Are catteries stressful for cats?

If you’re off on holiday or going away for work, you’ll need care for your cat while you’re not at home. We look at the pros and cons of catteries, as well as cat-care alternatives.

One of the most common cat-related quandaries is who should care for your pet if you have to stay away from home. A cattery is a popular choice.

Choose a good cattery and you can be confident your pet is safe, secure and well looked after while you’re away. Regulations introduced in England in 2018 mean that all catteries must be licensed by the local authority and meet strict standards relating to space, security, hygiene, lighting, ventilation, temperature and staff training. There’s even a star-rating system. (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland also have licensing schemes for animal boarding.)

People who run catteries tend to be cat lovers themselves and most adore their feline visitors, giving them plenty of attention and affection, doing all they can to make each cat feel welcome.

If you need to find a good cattery for your pet, ask around for local recommendations, check online reviews, or see if your vet has any suggestions. Phone the cattery owner for a chat about your cat’s needs and ask to have a look around to see if it looks like somewhere your pet would like to be.

What are the signs of a good cattery?

Here are some top tips for finding a good cattery:

  • Visit the cattery before your pet stays there. You want to see the cats looking relaxed, but not bored. A good cattery owner will have nothing to hide and be proud to show you their facilities.
  • Check how secure each cat's space is. Has the cattery put in place appropriate measures to prevent cats from squeezing out through small gaps or slipping through an open door, for example?
  • Check the cattery has places where each cat can hide and get up high.
  • Make sure the cattery is well ventilated, but not cold.
  • Check whether your pet will have access to a safely enclosed run where they can get exercise and stimulation – both are important to keeping cats healthy and happy.
  • Avoid catteries with a communal cat run. While this might seem a good way for your cat to socialise and play, if cats from different homes mix, there could be a risk of diseases spreading. It can also be stressful for cats to mix with other unfamiliar cats. A good cattery will ensure cats from different households are never able to touch each other. Additionally, it is best if the pen walls are not see-through so that the cats can’t see other cats.
  • Ask about hygiene measures. You want to be sure your cat is protected from the danger of another cat sneezing on them, or from catching a disease spread via the hands or clothes of cattery carers.
  • Discuss your cat’s individual needs. For example, will cattery staff be able to give your elderly cat medication, or groom your long-haired moggy?

Are catteries cruel for cats?

Even the most comfortable and caring catteries can be stressful for some cats. This is because cats are highly territorial and prefer to be in a familiar environment. Some find the sights, sounds and smells of unfamiliar places, people and other cats overwhelming and anxiety inducing. Even travelling to and from the cattery can cause them stress.

If you decide to place your cat in a cattery, you can minimise stress by providing their own bed and toys from home, along with favourite treats. Some owners also leave a T-shirt they’ve worn to provide their cat with a comforting familiar scent.

If you plan to use a cattery frequently, it’s worth getting your cat accustomed to it from a young age so they become used to the environment and staff. Ultimately, whether your cat likes spending time in a cattery will depend on their needs and personality. Some owners find their cat loves the cattery so much they don’t want to leave!

What are the alternatives to a cattery?

If you don’t think a cattery will suit your cat, you could consider using a pet-sitter instead. Taking care of your cat in their own home causes them less disruption, and may work out to be a more cost-effective option for you.

Many owners ask a cat-friendly neighbour, friend or relative to pop in twice a day to feed and fuss over their cat. Others choose a professional pet-sitting service, either to visit daily or to stay in the house and provide constant care for a cat who requires a bit more attention, such as taking medicine at certain times.

‘A professional cat sitter will take a personal interest in the cats they look after,' says Jason Ward, who co-owns Midlands-based Kitty Angels, a premier cat-sitting service.

‘Owners should be able to go away without worrying, especially if they've 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 to find a good pet sitter

The National Association for Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers (NarpsUK) has a register of fully insured, reliable carers to look after your pet. Chief Executive Marilyn Lewis recommends that owners meet pet carers, inspect their insurance and DBS (criminal record check) certificates, and ask to speak to previous clients.

She says, ‘You should be clear about what you want a cat sitter to do, and provide them with all relevant details they may need,' she says. ‘This could include vet and emergency contact numbers, any medication information and notes about how to deal with behaviour the pet displays.' It is also important to agree how much quality time your sitter will spend with your cat – for example, petting, playing and grooming, depending on the cat’s individual needs.

You could ask if your pet sitter will provide you with updates and photos 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 they're fed. All cats have different personalities, and a pet professional should treat them as if they're their own.'

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