The following suggestions represent the minimum number of visits I believe your pet should receive when you’re away. There are some additional considerations listed after all the cute pics.
PUPPIES UP TO 6 MONTHS OLD
PUPPIES 6 MONTHS TO 1 YEAR
DOGS OVER 1 YEAR
KITTENS UP TO 6 MONTHS
CATS 6 MONTHS AND OLDER
How long will you be gone? How many pets do you have? What are their personalities?
If you’re going to be gone for longer than a week, I recommend throwing in some additional visits here and there. This could mean the occasional overnight stay, or an extra visit in the middle of the day every few days, or several visits of longer duration.
If your cat is the only pet in the household and is highly sociable/affectionate, and you’re going to be gone longer than three or four days, I recommend two visits a day. This also goes for cats with lots of energy and a tendency to zoom about the house bouncing off walls.
If you have a truly anti-social cat or dog who is traumatized when anyone other than you or your family members come around, fewer visits may actually be more beneficial. For cats under these circumstances, I think you can get away with visits every other day, although I still prefer at least one visit a day because stuff happens. For dogs, it is a bit more complicated, and I would consult a behavioralist or qualified trainer when devising a visitation plan.
I think there are circumstances in which your pet may be better off at a reputable boarding facility.
Puppies who have all their immunizations may be happier in an environment where they can interact with other dogs under supervision.
Although many pet sitters will administer medication, if your pet is critically ill, or has a newly diagnosed condition such as diabetes or asthma and has not yet become regulated to his or her medication, or is particularly hard to pill, I think a medical board at the vet often makes the most sense.
Environment while you’re away
It is particularly important that puppies and kittens are confined to a small room or pen in between visits from your pet sitter. This area should be free of anything that could pose a choking, strangulation, or drowning hazard (this includes many toys, loose blind cords, and toilets with the lid up). This area should contain comfortable bedding and safe toys (think stuffed animals for kittens, and Kongs for puppies) and an article of clothing with your scent on it.
I generally try to avoid offering unsolicited pet-related advice to my clients. I view my role as that of a caretaker whose primary responsibility is to ensure the safety and well-being of clients’ pets while they are under my care while adhering to the instructions of the pet’s guardians as closely as possible. If I was a parent to a human baby and my au-pair or daycare employee started giving me advice on how best to raise my child, I think I’d get pretty annoyed. So unless I see something going on that is putting a pet in obvious danger or ill-health, I tend to prefer to leave the pet-parenting to the pet parents.
Having said that, there are a few best-practices that I personally feel are kind of important and think that pet parents should at least be aware of so they can research them further if interested, so I’ll offer up my thoughts on them here.
PETS IN MOVING VEHICLES
I wrote a post about a year ago titled Critters in Cars: Let’s Talk Pet Safety. I think if I had to choose one topic that concerns me most, this would be it. I won’t rehash what I wrote here and invite you to read the original article instead, but the main gist is that pets should always be secured properly while in a moving vehicle.
STICKS AND STONES (AND ICE AND BONES)
I was having dinner with my siblings a few weeks ago, and when I mentioned that I don’t let dogs under my care chew on or chase sticks, my sister rolled her eyes and said “Jeez, can’t you just let dogs be dogs?”. I have no doubt that most dogs would have a lot more fun with my sister than they do with me, at least until they experience one of the many unpleasant-at-best occurrences that are not at all uncommon when dogs are allowed to chew on sticks, rocks, ice, or bones. These include lacerations and infections in the mouth, broken teeth, choking, and perforated or blocked intestines. Stay tuned for a post on some safe chewing alternatives, but feel free to do some online research yourself in the meantime (or ask your vet for some recommendations).
AND BLIND CORDS!
Every year, children and pets are killed or end up in the ER because they got a blind cord wrapped around their neck. Cats are at particular risk with their tendency to like to play with stringy things. Please make sure any blind cords you have are well-secured and not left dangling, especially if your kitty is playful.
KITTIES: KIBBLE VERSUS CANNED
Pet nutrition is a topic that often sparks fierce debate among pet professionals, and one could lose countless hours and a small fortune researching and trying different pet diets. The one theme that stands out for me in this vast sea of conflicting opinions is that cats do better on wet/canned food than on kibble, and that if you’re going to feed your cat kibble, it should be of limited quantity and heavily supplemented with wet food. You can read (lots) more about why at Catinfo.org, but the main gist is that cats very much need the extra water that is provided by wet food, and they very much don’t need the carbs that come from kibble. (Note: This does not seem to hold true for most dogs, who according to my own vet seem to do just fine on a kibble diet, although I am making no recommendations one way or the other on that topic, so be sure to check with your own vet before making any changes to your pet’s diet).
Let me start by saying that if your current litter box setup is working well for you, don’t change anything. But please do keep the following points in mind:
Cat boxes should be scooped at least once a day.
If you use non-clumping litter, the litter should be entirely replaced at least every other day, preferably every day.
Choose a low-dust litter. Your cat is breathing in dust particles every time she uses the box, and the least you can do is to limit the number of dust particles she is forced to take into her lungs.
Maintain a litter depth of at least 2 inches. Your cat needs to feel like she has adquately covered up her business.
Studies indicate that in general, cats don’t have a preference when it comes to whether their litter box has a lid or not. The important factor seems to be that the litter box is large enough for them. So keep a lid on it if it’s working well for you and your cat isn’t having accidents outside the box, but consider going topless if your kitty is having issues. (You can read more about the studies here).
I think many of us tend to think that because our pets lick their own butts, this means that their digestive systems can handle anything. While they certainly seem to have more hardy systems than our own, this does not mean that they aren’t succeptible to bateria and viruses. The National Sanitation Foundation found pet bowls to be the fourth most germ-filled place in the home. Bottom line is, it’s important to thoroughly clean your pets’ food and water bowls daily, and to disinfect them periodically, and this IheartDogs article gives some additional details on the whys and hows.
Well, that’s about all from pulpit for today. Please feel free to share any thoughts you might have on any of the topics raised here.