by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are naturally able to adapt to new surroundings and circumstances, so will settle into a cattery and make the most of this period of enforced rest. Many cats enjoy the peace and set routine, like my Pandora, who took a while to settle, then was reluctant to come home! Others enjoy the change and the excitement of a new environment.
Each time your cat visits the cattery his reaction is based on a number of factors, which will differ depending on the circumstances leading to the boarding and his state of health. Each cat has their own way of dealing with change, new surroundings and a new routine. Here are some things that may affect the way your cat deals with a stay in the cattery.
The lead-up to the cattery visit may be stressful, or signify a change in routine at home, such as packing for a holiday or packing up the house for a move or renovation. If he is confident and relaxed, used to change, this should not upset him. For some cats, just the excitement in their humans will cause stress.
Bringing out the carrier can send cats into hiding. Usually the carrier signifies a visit to the vet, grooming parlour or cattery; not a pleasant association at all. Fearful cats may hide or even run away. Travel by car is not enjoyed by most cats, so this will add further stress.
The new environment is different from home. He is restricted in an enclosure with no option to get out. His bed, bowls and litter tray are different, and placed in full view of everyone. He may, or may not, have neighbours, who he may, or may not, like. Ideally he can see his neighbours but not reach them or come in direct contact with them. Most cats take a while to learn the environment and either relish the solitude, or, if he enjoys company, take an interest in all the goings-on.
He will be away from his family and familiar surroundings, no comfy bed to share at night, no one to give him food at 5am. However, he has a warm bed, security, food, water and a litter tray. All his real needs are met while he is not at home. Once the routine has been established he will accept it, and may even continue some of the behaviour when back home.
Cats from the same household may share an enclosure or be separated; this will depend on their comparability and the size and capacity of the enclosure. Being together or apart may be stressful or comforting, depending on the cats and how they feel about each other at the time.
Sounds and smells are different; they may be exciting or scary depending on his previous experiences. These also provide stimulation and interest to keep him alert and add valuable experiences to his existing knowledge base. Since he is secure from most of the potentially-scary sounds and smells he will acclimatise to them in his own time.
Very active cats may require interactive toys to keep them occupied. Usually there is sufficient activity in the cattery during the day to stimulate most cats.
Fetching him home can be stressful too; back in the carrier and another trip in the car. Once home, he will need to check on his territory to make sure it is all safe. This often includes members of the family, so he may be extra friendly, talkative, and loving for a while, before returning to his normal behaviour.
Some behaviours learnt or established at the cattery may be carried home, typically the strict routine and sleeping hours. Unnecessary or not useful behaviours, such as crying for food, may be reduced or no longer implemented at home. Change in behaviour is more apparent after longer boarding visits, where new behaviours are established and old ones found to be irrelevant.
Overall, cats tend to deal with their boarding adventure better than we do! Once they understand the routine and their environment they settle down and deal with it, while we worry about them being safe, happy, warm, and fed.