TRAVEL TIPS PART 1: TIPS FOR LEAVING YOUR PET AT HOME WITH A PET SITTER
With the holidays right around the corner, I’m sure many of you are planning big trips.
Isn’t that part of the fun of the holidays? Flying to family far and wide, visiting places that actually might guarantee a “white Christmas”, getting to that “white Christmas” and thanking your lucky stars and Diamond Head that you live in Hawai’i and can go home to wearing shorts in the middle of winter. If you don’t live in Hawai’i, don’t you wish you did? We understand, but we pity you.
I love the holidays, but no matter how excited I get, there’s always one worry in the back of my head when I travel: what about my pets?
My bags are packed! Can I come too?
I’m not going to lie, whenever I travel I have a last minute reconsideration and think, “Well, maybe I should just stay home with my cat. I’ll feel better, she’ll feel better, I’ll be less stressed, she’ll be less stressed, I can binge watch “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” on Netflix, I should just stay, yep, that’s what I should do…”
But like it or not, sometimes you just have to go. In reality, with the right preparations and a pet caregiver you trust, traveling need not be overly worrisome for anyone. Part of being a responsible pet parent is caring for your pet even when you’re NOT there.
And now, pet parents have more options than ever for pet care while traveling — home care, kennels, pet hotels, etc. In light of those options, we’re offering a short series on how to care for your pet while you travel.
In this installment, part one, we offer some tips on keeping your pet in your home while you travel. It may be hard to leave your pet behind, but nothing feels better than coming home to a happy, healthy pet.
Stock up on Food
Food is one of the number one ways your pet feels comforted, safe, and calm.
Make sure that your pet’s food stash is fully stocked before you leave town. This seems like a no-brainer, but I can’t tell you how many times we have nervous pet sitters come into the store wondering which food they should get for the dog or cat they are looking after. The last thing you want is a panicked pet sitter picking up the WRONG food for your pet, causing stomach upset, allergic reaction, etc.
Do these THREE things before you leave town, regarding your pet’s food:
1. Go to the store at LEAST a full week in advance, preferably two weeks. Why? Because your favorite pet supply store might be out of your pet’s food or running low. If they don’t have an adequate supply to stock up your pet’s pantry, they either need time to reorder OR you need time to find another seller. Don’t add more stress if you don’t have to!
2. Overstock on your pet’s food. You never know what could happen. Your pet sitter might overfeed (ugh, more not this later), there might be an emergency, your flight might get delayed, food can get spilled or spoiled, anything could happen really. Make sure your pet has a few extra days of food. If for some reason this isn’t possible (for example, the pet store didn’t have enough food in stock), leave specific instructions (and I like to leave some money) on where to get more food. And speaking of more food…
3. Write down the brand, type, flavor of your pet’s food. Take a picture of the bag or label too! Make
sure your pet sitter knows explicitly what your pet is eating. Don’t assume they will read the bag or can, or that they will remember the food. Take the guess work out. Give them a little “cheat sheet” for your pet’s food should they need to go to the store. That way they can confidently tell the store which food they need to get.
It’s worth having a good relationship with a pet supply store you trust. For instance, our Calvin & Susie customers have called in from their vacation spots to purchase food for the pet sitters to simply pick-up, because their return was delayed, or because they didn’t get a chance to buy food before they left, etc. Whatever the reason, having a good working relationship with your pet food provider takes a lot of the pressure off when planning your trip. If your dog enjoys visiting our store regularly, an outing to our store with your pet-sitter may provide a nice opportunity for your pet to see some familiar faces while you are away. We know EXACTLY what a regular customer’s pet is eating or snacking on and we take pride in knowing your pet almost as well as you do!
Just like food, stock up on your pet’s medication before leaving town. If possible, make sure you have more than enough medication for the duration of your trip.
If your vet prefers that you not “stock up” on meds, tell your pet sitter how to get more meds for your pet. Again, I would leave them money or prepay for the medication.
Obviously leave your vet’s contact number and, if you can, email address. If your vet has an emergency line, leave that too.
It’s always a good idea to inform your vet when you’re leaving town, especially if it’s for an extended amount of time. Leave them your contact information, and let them know who is authorized to make medical decisions for your pet (in case they cannot get in touch with you). In some cases, you may want to make your vet your proxy, if you trust them completely. If you are in a position to do so, you can even ask your vet if they will hold your payment information while you’re gone, so there will be no hold up in your pet receiving treatment.
Advise your pet sitter on where to take your pet in the case of an after-hours emergency. Not all pet emergency rooms are created equal. Know which one you prefer and trust, and make sure to leave their contact info for your sitter.
