Q: I have a 10-year-old Maine Coon mix. I travel frequently and, although I employ a wonderful cat sitter who visits every day, I feel guilty that my cat spends so much time alone. I leave the radio on very low and turn on night lights on to keep him company. Because the pet sitter comes only once a day, I leave a whole bowl of dry food out, and she feeds him one small can during her daily visit.
Can you give me some tips? I spend at least four to five days twice a month away from home. I’m wondering if I should bring a kitten into his life to give him a companion.
A: I applaud you for hiring a cat sitter to take care of your cat when you travel. You obviously are a concerned, conscientious cat parent.
Your cat’s time alone can be made more interesting with environmental enrichment. Cats love tall cat trees (5 to 6 feet tall) with lots of shelves and a covered box area. It’s particularly entertaining when the tree is placed next to a secure window. There are cat-centric CDs available that feature birds, rodents, fish and other animals. Some cats find them fascinating. The TV left on is always an option, but be careful not to leave the TV on a channel that features animals, since sometimes the sounds of distressed animals on TV can stress out our own little couch-potato cats. Make your cat work a little for his meal. Instead of leaving his bowl of dry food out all day long, put his dry food inside a few treat balls – hollow, hard plastic balls with holes in them. The food goes in the center, and the cat has to roll the ball around in order for the food to fall out.
Ask your sitter to spend more time with your cat every day, engaging him in activities that you know he enjoys. If your cat likes to be groomed, ask the sitter to groom him. If there’s a toy he likes to play with, have her play with him, using his favorite toy.
I wouldn’t recommend bringing in a young kitten to keep your senior cat company. Intense kitten energy is usually not welcomed by a senior cat. The majority of older cats are low-energy kitties and would rather sleep in the sun then wrestle with a kitten. Bringing home a kitten friend would be very stressful for both your cat and the new kitten. Additionally, if your cat has spent his whole life as an only kitty, he probably wouldn’t appreciate a new cat companion at this stage.