be able to compartmentalise their new home and sometimes just to stretch their legs!
Larger, multi-level cages also mean that it may be possible to accommodate a bed or other comfort from home that will help the animal to settle quicker.
Unlike us, if we go to a hotel and it isn’t quite what we expect, cats don’t have the option of “making the best of it”, they get no say in things. Because of that, it’s vital that you get your cat boarding choice right for both you and you cat.
Tips to find the right boarding facility for your cat
When choosing a boarding facility or cattery for your feline, it is a good idea to board your cat for 3 days at least the first time to give them time to figure out the routine, and that food arrives, the litter is cleaned, and the people are not threatening.
Most cats will hide for 1 – 3 days if it is their first visit, so they need that time to come out of their shell. The next time they will usually be happy within 24 hours.
Make sure the cats can’t see each other (check different eyeline views). Check for smells – if you can smell something weird, your cat will smell it even more!
Ask what happens if a cat doesn’t eat for a day – there should be a plan for day 2 of fasting at the latest. Take your cat’s favourite food for them if they are fussy as they won’t want to try anything new.
Gyms / exercise spaces are not usually in the best interests of all cats. GREAT for Burmese and young cats, but the ‘worried cat’ will just freeze. If your cat likes every person who visits you at home, they will enjoy playing in a gym with a new person. Otherwise, skip the gym in favour of a ‘purr-sonal massage’ in their cage.
It’s going to be stressful the first time you leave your cat in boarding no matter what. However, cats adapt pretty quickly, especially if the environment is quiet and not too brightly lit (darkness at night is important also), and each visit will be less stressful.
Dr Kim Kendall currently runs the premier cat grooming service Chatswood Cat Palace in Sydney and has run premium boarding facilities at other times.
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