I also like to have a non-vet emergency contact. Someone who I trust to make decisions on my behalf regarding my pet, in case I’m out of contact. Typically this is someone who knows my pet and shares my views on pet health care. It always helps if they have some knowledge of pet health and/or nutrition but this is not a necessity. Plainly, I look for someone who will act solely in my pet’s best interest, is decisive, is unafraid to get a second opinion, and whom I’ve had discussions with over what should be done with my pet even in the most dire situations.
Having worked as a pet sitter for years, I LOVE detailed instructions. In my opinion, any pet sitter who expresses any annoyance with you offering too much detail about the care of your pet, is no pet sitter that I would want.
Here are some basic points as a pet parent and pet sitter, I like to have in my instructions:
Feeding Schedule: Typically “Morning Schedule and Night Schedule”, but you should detail how your pet is used to being cared for.
How much food to give per feeding
How often to change water and where the water should come from (faucet, pitcher, filter, etc.)
Medication Schedule: When to give medication, how to administer meds, EXACT dosage, if medication should be given with food, time between dosage. Many medications require specific a certain amount of time to pass between administering dosages. Be sure your pet sitter knows what that amount of time is, and how rigid that schedule needs to be.
Treats. Be sure to let your sitter know how many treats, if any, are allowed during the day or night.
Walking schedule for dogs. I highly recommend going for a “demo walk” with your pet sitter.
Some things to consider writing down or discussing with your pet sitter regarding walks:
How social your dog is. Can he or she interact with other dogs safely? Should the sitter avoid other dogs? Specific other dogs (large, small, high-energy, etc.)?
How long should each walk be? Does your dog have joint issues or other physical problems that might cause pain while walking? What are the warning signs? Should you allow for rest during walks? Bring water for your dog?
Where would your prefer your dog to walk? Any places off limits?
Should certain hours of the day be avoided because of heat?
What commands or signals does your dog respond to, to keep them safe and in check while walking?
If they can take your dog to a dog park, which ones do you prefer they go to.
For cats, how often to change cat litter, as well as where all cat box needs (extra litter, scoops, garbage bags) are located.
Any quirks your pet may have regarding their comfort. For example, my cat Brandy has always drank a lot of water. To her, cold water from the fridge is a treat. She goes through almost two glasses of water (yes she drinks out of a small rocks glass) a day. She gets very upset in her old age when she doesn’t have her water. I make sure to mention this to my sitter. It’s a small thing, but very important to my cat.
What to do in case your pet won’t eat. Sometimes, pet parents have told me that their pet will choose not to eat, and not to worry, they will come back to food when they feel like it. Others have told me that their pet must eat to take their meds (my cat is like that). Tell your sitter what to do such situations. Telling them some behaviors that might pop up with your pet, will cause less stress for you, your sitter, and most of all your pet in the long run.
Warning signs that your pet might be “off” or in distress. Inform your sitter of any serious warning signs specific to your pet that they may not typically recognize. I don’t do this to alarm my sitter, but I know my senior cat better than anyone, and some of her “I’m hurting” signs can be written off as “weird cat behavior”. Better safe than sorry.
What NEVER to feed your pet. Don’t assume that your pet sitter will know all of the potentially unsafe or toxic foods for pets in general. I like to keep a list handy, for both me and my pet sitter, of foods that are generally unsafe for pet consumption — onions, macadamia nuts, etc. Here is a solid list from the ASPCA. If you are not restricting the pet sitter to feed ONLY the foods you have purchased for your pet, make sure to write down what foods your pet may be allergic to.
Hanging With Your Pet
I like to specifically ask sitters to spend time with my pet. Most are more than happy to. As a sitter myself, I like to make it clear the minimum amount of time I will be spending with your pet each day.
You know your pet. If your dog likes to have a long walk then zonk out for the night, tell your sitter. If your dog gets really lonely in the early evening when you’d typically be home from work — TELL YOUR SITTER.
I’ve learned that my cat gets depressed if she doesn’t have some quality interaction (scratches, playing, just sitting on next to you while you read a book) for a little while after she eats her dinner. I always ask my sitters to hang out with her for a little while at night. It makes a difference.
Keep Your Home “Normal” While You’re Away
I know there’s a temptation to clean up your house so that your pet sitter doesn’t see how you “really” live. But for the sake of your pet, try to leave one part of your home a little untouched.
For example, while I make my bed, I leave a couple unwashed shirts or a pillow out for my cat to snuggle with. These items smell like my husband and me, and mean comfort to her.
Normal for Izzy is leaving her mom’s purses out for her to pose stylishly with
Lastly don’t forget to go over everything in person with your pet sitter. Any good sitter will insist on meeting you and your pet before hand, and going over all the basics.
This may seem like a mildly “obsessive” and exhaustive list, but in our experience it’s worth it to know that your pet will have every possible comfort accounted for.
Stay tuned for our next blog in our “Travel Tips” series where we’ll discuss finding the best boarding establishment for your pet!
Take Care and Happy “Howl-idays”!
~Your Loyal Calvin & Susie Blogger