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How to Help your Cat Relax While You're Gone

Before you head out the door, what can you do for Fluffy (and her sitter)?

So you have your bags all packed, your boarding passes printed (or car fueled up and readied for the road), and your cat sitter all lined up. You’re ready to go, right? But wait! Don’t head out the door just yet. There are some easy, simple things you can do to help both your cats and your cat sitter have a more positive experience while you’re away. This advice especially applies to anyone with shy or nervous cats, but it can benefit all cats.

PHEROMONES: To mitigate stress on the cats, you can (and should) purchase and plug in at least two Feliway diffusers in your home where the cats spend most of their time. What’s Feliway, you ask? It’s a cat pheromone product that has been scientifically proven to calm cats. More info is available here. It’s also helpful, if your cats are on the more anxious side, to have a can of Feliway spray near the door for the sitter to spray on his/her feet when they come in. It can also be sprayed around the home in places the cat frequents.

MUSIC: Another way to lower your cat’s stress is to have pleasant background music playing. I don’t think people realize how lonely a quiet house can feel over an extended period of time. I used to recommend 88.5 FM (Jazz, no commercials), which is still a good option. However, if you want to really make your cat feel more serene, get a CD or download cat music that will play continuously in your absence. Yes, there really is such a thing as music for cats! Scientists have figured out what sorts of rhythms and sounds are pleasing to cats and are proven to lower their heartbeats and help them relax. It might sound strange to us, but they like it.

TV: If the music isn’t an option, even just leaving the TV on can make the home feel less empty, especially if it is often on when the parents are home. I theorize, correctly or not, that the sitter’s arrival might feel a bit less intrusive to a nervous cat if they are not breaking total silence. PBS is usually a good option to avoid used car salesmen screaming at your cats. And along the lines of TV, those with smart TVs may want to try connecting to YouTube and playing videos for cats! There are dozens of videos of birds, squirrels, and other creatures that have been made to entertain cats and provide enrichment when we can’t be there to do so. Be sure to set your YouTube settings so that it automatically goes to the next video in line, for continuous birds and squirrels (don't worry, there are more than enough hours of videos for cats to play around the clock and then some).

SUNLIGHT: I can’t tell you how many homes I visit cats in where all of the drapes and blinds are closed up and the house is dark. Day after day in a dark home would be depressing to any creature. Try to have at least one place where sunlight is allowed in and, ideally, there is a window view the cat can partake in. This can go a long way toward alleviating boredom and promoting mental well-being. TIP: Blinds with the slats facing upward can be left more open while maintaining privacy than when the slats are down. If you are concerned about prying eyes, consider at least twisting the slats upward and letting some light peek in. Every bit helps! ANOTHER TIP: Place a bird feeder near a window for your cat's entertainment. (We refill bird feeders upon request.)

EXTRA TREATS/FOOD: Sort of like grandma spoiling the grandkids, it can be a highlight for a pet to get extra treats or food just during the duration of the sit, while the parents are away. Usually such a short time period won't cause any lasting harm. If you want your cat to get an extra treat or canned food in your absence, let us know!

REMODELING/CONSTRUCTION: Please do not have people working on the house while you are away on a trip. Your cats are already stressed by your absence; it adds injury to insult when they also have to contend with strangers inside or outside the home and the accompanying noise. They may feel like they are under attack. While hiring a professional sitter is a great way to care for your cats while gone, the benefits can be overtaken by the drawbacks, and the cat(s) could be so stressed that they will not accept the sitter, or worse, may even think the sitter is part of the overall invasion.

SITTER SUPPLIES: Finally, as you can imagine, a stressed-out sitter will transfer that stress to the cats. Make everything easy for the sitter to find by leaving everything necessary to care for your cats in a prominent place. We go to many homes every day and cannot always remember what cupboard the cat food is in or what drawer the silverware is kept in. Instead of opening and closing drawers trying to find stuff, we’d rather be using that time to love on your cats. Here is a list of some of the things that should be gathered together for your sitter:

  • Food (dry and/or canned)
  • Food dishes (always have a spare set so the sitter can soak one set in between visits)
  • A spoon and a fork
  • Medicine and/or supplies (except refrigerated medicine, of course)
  • Paper towels (and a backup roll)
  • Toys, treats, and catnip
  • Brushes/combs
  • A quick-reference note on food and/or medicine instructions
  • Bags (without holes) for litter scooping
  • Cleaning supplies
  • A bag for recycling if cans are used
  • A broom and dustpan

It’s amazing how just a little forethought and preparation can make your absence much easier for your cats. They--and your sitter--will thank you!

By Molly Rosen

Molly the Cat Lady & Friends

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