You’ve had the most wonderful vacation ever, and you can’t wait to get home to the fur kids. But your cat’s vacation angst makes her want nothing to do with you. She even *gasp* pees and poops outside the box to get back at you. It’s obvious Kitty is mad because you abandoned her.
Or is it? Kitty vacation angst can result in a variety of behavior complaints, but they have nothing to do with anger and everything to do with stress. While a trip away from home can be fun and relaxing for people, all your cat knows is that her favorite person is GONE and her familiar routine disrupted.
For some cats, that leads to separation behaviors that a cat sitter might notice while you’re gone. Others act out once you come back home. What’s going on?
Status Quo Disruption
Cats love routine so much that any change can send them into a tizzy. When you leave them behind, it’s not just your absence that puts a kink in their tail. Perhaps a stranger visits to feed them, tries to pet them or offer play they don’t want, and changes feeding times or other favorite events. Boarding cats outside the home means they must adjust to an entirely new environment, too.
Normal, healthy cats may require five days to two weeks to accept a new routine. Sensitive or sick cats can take even longer. Then, when your cat finally becomes accustomed to the cat sitter routine, you return from vacation—and go back to the original routine. If that’s not enough, you smell different, like a stranger. Cats identify human family members through the scent of the cheek-rub markings they deposit that label us as friend, not foe. So the combination of routine disruption and funny smells prompt some cats to hide, become defensive, or offer other unwanted behaviors.
These include hiding, and perhaps even urinating or defecating inappropriately, especially in places important to the cat, such as your bed. After all, where you sleep smells the most like the best friend she misses.
Decreasing Vacation Stress In Cats
When Kitty stays home while you’re on vacation, introduce your pet sitter to her well in advance. Make these meetings happy times with favorite games and treats, so your cat already knows and likes the care giver. If your cat sitter understands cats, he or she knows to give your cat some space, rather than forcing unwanted attention that can increase fear and stress in sensitive cats. Work together as much as possible to keep routine close to normal.
If you know what will change while you are gone, make some of those changes several days before you leave. That can make the transition less abrupt for your cat.
Give your cat a comfort-scented item that smells like you, such as a pair of socks you’ve worn but not washed. Some cats like hearing your voice, so a phone call or recorded message might be an option. Check in advance, though, to be sure this doesn’t make your cat upset.
You can also speed up your cat’s recognition when you return with the sock trick. Each family member your cat loves should choose a clean pair of socks, and rub-rub-rub them over the cat (especially her cheek area). Seal the socks in separate plastic baggies, and save them for your homecoming. When you return from vacation, slip on the cat-scented socks so that you once again carry the cat’s signature scent identifying you as family. That can help speed up your cat’s willingness to welcome you home.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.