Updated November 29, 2020
Choosing the right place to board your cat is more important than you think. Twice in the past week we’ve seen cats get sick after being in boarding. We also seen cats lose weight and have anxiety problems which could have been avoided if their owners knew what to look for when choosing.
Can Cats Just Be Left At Home?
Putting your cat in a secure environment when you go away is the only safe decision. As vets we see a far greater risk of illness and injury when cats are left at home. This can be through being alone outside, poor access to food or water, poor food hygiene, or the carer not recognising the early signs of illness that only an owner can see.
So if boarding is necessary, how do we recognise a bad one? Most of their problems arise from two mistakes: a poor understanding of what cats want and need, and a poor understanding of feline infectious disease.
What Cats Need
So firstly, what do cats want? Very few would choose to meet strange cats, and even fewer when on unfamiliar territory. Even cats who like other cats in their home environment are unlikely to be the same when feeling threatened away from home. For most, even the possibility of another cat entering their space is enough to cause constant anxiety.
The mistake being made by some boarding facilities is to think that cats’ loneliness can be fixed by allowing them to socialise. These places, with good intentions, are often quite proud to say they open all the cat runs or cages to allow the cats freedom to explore.
For many cats, what usually happens is that they are subject to invasion into their runs by the minority of cats who are bold enough to make the most of the situation. Later when these cats visit me I can be fairly certain they were subject to significant anxiety. They have lost weight, their coats look ill-groomed, and they can be suffering from stress-related infections.
Disease Risk In Catteries
Secondly, what is the importance of infectious disease? The mistake being made every day is not understanding how cat diseases spread. At least 30% of apparently healthy cats are carrying something they can pass on to another cat, and stress will make them more likely to be contagious. Read more about asymptomatic carriers here.
These diseases were probably picked up when with their mother, and are causing them no problems. But to pass this disease on all they have to do is:
- Use the same water or food
- Sleep in the same bedding
- Groom one another (often done by the aggressor)
- Rub on the same object
- Hiss, spit or sneeze
It doesn’t have to be direct contact. Cats sharing the same space will also be at high risk even without seeing one another. Scratching poles and other soft furnishings which cannot be disinfected are also dangerous.
As adults acquiring these infections, your cat is almost certainly going to get sick and need to see a vet. Click here to learn more about preventing cat flu.
5 Things To Look For In A Cattery
The big problem is that the places who mix cats can have larger numbers of cats, and can be in smaller premises. This means they are usually the ones that are cheaper, closer to you, have more availability. That’s why most people accidentally choose these places the first time.
So what should you look for when choosing cat boarding? Here are our simple tips:
- Ability to inspect the facility before booking. If they are reluctant, go elsewhere. Don’t just get shown one cat run; ask “is this where my cat will be staying?”
- Cat runs large enough so that your cat can exercise without needing to be let out. Yes, this may be more expensive but still cheaper than the vets later! A good run has multiple levels and solid sides so cats can’t contact each other. Outside viewpoints are great but not essential.
- The option to bring all your cat’s familiar bedding, scratching poles, bowls, and toys. Not only is this healthier, but your cat will be more ‘at home’.
- Meticulous hygiene practices and insistence on seeing evidence of up to date vaccination.
- No communal play areas even if not used at the same time.
Of course, cat infectious diseases are so problematic that even good management can lead to cats getting infections. However, in my experience, this is vanishingly rare from good places. Now visit our page of good places in Adelaide for cat boarding.
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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These articles are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story!