Our cats hate us going away

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If your cats react badly when you leave the house, follow veterinary behaviourist Jon Bowen's advice.

(Q) My cats stay at home when we go on holiday as they hate going to the cattery. They're also wary of strangers so a friend comes in to take care of them while we're away. Sometimes they are fine (we come back to a tidy house), but other times we come back to inappropriate toileting and sick on the fl oors. How can we help our cats cope while we're away?

Veterinary behaviourist Jon Bowen answers: This is an interesting question about something that presents a dilemma to many cat owners. Cats are bonded to their territory, so it would seem sensible to leave them in their own home when you are away.

However, studies show that cats are easily stressed by small changes in routine such as a variation in feeding time. So, even when left in their own home, cats can become stressed by the absence of their owner and the predictable events that happen each day.

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The last issue is that people, and dogs, unwittingly provide a degree of protection for the cat's territory. Our mere presence tends to discourage other cats from entering the garden or house. So when we are away our cats may experience added stress from invading cats.

My recommendation is to prepare in advance for times when you will be away. Get your cats used to ad-lib feeding and install a microchip cat flap to prevent other people's cats from coming inside. Also, consider using a feline pheromone diffuser to make the cats feel more at ease.

Make a note of the times when you are typically around and try to get your house sitter to follow a routine that brings them into the home at these times. It is probably best for house sitters not to impose themselves on the cats but instead just to be around, watching TV or reading a book. The idea is to try to reduce the contrast between times when you are at home and when you are away.