This article seeks to determine whether catteries or visits from a pet sitting company are the most preferable option for a cat’s wellbeing, while their guardians are away. I will discuss the option of cattery stays and visits from a pet sitting company and the potential benefits/disadvantages of each with evidence about feline ethology mainly guiding the argument.
Traveling to and from the cattery in the car will be disruptive and most likely stressful for the cat. It can also be a dangerous to travel, so placing the carrier in a section of the car that is enclosed such as secured crate, or where the basket can be strapped in if no one is there to hold the carrier is a sensible in case of the event of an accident. Many cat’s dart behind the sofa at the sight of the cat carrier coming out so it’s wise to leave the basket out, so they think it’s an extra bed for them to relax in is a good idea, as this will hopefully help to habituate them to the carrier. (Ellis & Bradshaw, 2016, p56).
Leaving your cat at home and having a pet sitting company come in to care for your cat avoids this travel and potential stress.
Spaces and retreats and equipment
At home, your cat will be more likely to be comfortable and certainly knowledgeable about their environment. They will have familiar hiding places they will retreat too, such as under the bed or behind the sofa underneath the radiator. In catteries hiding places can be adapted by having an igloo bed, cardboard box, or using a blanket to cover an area. Providing you don’t restrict your cat to certain areas of the home while you’re away their litter box, food and water will be in a familiar location and will the bowls, litter tray and litter choice will be the same material and smell. If a cattery stay was involved if you took along these belongings this would avoid this issue. If the cattery uses their own bowls Halls (2010) recommends that they are wide enough so the cat’s whiskers don’t knock the side and also in a placed in an area where your cat can look around a 360 degree angle so they feel safer about their resource not being invaded.
It’s recommended that the litter box is in a quiet area away from the food and water to avoid contamination – this can be slightly more difficult in a cattery as there is often one small area that the cat stays in. Litter trays and food bowls should be washed in separate areas to avoid cross contamination too. There should be a few water outlets to encourage cats to drink – tuna juice can help a cat who doesn’t drink much to intake more water. Elevated places such as this (picture 4) are ideal for cats and can help them feel safer as they can observe their territory from a height.
A lot of catteries I researched had specific opening and closing times, meaning if your flight home from holiday was delayed then potentially your cat may have to spend another night away from home in the cattery. It’s important to check how many cat’s are in the cattery at one time, to ensure there is a procedure in place so there is room for your cat if this occurred. Aside from the extra cost involved, it would mean another night away from your pet if you were a few hours late.
The volume of traffic of people coming in and out of the cattery would potentially be a lot higher than the one person who would be visiting the cat in it’s home. This could be an unpleasant and unfamiliar social experience for the cat as there would be different visuals, smells and noises. Humans are fomites too, so this is a potential hazard in terms of hygiene – as it’s possible that we can transfer infection organisms in-between cats (Cats Protection Infectious Diseases Course). In addition, there is the vocalisation smell, and sight of other cats currently in the cattery and those coming into the cattery. Unneutered Tomcat’s may not accepted into a cattery – Bradshaw (2010) explains that their main ‘goal is to compete for the attention of as many females as possible’ and to do this they ‘spray urine as high up as they can’- it’s is a powerful odour that’s aim is to signal to as many cats as possible that he’s a potential mate (p.182-193).
Other cat considerations
The sight of other felines may cause stress and anxiety to a cat especially when eliminating in the litter tray. The may feel exposed and vulnerable. To avoid this in a cattery environment and a home environment too, block out the window so other cats cannot be seen in the garden or the adjacent pen (Bradshaw, 2014, p. 157) – if pens are opposite each other in a cattery environment this could be more difficult or impossible as the cattery staff need to be able to see inside the pen to check on the cat.
Did you know?
Cats have scent glands under their chin, one at each corner of their mouth and one beneath the area of fur between their eyes and ear. You will have likely have seen cats rub their cheeks up against corners of tables. Cats often ‘bunt’ me when I visit them – toes are a popular choice! If a cat is at home then their scent will obviously already be there providing familiarity to the cat. Feliway, is a synthetic pheromone product that has been shown to have a positive effect in reducing the stress of anxious cats (Bradshaw, 2014, p.126). so using this in a cattery environment may be useful.
In terms of sense of smell, Bradshaw (2014) explains that ‘cats have several hundred kinds of olfactory receptors and information arises depending which one has been triggered by the odour from the nose’ and they are ‘probably capable of distinguishing between thousands of smells’ (p.119) . In a cattery, a cat will have been in the pen previously – cats will take a lot of notice to urine smells and scent mark smells left on the furniture (Bradshaw 2014, p.126).
Health and hygiene
Obviously hygiene is of paramount importance in a cattery environment but wherever possible heavy duty citrus smelling cleaning products should be avoided it’s an unpleasant smell and often aversive. I’ve seen this when I’ve peeled an orange in front of a cat. Plastic rather than wood is ideal material in a cattery, wood can soak in urine or other liquids or germs making it extremely difficult if not impossible to clean. Diarrhea can arise from stress – ‘parvo virus can survive on equipment and in the environment for up to 12 months. This is a massive risk to kittens as their immune system is just developing.’ (Cats Protection Feline Infection course).
