Monday, October 31, 2011

Caring for your pets while away - a few things you should know

I love to travel. I'm one of those people who has a frequent flier account with every airline, the travel credit cards, and can pack for 2 months in a backpack. However, now that my fiance have 2 sweet kittens, we are finding that traveling, or even going away for a weekend, takes a lot more planning. My fiance and I are actually leaving in a few days to fly across the country to visit family for 10 days, and are in the process of preparing to leave our kitties with a sitter.

1. If possible, have someone familiar care for your pets.

For us this is a must. While one of my kittens is very friendly and sociable, my other kitten is very timid and afraid of new people. For many pet owners this familiar person may be a friend, neighbor, or relative that has interacted with the pet several times before, and whom the pet seems to feel comfortable around. Or, if you use a pet sitting service, see if you can request that the same sitter be the one to come to your home. By having the same person care for your pets not only will they be less stressed while you are gone, they will come to understand that this person being there means that you will be coming back to care for them, helping to ease any feelings of abandonment. If you use a kennel try and stick with the same kennel. Not only will they know your pet, but your pet will know them, thus making the transition a bit easier.

2. Boarding.

If you are new to boarding, please make sure you check out the facility beforehand. Inspect for cleanness, safety, and comfort, and make sure they are able to meet both your pet's physical and emotional needs. Is there someone there 24/7? Do the dogs get to go outside? How often? How many walks a day will they get? Are cats taken out and played with? Be sure to ask questions like these when you meet with the staff at the facility. If possible, see if anyone you know has a boarding facility they use that they would recommend. When you do drop off your pet for boarding make sure they have some comfort items with them - a favorite toy, food dishes, maybe a small towel or blanket that smells like you. Animals like to have familiar items surrounding them, just like you or I. Also, make sure the staff has your pet's food (changing food suddenly can upset their stomachs - not a fun thing when they are away from home!), and if you have a cat make sure you bring some of the cat's regular litter as well.

3. Prepare your house to be pet safe.

Pets can get into a lot of trouble when left alone. My kittens do, and my mother's 5 dogs have certainly had their fun when left unattended. If you are home a lot of the time you are able to prevent your pet from getting into anything they shouldn't - plants, food, treats, anything they can shred or chew, etc, but while you are away there may not be someone around to keep their eyes on your pet. Before you go make sure your house is made as pet safe as possible. Put away anything you do not want destroyed (especially if your pet is a chewer). If you have plants that can be poisonous to pets try to put them in a high place the pet cannot get to. Or better yet, put them outside or in a closed off room. Make sure there are no small objects around that the pet can swallow and potentially choke on. Put food and treats in a secure location - more than once I have left the doors to the "kitty cabinet" unlatched, only to come home and find bags of treats ripped open and all over my house. Also make sure that if there are favorite objects that your pet has, that they are out and available to the pet while you are gone. For us this means making sure our kitten Bruin has her favorite blanket (a Boston Bruins blanket, believe it or not!) on the couch, and that Boots has his catnip toys to play with.

4. Routine.

Just like kids, pets need routine to feel secure. Talk to the person who is caring for your animal to make sure they are able to visit at roughly the same time each day, and to do their best to maintain the routines you have with your pet. My cats follow the same meal plan every day, and our pet sitter is really great about making sure she is here to feed the cats at the same time that I feed them. Consider preparing your pet's food before leaving, portioning out dry food into baggies and labeling cans with feeding instructions. If your pet takes medication, be sure the sitter is familiar with the routine for that as well.

5. Make sure your sitter has all the information they may need.

With technology today it is much easier to in touch with someone when needed. Even so, it is best to make sure your sitter has any and all relevant information that they may need in the case of an emergency. Let your sitter know where to take your pet in case of an emergency. Be sure to leave your contact information as well as your vet's number and address. Make sure your sitter knows where items such as leashes, harnesses, and carriers are in case they need to transport your pet. Remember, emergencies can happen to people too - if possible, try and have a person that is willing to stop by and care for your pets if your sitter is unable to. Make sure the sitter has their contact information, just in case.

6. Make sure there is enough food.

This seems simple enough, but you would be surprised how many people misjudge how much food their pet really eats. I suggest buying an extra bag and a few extra cans of food, just in case. This will also make coming home less stressful for you since you will not have to rush to the store right away. Leave instructions for how much food to feed your pet, and if there are any other specifics they may need to know regarding food. For instance, when our two cats were on medication they had different morning and night food. I had to make sure I clearly labeled each can before I left so my sitter would know exactly what to feed and when. I also leave my sitter a giftcard to our local pet store or some cash just in case she runs out of something, along with a note listing the exact kinds of foods to purchase if needed.

7. Know your pet.

This of course is the most important part of preparing for your vacation. You know your animal best, and how best to care for it, and sometimes it can be difficult to leave that care in the hands of another. Tell your sitter or boarding facility about your pet, and what works best for them. One of my kitties is very talkative and loves when you talk with him. When he is not talked to he feels ignored and can get upset. My sitter knows this, and talks to him frequently while she is here. My other kitten is very shy and timid, and you need to move slowly and speak very softly to her. Again, because I know this about my pet I can tell my sitter and help to ease anxiety in my pets.

Vacation is supposed to a fun and relaxing time, not one filled with worry. Following these tips will help to ensure that both you and your pet have a pleasant time.