I’d already agreed to help cat sit for my friend Amy when we were driving to Costco (kibble run!) and she turned to me and said “There’s something awkward I need to talk to you about.”
I knew that her cats, Trotsky and Sakharov, are both diabetic and require twice-daily insulin shots. In fact, the majority of pet care was being handled by a paid cat sitter during Amy’s two-week trip – I’d agreed to pitch in a few evenings, as my schedule permitted, to help defray her costs a bit. The injections weren’t too difficult to administer – Amy had shown me how to do it the last time I’d taken care of her cats. However, Sakharov was suffering from kidney failure, and Amy was worried that due to stress, and without the IV fluids she’d been administering (a task she didn’t feel comfortable offloading to Rachel or I), Sakharov might die during her trip.
I won’t go into details here, but we ended up having a long talk about both of our experiences losing pets, what the options were, and what Amy’s wishes were. At the end, I told her “You should tell Rachel all this, as well.” Then I realized that workmen would be going in and out of Amy’s house during her trip – she really should let them know who to contact if something went wrong, too. I started thinking that while Amy’s situation was much more involved than most, we could all take a look at how we can make sure we’re all on the same page.
Every pet owner I know has a standard list of information – veterinarian phone number, emergency contact, favorite food and toys – that they leave with a pet sitter. You can copy and paste this checklist into your own pet care document and fill in the blanks:
- Veterinarian name, phone number, locations, and directions
- Location of and directions to the closest 24 hour emergency pet hospital
- Name, appearance, frequency, and dosage of medications, as well as where to keep them (not everyone will know that insulin needs to be refrigerated)
- What, how much, and how often your pet gets fed
- Any toys or treats that will cheer your pet up while you’re gone
- Where your pets might hide from visitors – even the friendliest cat or dog can become anxious without their owner around
Your pet sitter isn’t the only person who might need to take care of your pet. Other service professionals like gardeners, housekeepers, or workmen who will be in and around your house should have at least basic information – how to contact your pet’s vet, or where to take them for after-hours care – if they find your pet in distress.
Plan for the worst case scenario
While it’s upsetting to think about things that can go wrong while you’re away, it can be comforting to have a plan in place. We have living wills for our loved ones – why not for our pets? Think about what medical procedures you would or wouldn’t want to subject your pet to. For instance, Amy knew that while she was comfortable having IV fluids administered to Sakharov, she didn’t want him to undergo general anasthesia.
How much are you willing for a pet sitter to spend on your pet on your behalf? No one wants to put a price on their pet’s life, but your pet sitter deserves to know what your limits are – for all you know, she might choose to reject a treatment out of fear that you’ll be angry about the cost.
Once you make decisions about these issues, tell your pet sitter – or even better, write them down and add them to your own pet care document.
Spread the word
Often your pet care information is printed out, handed off, and left to languish beneath a car seat. While printed material will always have a comforting permanence and tangibility, saving a pet info sheet in the “cloud” lets all stakeholders access information anywhere they have an internet connection. Google Docs provides a ton of space online for free, and all you need in an email address to share documents and spreadsheets with the other people mentioned above. Saving this information online also lets you update it when you think of changes – whether you’re on vacation or remembering a quirk of your pet’s behavior while at work.
Pet owners and pet sitters alike want the best for the animals in their care. Prior planning can help alleviate anxiety and keep everyone on the same page. Our pets thrive on consistency, after all.