DEAR DR. FOX: We are planning a 14-day overseas trip this April, and I do not have anyone I can ask to stay in my house with my cat Toby (who will be 15 in March) for the duration. I can't imagine that having someone come in for an hour or two a day will be helpful. He is alone much of the time since our other cat, Morticia, died last March at 18 years of age.
I am beside myself with concern about what to do. I have never boarded any of my cats. There are several "cat hotels" that I've researched that seem to be good. I know I need to visit them in advance, but a cat Toby's age, who has never been away overnight, who is very spoiled by me, loved beyond belief -- will he be able to handle a two-week boarding? I know he'll survive it, but when I get him home, will he be the same? Will he forgive me?
I know this sounds ridiculous, but the planning of the trip is nothing compared to my stress over this issue. -- G.C., St. Louis
DEAR G.C.: It is always a problem having one or more animals who may not take well to a boarding facility when you wish to go on vacation, and have no one to housesit or visit twice a day to feed, clean the litterbox, groom and play with the animals.
A pet sitter may be the best option to explore. There are licensed and bonded professional sitters who will spend time with your cat, and a few will stay overnight.
Cats generally do not do as well as dogs going to a boarding facility, but for both species I highly recommend having your animal spend two nights away, then pick him up. The next time he goes, he may not then feel that he is being abandoned. Take along familiar toys, his regular food and an unwashed T-shirt smelling of you -- and if possible, his cat bed or blanket with his own scent on it.
The boarding facility should have an open space where your Toby can get out of the enclosure for some activity at least twice a day, and his holding cage or pen should have plenty of space so he does not have to nap in his litterbox. Too many cat boarding facilities that I have visited have enclosures that are too small with no shelf or perch for the cat to get on or box to hide in, which many cats need because they are fearful in strange surroundings.
The place should be quiet; soft music has a calming effect and serves as a sound barrier. Toby should be regularly handled, groomed and allowed out to play if not too recalcitrant. With two cats used to each other, they should be kept in a double-sized enclosure, and better cat facilities have windows so the cats can see outdoors, often at an array of bird feeders. There should be no barking dogs to terrify them in any adjacent boarding kennels.
So go visit the facilities available in your area with these pointers in mind. The boarding operation will probably insist on Toby having blood tests for feline viral leukemia and immunodeficiency virus, as well as up-to-date vaccinations. The latter may not be needed if they accept blood titre results indicating he does not require shots other than the mandatory anti-rabies vaccination. If vaccinations are needed, be sure they are not given at the last minute, but three to four weeks before Toby goes into the facility.
STRESS MIGHT CAUSE DOGS TO GO GRAY EARLY
A study of 400 dogs found fear of loud sounds, unfamiliar people and animals was associated with gray hair on and around the muzzle. Premature graying in dogs under 4 years of age may be a possible indicator of anxiety, fear or impulsivity issues. The findings were reported by Dr. Camille King and associates at Northern Illinois University in the December 2016 edition of Applied Animal Behavior Science.
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