Easing the Stress of Long-Term Boarding for Cat Clients
By Deborah Hansen
When owners are away from their cats for weeks or months, it can be difficult to know how to help the felines adjust and thrive in their new environment.
The owners chose your facility because they trusted and believed your boarding establishment would take the best possible care of their cat while they were away. So now that you have the trust and confidence of the owners, how do you assure the cat is in the best environment possible? Exercise, interaction, variety and enrichment are the keys to making long-term boarding a successful experience for the feline.
If your facility uses a traditional boarding system of smaller modular cages it is important that the cat can get out to exercise. While a secure room dedicated to feline playtime is ideal, pop-up tents can easily make a secure option for a safe, temporary play area. Ideally your exercise area should have different levels for a cat to climb, jump and explore. Some possibilities include walkways made out of mounted shelves at different levels on a wall or different height furniture such as tables and bookcases. While looking for items to use in your cat area, remember smooth surfaces are easiest to spray down and wipe clean during your disinfectant routine between cat clients. Once you have your dedicated cat area established, interaction will enhance the cat’s time in that area.
A boarding stay that is weeks or months long can be overwhelming when considering how to keep the cat mentally stimulated in the space your facility has for felines. The priority should always be in giving the kitty as much human interaction as they desire and are comfortable with. Keep in mind, a cat that does not want interaction the first few days may change their mind in a week or a month. It is best to offer a pet and let the cat decide if they want to be petted or not. Time being near the cat and talking to them can be more appreciated than petting for some felines. It can be as simple as sitting in the area while the cat explores. Take time to establish the cat’s preferred way of being near a person in this new environment.
Some cats are happy being out of their cage, sitting in your lap and getting petted. Other cats need the excitement and exercise that comes from interaction with you and a toy. Using an object such as a feather or mouse at the end of a wand is a great way to encourage running and jumping. A wad of paper is also a great and inexpensive way to get a cat interested and moving through their environment.
Variety is also important. Most cats appreciate the routine of a regular mealtime and litter box cleaning. When it comes to playtime, they enjoy having different toys and objects to play with. Switching between a mouse and a feather can be exciting for a cat during a long-term boarding stay. Adding a box one day and a paper bag another day in the play area can also enhance the cat’s out-of-cage time. Moving the furniture, even if it is just a few inches, can be a positive challenge for those that like to climb and jump by encouraging them to use their problem-solving skills.
Another step you can take to add variety and help reassure the cat that their human family will come back for them is something that smells like the family. Having the family place a used pillowcase or shirt into a sealed bag before they leave can be a big stress reliever when given to the cat. I would suggest spreading out the items the family brings that smell like home. Giving these items to the cat in the middle of the boarding stay can raise their spirits. If the cat comes with multiple toys, I would put them in a sealed bag to keep the smell of home on them. Then I would divide the toys up so they can have a fresh toy at different intervals throughout the boarding period. I believe it is important that the cat always has something with them that smells like home, especially the first few days. Renewing that home smell should be done as often as possible.
Enrichment is also important for cats at a boarding facility. When a cat’s living environment is reduced in size from a house to a boarding enclosure, it is important to give them things to keep their mind engaged. Enrichment can be as simple or as complex as you have the time and budget to accommodate. Background noises of streams or forests with birds can usually get a cat’s attention. A running fountain also seems to bring enjoyment to many cats. Using toys that a cat needs to manipulate to get food out is great for the kitties who love their food. Hanging prisms in the cat area that allow light to be reflected and moved around the cages can be very entertaining for some cats. Other cats enjoy a toy hung in their cage. A drinking fountain or adding ice to a cat’s water bowl is another way to provide enrichment during the boarding stay.
When a cat arrives for a boarding stay that is weeks or months long, it can be very overwhelming. Focusing on the priorities will help it seem more manageable. Always remember that the owners believe in your ability to care for their cat while they are away. Giving the feline as much human interaction as they desire should always be the priority. Keep in mind that the interaction the cat desires on day one may not be the same as in the middle or at the end of the boarding stay. Add variety and enrichment to human interaction with items from home dispersed throughout their stay and you will keep the feline engaged and stimulated during their long-term boarding stay.