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by K Marie Alto February 23, 2023 11 min read
We all love our fur babies, but sometimes we have reasons we have to leave them. Business trips, vacations, day trips, emergencies; there are plenty of reasons why we'd need to leave the house for a day or a week and can't bring our furry children along with us. After all, not many hotels like to host pets if they can avoid it, and cats often don't much enjoy long car rides either.
If you feed wet food, you know leaving the house for any length of time will present a problem for your kitty. So, unless you can teach your fur baby to pop open a can of wet food, you’re going to need some other options to avoid disturbing their routine.
Your choice to feed dry food or wet food depends on a lot of factors; your cat's relationship with food, the duration of your trip, their current diet, sensitivities to certain types of food, and so on.
Many years ago I stopped feeding my cats dry food due to health complications, so most of ideas listed in this post I’ve personally tried, so I can also give you the pros and cons of each.
If you're only going to be gone for a day, and you're going to miss one regularly-scheduled feeding, you can try setting a time-release freezer bomb of wet food for your fuzzy child to enjoy.
Cats generally don't like cold food. They much prefer their food to be at room temperature, so there isn't much risk of them trying to crack a tooth on a brick of frozen fish-stuff. So, here's what you do.
Throughout the course of the day, the wet food will thaw and return to room temperature. Once dinner time rolls around, it should be more or less room temperature, and your kitty can chow down.
While this method can work well for a cat that isn’t picky, there can be a few problems with it.
So, freezing food isn’t really a great option long term, but it's something you can do in a pinch with no additional expense, tools, or resources.
There are a variety of different machines out there on the market that offer ways to feed a feline on a schedule without needing to be there personally. Most of these feeders are designed to hold dry food, but some of them allow you to use a combination of dry and wet food or just wet food.
The best feeders will have some way to keep the wet food cool, so it's less likely to spoil in the time between when you leave and when you feed that food to your furry feline. Some use ice packs, but some of the more expensive versions have plugs that feed what are essentially tiny refrigerators.
An automatic feeder is better than the freezer method because it keeps the food contained and chilled more reliably and feeds on a schedule. Unfortunately, those are the only real benefits.
There are some pretty sizable drawbacks, including:
While much pricier automatic wet food feeders are in development, right now you’re pretty much limited to a plastic container with compartments that pop open at a set time. The common smart feeders like you see above are solely intended for dry food.
If you decide to get an auto feeder, be sure to put fresh batteries in it before you leave. You’ll also want to make sure that your kitty isn’t capable of breaking into it or they may enjoy all meals in one sitting and go hungry the remainder of your time away.
Note: Be extra careful with any of the machines that use an app to control them. These are notoriously buggy, and the last thing you need is for a machine and its app to require a manual reset when you're a thousand miles away. If you decide to use one of these, make sure you leave a spare key with a neighbor or a friend, just in-case.
One of the best ways to feed your cat wet food when you're not home is to ask friends or family to do it.
These should be people you trust because you're either handing over your fur baby directly (in which case it can be a stressful time for everyone involved) or handing over a spare key to your home, which opens you up to all sorts of vulnerability.
Friends and family, if they're trustworthy, can do a lot more than just feed your cat for you. They can play with them, they can clean a litter box, and they can check for issues and watch for behavioral problems, just in case there's some kind of emergency.
They can also take pictures or videos and send them to you as a report on your cat's situation, which can offer you some peace of mind. We all miss our fur babies when we're gone and it helps to see they're happy and doing well!
While friends and family are usually a great option to lean on in a time of need, there can be a few downsides:
You can overcome some of these potential issues by asking a neighbor to stop by. It’s much easier for someone who lives across the street to pop over a couple of times a day than it is for someone who lives further away.
A positive point for this solution is that most friends, family, or neighbors will take care of your kitty for free, because they love you and your fur baby. But hey, it’s always nice to give a little gift card or something to let them know how much they are appreciated.
Another option you have is to hire an actual cat sitter.
A professional cat sitter should ideally have plenty of experience in caring for cats of all ages, complete with a process they follow, ways to read and adapt to cats with a variety of health concerns, and plenty of testimonials to their abilities.
More importantly, a professional cat sitter should be licensed and insured as a business. There are plenty of people who would offer pet-sitting services, but if they're just casually doing it as a hobby, there's no liability, no contract, and nothing to stop them from burning bridges by stealing something and bailing.
