If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably been guilty of leaving your cat alone for an extended period of time—but there are some good reasons why you shouldn’t do it, according to the experts.
“Sadly, there are many people who decide to get a cat rather than a dog because of the perceived convenience of being able to leave the pet for days at a time,” says Pam Johnson-Bennett, certified cat behavior consultant and best-selling author.
As for why cat owners think leaving a cat alone is okay, Johnson-Bennett has a few theories.
“Because cats use litter boxes and don’t have to be walked outdoors, it leads many people to believe that their cats will be fine alone for the weekend or longer,” she says. “Many cats are free-fed, as well, meaning dry food is left out in an endless supply. Add to that the myth people believe that cats are aloof and independent, and you have the perfect misguided recipe for cat parents leaving Fluffy in an empty home with a mountain of food, a big bowl of water and access to the litter box.”
If you’ve left your cat alone before and she’s been totally fine, that’s lucky, because there are a few risks you should be aware of, says Johnson-Bennett.
For starters, when you leave your cat alone, you have no way of knowing if a medical or emergency issue arises.
“The cat could have problems in the litter box, or get injured jumping down from an elevated location,” says Johnson-Bennett. “What if the cat gets sick? Depending upon the length of the cat parent’s absence, the litter box may not be clean enough for the cat to use, and even self-cleaning boxes can malfunction or get jammed, leaving the cat confused about where to eliminate.”
There is also a big stress factor and confusion that the cat can experience when left alone, Johnson-Bennett adds. “Cats are creatures of habit, and when cat parents are gone overnight or for several days, it may leave a kitty stressed and frightened,” she says.
So, what’s a pet parent to do when vacation time comes? Here are a few good options:
Look Into Cat Sitting
The safest option is to have a pet sitter to come to your home while you’re gone, says Johnson-Bennett.
“This can be a professional pet sitter or a trusted friend,” she says.
If you hire a professional, look for a pet sitter who lists cat sitting as one of their pet care services.
“A minimum of two visits a day are needed, and it’s even better if the pet sitter can spend the night,” she adds. “What’s best is if the cat’s schedule can stay as normal as possible. Have someone come to the house so a cat who is fed on a schedule can remain on that normal routine. The cat litter box can be cleaned and monitored, water can be refreshed, house lights can be turned on and off, drapes can be opened and closed, and the cat can have some human interaction if desired.”
Cat sitting in your own home is a great option for making sure all of your cat’s needs are met when you’re away.
Put Your Cat in Pet Daycare
If you can’t afford to have someone come to your house while you’re gone, or you can’t find someone trustworthy to do so, it might be worth looking into pet daycare.
Ask around to get recommendations for good pet daycare centers that are bonded and insured. If you can find a cat hotel or similar no-cage boarding facility that only takes cats, that’s even better, especially if your cat isn’t used to being around dogs or noisy environments. Pack your cat’s food, treats and bed for her stay at the cat hotel.
Find a Cat-Friendly Hotel
Your final option could just be to bring your kitty along for the ride.
Be sure to bring along a cozy travel bed, a convenient food storage and travel feeder, and some of your cat’s favorite treats for the journey. Some pet-friendly hotels even have special perks to welcome your furry friends.
While it might take a little added work and money on your part to find a suitable solution for your cat while you’re gone, it’ll be worth it.
“The peace of mind knowing someone is watching your cat and also able to transport the pet to the veterinary clinic in an emergency is very important,” says Johnson-Bennett.
After all, accidents happen, so it’s best to do everything you can to keep your cat safe, which will mean you can thoroughly enjoy your vacation knowing your cat is well looked after.
Cheryl Lock is a writer and editor who lives in Denver, Colorado with her husband, daughter and cat, Penny. Her work has appeared in dozens of newspapers, magazines and websites, and she’s written about everything from pets and politics to parenting, travel and food. Find more of her work at CherylLock.com, or follow her passion for travel on her blog at WearyWanderer.com.