If there’s one thing I’m a bona fide expert in, it’s leaving cats at home while on vacation. I have two cats—my babies, the loves of my life—and I’ve been leaving them behind to travel for the past 15 years. *cue sad montage of them watching me pull out of the driveway*
I’ve left them at home for everything from three days to three months at a time and I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. But mostly, because they’re cats, I continue to learn new ways they can f—k sh*t up while I’m gone.
In this comprehensive post, I’ve put together my best tips, solutions, and advice to manage both your cats and your anxiety levels while you’re gone. Though much in the post may be things you already know and do, there’s a good chance you’ll learn something new. Something I learned in, no doubt, the most stressful way possible.
Anxiety about leaving your cat while on vacation
No one is more familiar with the anxiety of leaving your pet behind while traveling than I am. Except maybe my therapist who has to talk me down off a cat-centered ledge every time I get ready to leave for a trip.
Regardless of how long or short your trip, it’s never easy to leave a pet behind. Because of this, I definitely go above and beyond the call of pet ownership when it comes to leaving cats at home while on vacation. Therefore, you may notice a common theme in this post.
While it’s intended to be a practical post on helpful things you can do to make this time easier on your cats, it’s ultimately a guide to coping after you’ve left your babies to their own furry fate. Most of the things I do to take care of them while I’m gone are more for my own sanity than for their entertainment. The plethora of cardboard boxes is all them though.
What to do with your cat when you travel
What you should do with your cat when you travel will depend on a few things. For starters, how long will you be gone?
When my cats were younger, I felt fine leaving them at home for a few days alone with no issue (with some random check-ins). They had enough food, water, litter, and each other for companionship. However, now that they’re older they need more of everything. More food prep, more litter box scoops, daily medications/supplements, etc. And, though they still have each other, they get more bored more quickly which means they’re going to f—k even more sh*t up.
Veterinarians recommend not leaving your cat alone for more than 24 hours and, the longer I’ve had cats, the more I agree. And for those times you have to consider leaving cats at home while on vacation, here are some things you can do with them:
Ask friends and family for a hand
If how often they do pet-related favors for you is a ranking factor, I have the best friends and family in the world. (Bless them!)
If you won’t be gone long or you have to leave at the last minute, see if a friend, family member, or neighbor would be willing to help you out or at least check in on them. Or, at the very least, look over every once in a while to make sure your house is still standing.
Because these tend to be people we trust the most with our house and our pets, the stress level of leaving your cats while traveling is pretty low. One time, I spent three months in Italy and a group of my friends took turns fur-babysitting. My cats were still alive when I got home; I didn’t ask any questions.
However, if you travel as much as I do, this eventually becomes a burden on both yourself and your friends and family. I do not recommend this as a long term solution.
Board your cat
I have zero experience with this as this is something I personally would never do. Yes, I’m going to straight-up jump to conclusions here.
I can see this as a viable solution for dogs, but not for cats. Especially not my cats who have been together and have had full run of our house for 15 years. I simply can’t imagine taking them from the only place they know and locking them in a cage for a week in an environment I can’t control. Especially since they’re older, set in their ways, and already anxious as it is.
Again, much of my advice is focused not only on my cats, but on my own anxiety. And, personally, boarding my cats is not a healthy solution for me.
Boarding your cat is definitely an option and one that many people utilize, especially for cats that need regular medical monitoring. Perhaps it’s all about starting them on it at a young age so it becomes something of a norm for them?
However, the one solution to the problem of what to do with your cat when you travel that has absolutely changed my life is to hire a cat sitter.
Hire a cat sitter
It took me a whole 15 years of raising my cats to finally experiment with hiring a cat sitter. If you thought I was anxious before, try adding in hiring a stranger from the internet to hang out in your house while you’re far, far away. It took me a very, very long time to be okay with this. And then I found Rover.
Find a cat sitter on Rover
Even though the name implies this is a site for dog owners, Rover.com is actually for pet-sitting of all kinds. If you’ve ever wrestled with the idea of hiring a cat sitter while you’re out of town, I highly recommend giving Rover a try.
Long story short: I searched through the profiles on Rover of cat sitters near me. I was able to see their qualifications, the services they offer, their prices, and, most importantly, I was able to read reviews of them. I found an amazing cat sitter who I truly believe is an angel sent from Heaven to handle my absentee pet owner anxiety.
The cats love her. I love her. I feel really and truly blessed to have found her. She’s responsible, reliable, intelligent, compassionate, and attentive. The communication she provides is fantastic, she sends me photos of my cats every time she visits, she’s open and understanding of all my “cat rules,” and she’s patient and understanding with my tendency to micromanage. And I trust her with my house and my babies 100%.
