Recently, I was called in to do a last-minute pet visit for a regular client. I was happy to help – I had availability to accommodate them on my schedule and I had their keys on file.
What had happened was that the client was away that day and the cats had pulled the timed feeders out of the electrical outlets, so they had had no access to food. The client became aware of this because the feeders had wifi capability and could be controlled remotely, via an app. I stopped in to feed the cats, cuddle them, plug in the feeders, change the water, tidy the litter boxes and pet mess on the floor, did a quick walk-through of the interior, and sent my usual report with pictures to the client.
Cannot replace human interaction
Automated pet accessories are popular. They can be useful and convenient. But they do not replace the need for human interaction and the ability to immediately respond to and troubleshoot unexpected issues. It is risky to rely soley on automation for pet care, especially the longer one is away from home.
Anything can fail, and the longer you are away, the greater the impact will be on your pets if the devices fail, resulting in pets lacking the most basic care like food, water, and litter box access. The devices might fail, the power might go out, the pet might knock over the devices. It doesn’t matter how automated things are, most professional pet sitters including Cats and Hamsters require a minimum of daily visits for pets.
Automatic pet accessories need a backup
Depending on the design, water fountains should be left with additional water bowls in case the power cuts out and they cannot access water. Automatic feeders should have a fresh battery backup – when in doubt, change it out. Litter robots sometimes get stuck. Robot vacuums need to be rescued and sometimes they run over pet messes (the newest ones can supposedly sense and avoid pet messes, but again… do you want to risk it?).
No, leaving out mountains of food, bowls and bowls of water, and multiple litterboxes is not ideal, either. Many cats cannot regulate how much they eat at one time, and they might “scarf and barf” when a ton of food is suddenly dumped in front of them. The excess food may spoil (this summer has been so wet, dry food is sticking to bowls wuthin a day) and attract pests like ants, flies, and mice. And if something goes wrong, if the cat becomes sick, injured, or trapped, if the power goes out, if a tree crashes through a window, pet messes that stain, you will not be able to act in a timely manner.
EMERGENCY help MIGHT NOT BE available
Planning on calling someone last-minute, without prior agreement, is too risky, because family, friends, and neighbours often travel at similar times, and during peak travel times, most established pet sitters have been fully booked in advance.
Unless they’re literally feral and fear all humans, your cat needs human interaction. This means in-person interaction, not just virtual interaction.
It’s a myth that cats won’t miss you when you’re away. Cats are social and being left alone with no human companionship is stressful, especially if they are used to having their people at home for most of the day, like work-from-home professionals and families with children. Talking to your cat via a petcam can be confusing to the pet, even startling, because the sound quality and volume vary, and it is no substitute for being played with and pet and having a warm lap to sit on.
Stress can lead to shedding, increased licking, vomit, inappropriate elimination, property destruction, and other stress-related issues like urinary tract blockages. They may even pee on your stuff as soon as you return, not out of revenge, but because they missed you and they want to feel closer to you. By peeing on your stuff.
Believe it or not, but you might get separation anxiety, too
Separation anxiety goes both ways. Getting daily reports with pictures from a person who can troubleshoot and answer questions can help with peace of mind so you aren’t distracted while traveling. Traveling is sometimes hectic, and a person can also help if you forgot to do something, like open the washing machine door, close a window, take out the trash, bring in deliveries.
Automated pet accessories can be useful, but…
I find automatic feeders and water fountains to be useful when they are properly maintained, but they are not essential pet accessories. Sometimes their upkeep is not a good fit for the household’s lifestyle. For example, if you do not want to clean a pet water fountain or replace disposable filters as-needed. In those cases, a stack of dishwasher-safe water bowls would be a better option for providing your cat with fresh, clean water than moving water through a dirty water fountain. I understand the usefulness of automatic litter boxes for certain households. No judgement at all, if it works for you and your pets, go for it. Sometimes it isn’t working, though, and I have many reservations about them as a professional cat sitter if other options are also possible, but that’s for another post.