One of the most common cat-related quandaries is who should care for your pet if you have to work late, travel, or be away from home. A cattery or pet sitter can help, but could the choice you make have an impact on the way your cat behaves? Here an owner shares her experience, and we ask experts for their tips on finding the best care.
An owner's experience: The wrong cattery caused my cat stress'
Annette Beynon, a Petplan customer, found herself in a situation that's familiar to many cat owners. When we moved, my mother â€“ who usually looked after my Tabby, Lucy, when I had to work late or travel â€“ was unfortunately no longer on hand to help,' she says. So I decided to use a cattery that I'd seen advertised.
I made sure to visit it first to check that Lucy would be getting the care she needed and, while I thought it seemed a little dated, it was clean and conveniently close to where we lived. But Lucy just didn't take to the place. She ended up being very isolated, as she was placed away from the other cats, alone at the far end of the pens. When I collected her, I was told that this was because she had been hissing and spitting, which shocked me as she'd never been aggressive before. I also had the impression that more could have been done to help her feel comfortable, as it was winter and extremely chilly. I'd provided a fur-lined bed, but the cattery seemed very cold and I was suspicious about when the heating came on, and for how long.
Back home, Lucy wasn't her normal self: she seemed subdued and looked as though she'd lost weight. Nonetheless, I thought I'd give the cattery one more chance. But when I phoned to book a short stay, I mentioned that Lucy now needed medication and the owner's response was really callous. I was shocked that someone who made a living out of caring for pets seemed to care so little! I swore I'd never take Lucy back there.
My advice to other owners in a similar situation is to ask around before booking a cattery. Since Lucy's bad experience, local friends have also recalled their own unfortunate experiences at the same place.'
What should you look for in a good cattery?
Dawn Williams, an ex-veterinary nurse with over 30 years of experience, started her cattery, The Home From Home, only after she'd visited countless similar facilities.
I took note of all their good and bad points,' she says. What really stood out to me was that, although cats are independent animals, they also need human company to help combat boredom and reduce the risk of separation anxiety.' So at Dawn's cattery, her furry guests are assured of lots of cuddles and attention. She also uses plug-in pheromone diffusers to help keep cats naturally calm, and plays soothing background music (which studies have shown can help to lower pets' stress levels) to add to the relaxing atmosphere.
International Cat Care (ICC), an organisation founded in 1958 to promote the welfare of cats around the world, hosts a list of catteries on its website. But, explains Jo Vuckovic, ICC's digital communications manager, there is unfortunately no national inspection scheme for catteries in the UK. We recommend that owners should always visit a cattery first, particularly to see if the cats look relaxed â€“ but not bored,' Jo says. A good cattery owner will have nothing to hide and be proud to show you their facilities.'
ICC also recommends checking basic elements, such as how secure each cat's space is, and whether the cattery has measures in place to prevent cats from squeezing out through small gaps or slipping through an open door. It's also important that the cattery is well ventilated but not cold, and that your cat will have access to a safely enclosed run where she can get exercise and stimulation, which are both important in keeping her healthy and happy.
While establishments with communal cat runs may seem like a good way for your cat to socialise and play, ICC warns that this is something that should be avoided. Where you have a lot of cats together the chance of spreading viral or bacterial disease increases,' their website cautions. A good cattery will ensure that cats from different households are never able to touch each other, and that your cat is protected from the danger of another cat sneezing on them or from catching a disease on the hands or clothes of cattery carers.' You can also ensure your cat is protected by keeping her vaccinations, and any necessary boosters, up to date.
I've now found an excellent cattery,' Annette says, Not only is it warm in the winter, but they always allocate the same area to my cat, and groom, play and make a fuss of her. I have complete peace of mind now when I need to go away, and I wouldn't take her anywhere else.'
What about a professional pet sitter?
While a good cattery shouldn't negatively impact your cat's behaviour and, as Annette found, can in fact be a pleasant experience for your pet, a professional sitter can be an alternative worth considering. Taking care of your cat in their own space causes them the least disruption, and a professional cat sitter will also take a personal interest in the cats they look after,' says Jason Ward, who has over 20 years' experience in feline care and co-owns Midlands-based Kitty Angels, a premier cat-sitting service.
Owners should be able to go away without worrying, especially those who have had bad experiences in the past. To ensure that's the case, we only recruit pet sitters who are cat owners themselves and who'll build trusting relationships with the cats in their care. Sitters joining Kitty Angels also have to come with us on supervised visits, so we can train them on how to uphold our high standards.'
How should you choose a pet sitter?
The National Association of Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) has a register of fully insured, reliable carers that they recommend should be used as a first port of call when choosing a professional to look after your pet.
Marilyn Lewis, Chief Executive of NarpsUK, also recommends that owners meet carers, inspect their insurance/criminal record check certificates, and ask to speak to their previous clients. Plus, you should be clear about what you want a cat sitter to do, and provide them with all relevant details that they may need,' she says. This could include vet and emergency contact numbers, any medication information, notes about how the sitter should deal with certain behaviour the pet displays, and also agree a period of time for your cat to spend socialising.'
Also ask if your pet sitter will be able to provide you with updates and photos (sent via WhatsApp, for example) on how your cat is doing while you're away. After all, as Jason says: Getting the right care for your cat is about more than ensuring that they're fed. All cats have different personalities, and a pet professional should treat them as if they're their own.'