Using Rover for cat sitting
Rover is such a great platform and it has made it so easy when leaving cats at home while on vacation. The platform itself is incredibly user-friendly and all charges and information are clear. It’s a stress-free partnership.
Find potential cat sitters
Finding a list of potential sitters is a breeze. Simply check “cat” and “Drop-in Visits” then enter your zip code. It will show you a list of sitters near you and you can scroll through their profiles.
For me, the most important factors (after whether or not he or she is available for my dates) are reviews and number of repeat customers. From there, you can message them privately to ask questions or inquire about particular dates and/or services, etc.
Another reason I love Rover is for its communication. Through the Rover platform you can communicate with potential sitters without having to give your personal information. Afterwards, you can message with them at will and have a record of everything in one place.
Additionally, when your sitter arrives at your house, you’ll get a text and/or email letting you know he or she has checked in and is at your house. You get another when they check out.
Then you get an update in your Rover account with full details of the visit: what the sitter did, anything special they feel you need to know, how your cats are doing, etc. These messages also come with photos of your pets each and every time. Micromanagers love constant detailed accounts! Yes!
Rover vs Care.com
For me, choosing Rover over Care.com was a no-brainer. For the most part, the same caregivers are registered on both sites. But what initially sent me to Rover were the fees.
Care.com requires you to pay a monthly membership fee to use their services—as if searching for a cat sitter is going to be a monthly service you need? That part confuses me. Rover, on the other hand, simply charges a one-time fee each time you actually book a sitter. And those fees are low. Honestly, I’m not sure how Rover even makes money but I got 99 cat problems and that ain’t one.
On Care.com, you can’t even communicate with sitters or get some of the vital information without first purchasing a membership—the shortest of which (just one month) is $38.99. No thank you.
Plus, almost none of the sitters of Care.com have any reviews, while over on Rover there are tons. And who is going to hire a cat sitter without first reading to find out if they’re going to rob you blind and sell your cat for parts? Yeah no.
One more thing I like about Rover over Care.com is that Rover is dedicated to pet care, while Care.com focuses on child care, senior care, housekeeping, and tutoring. Pet care is literally the last thing on their list.
Why hire a cat sitter
I preach the importance of peace-of-mind a lot on this blog and, again, I can’t stress that enough when leaving cats at home while on vacation.
Yes, hiring a cat sitter is yet another cost associated with traveling, but the weight it bears for you is so significant. Knowing your pets (and your house) are being cared for and worried about by someone else so you can have a stress-free vacation is priceless. I don’t even bat an eye at these costs anymore. Besides, hiring a cat sitter is less expensive than you probably think and worth. every. penny.
Plus, you’ll get daily updates and photos from someone who is specifically in your life to care for your cat. They’re not a friend or neighbor casually checking in to make sure your pet hasn’t burned the house down. Cat sitters have one job.
Tips for using a cat sitter
If you’re new to the world of working with a professional cat sitter, here are a few tips:
Be strict with rules
In my house there’s been a strict “no elastic hairbands” rule ever since the “emergency surgery debacle of 2006.” I let my sitter know the seriousness of this and make sure it’s drilled in.
Remember, this person has never hung out in your house with your cats unsupervised so they have no idea what not to do. He or she is not privy to the fact that your cat will consume anything even remotely rubber band-shaped and not stop until it’s knocking on death’s door.
If you have any rules like this in your house, don’t assume the issue won’t come up and brush them aside. Cats, God love ’em, will always find a way to get into trouble. Make sure the rules are known and don’t hesitate to stress them.
Leave detailed instructions
Similarly, remember to be as detailed as possible with instructions. Each and every cat and household is different so make sure to let them know how it works in yours specifically.
My weird cats will only eat their food if it’s prepared a certain way. In addition to the detailed instructions, I include pictures of what the food should look like before it’s served to them to make sure my weird instructions make sense. (I’m rolling my eyes so hard here.)
Keep it together
In so many ways. But specifically, keep all the stuff he/she will need together in one area so they don’t have to go searching for it in your house.
That means: food, brush, treats, meds, toys, and whatever else your little furball requires.
In case of emergency
Likewise, be sure to leave important phone numbers, emergency vet locations and contact information, and the cat carrier where they can easily find them. Personally, I have a chalkboard wall in my kitchen where I leave this information plain as day.
And if your travels are taking you out of the country, don’t forget to let your sitter know the best methods to get ahold of you. For this I use Whatsapp for free international texting and calls.
