Although some cats travel well, most really don't enjoy globe-trotting. If you're going to be gone only a day or two and your cat free feeds and has no special care needs, you might be able to leave him alone with plenty of food, water, and litter. But if you'll be gone longer or if your cat needs medication or can't free feed, you'll need to make other arrangements. Whether you choose to board him or hire a pet-sitter to come in, make reservations as much ahead of time as possible. Good caretakers are often booked months in ad-vance for busy travel seasons.
Finding a Boarding Kennel
If you're leaving your cat in someone else's care, let your veterinarian know that you'll be gone for a while and that you'll be responsible for the bill if your cat needs medical care while you're gone. Be sure your kitty's caretaker knows where the vet is and about the arrangement as well.
Many boarding kennels accept cats, and many veterinary hospitals offer boarding for client's pets. If your cat requires special care due to medical problems, consider boarding your cat at the vet's when you travel. Good boarding kennels can handle most routine support for cats with special needs, too. Consider your cat's overall comfort, the quality of care and attention he'll receive, and how long he'll be boarded. Some cats find the atmosphere of a veterinary facility very stressful, so a boarding kennel that accepts or specializes in cats might be better.
Ask your family, friends, and veterinarian for good boarding facility recommendations. Before you make a reservation, ask for a tour. The facilities should be clean and reasonably free of odors. Cats should be boarded separately from dogs and should have no physical contact with their neighbors. Find out who will handle your cat and who else will have access to him.
Find out how often cages or rooms and litter boxes are cleaned and whether they're disinfected between boarders. Cages should have good, paw-proof latches and doors that fit properly and should be in good repair. The cages should be in a closed room that will contain your cat if he does slip out of the cage. Also ask about security against theft or vandalism.
Some facilities offer extras—more cuddles, more play times, daily brushing, a bath before going home, etc. Before you decide, ask what the basic boarding fee covers. Sometimes the extras aren't worth the extra charge.
Disease prevention should be a high priority for any boarding facility. Food and water bowls should be cleaned and sterilized daily. If your cat has special dietary needs, be sure they can be met. Good boarding facilities require that their guests be vaccinated against common communicable diseases, so find out which vaccinations they require and ask your vet whether she recommends any vaccines your cat doesn't usually receive. Guests will also be expected to be free of fleas, so ask the facility manager about flea control. If your cat is already on a flea control product, be sure that is noted in her records and that she won't be treated without your permission—combining flea products or overdosing with one can be lethal!
Ask about arrangements for veterinary care in case your cat becomes ill or injured while you're gone. Ask, too, about emergency procedures. Someone should be on-site at night and on weekends in case of fire or other catastrophe. If you're not comfortable with the quality of care, take your cat elsewhere.
Be sure to note the hours for drop-off and pick-up, and be sure there will be no problem if you're delayed for some reason. If you're like most pet owners, you'll want to check on your cat, so ask about a convenient time for staff to take calls.
Finding an At-Home Cat-Sitter
Most cats prefer to stay at home, so many traveling cat owners find that a pet-sitter is a better choice than a boarding facility. Usually the sitter visits the home a specified number of times each day, although some can be hired to stay full-time, sitting not just your cat but also your home, plants, newspapers, and mail. To find a qualified pet-sitter, ask your veterinarian and friends for recommendations.
When you've narrowed your choices, interview the prospective sitters in your home to be sure she and your cat are comfortable with one another. Find out how often and when she will visit. Find out what she's willing to do with your cat—give medication, play and cuddle, groom, etc.—and what other tasks she's willing to take on. Ask about her experience both with cats and as a pet-sitter, and get references. Find out whether she's bonded and whether she's affiliated with one of the national pet-sitters' organizations. Discuss emergency procedures. Does her vehicle look well maintained and reliable? Will she transport your cat to a vet if necessary?
It's essential that you feel good about the sitter you hire, for your cat's well-being and your own peace of mind.