This is not the sort of dilemma that Virginia Ironside addresses in her weekly column, but what should you do with your cat when you go off on a short holiday?

If you are going away for longer than a couple of days the options are clear. Either you get somebody to come in and feed your cat (this also means the place is regularly checked), or you use a cattery.

But what if you are going away for, say, two or even three days - how long can you decently expect your cat to exist on a self-catering basis?

Given that for professional reasons our cat is abandoned rather a lot, it would be asking too much of our neighbours to keep feeding her. And our cat hates the cattery. After a spell inside she comes out showing signs of post-traumatic stress: for at least an hour she bolts around the garden at 90mph chasing up and down trees and - quite literally - going up the walls.

The cat we had before knew when we were about to go away. Having spotted the suitcases she immediately hid somewhere in the house (artfully never choosing the same place twice). As a result, any trip abroad was preceded by a game of Hunt the Cat, combined with a nerve-racking version of Beat the Clock: the longer we spent trying to track down Pottsie, the more likely it was that we would miss our plane/ferry.

Our present cat, Eppy, has developed a variant on the Pottsie gambit. Whenever she senses that a trip is in the offing she disappears into the great outdoors. This leaves me trawling the neighbourhood with a cat basket in one hand and a box of Delicat in the other (while people stare from windows suspecting that I'm a cat-snatching vivisectionist).

So self-catering seems an obvious answer. But how long can you expect a cat to take care of itself? You can pour out enough food in bowls to provide it with sufficient nourishment, but will neighbouring cats pop in and scoff the lot? And at what point will a cat decide: 'Blow this for a game of soldiers, I don't think these people who have fed me for all these years are ever going to come back - I may as well push off to somewhere else.'

It's easier with dogs. Dogs are cheerful idiots who have not the slightest idea how to fend for themselves and are only too happy to be dumped in a kennels or left with friends. Hamsters, guinea-pigs, stick insects, fish and poisonous spiders can be shipped off in their cages and tanks without any problem. But cats are another kettle of fish.

Who has had experience of these timed feeding bowls for cats (with flaps that pop up at appropriate invervals)? Do you have other tips? A tin of sardines for the best idea.