Leave reminders around the house
To take this all a step further, maybe you want to leave certain reminders around the house. For instance, if your indoor cat is constantly trying to sneak outside, leave a post-it on the door to remind your sitter to keep it shut at all times.
Or, let’s say, if your cat has an insatiable appetite for all things rubbery and band-y, leave a note where your sitter would put her purse to let her know your fiendish feline is going to dig through it looking for hairbands. Or maybe just write “OMG I’m so sorry” on like 50 post-its and place them all around the house.
Schedule a pre-trip meeting
Before you leave for your trip, schedule to have the sitter come to your house so you and your cats can get to know him/her better.
You can also use this opportunity to show them the ropes, where to find everything, and how to prepare their meals. You can exchange keys or garage codes and show them any quirks your house may have. But mostly, to make sure you don’t pick up any serial killer vibes. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Tips for leaving cats at home while on vacation
Even though you’re going to have someone check in on your cats regularly, they’re still going to need more. More food, more water, more ways to keep them out of trouble.
Here are my best tips for how to handle the “more” of leaving cats at home while on vacation:
Set up an autofeeder
Unless your cat is great at exercising self-control (Ha! I heard it.), leaving tons of food out while you’re gone isn’t an optimal solution. (Though one hell of an easy one.) Instead, you can set up autofeeders to keep your cats fed in between visits from sitters.
Personally, I use the Arf Pets Automatic Pet Feeder. You can set up four separate feeding times throughout the day and control the size of each serving. This machine has been such a game changer for leaving cats at home while on vacation. (Pro tip: I also use this when I’m home to satisfy their incessant 4am food demands.)
However, this particular feeder, and many like it, only work for dry food. If your cat is on a wet food only diet, it gets trickier but it’s not impossible. They do make wet food auto feeders like the Cat Mate Automatic Pet Feeder that utilize ice packs for freshness but will need to be refilled by your sitter during each visit.
The model I have plugs in but also utilizes battery power in case of a power outage. (more on that in a minute)
Set up a water fountain
As for watering your cats while you’re gone, I use the PetSafe Drinkwell Platinum Pet Fountain. When you simply leave bowls of water out, they get dirty with cat hair and litter particles. They can knock them over and then have no water at all, and they can dry up.
This awesome water fountain has solved all my cat water problems (numbers 12 and 26 on the list of 99). First of all, it holds a ton of water. It also filters the water using these premium carbon filters, filters hair and other things out of it, and the constantly running water keeps it all clean and sanitary.
Also, big plus here, it can’t be knocked over. Your cat can still roll around in it like it’s a teeny tiny swimming pool, but there will still be clean water for them to drink afterwards. It only needs to be refilled about once a week (for two cats). (It does not continue to run during power outages, but water is still available to them.)
Set up a house camera
Without a doubt, my #1 tip for leaving your pets at home while you travel is: set up a house camera. Nothing, and I mean nothing, has given me more peace-of-mind while I’m away. Whether it’s out of the country or just across town (or, let’s be honest, from the upstairs bedroom and I want to check out what that noise was without getting out of bed), my camera is my rock.
This is such an easy way to check on your cats and your house when you’re nowhere near it. Peace of mind x a million. All on your smartphone. I can’t overemphasize the importance of this.
I have this simple indoor Nest cam and these are so affordable, so easy to set up, and so easy to work with. They come with night vision, motion detection, and even the ability to talk to your pets through the camera (which I rarely do because their confusion is real). You can also set up text alerts and multi-day recording.
Pro tip: Let your cat sitter know you have a camera in your house from the get-go so it’s not hella awkward when he or she inadvertently discovers you’ve been watching them the whole time. Also, don’t watch your cat sitters, that seems weird.
Go through all possible scenarios
Having done this for so long, I know exactly what is in jeopardy when I leave the house.
I know my cats are going to hang out in the kitchen sink and on top of the kitchen table just because there’s no one around to make sure they don’t. They know where the treats are and all the possible methods of reaching them at their disposal.
Therefore, I know exactly how to prepare my house for departure.
Before you leave, consider all the things that could go awry while you’re gone. Then, take the necessary steps to prevent them. Having a house camera is not as much fun when you’re forced to watch your cats destroy your house and you can’t do anything about it. (i.e., the great Temptations melee of November 2020)
This also goes for things non-cat related. For instance, I’ve been having furnace problems at my house. So, for my most recent trip I made it easy for my sitter to turn it back on if needed. (‘Twas needed.)