For cats staying in catteries, it’s imperative that Feline Infectious Enteritis and cat flu vaccinations have been completed and proof given to the cattery staff to be checked. They will need to be started around 6 weeks prior to the cat visiting a Cattery. Sadly, FIE disease has a high mortality rate and on occasion, outbreaks are still seen in multi-cat situations (https://www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/feline-infectious-enteritis). Furthermore, flea and worming treatment will need to have been completed to ensure that cat’s don’t transfer fleas to one another or contract FIA (Feline infectious anemia) or tapeworms. (Cats Protection Welfare Guide, p.61).
One of the benefits of one of the catteries I researched that there was a vet on site if your cat became ill during the cattery opening times. Also some pet care companies offer overnight stays so that avoids your cat being left for prolonged periods if they have medical problems for example or simply don’t cope well with being alone. With home stays rather than catteries if your cat explores outside it can continue to do this – you can leave the cat flap open for them if you feel comfortable with this while you’re away. With this, a cat flap that has a microchip recogniser is ideal, otherwise other cats in the neighbourhood may come in to your home stealing food – which in turn could lead to anxiety and behavioural issues such as spraying urine to deter other cats if your cat feels that it’s territory could be invaded (Bradshaw, 2014, p.156). If you have cat that goes outside, when using a pet sitting company it’s preferable that they meet your cat beforehand and have a photo of them in the event that they went missing so they could put up posters and post on social media. This is obviously avoided if they just have indoor access. Also, so the cat sitter recognise them and is looking after the right cat – I had a single experience where I let the cat I was looking after’s, brother came in the home, (who lived in the neighbourhood) and I fed it thinking it was the original cat! Luckily I recognised some markings were different. If I had doubts, and to avoid this happening again I purchased a microchip scanner to make sure it’s the right cat I was looking after! In a cattery, a cat will have access to a confined pen.
It’s important that they have the ability to perform regular behaviours such as hunting and play– da bird toy is good for this as it has real feathers. Like cats in a rescue facility, a cat will have access to a pen. In rescue care, cats can face a lot of stress, that arguably is also in a cattery – leaving a familiar environment, adapting to new sights sounds and smells and being handled by unfamiliar people. Studies have shown that cats in rescue facilities are more likely to experience weight loss and 5 x more likely to experience cat flu (Cats Protection Welfare Guide, p.72). The welfare guide goes on to explain that this inability to perform natural behaviours can cause stress, and stress can cause an increase risk of disease such as ‘cystitis, skin diseases such as over grooming and infection and diarrhoea’ for example (p.47). It’s important that both cattery staff or cat sitter, which ever you use, engages in play – The Cats Protection Welfare Guide (2017) explains that even 10 minutes twice a day is shown to have a positive effect on the cat’s wellbeing (p.48) A scratching post is highly recommended –one with vertical scratching surfaces, made of corrugated cardboard that is placed next to sleeping or resting areas – as cats like to scratch after waking (Horowitz and Mills, 2012, p.316) . Posts also keep the claws in good condition and cats have scent glands in-between the pads of their paws which produce a smell unique to that cat (Cats protection infectious diseases course). Check the procedure in a cattery for cats who experience diarrhoea- they should have somewhere to hide and be youse away from other cats if possible. (Cats Protection Welfare guide p.47).
To conclude, cats would be happier in their home environment if their guardian’s are away. Although cats are adept at hiding their facial emotions compared to dogs, if there is one regular cat sitter that visits then they will get to know their routine and recognise any unusual behaviour that could suggest they were unhappy. Obviously there may be some situations where pet sitting isn’t viable and where a cattery stay is more beneficial to the cat’s welfare such as on-going building works in the home that cause different smells, sights, and sounds.
This article was originally published in The Pet Professional Guild’s Barks magazine and can be read here:
Albany Pet Services provide a cat sitting service in St Albans and Harpenden.
Bradshaw, John & Ellis, Sarah. (2016). The Trainable Cat: A Practical Guide to Making Life Happier for You and Your Cat. USA: Basic Books.
Bradshaw, John. (2014). Cat Sense. UK: Penguin Books.
Cats Protection Charity, The Welfare Guide, 2017 edition.
https://www.cats.org.uk/help-and-advice/feline-infectious-enteritis (Accessed 30th April 2018)
Cats protection Feline Infection Course via the internet, (Accessed June 2017)
Halls, Vicky. (2010) The Secret Life of your cat. London: Hamlyn – a division of Octopus Publishing Group.
Horowitz, Debra F. & Mills, Daniel S., (2012) BSAVA Manual of Canine and Feline behavioural medicine, second edition, Gloucester, British Small Animal Veterinary Association