Any cat owner who has gone away for the weekend, taken a holiday or needed to attend a residential business trip has probably, at some point, considered a cattery. Cats are home-loving creatures, though, and time in an unfamiliar environment can stress them out. So how do they really feel about it, and what can you do to help the experience go more smoothly for them?
The main thing your cat feels is a sense of insecurity from being cut adrift from its territory.
Cats are highly territorial creatures. Your cat will have clearly marked out, through scent and frequent patrols, an area that is exclusively theirs–or, perhaps, shared with the other cats in your home. (If this is the case, there is likely a hierarchy of some sort established between them.) This territory will include the entirety of your home for indoor cats, will include your garden if your cat has access to it, and may also cover some adjoining gardens if your neighbours don’t have cats of their own.
This territorial is incredibly important to our feline friends. When your cat fights with your neighbours out in the yard, the fight is almost certainly a border dispute!
Cats hate being outside of their territory. A cattery is neutral ground and belongs to nobody–no one cat is likely to be there for long enough to claim it–but even when they can’t see each other, all cats know that the building is full of other cats. They all want the territory to make them feel safe, but none of them are able to claim it over all the others!
This stresses cats out hugely and is why pet boarding is generally more stressful for cats than it is for dogs. The best thing you can do to minimise this stress is to ensure that you use the same cattery every time, as this will help your cat feel more at home there in the short term; you should also do what you can to arrange someone to feed your cat at home if you’re only away for one or two nights. For longer trips, however, remember that cattery staff are used to this stress and are good at dealing with it–your cat is in safe hands with them, and the stress will have no lasting impact once they’re settled at home again.
You should also bear in mind that your cat has no way of knowing this isn’t a permanent change.
A cat’s mind doesn’t work like a human’s does, and they have no way to comprehend the concept of a ‘vacation’ or a ‘weekend break’. They automatically assume that all changes to their situation are permanent and dislike feeling powerless over them. They don’t know that you’re coming back and that things will soon return to normal, so they react as though you and their territory are both gone for good.
Thankfully, catteries are well appointed to deal with this–but you as a pet owner need to listen to their advice! There are good reasons that the cats in catteries aren’t allowed to free-roam or engage with each other during their stay, so even if you feel that your cat is friendly and adventurous, it’s best not to argue with the cattery’s rules.
Packing a few things from home is a great way to minimise this stress and reassure your cat that not everything is different. A favourite toy, their usual bed, the food you always feed them and a bag of day-old litter to add to their cattery tray are all great ways to give your feline friend a little reassurance that you’ll be back soon.