Prep your house
Here are some additional safety measures you can take to prep your house for leaving cats at home while on vacation.
Shut all unnecessary doors
My cats have free rein of my house but, when I travel, I shut the doors to all but a couple of rooms.
This helps narrow down their possible hiding places for when the cat sitter needs to find them. It also limits the amount of trouble they can get into, if we’re being honest here.
Also, it limits the chance one of them will accidentally shut himself into a room and be trapped. Commencing freak-out cat chaos.
Regulate the temperature
Turn down the heat or AC before you leave, but remember to keep it warm/cool enough to keep your cats cozy.
Scoop the litter box one final time before leaving so it’s fresh until the sitter arrives. Also, be sure to leave enough extra cat litter to last the length of your trip. (I’ve had to send a friend to the store to buy more and that’s just not fun for anyone involved.)
I also think it’s worth mentioning that they do sell automatic scooping litter boxes. I have never used one and don’t know anyone who has one, and I actually think it would freak my cats out so much that they’d never use it. However, it’s definitely worth looking into if you think yours would be down for it.
Prep their sleeping areas
Before I leave for a trip I clean the blankets my cats always sleep on and prep their favorite sleeping areas. I am nothing if not an overdeliver-er.
And because I am indeed a crazy cat lady though-and-through, I also leave a freshly worn sweatshirt of mine with them in case they miss me. They probably couldn’t care less about this but it makes me feel better and I’m the boss.
And because I’m sure it matters, I leave the curtains open so they can stare endlessly out the windows. *replay montage of them watching me pull out of the driveway*
Think safety first!
Even if your cats never bother your houseplants or electrical cords, there’s a good chance they will if they get bored enough and/or think it’ll help them get attention.
Many houseplants are toxic to cats so be sure to move all houseplants to where the cats can’t get to them—like one of the closed rooms. (This is why all my houseplants hang from the ceiling and why I can’t have nice things.)
Also, do your best to unplug, cover, and/or hide all electric cords and wires. No one needs a Christmas Vacation incident while they’re off sunning themselves on a remote tropical island.
Gather all necessary items
I’ve already mentioned the need to keep all your “cat stuff” together to make it easier for the sitter, but here’s what you can consider:
- Plenty of bags for used litter
- Disposable gloves for litter scooping if you have older cats who make more of a mess (yay)
- Extra containers of cat litter (This is not something you want to run out of!)
- Enough food for the length of your trip… and then some
- Treats and toys and things to entertain them with (LaSeRsSS!)
- Medications and supplements
- Enzymatic cleaning products like Nature’s Miracle and plenty of paper towels
- Cat brush for grooming, especially in the summer
But keep the goodies out of reach
For a recent trip I made sure to leave out all the “cat stuff” on the kitchen island. Including, dun-dun-dunnnn, a full container of Temptations cat treats. All aboard the Diarrhea Express, poo-poooooo!
That first night of my trip, lying in bed, at midnight, far away in a Florida beach condo, I watched on the house camera as my two cats worked together to get the treats container off the counter and eventually wide open.
Treats spilling out onto the kitchen floor, cats gorging themselves on Tempting Tuna. And I was powerless to stop it. (Though me screaming, “FATTY GET DOWN!” over the camera’s speakers did confuse them enough to hold off the inevitable for a few hours. Yes, my cat’s name is Fatty.)
I learned a hard lesson that day. Make that: a soft and runny, absolutely nauseating lesson the next morning. Infinity + 1 apologies to my cat sitter.
Prepare for a power outage
Unfortunately, I live in a tree-dense area that loses power every time so much as a stiff wind blows. To prepare for something like this while you’re gone, you can:
- Make sure your autofeeder has working batteries installed
- Have ways for your sitter to enter your house other than through an electronic keypad on the garage door
- Crack some windows in the summer in case the AC goes out
- Keep plenty of blankets in a warmer area of the house in case the heat goes out in the winter
- Let your cat sitter know ASAP in case they need to go to your house to check on things*
*Your house camera won’t work if you don’t have power and/or WiFi. Looks like it’s back to the pioneer days of traveling without our cats for us! You’ll get an alert on your phone that your camera is off, letting you know the power has gone out.
Talk to your veterinarian
As always, if you have any particular concerns about leaving cats at home while on vacation, reach out to your vet. They do more than just poke, inject, and snip-snip.
I hope I’ve made it even a little bit easier for you to leave your fur babies at home while you travel. It can definitely be an anxious time for all involved pawties but there are things you can do to reduce the stress.
Have questions about leaving cats at home while on vacation?
Drop them in the comments!
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