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.
Someone in a pet sitter forum I’m a member of just posted this article regarding the guilty plea of a CEO who was charged with “intentionally trafficking in counterfeit labels and packaging for anti-parasite products and veterinary medicines between July 2015 and December 2016.”
The EPA is aware of this and also offers some guidance here.
For those of you who use flea and tick products on your cats and dogs, please take the following precautions to ensure that the products you have are legitimate:
1) Check the lot number/expiration date on the retail carton matches the lot number on the applicator package and/or the individual applicators.
2) Determine whether the instruction leaflet is included. It provides the following information: first-aid statements, including emergency US or related Merial branch telephone numbers; precautionary statements for humans and pets; directions for use; Frontline Plus from Merial usually has an adhesive calendar sticker with instructions for use and phone number. Treatment frequency is printed behind the front panel. Visual aids and instructions are also included.
3) The pesticide is contained in an applicator package, which is child-resistant.
4) Text on the package is in English only. There should be no stickers on the package. Related country’s approval numbers and phone numbers are printed on the box.
5) Once you open the applicator package, each individual applicator has a label that includes the registrant’s name “Merial;” the product name; “CAUTION”, “Keep out of reach of children”, “For animal treatment only”; Composition of active ingredient(s) (fipronil for Frontline Top Spot products; and fipronil and (S)-methoprene for Frontline Plus products). Text is in English. Note that for Merial Frontline Plus*: Applicator itself has the lot number and expiration date printed in the front.
The folks at the FACE Foundation shared these helpful infographics from the Arizona Humane Society with tips for keeping pets safe in the summer heat. As we head into the steamy DC summer, I figured now is a great time to share.
…get to your pet’s food if you place the food bowl into a dish or pan with some water in it (apologies if you had high hopes for something that rhymed).
Basically, build a moat across which the ants are unable to swim.
I learned about this little life hack recently from a friend who had to employ it with her own cat down in the Dominican Republic, and then I got to test it out on a pet sit assignment when I came in one day to find ants beginning to swarm the cats’ food bowls. It worked brilliantly.
With summer coming on, I figured some of you might find this helfpul, but hope that you don’t have to use it!
Recently, while doing some research on whether or not it’s OK to use laser pointers when playing with dogs (not really, it turns out), I learned that many animal behavior experts are now recommending that they be used with caution when playing with cats as well.
Basically, the red dot stimulates our pets’ hunting drive, but the inability to ever be able to “catch” the prey can result in frustration, leading to obsessive-compulsive behaviors.
The following article has some tips for how to safely incorporate a laser pointer into your cat’s play routine (summary below link):
Although no one who played our trivia name game in April guessed correctly as to which name is most common among the pets of Northwest Pets DC, I really wanted to give away a t-shirt, so I put the names of all those who played into a hat and drew from that pool. And the winner is….. (drumroll):
Leslie, along with the majority of folks who played, guessed that Chloe was the most common name.
In fact, the correct answer to the trivia question is Ziggy. I have three kitty clients who all go by this name. Interestingly, there is no duplication of names among the rest of my furry clientele at this point!
And because so many people answered with her name, here she is – the one and only – Chloe:
I stumbled across this interesting project via the FACE Foundation’s blog, and invite my readers to participate if they’re interested (or to at least just read about it, even if they don’t want to take the survey/quiz).
From the “About the MuttMix Project” page of the International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants:
“The idea of breeds and pet dogs are intimately connected…”
“What does this mean for mixed breed dogs? Since these breed categories are so strongly ingrained in our notion of “dog,” naturally our brain tries to put any new dog we meet into one or more of these categories…”
“We take individual characteristics that match our notion of breeds and use those traits to build a box to mentally house our mutt. And, since we have notions about breeds and behavior, we now also have a mental box of behavior we expect from this dog, all based on appearance.”
“Are we actually any good at this? First of all, can we do a good job of judging the mix of breeds in a mutt by looking at them? Second, do our preconceived notions about behavior and physical traits hold true?
This experiment aims to answer the first question. Using genetic markers, and a panel of known pure-bred dogs, we can confidently determine the ancestral mix of breeds represented in an individual dog. All of the images you will be asked to judge in this experiment are of dogs that have been tested, so we know what mix of breeds they represent.
Now, we need your help in finding out how well people are able to guess these breed mixes based on appearance.”
If you’ve ever cared for a pet with chronic anxiety, you know how heartbreaking and frustrating it can be. You may have had someone, perhaps even your veterinarian, recommend pheromones to you as a good way to help alleviate the anxiety and improve the behavior associated with it.
There is debate within the animal behavioral community as to the efficacy of pheromones in treating anxiety and its resultant behaviors. Until more robust, non-industry funded studies have been completed, I remain agnostic as to their effectiveness.
In the meantime, I think we would do well to guard against recommending or using them as the sole or primary means of addressing anxiety issues. Chronic emotional and behavioral issues require a thoughtful, well-planned course of treatment, in which pheromones may play a role.
I really appreciated the following article by Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, which focuses on the most widely used and recommended feline pheromone product, Feliway, and does a great job of breaking down the topic and summarizing the studies that have been conducted. The comments following the article are helpful, too.
Feature photograph of Max Bailey’s “Zara” Persian kitten figurine by Ruffings.
The coming holidays will be my first as a pet sitter. Like many professional pet sitters, I will spend the next few weeks on the go from early in the morning until well into the evening. No festive dinner with family; no enjoying my neice and nehphew’s excitement as they open their presents by the tree; no leisurely Christmas morning brunch filled with mimosas and laughter. I admit that I have experienced a few moments of sadness in anticipation of this fact.
But early this morning, as I drove to visit one of my kitty clients before the sun was fully up, I noticed the light displays in so many yards along the way. My car radio was tuned to a classical station that I’m pretty sure will be playing nothing but carols from now until the new year. There was a decorated tree waiting for me when I arrived at the client’s home. And it struck me that in my travels around town as a pet sitter, I will actually get to experience more varied festive holiday stimuli than I would otherwise.
Most importantly, I’ll get to spend time helping people’s pets feel a little less alone while their families are away, and hopefully help their families enjoy themselves a bit more, knowing their pets are in good hands.
When I look at it this way, I can’t think of a better way to spend the holidays.