The Importance of Space & Stimulation in Cat Lodging
By Jennifer Wolf-Pierson
Photos by ABC Pet Resort
There seem to be a lot of pet resorts that offer cat lodging, but it’s done half-heartedly—as if they don’t put much value in it. They might have one or two cat enclosures in a separate room “just in case” they have to board one. But, are you aware that along with cat-only families that will board with you, a large number of your existing dog clients probably also have a cat? Those potential clients who need lodging might not come to your facility if you don’t have the capability of boarding both their cat and their dog.
Here at ABC Pet Resort, the cattery measures 240 sq. ft., and originally had the capacity of 24 separate stacked units. Each unit was designed with windows, shelving and adjoining portholes that could be opened between cats. This gave us the ability to expand them for multiple-cat families.
In 2006, Suzanne and Al Locker, owners of ABC Pet Resort, went to Australia and toured several cat-only facilities that could house up to 100 cats. The Lockers were surprised at the way the Australians designed the enclosures, which were extremely spacious. In fact, each enclosure was larger than a typical dog enclosure in the U.S.! These facilities were full of cats, which was common for most pet boarding businesses there. What were they doing that we weren’t doing in the U.S.? Giving the cats space! The Australians believed that cat boarding in the U.S. wasn’t as popular with cat owners because the facilities weren’t designed with the cats’ needs in mind.
Immediately after that trip, ABC reduced its occupancy in the cattery from 24 units down to 12, doubling the space available for each guest.
Take a look at your facility currently. Tape off 240 sq. ft. What are you doing in that space? Installing three dog enclosures? On average, we see that mature facilities run around 70% annual occupancy for dog lodging and 40% for cats. While the occupancy is lower, the profit-per-square-foot is much higher.
Most cat professionals believe that cats exercise isometrically; therefore, they don’t require a lot of room in order to get proper daily exercise. No running around is required, because leaping and jumping from shelf to shelf and stretching is something they can do in limited space. However, that kind of physical exercise by itself is not sufficient to keep a cat balanced and healthy, especially when it’s away from home.
In addition to the physical exercise, behaviorists have also found that cats need emotional exercise. And by that, they mean something that excites their brain and peaks their natural curiosity. As predators, cats are hardwired with a need to explore, hunt and seek prey. Even our domesticated cats still have a natural desire to roam and explore, because in their minds, exploring is a precursor to eating a meal. Space is important to the wellbeing of a cat.
How many potty breaks do your canine guests take each day? Two, three, four, unlimited in daycare? Those breaks also aid in stress reduction and emotional stimulation. What do you do for your cats? Just letting them roam around for a few minutes while the litter box is being cleaned is not enough. Each day, it’s important use lure toys, such as a feathered bird or leather mouse on a wand, to encourage the cat to move through the portholes and explore their environment. Get them out into the common area of the room to explore.
By having a set routine of play, we are reducing the stress of being away from their daily habits at home, as well as from missing their owners. This allows them to rest more comfortably and definitely helps with picky eaters by initiating the prey drive that is required to stimulate a cat’s appetite.
Another common trait in cats is their need to be reclusive and private, yet still have the option to observe activity for stimulation. It’s nice to have some small areas inside the enclosure where they can retreat to sleep or to hide. Visual considerations in your enclosures are critical to plan. Be careful not to have all sides of each enclosure be see-through, whether the sides are epoxy-coated wire or tempered glass between each unit. The shared or common walls between cats should be a solid surface to reduce stress of seeing other cats. Most cats won’t appreciate being so close to a strange cat, especially if it’s just inches away. This could bring out that territorial nature and make the cat’s experience with you very stressful.
The front, human-facing panel should be a combination of materials, allowing for staff visibility as well as epoxy-coated wire. This allows the cat to “hide,” even from us, although it is just psychological. At ABC, we have portholes looking outside and also that look into our office. Nine times out of ten, the cat chooses to watch us interact, engaging their minds and reducing stress.
Your client pool has a need for cat boarding—fill it before someone else does! The space required may seem greater than expected, but from a profit-per-square-foot standard, there is no comparison or rebuttal. Keep pet health and happiness as your main priority, and the cats and revenue will follow!
Jennifer has served since 2016 as General Manager for ABC Pet Resort & Spa, a multi-service pet care center located in North Houston. She also is a consultant and instructor for Pet Care Management Boot Camp, in partnership with Turnkey, Inc., an architectural design/build/operations firm specializing in pet care and veterinary facilities. Jennifer has helped dozens of existing and start-up facilities streamline their operations, improve their team management, and understand revenue-generating strategies. Jennifer earned her BS in Agricultural Science at Colorado State University, is a Certified Professional Animal Care Operator (CPACO), a PetTech CPR and First Aid Instructor, and is a passionate student of animal behavior modification.