Downtime

Will I Traumatize My Cat by Going on Vacation?

I love him so much. I can’t bear to hurt him.

Photo illustration of a man leaving with luggage and a disgruntled cat.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photos by Callum Wale on Unsplash and Arun Sharma on Unsplash.

Beast Mode is Slate’s pet advice column. Have a question? Send it to beastmode@slate.com.

Dear Beast Mode,

Last year, my roommate and I adopted a cat that we have grown to love very much. Last weekend was his first weekend without either of us at home, as we were both on trips. We hired a cat sitter and she was great, but she told us that our cat hid from her the entire time. I think he was very lonely while I was gone, and my heart shatters when I think about how he didn’t have anyone pet or cuddle him for a full weekend. His other mom and I are both leaving on a six-day vacation soon, and I feel terrible. He has plenty of toys, and we’ve asked the sitter (the same one) to please pet and brush him if he comes out of hiding this time, but I wish there was something more I can do. How can I make sure my cat isn’t traumatized by spending the week alone? Also, am I insane?

—Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow

Dear Parting Is Such Sweet Sorrow,

Adopt a pet, and the most common bit of advice you’ll hear is, “It’s a lot of work.” This is true and important, as are any warnings about the financial burden associated with caring for a dog or cat. (Not to mention tropical fish. Please, I implore you: Look up the costs of maintaining a saltwater aquarium before bringing a clownfish into your home.) Practical as these caveats may be, they don’t prepare you for one of the most difficult things about having a pet: overcoming your own attachment.

Experiencing anxiety about your pet is part of the gig. Most of us do it. I still feel a pang of compunction when I run errands and leave my dog at home, even though I know I’m doing her a favor because she hates errands. David Lynch admits that he used to worry about his Jack Russell, Sparky, so much that it’s prevented him from adopting another animal. You know pet separation is tough when the master of visceral terror can’t deal with it, but this is the price we pay for bonding with compassionate furballs.

Your cat won’t be traumatized after spending six days with a sitter. (Were you to leave him totally alone and with a pile of food, then that could cause some problems. Always have someone look after him.) This strange human may take some adjusting to, but the cat can do this on his own terms. What’s important is that he is in his familiar digs and has someone to provide him with everything he needs. If anything, you deserve his pity, not the other way around—he isn’t the one who waiting in never-ending TSA lines.

Emotionally, a cat might miss its human when she’s gone, but he has more basic needs to worry about. With the sitter, these will be met, so there’s no use in overthinking the situation for him. He’s part of a species that set its own terms for domestication—you’re likely underestimating him.

You’ve taken the right steps ahead of your trip, so all that’s left is to manage your own anxieties. Easier said than done, I know, but at least allow yourself the relief you’ve earned by being a responsible cat parent. There are bound to be plenty of other, more immediate things to worry about while on vacation, and you’ll be able to tell your cat all about them when you return home.