boarding

What You Should Know If You Need to Board Your Blind or Deaf Cat

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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.
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Reducing Stress for Cats in a Boarding Facility

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This article was originally published in Pet Boarding and Daycare Magazine. While the article was written for operators of cat boarding and grooming establishments, the tips I provided can also help cat guardians in choosing a good boarding facility for cats.

Cats have a reputation for being independent, which often leads people to believe that they’ll do just fine on their own when their guardians have to go away for a few days. As long as someone comes in and leaves fresh food and water, that’s all they need, right? Nothing could be further from the truth. Accidents happen. Cats could stop eating while their guardians are away, or become ill. Cats need more than just food and water to thrive – they need human interaction, and a chance to play.

Generally, there are two options cat owners who have to travel: having a friend, neighbor or professional pet sitter come to the house, or boarding the cat at a boarding facility. Since cats dislike change, boarding can be a stressful experience. Boarding facilities who wish to attract cat owners need to be aware of cats’ unique needs, and take measures to reduce stress for their feline guests.

Select a boarding facility designed for cats

Providing a low-stress environment for cats starts with the selection of the actual boarding kennel. When Elizabeth Colleran, DVM, designed the boarding section of her cat clinics in Chico, CA and Portland, OR, she made sure that all design decision and selections were made with cats’ needs in mind. “We have a large boarding room with sleeping benches in each enclosure, and a view of the garden from the back of each enclosure,” says Colleran.

Cat kennels or condos should be spacious enough to accommodate separate areas for the cat’s litter box, food, and lounging areas. In order to minimize noise as well as stress, cat boarding areas should be separate from dog boarding kennels. Most cats will find the sound of barking dogs distressing. Cat boarding areas should also be kept away from the main traffic flow of the facility. Cats should not be able to see other cats from their cage or condo. Since cats are territorial animals, the sight of another cat can be stressful and cause aggression toward kennel staff and other cats in the facility.

Environmental enrichment features

Enriching the kennel with features such as resting boards, cardboard hiding boxes, bedding and toys can go a long way toward making cats more comfortable. Offering a view of the outside can be an added bonus: “Bird TV” can keep cats entertained during the day. Playing soft music throughout the day can provide a “white noise” effect. Studies have shown that classical music, or music specifically designed to calm pets, can have beneficial effects on cats’ stress levels.

Pheromone sprays and plug ins can help reduce anxiety in kennel areas. Cages and bedding should be sprayed every day. The use of pheromone plug ins in all areas of the kennel where cats will be housed can help keep feline boarders calm. Holistic remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Spirit Essences Stress Stopper can be beneficial as well.

Common social areas – yes or no?

If a boarding facility provides common social areas for cats, it is critical to only allow cats from the same family into the area at the same time, and only if prior approval is obtained from the cat’s owner. Common areas, as well as individual cages, need to be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected between cats to minimize the potential for exposure to spread illness Even seemingly healthy cats can be carriers of feline viruses without exhibiting signs of disease. “There is a balance between cleanliness/disinfection and the elaborateness of the enclosures and common areas,” says Dr. Colleran. “I chose to keep them very simple so that we would never have a problem with viruses.”

Give cats time to acclimate

A boarding facility can be frightening for cats, especially those who have not been away from home before. Cats will need time to acclimate to a new environment. Most cats will adjust with two or three days. They may not eat much during the adjustment period, and it is critical that food intake is monitored closely. A cat who doesn’t eat for more than 24-48 hours is at risk for hepatic lipidosis, a potentially life-threatening condition.

Staff needs to be trained in proper handling of cats

Staff should be trained in proper handling of cats and in how to read a cat’s body language to avoid inadvertently stressing cats. “We watch for the behaviors we know indicate that cats are settling in,” explains Dr. Colleran, “especially how soon they eat, where they sit in the enclosure and how willing they are to curl up and sleep.”
Cats are highly sensitive to energy. A study conducted at the Ohio State University School of Veterinary Medicine demonstrated a connection between stress and illness in cats. Researchers found that they had to manage their own stress levels when they were around the cats. “I had to be careful if I was having a bad day so it didn’t rub off on the cats,” says Judi Stella, PhD, a post-doctoral researcher at Purdue University, who participated in the study. Staff should approach cats slowly and speak in soft voices. They should understand that forcing human contact does not accelerate a cat’s acclimation period. Cats need to be allowed to relax at their own pace.

Personal belongings with the scent of home

Allow cat owners to bring their cat’s personal belongings. “We invite people to bring familiar bedding and familiar toys, food or treats,” says Dr. Colleran. A blanket, article of clothing with the owner’s scent on it or a favorite toy may go a long way toward making a cat feel more secure.

