I still vividly remember the moment, almost 25 years ago, when I decided that I wanted to work with cats. Well, maybe “deciding” is too strong a word for what happened in that moment. I was sitting in my living room on a Sunday afternoon. Feebee was purring away in my lap. I looked around all the cat stuff on my shelves, the cat paintings on the wall, the cat book I was reading. I was dreading going back to my corporate job the next day. And I found myself thinking “how cool would it be to get to work with something related to cats!”Continue Reading
I consider my cat sitter one of the most important people in my life. After all, she’s in charge of Allegra and Ruby when I can’t be there to care for them – what job could be more important? I’m fortunate that my cat sitter is also a close friend. My girls love Rita – Allegra probably a little more than Ruby, who sometimes gives Rita a bit of that “you’re not my mom” attitude… The peace of mind I feel, knowing that the girls are in the best possible hands while I’m away, is priceless.
I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve never had to hire a cold sitter “cold.” My cat sitters have always been friends, or were referred to me by a trusted friend. I realize that not everyone is that lucky, and hiring a cat sitter can be a daunting task. After all, you will trust this person not just with your precious cats, but also with your home.Continue Reading
I previously introduced you to Rudy and Fanny, my New York City friends’ new kittens, after I met them for the first time in August. I fell in love with both of them at first sight. And yes, I’ve come clean about this to Allegra and Ruby, and they grudgingly accept that they now have New York cousins. Continue Reading
Separation anxiety disorder (SAD) is a well-documented psychological condition in which an individual experiences excessive anxiety regarding separation from home or from those to whom the individual has a strong emotional attachment. And while we usually think of separation anxiety in terms of pets being stressed about being separated from their guardians, I think it exists in reverse, too. For most of my adult life, I’ve felt anxious about traveling – and I actually like to travel. I’m not afraid of flying, and I enjoy a change of scenery, whether it’s visiting friends in familiar places, or whether it’s traveling to someplace I’ve never been before.
But traveling means leaving my cats behind – and that’s something I’m never completely comfortable with.Continue Reading
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.
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
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
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. Your cat could stop eating while you’re gone, or become ill. Having a cat sitter visit at least once a day can avoid disaster. In addition to caring for your cat’s physical needs while you’re gone, a good cat sitter will also spend time playing with and petting your cat. This is especially important for only cats. You may think your cat is used to you being at work all day, but when you’re away, she won’t even have your company in the evenings and overnight, and you end up with a very lonely cat.
If you have a trusted friend who knows your cat well, and who doesn’t mind going to your house at least once a day during your absence, that may be a perfect solution. But if you don’t, or don’t want to impose on your friends, then a professional cat sitter is your best solution.Continue Reading
We’ve always had great luck with cat sitters. For almost 20 years, Ronnie took care of my cats. All my cats, going all the way back to Feebee, loved her. She went far above and beyond what I’d expect from an ordinary cat sitter. When she retired, I thought I might never be able to travel again, but once again, we’ve been fortunate: Valerie, the woman Ronnie sold her business to, has quickly become our new best friend
She doesn’t just feed Allegra and Ruby and clean out their litter boxes when she comes over. She also spends time brushing them, playing with them, and just hanging out with them. She often stays a little longer than her normal half-hour client visit if she feels they need a little extra attention.
I don’t like to travel because I miss my cats too much when I’m gone, but when I do, I feel more relaxed knowing that they’re in Valerie’s capable and loving care.
However, even though Valerie has been caring for my cats for several years now, I still leave her written instructions for each visit.Continue Reading
Congratulations, Azar! You’re the winner of our giveaway of Cat Calls: Wonderful Stories and Practical Advice from a Veteran Cat Sitter by Jeanne Adlon and Susan Logan!
Look for an e-mail from The Conscious Cat.
Today’s Guest post is by Renee Austin. Renee is the owner of Whimsy Cats, Northern Virginia’s premiere cat sitting service. Whimsy Cats specializes in cats who need special care such as administration of medication, fluids or insulin, senior cats, post-surgical care, and more.
It’s 5:30 a.m. and I’m just now turning the car onto the road, heading north for a few miles through the pre-dawn mist, slowing from time to time for the deer that linger along the roadside, and then turning east to join scores of other cars for the trek into town and beyond. It occurs to me that there might be only a handful of other drivers who are as pleased as I am to be on their way to work. In fact, there are times when I wonder if maybe I ought to be paying for the privilege. My clients are generous and kind in their immeasurable appreciation for the services I provide-and they spoil me. You see, I step in for those who want to vacation, or need to travel for work, or have to leave town for a family emergency. I watch over what they value most while they are away, easing somewhat, the strain of leaving cherished ones behind. I am the cat sitter, and I care for the ‘fur-kids’ and ‘fur-babies’ of a very, very wonderful group of people.