I’ve used a professional sitter in the past and I can tell you there are a lot of benefits beyond just having them open a can of wet food. Aside from cleaning the litterbox, administering meds, and daily enrichment, many will do a little daily status report for your kitty. It can include things like how much your kitty ate or if they noticed any vomit or litterbox issues. This type of feedback can be super helpful in learning how your kitty responds when you’re away.
An experienced cat sitter can be pricey, but if the service is good, it can be well worth it.
Boarding facilities are like kennels for dogs or daycares for children. They're a place you can bring your cat where they will be pampered, cared for, and monitored for the duration of your trip outside the home.
A good boarding facility, much like a good cat sitter, will be a licensed and insured business registered in your area. They will have high-quality facilities, complete care routines, and plenty of positive testimonials and experiences from other people who have left their pets there over time.
If you're interested in a boarding facility, make sure to visit it yourself first. If you don't feel like your cat would thrive in the area, it might not be a good option.
A good boarding facility will also be able to give you regular updates on your feline while you're out of town, either by sending you messages directly or by posting photos to a website. This serves the double purpose of advertising for the boarding facility and alleviating your worries, bringing you peace of mind when you see your fur baby dozing on a window sill with a handful of new friends.
Some facilities even have web cams so you can hop online to take a peek at your fur baby whenever you miss them. I highly recommend a cat only facility. You can look for a cat only vet that has boarding or a regular boarding facility that keeps kitties completely separate from the pups.
The biggest downside to this option is simply the cost. Boarding facilities are rarely cheap because they're full-service care homes for your cat while you're away. But, if you're gone for more than a few days at a time, and you don't have friends or family who can help out, they may be one of your only options.
Many pet experts, when asked how you can feed your cat wet food when you aren't home, will answer with the same thing:
It's too much risk, and too many points of failure to really be worthwhile. A machine can break, a person can breach your trust, a facility can be expensive, and there are many different ways all of them can go wrong.
While I agree with some of these arguments, the added cost of having someone care for your kitty may be necessary and worth the it. It’s extremely important to keep your kitty’s diet steady, especially if they have underlying health issues.
If you think switching to dry food might be a good fit for your fur baby, it’s something you have to plan ahead for in order to be successful. Changing from one food to another can cause digestive upset, so the transition needs to be done slowly. You can learn more by reading my post about how to safely transition your kitty to a new food.
If you’re able to transition your kitty to dry food, you’ve opened yourself up to a lot more flexibility while you’re away. Dry food is a lot more reliable if you leave out a large bowl of it or use an automatic feeder that doesn't have to be concerned with refrigeration and spoilage.
If your cat doesn't like dry food, you can introduce them to it gradually by adding a little tuna water or liquid from their wet food to it, both to infuse it with the smell and taste and to soften it up a bit for them. Over time, gradually add less and less until they're used to eating dry food.
This option isn't the best if you don't want to invest in a machine or you have a cat who will gleefully knock over a machine to get at the succulent interior or gorge themselves on every morsel you leave out for them. But, it can be a much better option for cats that eat in moderation.
I think a lot of the appeal of having a cat instead of a dog is the flexibility to be able to leave for the weekend without having to schedule a sitter or use boarding. While that works well for many, and it’s something I did when my cats were young and eating only dry food, it’s not something I would consider these days. I always recommend having someone come in at least once a day to check on your fur baby.
Leaving ample food and water is tempting, but things happen and not having someone come in at least once a day leaves your fur baby vulnerable.
Think about it, what if your kitty has the zoomies and knocks over their water bowl leaving them without water? What if they get sick and you’re blissfully unaware?
Case in Point: Many years ago, I left my four kitties unattended for two nights. I returned home to my angel Moo with a distended belly. Nothing else appeared out of the ordinary, but something was clearly wrong. We went to the emergency vet to find out he had a urethral obstruction – a condition that would have killed him had I been gone for a longer period of time.
While this was a fluke and my other three babies were perfectly fine, it taught me emergencies happen when you least expect them, so as we’ve always been told, better safe than sorry. Ask a friend or family member, or budget for a sitter and go away with peace of mind that your fur baby is being well cared for.
Have you had to leave your fur baby behind while you take a trip for a few days or longer? If so, what did you do to keep them happy and fed while you were gone?
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer, and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 40K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).
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