Taking your cat on holiday: home or away?
Will you be taking your cat on holiday this year? Summer has just begun and many owners are wondering if, for the welfare of their cat, it would be better to take their feline with them or make alternate arrangements. Dr Maria Grazia Calore, veterinary surgeon and expert in pet behaviour, discusses the best options for our cat.
Attachment to their territory
We must remember that one of the fundamental elements affecting a feline’s contentment is the sanctity of their territory. In fact, after a kitten’s initial separation from the mother, it creates several key, discernable references in its new territory: it does this through marking by way of scent rubbing (depositing feel-good pheromones) or through visual clues such as scratches. In addition, the cat spends a lot of time making sure that its territory is free from intrusion by cat ‘outsiders’.
If we introduce a cat into a new territory, such as when we move house or take our cat on holiday with us, it will not find its reassuring references and will feel confused. It will take several days for the cat to rebuild its confidence and feel more at home in the new environment. It will do this by depositing new visual and scent markers around the property.
The holiday home
If we are lucky enough to have a holiday home that our kitty has been to before, then we can safely take our cat on holiday with us, as the property will already be marked as its territory. It will be a similar situation if we rent a house: in this case, however, it will be helpful to leave the cat in just one room for the first day and put pheromone diffusers in the other rooms before it explores the entire house, these will induce a sense of tranquillity in our cat. We should also carry some familiar household objects with us, such as our cat’s feeding bowls, bedding and toys as these will make our feline feel even more at home.
The duration of the holiday is also an important consideration: if we are only going away for short period of time, such as a weekend, the upheaval of the journey and staying in a different territory for only a couple of days could be too stressful for our cat, but if our vacation is longer, the cat has time to settle in, feel “at home” in the new location and enjoy the holiday too.
The journey: the best way to prepare
Even the journey itself can be stressful for our cat, so anything we can do to lessen the strain when taking our cat on holiday with us will help. We should first accustom our pet to the cat carrier so it feels safe and comfortable inside before we place it inside something noisy, like the car or motorhome. To help our kitty on the journey, we can also spritz pheromone spray in the carrier and car five minutes before introducing the animal; this will ensure that the cat senses a “familiar” smell that fosters a calmer mood. When we arrive at our destination, we should ensure the carrier is still available for our cat to use, putting it in a slightly elevated spot, so the cat can explore the property but can also use it as a safe haven to return to if need be. If the journey is very long, with scheduled stops, we should be very careful not to open the carrier if the car has the doors open because the cat may become disoriented and flee.
The alternative solutions
The best thing for our cat would be leave it in its own home, where it feels safe and has its reassuring spatial references. If our holiday is short, we can ask our friends or relatives (who are preferably known by the cat) to visit a couple of times a day to serve fresh food and water and empty the litter tray and, of course, make a fuss of our cat! If no one is available however, we could hire a professional pet sitter. Alternatively, we can consider taking our cat to a cattery; either asking our vet if he knows any suitable establishments or visiting the local catteries ourselves to see which will suit our feline the best. My advice is to exclude mixed facilities, housing both cats and dogs, or at the very least select one in which the areas for cats are distant from to those dedicated to dogs because the noise of the dogs could stress your feline friend. Also pens are preferable to individual boxes. Either way, your cat should have a dedicated room so it is not forced to share with other cats. Even the size of the box is important: avoid facilities where the cat is locked in a small cage.
Remember to check your cat’s vaccinations and anti-flea treatments are up to date and to bring your cat’s health card, with the contact details of your pet’s regular vet, with you so that if there are any problems he can be contacted easily.
Many cat-boarding facilities also allow you to bring your cat’s ‘personal belongings’ with them to make them feel more comfortable and at home in their holiday ‘home away from home’.