I believe that for most cats, a cat sitter is a better option than boarding when their guardians have to travel, but there may be situations where boarding is your only option. Boarding can be stressful for cats in general, but this is especially true for special needs cats. I recently wrote an article for Pet Boarding and Daycare magazine, which is republished here with permission. If you find yourself faced with having to board your blind or deaf cat, make sure that the boarding facility staff understands how to care for these special kitties.
Special challenges of blind or deaf cats
Blindness is a partial or total loss of vision. It can be congenital, or occur suddenly as a result of illness or trauma. It can also come on gradually from progressive diseases such as high blood pressure, cataracts, or glaucoma. Since cats are extremely good at compensating and adapting, complete or even partial loss of vision can be challenging to detect for even the most observant cat guardian.
Deafness in cats can occur for many reasons. It can be caused by inflammation or infection, degenerative nerve changes, traumatic injury or certain drugs. Some cats are born deaf. It appears that white cats with blue eyes are particularly prone to congenital deafness. There is also a breed connection; some of the breeds that are at higher risk are white Persians, Ragdolls, Cornish and Devon Rex, Oriental Shorthairs, Manx and Turkish Angora.
Blind and deaf cats adapt remarkably well to their disabilities as long as guardians make the necessary accommodations. Since cats are creatures of habit, maintaining a consistent indoor environment is one of the most important aspects of caring for these special needs cats. These cats will generally fare better with a cat sitter who will care for the cat in her familiar home, but there may be occasions where a blind or deaf cat that needs to be boarded.
Boarding facility staff should get as much information from the cat’s guardian as possible about the cat’s regular routine, including specific details on how the guardian helps the cat overcome the challenges associated with her special needs in the cat’s home. Ideally, facility staff should try to duplicate as much of the cat’s routine as possible in a kennel environment.
Caring for Blind Cats in a Boarding Facility
Blind cats use their sense of smell and hearing to experience their world. Boarding can be stressful for cats in general. Keeping special needs cats in a quiet section of the facility, where noise is kept to a minimum, will help minimize stress. When first placing a blind cat in an enclosure, speak to her quietly and gently guide her to bedding, food dishes and to the litter box. Don’t rush the cat’s exploration of this new and unfamiliar space; let her set the pace.
Introduce the cat to the litter box by gently placing her in it, and then letting her find her way around the enclosure on her own. She will find the box location when she needs to go. Keep the litter box scrupulously clean to minimize offensive odors in the cat’s enclosure.
Always keep bedding, food and water dishes in the same spot. Don’t put food and water dishes next to the litter box.
Blind cats will require extra attention and time from attendants. They shouldn’t be touched without gently speaking to them first. Engage blind cats by using catnip toys or toys with bells or rattles (make sure the toy or rattle is safely inside the toy and can’t be chewed off and ingested). Most blind cats are highly tactile and will enjoy being brushed, stroked or petted, but kennel attendants need to know how to read cat body language so they can gauge whether a cat wants more attention or would prefer to be left alone.
Caring for Deaf Cats in a Boarding Facility
Even though deaf cats are visual, they, too, should be housed in a quiet section of the facility. Boarding a deaf cat will be less challenging for facility staff than caring for a blind cat, but deaf cats still require special treatment.
It is important to not startle deaf cats. A startled cat may respond with aggression. Deaf cats respond to vibration; unless a deaf cat is watching an attendant approach, gently tap your foot or softly knock on the window of the enclosure or bar of the cage to alert the cat to your presence. Flashing the overhead lights on and off can also be a great way to alert a deaf cat. Using a small flashlight or laser pointer can also get the cat’s attention.
Stroking, brushing and combing a deaf can be a comforting experience. Play is another wonderful way to communicate with a deaf cat. Use interactive fishing pole type toys to keep deaf cats active and engaged.
Even though boarding a blind or deaf cat presents challenges, boarding facilities can make these special needs cats comfortable by understanding and responding to their unique needs.
This article was first published in Pet Boarding and Daycare magazine, and is republished with permission.