My first stop is the final for this particular client. The custom; sit on the step just inside the doorway and greet everyone as they swarm around me, chirping and rubbing (it’s one big group fur-hug), then off to the kitchen to prepare and serve a noisy breakfast, adding in the medications I picked up at the veterinarian’s yesterday. I keep one eye on the diners while reviewing the ‘exit’ checklist and finishing the housekeeping, make a quick dash to feed, water and count the little noses of the feral cats waiting in the yard behind the house, and then head back through to ensure that everything is in order. The visits to this particular home have involved overturned lamps and pillows, a partially devoured loaf of bread dragged into the living room, bottles of kitty medications scattered on the floor, shredded paper towels-all due to the antics of a very active ’hive’ of happy cats. Hopefully everything will still be tidy by the time ‘mom’ gets home. Before leaving, I wave goodbye to the little girl hiding under the desk, and then give each of the others, eight in all, snuggles and squeezes and a final, thorough once-over. The ages here range from several months to 18 years and include tripods, a whole array of colors and personalities and needs, and a blanket of unbelievable feline energy. They’re gathered at the large picture window, watching as I walk away down the driveway.
I’m back in the car with cat fur still swirling around me and a grin running from ear to ear. It’s time for the very long drive out to my next client, and after such an excellent start to the day, I’m ready.
It’s the same greeting here-smiles and purrs. Samson leans against me and gazes into my eyes while I’m preparing his insulin and medication, and I just have to stop and embrace him. I take a deep breath, hold it and him, and then let everything out on a sigh. In that one deliberate action my body and mind are completely relaxed. This is the reason why I drive fifteen miles outside of my usual range to come here. His younger sister has recovered from last night, when I sat with her in the basement as she hid from the fierce thunderstorms. She’s waiting at our play spot, opting out of the morning meal for some one-on-one time. We play a bit more after she supervises the clean-up and then the three of us hug and cuddle. I won’t be seeing them again for a few months so I linger. As I head for the door I look back and see, with some regret, that Sabrina is back at her spot…hoping.
Every stop follows a similar routine; a balance between efficiency and details, and entertainment and affection. There are notes, medications, premise checks, housekeeping lists, disinfecting, that all require focus and constant evaluation. And as each household has its particular flow and idiosyncrasies, so do my little whiskered ‘clients’. Between clients I’m weaving through traffic, diverting around back-ups, always reviewing details of the last visit to ensure I haven’t missed a step, and mentally rehearsing what will happen on the next.
I work mostly with cats that have special needs and chronic medical conditions, so in addition to having the ability to read their individual needs and preferences, I must also be able to tune in to their demeanor and posture, watch for subtle changes in behavior, detect that slight shift in the eyes that says things are not quite right. Cats can be a challenge in this respect. The natural tendency of a feline in the wild to mask any sign of illness carries over completely into the domestic realm.
On top of this, it’s up to me to remember favorite toys, activities, and comfort levels, and to recognize when someone wants rubs and reassurance instead of playtime on a particular visit. It’s important for me to provide individualized attention to each and every cat. While I can’t replace the family who has ‘mysteriously disappeared’, I am at least able to offer a different kind of routine that brings some level of comfort and security until everything is back to normal.
By 10:30am, I’ve finished at the nearest library after sending out progress reports and answering e-mails (I probably know every free WiFi location along any given route that I have to take). Then, I’m off to the mid-day visits and answering calls from clients checking in for updates on their kitties. Today will include a pair of cats – one that decides after eating that he just wants cuddles, and the other who is very shy and has finally come out of hiding to join us, then one special little guy who, on my arrival, leads me straight to his play station for tissue paper ‘facials’ and body rubs, and finally, the sweet older girl with kidney disease for whom I have to administer fluids under the skin.
I swing back around and have a few extra moments to check in with one of my handful of doggie clients. This little fellow has been back and forth to the veterinarian and can use a pick-me-up. His human has been extremely worried, and we’ve worked on a list of questions for him to ask next time he’s at the animal hospital. I’m then off to feed a handsome orange tabby and spend time with him on the veranda, and finally, I stop to give an insulin injection to one of my most challenging and unpredictable kitties. She’s a princess cat, and I never know whether she’ll be pleased to see me, or if she’ll try to run me out of the house before I can pull the syringe out of the bag. Tonight I get off with a nip on the ankle – a clear sign that the food service is way too slow.
Back home I do my own chores, feed and medicate each of the special needs creatures that live with me, and then, even though I’m a night person, collapse into bed before midnight. I’m road weary, but not cat weary. Within moments, my own special group is snuggled up against me, purring and sighing with pleasure – all of us, together for the next several hours.
Not too bad, for a full day’s work.
For more information about Renee and Whimsy Cats, please wisit her website at http://www.whimsycats.com.