A Feline Family Affair
By Deborah Hansen
Owners that view their pets as family members expect us, as pet care professionals, to also treat their pets as family members. And part of this treatment may mean keeping their pets in the family unit during the boarding stay.
Many owners have multiple cats, or both cats and dogs. As boarding facility owners and operators, it can be overwhelming to try to figure out how to keep the family unit intact while providing the best possible care, ensuring safety and maximizing our profit levels. When we can successfully address the management of family units, it not only enhances our ability to market to our current clients, but attracts a new kind of clientele, allowing us to charge a premium when the family unit is boarded together.
Felines are finicky when it comes to the company they keep. But a cohesive pet family unit—which many owners work hard to establish—should be used to your advantage during the boarding stay. These well-bonded families act as natural stress reducers by providing reassurance and confidence to each other.
There are several ways felines can be kept in their family unit during boarding. And as with any new procedure, it will take some trial and error to establish a formula that works best for your business. But once your business has found a system that works, it can be extended and enhanced to develop add-ons that fit your branding.
Feline families come in many forms. When there are multiple cats in one family, it is the easiest model to accommodate during boarding. If your feline enclosures are large enough, or if you have the ability to open up a panel to create a larger holding area, housing multiple cats together becomes simple.
When considering housing multiple cats together, there are several things that your boarding facility should take into account:
1. How long have the cats been living in the same home? If one of the cats just moved in, it may be best to give that cat its own space, or closely monitor this family unit as bonding may not have been completed as of yet.
2. Do the cats like each other? It is important to gather information about family dynamics before you board a feline family together. If one cat needs time alone, plays too rough or gets grumpy with the other cat(s), it may be best to board the family next to each other but not together to avoid injury or bullying.
3. Is the space large enough? Is there enough room for the cats to have their own space if they choose, a litter box, room to play, and separate food and water bowls? Even closely-bonded siblings need some alone time.
4. What are the temperament of the cats? If one of the cats is aggressive, or when the cats are together they become more aggressive, it may not be safe for your staff to have the family together. Having an aggressive cat during boarding is hard enough when tending to basic needs. Adding a sibling that the aggressive cat protects, or a sibling that triggers the easy-going cat to become aggressive, may not be the best setup for the safety of your employees or the cats.
If your enclosures are not big enough for multiple cats, or there is a reason why your facility has decided it is best not to house the feline family together, housing the kitties next to each other helps keep the family unit intact. While the cats are not physically together, their vocalizations, smell or a paw reaching around the corner will reassure their siblings. Housing the cats across from each other so they can see their family members also offers a source of comfort during boarding when the next adjacent enclosure is not available.
Dogs can be part of the feline family, too! However, when there is a canine family member, things get more difficult. Dog runs are typically not designed to board cats. Access to an outside area and/or an opening at the top or bottom that a cat can easily climb or wiggle out of are unsafe for felines. Another challenge is the litter box and feeding time. Obviously we do not want dogs to have access to the richer cat food or the litter box. Unless your dog area was specifically designed to house cats as well as dogs, it may not be possible to house these families together.
Multi-species family units (not just dogs and cats) may not be able to sleep together during boarding, but can have other options to interact. If you have a secure visitation room, these families can spend time together in the visitation room. If that is not an option, having the cat in its carrier and allowing the dog to smell and walk around the carrier helps the family feel less lonely and more secure about the boarding process.
A word of caution: I would never bring a dog into the cat area. It could lead to stress and behavioral problems for the other cats in the area, or for the cats that will be arriving in the days to come. Keep in mind, the smell of a canine puts many cats on edge.
While keeping the family unit together is usually best, when multiple animals from any household share a space there is always an opportunity for issues to arise. The stress of boarding may bring out the worst in felines, as it does in canines. You will want to monitor for the same warning signs you monitor for in your dog area. If one cat is being aggressive or picking on another, it may be in the best interest of the boarding business to move the cat to prevent injury or health issues.
Keeping feline families together during boarding not only brings comfort to the owners, but reduces the stress level of the cats as well. Making this change in your business may be difficult at first, but in the end it will attract a different kind of a client base which will allow you to charge a premium for your feline boarding services.