I just finished reading another great article by one of my favorite holistic veterinarians Dr. Karen Becker called Why Cats Really Shouldn't Be Left Alone at Home. This article, of which I totally agree with, struck a nerve with me. She stated there was a survey that said over half of all U.S. cat owners choose a cat as a companion because they believe cats can be left alone for long periods of time. As a professional pet sitter, over the years I have noticed this trend as well. I often get asked to visit cats every other day or even less often.
Many people believe that because cats are more independent creatures and because they don't need to be let outside to go to the bathroom like dogs, they can go for longer periods of time left alone. Especially if they are given a big bowl full of dry kibble and a big bowl or two of water and perhaps they even have electric litter boxes, so for the most part, the boxes scoop themselves and that problem is taken care of as well. There are also automatic feeders available.
I've also noticed that cats sometimes tend to get treated as second-class citizens, especially if they share their home with dogs. A perfect example of this is I once had a client tell me (during the interview) when asked what veterinarian they used for their cats: "They're just cats -- they don't go to the vet." This is really sad. Cats need veterinary care just like dogs and they need daily visits when they are home alone.
Cats may be more independent than dogs but they get lonely and bored just like dogs do. Even the shy ones that may never even make an appearance when I'm pet sitting, like to know that there is a human coming to check on them and give them fresh food and fresh water (and maybe some treats or catnip). I had one shy cat that I took care of that wouldn't come out from under the bed. I tried all kinds of things to make friends. It took a lot of patience and finally after four years she finally gave in and came to me for pets and after that, I couldn't get rid of her! She followed me around talking up a storm.
Not to mention there are cats who are very people-oriented. They are the ones who talk my head off every time I show up because they have been left alone and they do not appreciate that! They are the ones who stay glued to your lap or are climbing all over you and just want to be smothered in love and affection.
But whether it's a shy or a highly affectionate, very out-going cat or anything in between--they deserve to be cared for like the sentient beings they are. They are not less than dogs, they are just different. Just as dogs teach us a lot not only about them, but about ourselves as well; the same goes with cats.
Another thing is that just as we are becoming more conscious about our own health and well-being and making new discoveries every day (although slow to change), so are we in regards to the health and well-being of our beloved pets. For example, we now know that giving felines a highly processed dry kibble is a far cry from a healthy, species appropriate diet that promotes well-being. I'm not saying cats can't survive on dry foods. They can and they have. Before I learned otherwise, I fed my cats dry food. But there is a big difference between surviving and thriving. So for cats to thrive they need to be eating either raw, home cooked (you have to know what you're doing here!), dehydrated, frozen or high quality can food, which doesn't allow for leaving cats alone for long periods.
Even if you are feeding dry food, it gets stale and sometimes they throw up in their food. (Cats on dry food tend to throw up more often.) Sometimes ants get in the food. Not to mention they really should be getting a measured amount of food to prevent obesity. And clean, fresh water daily is just basic care. Some cats like to play in the water and spill it. Some cats turn on water faucets! There has been more than one occasion when I arrived at a client's house and there was a sink or bath tub faucet that was going full blast.
Cats prefer clean litter boxes and will resort to going else where if it doesn't meet their standards. Some cats are pickier than others. (Remember the rule of thumb: one box per cat plus an extra. Although they are making boxes larger now (yay!), some are the size of two boxes!) The boxes need scooped daily. Even electric litter boxes get jammed up and stop working.
Last but not least, anything can happen in just a short time when it comes to animals home alone. A cat can suddenly become ill or pass away. There has been more than one occasion where I had to rush a cat to the vet or emergency clinic. This is one of the many reasons why I do not accept clients that want anything less than one visit per day for cats. Though I have done every other day visits for cats in the past and still have a couple of clients that ask for every other day visits, of which I will still honor (but am not crazy about), I do not accept such assignments any longer.
"Not to hurt our humble brethren (the animals) is our first duty to them, but to stop there is not enough. We have a higher mission--to be of service to them whenever they require it... If you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow man." ~Saint Francis of Assisi