Holiday Tips & Travel – Don’t Leave Your Cat Alone If You Won’t Be At Home

It can be stressful for us to leave our kitties when we travel but it’s also stressful for them and they shouldn’t be left alone without supervision.

Halloween has come and gone, so its officially that time of year when the holidays – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s – rapidly descend upon us. For many of us, our lives become completely topsy-turvy, especially for those that pack their bags to go visit with friends and family for some, or all of these special days. In these instances, even if it’s just for an overnight stay, if you’re a cat parent, it’s important to make arrangements for your feline friend and not leave her unattended because her life has become topsy-turvy as well.

One of the biggest misconceptions about cats is that it’s okay to leave them alone for several days at a time. It’s not. Not even for one night, regardless of whether it’s a holiday or not. Yes, cats can be independent and self-sufficient as their mainstream stereotype would suggest, but putting a bowl of food and water out and leaving them to their own devices just isn’t safe – both physically and emotionally.

Cats are creatures of habit. While you might leave them every day to go to work or school or wherever, they become accustomed to your routine. If you – their loving guardian – suddenly leaves them unattended and break the routine, they become susceptible to emotional stress, anxieties, and insecurities.

A cat’s mind is like clock-work. Break the routine and they become susceptible to emotional stress, anxieties, and insecurities.

As your cat tries to adjust to a new schedule, he might look for places to hide and inadvertently hurt himself (especially if you leave holiday decorations out for him to get into, such as a Christmas tree). Or he might become sick. If no one is around, he won’t get the help he needs until you return. If it’s an emergency that requires a trip to the vet, without human intervention the consequences could be tragic. A litter box can also become objectionably dirty, especially in a multi-cat home, causing a cat to pee or poop in undesirable places (something that can turn into a hard-to-break habit).

A cat should also have access to fresh food and water on a daily basis. Many people leave an oversized bowl of dry kibble out thinking the cat will nibble when hungry, but dry kibble is not the best food for cats in the first place, and leaving canned or raw food out for several days is not advisable because it could spoil, or bugs could get at it.

Ideally you should have someone come stay in your house while you’re away such as a friend, relative, or neighbor that can drop by at least once a day to check up on the cat and socialize with him (if the cat will allow it – many cats will be very wary of a new person in the house), to scoop the litter, and to provide fresh food and water.

While many cats might be wary of a new person in the house, it’s still important to provide them with a caretaker rather than leaving them home alone.

If you can’t find someone to help out, there are plenty of pet-sitters or pet-sitting services available, just do your homework and check references. If you absolutely must board your cat, try to find an all-cats facility, as all-pet facilities with barking dogs and squawking birds can be highly stressful for cats. If you are able to keep your cat at home, be sure to provide the appointed caretaker with a list of instructions and the number of your veterinarian for emergency purposes.

And with cats, it’s not just about leaving. They can also be stressed upon our return – that phenomenon in which they seem angry at us when we get home, sometimes hiding, running away, or rebuffing our excited advances to see them. In these instances, they’re not angry, it’s an instinctual reaction, stemming from the need they have for structure. Just about the time your cat becomes accustomed to the “new routine” (you being gone), you return from wherever you went. Once again kitty’s world is turned upside down, and to complicate matters, you no longer smell familiar because kitty hasn’t been able to mark you with his scent while you were away (such as through head butts, rubbing against your legs, or sleeping on your head). Consequently, some cats seem like they are “mad” by hiding or becoming defensive at our advances.

A cat might hide for a few hours after you return home from travel – this is normal. Just be patient and give your cat time to reacclimate herself with you.

It’s NOT personal – your cat isn’t “getting back at you” – it’s just normal cat behavior and their way of relieving stress. To help keep the process as smooth as possible, if you do get a pet sitter or someone to stay at the house, try to make sure your cat has already been introduced to this person (several times, if possible). Have this person offer your cat treats or play a fun game with him to help associate the person with positive things. When they do come to cat sit, try to have them stay as close as possible to your normal feeding routines.

And when it’s time for you to go, don’t startle your cat with a suitcase the night before you leave. Bring it out several days in advance so she becomes used to it. Toss in treats or toys so it’s a positive association for her. And leave behind a little bit of you for her, such as a T-shirt you’ve worn but not washed. Put it somewhere your cat likes to nap to help her feel less stressed while you’re gone.

Before you leave, take an item of your clothing (such as a pair of socks) and rub it all over your cat – seal the clothing in a plastic bag and when you return, slip on that item so your cat can immediately recognize you’re part of the family. Some cats will be fine right away, for others it can take several days. Just be patient – don’t force your cat for attention. Before you know it, all will be back to normal with you and your feline friend.

Just like that, all is well with the world again and kitty has been looked after, safe and sound!

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  1. Andrea Dorn says:

    I was one of those who left my cats unattended when I left for cat shows years ago. I put out dry food and plenty of water and thought they were okay. And those cats did fine but they were young and healthy. Now I would never do that.

    I recently had surgery and decided to board some of my cats at the vet’s because they needed meds or special food. Then I had a friend come in to care for the rest. It all worked out okay except I was a nervous wreck being without them. What a rigamarole that was. Now I just don’t leave 🙂

  2. I am very fortunate to have a husband who doesn’t want to travel. So, he’s my built-in cat sitter! I go to work, go out with friends, travel, and he’s the normal routine. I really hate leaving, but I’ve got stuff to do!

  3. jmuhj says:

    I have had to travel at times, and as we did not have anyone we could trust at those times, we left lots of food, water, and litterboxes, and thankfully, they were okay. In my present situation, I will not travel. Thank you for an excellent article with some very intelligent insight into not only the logistics, but also how CATS feel and think (which should be the most important issue, after all.)

  4. Ellen Pilch says:

    The most my cats are ever alone is an hour. If we are not going to be home, their Grammie stays with them. I fear if someone broke in they would get outside and get run over.

  5. Those are some great tips. The mom would never leave us alone. In fact, she has someone come 2 times a day to check on us if she is gone.

  6. Thanks for sharing these wonderful tips for people planning to get away this holiday season. This will especially help with new pet owners who this time last year didn’t have a little one in their lives. Always have a good plan before leaving even it’s just for one night. Have a wonderful day.

  7. meowmeowmans says:

    Good tips! When we go away, we have someone come over at least two times a day!