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How to Keep Your Cat From Having a Full Freakout When You’re Away

Cristin Tamburo, a.k.a. The Cat Counselor, gives essential advice on keeping your cats chill while you’re away.

by Sio Hornbuckle
September 14, 2022
Woman with tight curly black hair wearing a tan linen shirt and jeans sitting on a cream couch petting her tan and white cat who is laying on a blanket on the couch int he living room
Lucas Ottone / Stocksy

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Leaving my cat, Toni Collette, alone when I travel is one of the greatest agonies of my life. But she doesn’t travel well, and I know she’d be much more chill hanging out at home with her toys and a cat sitter than she would wearing down her vocal cords begging for release from her carrier. Plus, once, 30 minutes into a road trip moving her from Ohio to New York, she took a protest poop on my lap. I don’t want to see that side of her again. That doesn’t mean I don’t worry about her when I’m away. Luckily, there are ways to ease the absence for her.

When it comes to leaving a cat behind while you travel, Cristin Tamburo, certified cat behaviorist and The Wildest Collective member, has some tips on keeping your cat as comfy as possible. 

Keep Them at Home

“Cats prefer their territories,” Tamburo says. “My opinion is that it’s always better to keep them in their own home, if possible. There are obviously some boarding facilities, and sometimes the vets offices will do housing for the cats as well. But unfortunately, some cats can get stressed out being in a new environment and the way cats manifest stress is complicated. They seem like they’re these tough, independent creatures, but stress can cause all kinds of different health issues, so keeping them in their home environment is generally best.” 

Tamburo adds that there are many apps for connecting with responsible pet sitters, including Next Door. Rover and Meowtel are also options cat parents might consider. When choosing which service works best for you, consider how often you’d like a sitter to visit and send updates, if you’d like photo updates, or if you’d rather they stay at your home the whole time you’re gone.

“Ideally, if you’re going to be gone more than a couple of days, I recommend having someone stay in the home,” Tamburo adds. “One of my boys has severe separation anxiety, so if I’m gone more than one night, I have somebody stay over. That vet bill was very expensive when he did not have somebody stay over. A sitter will always be cheaper than that.”

Keep to a Routine

“Cats are creatures of habit,” Tamburo says. “They thrive in routine. The more we can keep things the same when we’re not home with them, the better they’ll be able to adjust to us being away.”

She adds that she has a timed feeder for the dry food her cats get. Five minutes before the timer goes off, her cats are waiting for their food “in their own little spots.” This routine keeps cats busy and away from any change to their day to day, such as their parent’s absence.

Leave the TV On

“I will often have people leave on either a radio or a TV, just so that there’s some background noise that takes away some of the sense of loneliness for the cats,” Tamburo advises. “I think there’s even a few playlists for cats online, and if you have a smart TV, you can play YouTube videos for cats. That said, my cats try to hit the TV, so they don’t get to watch the TV when I’m not home.”

Add Extra Enrichment

“The other thing that folks can do is add extra toys and enrichment to the environment. That is going to keep the cats from being bored and lonely. Add extra toys, scratchers, vertical space, places to hide, extra beds if they like. Basically, just trying to make things more exciting and more comfortable when we’re not around can actually help the cats to feel a little bit more excited about their owners being gone.” 

Don’t Make a Big Deal When You Leave

This is a hard pill for me to swallow, but Tamburo recommends avoiding sentimental goodbyes. She says that if you can “make less of a fuss” and do away with giving extra treats, pets, or making ceremonious exits, this will make your leaving a non-event your cat.

“The same thing goes for when you get home,” she adds.

And she makes another (incredibly valid) point: “Cats sleep all the time, right? So half the time, they don’t even realize we’re leaving unless we make a fuss.”

Let them think your absence was all a mirage in their happy little cat dreamland, and when they wake up, you can pet them to their heart’s content. Until they ask that you please vacate their space once more.

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Sio Hornbuckle

Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.