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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.


If you have cats, you’ve likely wondered what to do with them when you’re away from home on a vacation or business trip.


I’m not what most people would call a "globe trotter" but I do travel a reasonable amount — maybe 5 to 6 times a year. When I do travel, I’m usually gone for a few days to as long as a week. And I do worry about my cats when I’m not there with them.

First of all, let me say that it’s not a good idea to leave your cat home alone untended for extended lengths of time. Though most cats will get along fine if they have a litter box, fresh food and water, accidents can happen. Injuries or illnesses can creep up quickly and may threaten your cat’s health if undetected. So, a plan to have someone watch over your cat while you’re away is a good idea.

What are your options?

  • You could take your cats with you. If you do this, make sure that any housing arrangements you’ve made (hotels, motels, etc.) are pet-friendly.
  • You could locate a friend or family member who is willing to take your cat into their home for the length of your vacation. I warn you: This may put a strain on your friendship, especially if your cat decides to start marking his "new territory," and it may be stressful for your cat as well. However, it can work in some instances.
  • You can arrange to have your cat stay in a boarding facility. This may be an option for some cats. For others, however, it may be too stressful. If there is no other option, try to locate a boarding facility where your cat will be housed away from dogs. A nice large confinement area is preferred. I use the words "confinement area" rather than cage because in some facilities, the area where your cat will be housed is much more elaborate than just a simple old-fashioned cage and might even be more accurately referred to as a "kitty condo." At a minimum, a litter box should be provided along with other environmental enrichments, such as toys and food puzzles, to help keep your cat comfortable and occupied. A hiding place within the confinement area is also a good idea so your cat can have his privacy if he prefers.
  • A pet sitter is another alternative. For many cats, this may be preferred. If your cat is like mine (well, okay, I have six of them), he would probably prefer to stay in his own environment rather than be stuck in a strange place. A pet sitter may be a live-in sitter who stays in your home while you’re away or he/she may simply visit your home on a daily basis (or perhaps even more often) to spend some time with your pet.

For a time, my pet sitter was a trusted neighbor who dropped in to check on my cats when I traveled. In fact, we traded services and I cared for her cats when she was away as well. Unfortunately, my neighbor has since moved away, so now I have a professional pet sitter who cares for my cats. The pet sitter was carefully chosen after taking time to talk extensively with her and have her meet my cats and interact with them. Her company is fully insured and I trust her completely with the keys to my house.

When I do leave, I have automatic feeders and water fountains in place, as well as automatic litter boxes. By doing this, I can ensure that my cats are fed according to their regular schedule, albeit more dry food and less canned while I’m away, and that they have fresh water available at all times. These items aren’t a necessity but they provide peace of mind for me and make my pet sitter’s job easier. Though she does check on the automatic food and water dispensers, cleans them as necessary and empties the reservoirs in the litter boxes, these tasks take very little time and this allows her more time to actually spend interacting with the cats.

The cats love their canned food, so she gives them their canned food when she visits since that can’t be easily automated. I think doing this gives the pet sitter a chance to bond with them, as does taking the time to play with them for a bit before she leaves.

Of course, make sure your pet sitter is equipped with emergency telephone numbers, just in case. Leave a number where she can reach you, and write down your veterinarian’s telephone number and the nearest emergency hospital as well.

What provisions do you make for your cats when you travel?



Dr. Lorie Huston



Image: Looking Out the Window by Alisha Vargas / via Flickr


Comments  3

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  • Away Overnight
    03/05/2012 07:00am

    I've gotten so I don't go away overnight. This started when I had multiple kitties with serious heath problems that required a great deal of medical attention twice a day.

    The last time I was gone for a couple of days about a decade ago, I had a trusted friend who is a vet tech come over twice a day. Bless his heart, he followed the six pages of typed instructions (complete with diagrams where to place the food dishes) to the letter. The instructions also provided a list of contact numbers for myself as well as other friends who are well-versed in kitties.

    I was also careful to leave a signed authorization to allow my vet to do whatever was necessary.

    I'm grateful I don't have a job that requires travel.

  • 03/05/2012 09:19am

    I have very a understanding family member who comes over when I have to travel for work (5 or 6 little trips, one giant one). It's still stressful for the cats but at least they get to stay in their own environment. I had trouble when they were younger (1-2) but right now they're at a sweet spot of old enough to not freak out but young enough to not have any major health problems.

    The biggest change is, as you said, more dry food than usual. It's fun for my family because both cats are SO neglected and SO VERY melodramatic that it's all tummy scratches and snuggles while I'm gone.

  • Pet sitter is the best
    03/09/2012 11:27am

    One of the important responsibilities in assessing the cost of pet care, is the cost of boarding or a pet sitter. I knew that once I found a job it may require commuting, traveling, etc. So I did budget a monthly expense for this reason. Sure enough my new job did require commuting where I could not come home for lunch, work long hours and travel monthly. But I searched for a pet sitter and found a neighbor who was willing and able for a fee. I did a background check and took a chance and she was wonderful. She followed all my routines and instructions and my pets adored her.

    Then I moved and now I have a new job where I come home daily for lunch to vacuum cat hair and refill water and pet bowls. And I no longer have to travel for work which is a relief. But now I struggle to find a pet sitter for when I travel for little weekend getaways and have not been able to do so in three years since I rescued several cats.

    On road trips here in Florida I used to take my dog and two cats and they were used to it and did well. And yes we stayed at pet friendly hotels. But now with six cats and a dog, IMPOSSIBLE. Oh this is the only time I wish I did not have so many cats. I miss my little getaways to relax and explore.

    Soon I'll be searching for a new pet sitter but I know it will be much more costly than what I paid my neighbor but I'll just have to save more. I know my pets and leaving them at boarding facility is NOT an option. TO be caged up most of the time in strange environment will be too stressful and traumatizing. Regardless, I'll be checking for a sitter who's fully insured and comes highly recommended. But I'll also be installing a nanny cam! Really.

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