Help Your Pet Sitter Out by Behaving Proactively Before Your Vacation


When I was a child of 12, I started a venture that I believed would allow me to make money doing something I loved. I started a pet sitting business.

By many measures, my business was a success. I had fun, and pet owning folks in Boise, Idaho got to go on vacations. I don’t remember perfectly, but I suspect that my rates were very reasonable. I was a kid, after all, and I certainly didn’t get rich.

When I look back on those days now, I am amazed that I got through that time without a major catastrophe befalling one of my charges. Pet sitting is a risky business in the hands of a professional, let alone those of a child.

The overwhelming majority of pet sitters I have met are caring, responsible people and completely solid citizens. Yet a disproportionate number of sick animals are brought to me by pet sitters.

This phenomenon has nothing to do with the quality of care that the sitters offer. In most cases that care is excellent. Rather, it has to do with stress. Pets love their owners. When the owners go out of town, pets’ routines are upset. That is stressful. Stress can unmask pre-existing disease.

Consider a case I saw the other night. A very nice pet sitter was looking after her neighbor’s cat during a vacation. The owner had noticed the cat was excessively thirsty for a few weeks before the trip. She reported this to her neighbor and left town. As soon as she left the cat stopped eating, and the pet sitter wound up in my office at 10:00 pm.

I was very troubled by my exam findings. The cat was emaciated and dehydrated. It had very bad breath. Its coat was rough and unkempt. I suspected kidney failure.

To diagnose the problem definitively I would need to run tests. Depending on the outcome, hospitalization and intensive treatment might be necessary. The cat clearly was suffering intensely. If the test results showed seriously advanced disease, euthanasia might have been the best choice for the poor creature.

The owner was in Cancn. She had left no contact information. This placed the pet sitter in an incredibly awkward position.

The pet sitter would have to pay for the visit and any tests that were run and hope for reimbursement. She would have to make decisions regarding the cat’s care without any guidance from the owner.

The pet sitter agonized over the situation for over an hour. In the end she decided to forego tests. We administered fluids to the cat to treat dehydration, and she took the cat home. Her plan was to send a flurry of e-mails to the owner and hope for a response. I lost sleep that night worrying that the cat was suffering. I did not hear from the pet sitter again.

I can’t imagine that any pet owner wants to place their pet or their pet sitter in this sort of situation. But it happens all the time. Here are some steps you can take to help steer clear of the problems discussed above.

  • Get a checkup before your trip. If something seems wrong with your pet, don’t ignore it. It may turn into a crisis in your absence. Do your best to confirm that your pet is in good health before you leave town.
  • Provide contact information to your pet sitter. Leave a cell phone number, and answer it even if you’re on the beach. If you’re traveling to an area where you’ll be completely unreachable, designate someone local to make decisions in your absence, and put it in writing.
  • Make your wishes known. Talk to your pet sitter about how you want veterinary emergencies handled. Pick a pet sitter you trust, and leave your credit card number with him or her (along with a signed note allowing them to use the card and authorize medical treatments). Provide your vet’s office with the credit card information and a copy of the note to keep on record.
  • Pet sitting is a labor of love. Take the steps listed above and be kind to your pet sitter.

    Photo: FlaviaC.

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