Boarding across the Feline Life Stages
By Deborah Hansen
Meeting the needs of cats at every life stage will develop a loyal client base for a lifetime of boarding. A four- to eight-year-old, healthy cat has much different needs from a kitten or senior cat. Having a premade package of services for each life stage will attract a wider variety of cat parents to your boarding facility.
Elderly cats, approximately 17 years old and up, can be the most challenging for boarding. Oftentimes they always seem hungry and tend to be finicky eaters. No matter how much they eat, they just can’t seem to keep weight on, so they may need extra feeding sessions. Some owners want their older senior cat fed as often as every two hours. Senior cats also tend to drink a lot more than younger cats, so making sure water bowls are always full with clean, fresh water should be a priority. Many have medical issues and will need medication administered frequently during their stay, and sometimes fluids.
These advanced-age cats tend to walk very stiff and it is obvious they have sore and achy joints. Many will have limited mobility and usually will not access multiple levels in their area. Multiple levels may even be a safety concern for these boarders if they are losing their sight or are unstable on their feet. It is important that your staff use all safety protocols with these cats. Some may need a low-sided litter box or potty pads that will need frequent cleaning.
Cats in this age range can also be very vocal, either because they are confused, in pain or have compromised sight or hearing. They are more likely to unexpectedly bite or scratch because they get confused and scared easily. These older cats may not enjoy a petting session and prefer just to sit next to a person. When they are underweight and arthritis has set in, petting may not be comfortable for them.
Having an emergency plan in place with the owner is important when establishing your boarding plan for these senior cats. Knowing if the owner wants CPR performed, when the cat should be taken to the vet, and what the owner’s desires are in the event of a medical emergency and they cannot be reached are important to have in writing. If the owner will be out of reach for extended periods of time, you may want to find out their desire for the remains in case their elderly cat does pass while in your care.
Senior felines from about 10 to 16 years old may appear to act like younger adults but may also need special considerations. Some of these cats may have diagnosed kidney or thyroid conditions, and may or may not be on a prescription diet and/or medication. These cats are typically good with your standard cat boarding plan. Frequently this age range will do well on two meals a day, one litter box cleaning a day and your standard play/petting sessions. You could enhance your program for this age group with an extra petting session.
Adult cats from about four to 10 years of age will probably be your most common age group for boarding. These felines do well on a morning and evening feeding and water change with one litter box cleaning a day. One to three playtimes on multiple levels with human interaction will help them adjust to boarding.
The teenage age range for cats is from about nine months to three years. They can be sassy, self-assured and opinionated. If they are boarding with siblings, the siblings may need a break from the teenager. This age group tends to have very few special considerations. A standard two meals a day works well. Water can be challenging as teenagers like to play in their water bowls, or are so active litter ends up in their water. Water bowls may need to be cleaned frequently. Also, they may need their litter box cleaned more often than other age groups. Out of boredom, teenagers have a tendency to play in their litter box. The more playtime and human interaction they can have, the better off they will be. It is very important to have multiple levels in their enclosure and time to run and jump. This age group is very active, and if the energy is not appropriately directed, it can lead to mischief.
Older kittens from three to nine months will do best with more human interaction and playtime. Most are satisfied with two meals a day, but some may need three meals. Depending on how active they are, one or two water bowl and litter box cleanings work well. They need a multiple-level enclosure with lots of stimulation to keep their active minds engaged.
Kittens three months and under will need multiple feedings. It is important each meal is monitored to assure the kitten is getting enough food. When a young kitten isn’t eating enough, it can be a sign of a medical concern and should be investigated. Water bowls need to be smaller and will often get litter or food in them. Water bowls should be cleaned and changed multiple times a day. Human interaction is also very important for this age group.
Having your staff trained in how to medicate and administer fluids and asthma inhalers to cats will be a huge asset to your business. Most cats will not be tricked into taking their medication. Knowing how to properly restrain and administer liquid, pill and inhaled medications for cats will be a benefit to your boarding business. Many older cats need fluids administered. Knowing how to administer fluids and having an area in your facility where you can set up for fluids will help attract clients with special needs cats.
Having knowledge of the needs of cats at different life stages is the first step in developing a plan on how to accommodate the cats you service. Once you are aware of the needs at each life stage, develop a plan that meets those needs and work it into your business model. After your facility develops a plan, use your regular marketing outlets to promote how you cater to cats at every stage of life. When cat owners discover you meet these needs, it will stir up curiosity that can increase your cat boarding clientele.