(MNN.com) -- Gwen Sparling and her husband were heading out of town when their cat developed a urinary tract infection that required antibiotics. Their frisky and outgoing feline spent that vacation stuck at a veterinary clinic, leaving Sparling wracked with guilt — and an idea to help other cat lovers.
"I felt awful that she was in this tiny box designed for cats that are ill," says Sparling, who opened a cats-only boarding facility called Camp Kitty two years ago in Scottdale, Georgia.
"My dogs had so many options and my cats didn't."
Business was sluggish during the first few months, but now cabins at Camp Kitty welcome a steady stream of felines, including her own. With pet spending on the rise, fueled by growth in the service sector, more businesses are realizing that cat owners have needs, too.
PetsHotel, a division of the PetSmart chain, offers overnight care, and a handful of boutique facilities across the country provide discriminating cats with amenities such as private jungle gyms and special treats each night. Prices range from $18 for a night in Camp Kitty's standard cabin to more than $50 for a 6-foot-by-6-foot "Palazzo" at Feline Wishes and Caviar Dreams in San Francisco.
If you are planning a trip out of town and need to find boarding options for a particularly finicky or special needs cat, start looking for options now. Sparling says that holiday space goes quickly. Here are a few more insider tips you need to know about cat boarding facilities before scheduling your pet's vacation.
Cats prefer a calm, quiet atmosphere While the third franchise of high-end D Pet Hotels in New York will feature 10,000 square feet of play space for pampered pooches, along with queen-sized beds, 42-inch flat screen TVs and a pint-sized treadmill for dogs to burn excess energy, Sparling says cats don't require all those bells and whistles. Many actually tend to get anxious in new environments, which can trigger health issues. To keep things calm and establish a regular routine for her four-legged clients, Sparling limits the number of employees who interact with feline guests. She also carefully monitors food intake during the first 24 to 48 hours to ensure that stress isn't getting the best of her clients.
Most cats do not want to mingle Dog daycares and boarding facilities allow pups to frolic in open areas, but Sparling says mixing clients could be catastrophic. Multiple cats from one household may tolerate boarding together, but most cats prefer quiet time alone in cabins outfitted with toys and bedding.
"Cats aren't little dogs — they are completely different," she says. "Cats are more up-front with their body language and saying 'do not cross this line.'"
Sparling says that being high up helps cats feel a bit safer in unfamiliar surroundings. With that in mind, most cabins are built with an emphasis on vertical space in the form of of high perches.
Plan to share detailed health info — and your vet's phone number Ask prospective cat boarders how they handle emergency health issues and provide contact information for your cat's veterinarian. Most reputable facilities have a doctor or veterinary technician on call, but Sparling says that reaching your cat's vet can save valuable time. It also helps to alert your veterinarian about the cat's mini vacation, just in case.
"I always call the cat's vet first if there is an issue," she says. "The vet has the cat's records and knows all about the cat."
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If your cat is under the weather during its stay, many facilities also will administer medication for an additional fee that ranges from $10 to $15. Be sure to list detailed info regarding medication times and dosages.
Make sure vaccinations are up to date Even though most cats occupy individual cabins, vaccinations are required at most reputable facilities. Sparling requests proof of vaccination for rabies and distemper prior to the cat's visit.
Ask for referrals, and schedule time to check out facilities Since the business of cat boarding is still relatively new, there are no professional associations guiding the practice. To find a reputable facility in your area, seek referrals from cat-loving friends or call your veterinarian. Also, make time to check out facilities before scheduling your cat's visit.
"Watch the staff and how they interact with cats currently in boarding," Sparling says. "See the current boarders. Are they stressed out?"
Since some boarding facilities handle cats and dogs, carefully observe the intake process, especially if your cat has spent little or no time around dogs. Even if it's not required, make sure your pet arrives in a travel carrier to avoid any issues during check-in.
Prepare to bribe your cat for the time away Even with the most gregarious cat, boarding can be stressful. Take time to prepare your feline for time away from home by practicing the process of entering and exiting its travel carrier. In a previous column, pet expert Victoria Stilwell offers tips to make traveling to the vet with cats less stressful for people and pets.
Once your beloved feline returns to the castle, prepare for days — and possibly weeks — of bribery to get back on its good side.
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