Web cameras

Consider installing web cameras in cat boarding areas so clients can monitor their cats while they’re away. Webcams are easy to set up and allow cat owners to watch live streaming video of their feline family members on the boarding facility’s website. Most pet parents love being able to see their cat while they’re away from. “The web cams give me the opportunity to check on my cat Smoky 24/7,’ says Maureen Carnevale, who boards her cat at Olde Town Pet Resort in Springfield, VA. “Additionally, I can also observe the staff and the care Smoky receives in my absence. This gives me a lot of comfort and peace of mind.”

Boarding facilities can greatly reduce stress for their feline clients by keeping cats’ unique needs in mind during facility design and when developing operating procedures.

Photo by Rocky Mountain Cat Rescue, Flickr Creative Commons

At Furry Dance B&B, cats are pampered guests

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For many cat guardians, the thought of having to travel causes more stress than joyful anticipation, because it means leaving their cats behind. For most cats, a cat sitter may be the best solution. Cats are creatures of habit, and they tend to prefer to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own homes. But what do you do when this is not an option – whether it’s because you can’t find a sitter you trust completely, or perhaps your cat has medical needs your sitter can’t accommodate?

Traditionally, boarding your cat at either a veterinary clinic or a boarding facility has been your only other option. Teri Thorsteinson, the owner and operator of Furry Dance B & B for Cats in Virginia, offers another option for cat guardians. Furry Dance B & B provides a home-like experience for cats: guest rooms offer all the comforts of home with a cozy bed, window perches, soothing music and lots of TLC.Continue Reading

Adventures in Veterinary Medicine – Oliver

When I first began working in veterinary hospitals, I did a little bit of everything.  I worked as a receptionist, veterinary assistant, and kennel attendant.  Being a kennel attendant involved taking care of animals that were boarding at the hospital, which included everything from cleaning their cages, making sure they had fresh food and water, walking them, and giving them medications if needed.  I loved kennel duty despite the less glamorous aspects of cleaning cages and litter boxes and cleaning up after the dogs after taking them out in the hospital’s small backyard.  Kennel duty, especially on weekends and holidays, gave me a chance to spend time with individual animals, time that wasn’t always available during the busy work week when we had surgical patients and pets coming for vet appointments.  I became particularly fond of several frequent boarders, and one that still sticks out in my mind after all these years was a cat named Oliver.

Oliver was a 19-year-old white cat with some brown and black tabby markings.   He was hyperthyroid, and he had kidney disease.  He was skin and bones.  His owners traveled frequently for a few days at a time, and they would board him with us, feeling more comfortable having a veterinarian available in case one was needed rather than leaving Oliver at home in the care of a pet sitter.  He was the first of many geriatric cats that I fell in love with.  There’s something about these wise old souls with their sweet old faces that has always touched my heart.  Oliver needed a lot of special attention while he was boarding, and I gladly gave it to him.  He often needed to be handfed because his appetite was hit or miss.  He wasn’t always cooperative when it came to taking his medication.  But he always, always wanted lots of affection, and he was very vocal both about requesting it and in his appreciation of it – he would start out demanding to be petted with a loud, plaintive cry, and then he’d show his appreciation with a faint, but steady purr.

Even when I had a kennel full of pets to take care of during my shift, I always made extra time for Oliver.  I wasn’t required to be there all day on weekends or holidays, the animals needed to be taken care of three times a day, and depending on their needs, there was often time in between the morning, mid-day and evening shifts to go home for a couple of hours, but when Oliver was boarding, I usually stayed between at least two of my shifts and just sat with him purring away in my lap. 

Each time Oliver went home after boarding at the hospital, I always wondered whether I’d see him again.  At his age, and with his multiple health problems, I knew he didn’t have that much time left.  So each time he was boarding, on my last shift during his stay, I made sure to say a proper good-bye, just in case it was going to be the last one.  And I hoped that if, in the end, he reached a point where euthanasia was indicated, it would happen on a day when I was working so I’d get another chance at one last good bye.

Sadly, I got my wish.  A few days before his 20th birthday, his family brought Oliver to the clinic.  I was asked to assist with his euthanasia, and I got to say good bye to my grizzled old friend one last time.  I had assisted with euthanasias before, and usually managed not to cry until after the client had left, but this one was different.  I couldn’t hold back my tears as I assisted the vet.  Oliver passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, and one veterinary assistant who’d fallen in love with him.

Photo: morguefile