Friday, 10 July 2009

Keep your cat happy while you're away

If you have pets, whenever you go away, even if it's just for a weekend, you have to decide how to take care of them. Dogs tend to go either to kennels or to boarding with a professional dog boarder, or perhaps to friends.

If it's a cat you have, you can choose to book him into a cattery, but more and more these days people say their cats are far happier if they can remain at home - in their own comfortable and familiar environment, with all the smells and sounds they're used to. They're very territorial animals and many don't take kindly to being uprooted and put in a small cage or run for the whole week, or perhaps longer. There's no doubt that there are some excellent catteries that care extremely well for their residents, but for many it's just not home.

So, you've decided to leave your cat at home - who's going to come and feed him? Some people have some great neighbours, or perhaps friends or family they can rely on. But often there's no-one nearby, or you just feel it's an imposition, especially when it comes to dealing with the litter.

That's where a professional and caring cat sitter can be invaluable. But there are a few important things to consider if you want your cat to be as happy as you are while you're away.

Firstly, take care to find the right cat sitter for you and your cat.

  • Perhaps get a couple to come and visit to see who you and your cat feel happier with. Don't just go for the cheapest - after all, when you decided to have a cat you knew there would be costs involved in providing the right food, good vet care, and of course while you're away. Ask questions, find out why they became a pet sitter, what training do they have, are they fully insured and CRB checked? If your cat needs to take medication, are they experienced in doing this? Above all, trust your intuition.

Where possible, given your cat the run of the house.

  • Or at least, as much as possible. I've looked after cats who have been confined to just one room while their human carers were away, and they were so miserable. If you're concerned about the furniture, what can you do to protect it?

Cat proof your house.

  • Before you go, just have a look around to be sure there's nothing lying around that your cat could knock down, break, or even be injured by. Don't get too carried away, but it makes sense to take a few precautions.

Ensure your cat is calm, relaxed and happy.

  • Our cats are used to human company, and can come to depend on it - I find it's a fallacy that most cats are aloof and not bothered about us. A cat sitter will provide some company, but it won't be you, and they won't be there for as long. Despite the fact that the cat will be happier in his own environment, will look forward to the cat sitter's visits, and will possibly sleep for a lot of the time, there's no doubt that they can fret and become anxious during a prolonged period of your absence. There are a few simple ways that this can be alleviated.
  • Firstly, ask your vet for a Feliway diffuser (works like a plug in air freshener), and use this while you're away. They normally last for about 4 weeks of constant use. This mimics certain cat pheromones, which helps to reduce anxiety.
  • The next thing you could do is provide your cat sitter with a bottle of Bach Flower Walnut Remedy, and ask them add this to your cat's water each day. This helps with the emotions connected with loss and change, and I've had some great success where I use it. For more information - on use and dosing: http://www.bachremedies.co.uk/. (Good for people too!).
  • Don't change your sheets, or instead put a used sheet (or perhaps a worn item of clothing) on or close to where your cats sleeps or spends time during the day. This will carry your scent, which will be very reassuring.
  • Finally, you could book an animal Reiki practitioner to come and provide treatments once or twice during your absence. Put them in touch with your cat sitter and they can arrange it between them. Even better, book a cat sitter who's also an animal Reiki practitioner (like me!!), and they'll get a dose of calming Reiki every visit. Have a look at my website to learn more about how Reiki can help animals: http://www.whiskerspetcare.co.uk/ (also good for people!).

Silence is Golden?

  • Normally the house is full of all sorts of noises, and this is very reassuring for a cat. It's amazing what they can sleep through!! When there's no-one in for days on end, the house feels very empty. If it's possible, consider leaving a radio on, on low volume, on either a classical music or talk station. Cats respond well to music, and the sound of people talking. Another way to ensure that your cat is calm and relaxed. Also much more pleasant for the cat sitter!

How many visits and how long for?

  • I find that people typically just book one half hour visit a day, sometimes without really thinking through what's best for the cat. If you feel your cat would benefit from a longer visit, or more frequent visits, then discuss this with your cat sitter. Perhaps a longer visit every few days would be a good idea. However, please don't think your cat will be fine with a visit any less frequently than daily. They really do need human company more frequently than that, and you should also consider what would happen if your cat became poorly or injured himself.

Tell your cat what's happening.

  • Have you noticed that when you talk to your cat, he really seems to understand what you say? Although cats don't actually understand the language, they do seem to get used to familiar words. Animals communicate far more with feelings than we do (it's pretty much a lost art for people as we've come to depend upon verbal communication so much) and are great at receiving the sense behind the words.
  • So, why not sit down with your cat and let him know what's happening? Tell him that you'll be away and explain that humans have a need to get away from their home territory from time to time. Reassure that you'll be back again in a few days (although time doesn't mean much to animals, they'll get the sense of this). Explain that while you're away, someone will be coming in every day to feed him, and most importantly, give him lots of TLC.

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