Requirements to Consider for Cat Boarding Clients
By Deborah Hansen
When you expand from the world of dogs to the world of cats, the type of clients you get can dramatically change. Dog people are used to being asked for vaccine records, filling out forms, and giving precise answers about their dog’s behavior and needs. In comparison, most cats never leave their home and their owners are not accustomed to providing the information needed for their boarding care.
Licensing and Local Ordinances
Part of this difference stems from dogs needing to be licensed with the local governing authority. During this annual licensing procedure, many areas require dog owners to obtain a veterinarian’s document stating the dog is current on their rabies vaccination or equivalent. To get this paperwork, the dog must be seen by a veterinarian. Many grooming establishments and other dog-related businesses are required by the local government to keep records of rabies vaccinations and/or dog licenses. Between licensing your dog, going to the vet and needing records for any activities the dog participates in, dog owners have come to expect to show proof that their dog is healthy and in compliance with local regulations.
Cats, on the other hand, are not exposed to the outside world as much. Also, local authorities do not seem to monitor cats as closely. Some areas that require dog licensing do not require cat licensing, and the areas that do require cats to be licensed are not as strict as they with dogs.
Many cat owners falsely believe cats will take care of themselves, and unless there is a major health concern, they do not take their cats to the veterinarian. Many veterinarians have a more relaxed policy on cat vaccines simply because cats usually do not interact with cats from outside their home and they do not go places that require vaccines.
Before you start accepting cats for boarding, you need to establish a policy to assure the cats you board are healthy and your business is following the local laws. Your boarding business may decide this is best done in the form of shot records, licenses or vet checks. You also need to contact animal control to see what vaccinations are required, if titers or a wellness exam can be used instead, and if there are any other ordinances you need to be in compliance with to board felines. The minimum inoculations that are required for boarding will vary by local governing areas. What is important is that you are aware of the minimum legal requirements to operate your feline boarding service, then you can tailor your health policies to fit within those parameters.
If your local government does not have any requirements to board cats, you may want to require a vet visit within the last six months to one year. Some may even want cats coming in to have a wellness check two to four weeks before boarding. This is to assure the cat is healthy and does not have any underlying medical issues that could be brought to the surface by a stressful situation.
Keep in mind that stress can trigger undiagnosed, fatal health issues like hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Not only do you want to assure the cat will not bring something contagious into your facility, but you want reasonable assurance that your facility will be able to return a healthy cat to the owners.
Before accepting the feline at check-in, it is important to look for obvious signs of poor health. Issues like sneezing, runny nose or eyes, coughing, wheezing, or open-mouth breathing would all be reasons to require a letter of good health from a veterinarian to board the cat. I would suggest a quick ringworm and flea check before the owner leaves as well. If there are health concerns, you want to know the cat will not infect other boarders, that the feline is being monitored by a veterinarian and that the cat is stable enough that the stress of boarding will not have a negative outcome.
Once you have established the health requirements for feline boarding, it is important your policies are consistently applied to all cats you board. This consistency along with your sanitation procedures will be important to keep all the felines in your care healthy.
Your standard boarding form may be a challenge for cat owners. Dog owners are used to giving short, direct answers to basic questions that are needed to assure the safety of their pet. Cat owners are not used to answering similar questions. Cat owners can struggle with these questions because they have not paid attention or they are so focused on their cat they have too much information to provide. It is a careful balancing act to get the needed information while making the owner feel like you understand and value both them and their cat.
In order to help cat clients, you may want to have different cat and dog intake forms. On your cat form, having room for short answers will make your clients feel like they can say everything they need to say without overwhelming you with a long, drawn-out verbal answer. Another idea is to give the cat clients multiple choices to circle to help the ones who simply do not pay that close of attention to their cat.
Cat owners come from a very different perspective than dog owners. Boarding at your facility may be one of the first times the cat has left the home. Many cat owners simply do not know their cat should have regular vet checks. When setting your requirements for feline boarding, begin with your local laws, then establish policies you are comfortable with. Assuring the felines in your care are healthy is important for the reputation of your business and the safety of all the animals in your care. Adjusting your intake form will help cat owners feel like they are providing all the information you need to properly care for their cat. While it can be challenging to add cats to your boarding program, it can be a lucrative source of untapped revenue.