- Not a substitute for professional veterinary help.
Cats are fairly independent—one of the many reasons why we love them. But even for the most self-sufficient of kitties, being left alone for extended periods of time can be a bit of challenge.
If you are a frequent traveler, have an extended trip on the horizon, or just want to get away for a couple of days, here are some tips on how to keep your cat(s) safe, happy, and healthy in your absence.
How long can cats be left alone?
While most cats can handle short periods of time on their own (say, when you’re at school or work), the practicalities of owning a cat quickly, um, pile up–such as with the litter box.
This, in addition to access to fresh food and water, is why most experts recommend leaving cats alone for no more than 24 hours.
If you’re just heading out for the weekend, it’s a good idea to have a friend or relative pop in to clean your kitty’s litter box and refresh food and water. But most likely, your cat will be fine overnight.
What to do if you must leave a cat for longer than 24 hours
If you’ll be away from home for over 24 hours, the best thing you can do for your cats is hire a pet sitter. Sitters spend extended periods with your kitty and follow your detailed instructions on cat care to be sure your kitty is as happy.
1. Set your sitter up for success
When meeting with your pet sitter, give a detailed overview of feeding customs and where food, little bags, and litter boxes are located so none get missed. If you’ve got a complex routine, also write it down so the sitter can refer back to it.
For best results, ask your sitter to perform cat duties around the times you usually would. Keeping as close to your daily routine as possible will help ease any stress your kitty might feel from your absence. If your cat needs special care, such as medicines, leave a detailed dosing overview–don’t rely on sitter to read the fine print or make assumptions.
Also, make it clear how often you want to hear from your sitter. Do you want daily updates and pictures or just checking in now and then?
2. Prepare your house for sitter playtime
Gather special toys, catnip, treats, and brushes in a central location, such as a basket, so that sitter can easily track them down and spoil your kitty with them. As noted by PetMD, many experts recommend at least 15 minutes per day of focused attention. If that’s important to your cat, be sure to communicate that to your sitter.
3. Have a plan in case of an emergency
Hopefully, you already remember to give your sitter a key. A good idea, just in case of emergency, is also to leave a spare with a friend or neighbor, so if something should happen, there’s another way to enter the house. Similarly, have your vet’s info readily available and a payment method set up should your kitty need to be taken in.
How to prepare your cat (and home) for when you travel
We wish we could take our cats everywhere, but that’s not usually the case. But we also don’t want them to think we’ve abandoned them when we’re gone!
Here’s what you can do to keep your kitty safe and happy while you’re away.
1. Keep your cat comfortable
Hopefully, your kitty’s meet and greet with her sitter has gone well and she’ll be happy to see the sitter when they arrive.
If you have a super shy or scaredy cat, a good idea might be to buy some pheromone plug-ins and sprays to help ease any anxiety. The plugins will put out a steady stream of scent, while your sitter can use the sprays on blankets or kitty beds.
Whether you’ve booked a sitter or not, check the weather forecast for the days you’ll be away and set thermostats appropriately. If it’s going to be very warm, consider creating a “cool” room for your kitty—one where all the blinds remain closed to ensure a cool getaway.
If it’s going to be very cool, give your cat a warm place to curl up. On that note, also be sure your cat has some cozy beds to curl up. Bonus points for well-placed posts to view outdoor entertainment.
Lastly, leave a light on somewhere. Cats can see well in the dark, but having a light on can help with their comfort level.
2. Keep cats where they’re supposed to be
Use a doorstop or heavy, kitty-proof item to wedge other doors open—it’s easy for a cat to accidentally close a door and cut off access to food, water, or the litter box. For rooms you don’t want kitty in, close the doors.
3. Give your cat something to remember you by
For sentimental cats who love the smell of their humans, place blankets or cozy articles of clothing with your smell on them around the house so kitty can cuddle up and think of you.
If your kitties are used to lots of noise, consider leaving music on a low volume.
4. Get rid of any potential dangers
Put precarious plants in a safe place, for example, and make sure windows are closed. Fun “toys” like your jewelry should also be stowed away in case someone gets the trouble bug. If you have a kitty that likes to chew, unplug electronics cords.
Place extra food and water bowls in different locations around the house. This way, if one gets knocked over, there will be a backup.
Can’t I just board my cat?
While there are boarding facilities that cater to cats, if possible, choose to leave your cat home. Home is where kitty will be most comfortable. You know, around all the familiar smells, objects, and sounds they associate with you.
Because cats are territorial, the smell and sound of other cats (and many times dogs–heard through walls) in a boarding facility can be stressful. In addition, because boarding facilities keep cats in “condos” within a larger room, the shared air source and handling of multiple cats could spread diseases such as upper respiratory infections.
If you have an indoor/outdoor cat, or even a catio, it may be best to restrict kitty’s access to indoor-only while you are gone.
Keep it simple and kitty will thank you when you return. You’ll thank yourself, too, for being able to travel worry-free.