Finding the Right Sitter for Your Pet

pet sitter

In my last blog post, I wrote how smart devices like automatic feeders and pet cams make pet families lives easier. Technology is a poor substitute for a human being who watches over your pet while you are away on a business trip or vacation. Since I recommended a human pet sitter and not a robotic one, I thought I should give my readers some guidelines for selecting the right pet sitter.

Sleepaway Camp or Stay-cation
One of the first decisions you should make about care for your pet is where your pet will be taken care of: at home, at someone else’s home, or at a boarding facility. Each of these options has its pluses and minuses. A stay-cation might be great for your sedentary, octogenarian cat, but a puppy who needs exercise and training might be very bored and potentially destructive if left alone except for daily walks during your two-week vacation. If you have a dog who is the life of the party, a boarding facility will provide the perfect opportunity for a sleep away stay. The introverted dog will probably find a week at a friend’s house more to his liking.

Credentials and Qualifications
The pet-loving neighbor kid might be a good person to feed your young, healthy cat while you are away for a couple of days; on the other hand, the neighbor kid is definitely not qualified if your cat needs medications while you are away. The skill level required of a pet sitter increases dramatically when medications are involved. Your veterinarian’s office will likely know of an experienced veterinary technician or assistant who can both feed your pet and administer medications while you are away. Some veterinary hospitals will also do “medical boarding” which can be a good solution to the pet care problem. If you use a boarding facility, check on their policies regarding medication administration. Don’t forget to alert the boarding facility if any heartworm or flea/tick preventive medications are due while you are away.

God Forbid, an Emergency
Another point of inquiry is how the facility handles medical emergencies. If the boarding facility uses an emergency clinic, be sure the boarding facility knows who your pet’s regular veterinarian is and also notify your regular veterinarian regarding your pet’s boarding schedule. It wouldn’t hurt to make a quick one-pager on your pet’s current medications, health concerns and your contact information while you are away. You might also consider designating a medical proxy to make decisions in the event you cannot be reached at a critical moment.

With a bit of advanced planning, both you and your pet can have a wonderful time away even if you are apart.

Keeping Animals Healthy in the Winter

pets in winter

Winter can be a harsh time for everyone, animals included. Diseases spread more easily when everyone is cooped up inside; cold weather can be hard on pet feet and wildlife struggle to survive. Here are a few suggestions to keep the animals in your life healthy during the long winter months, which have only just begun!

Plan Ahead When Boarding Your Dog
If you are making a quick trip to somewhere sunny and need to board your dog at the kennel, make sure he is up to date on vaccinations and is well protected against infectious diseases. In any place where dogs congregate, boarding kennels, doggie daycare or dog shows, infectious diseases can spread quickly. Ask your veterinarian if she recommends one of the canine influenza vaccines. Vaccines are available for both strains of the canine influenza virus and also against Bordetella bronchiseptica, a common bacterial cause of kennel cough. You might want to check and see if the kennel serves your dog’s usual fare. If not, consider sending his food to the kennel to prevent tummy upset from an abrupt diet change.

Provide Food and Shelter for Outdoor Cats
My neighborhood in New York City does not have many outdoor cats, but outside of Manhattan, whole colonies of cats are threatened by inclement weather. Some animal shelters and rescue groups can provide shelters for these outdoor cats. If you are the caretaker of an outdoor cat, you can create a weather proof shelter from a large plastic tub. Here are directions provided by the Danbury Animal Welfare Society for a do it yourself shelter. If you live in NYC, the Mayor’s Alliance NYC Feral Cat Initiative has workshops on building cat shelters.

Also remember to feed dry food in the winter as canned food can freeze and become inedible. You may also need electric water heaters to keep fresh water available even on subzero days.

Backyard Birds
Winter time brings beautifully colored birds like blue jays and cardinals to backyard feeders. To keep your pretty winter visitors as healthy as possible, follow these suggestions from Oregon State Wildlife Veterinarian Dr. Colin Gillin:

  • Use feeders made from non-porous material like plastic, ceramic, and metal. These are less likely than wood to harbor bacteria and other diseases, which can kill backyard birds.
  • Clean feeders, water containers and bird baths monthly by rinsing with soapy water and then dunking the feeder in a solution of one third cup of chlorine bleach per one gallon of water.
  • Install multiple feeders to prevent all visiting birds from congregating in one place where illness can readily spread.

If you find injured wildlife, birds or mammals, don’t try to rehabilitate them yourself. To find the appropriate rescue group, check this blog post about injured pets and wildlife for resources.

Pet Sitting

Now that the holiday season is over and we are into the doldrums of winter, many people are looking for a quick getaway to somewhere warm and sunny. That getaway may not include your pet since some pets are not good travelers, like fish or your family cat. Dogs can be good travelers, but are not always welcome in hotels and timeshares. Leaving the family pet behind is a tough decision, but advance planning will give you peace of mind and your pet a comfortable vacation too.

The most convenient option for many families is a boarding kennel. Check around before choosing a boarding kennel. Ask other pet owners and call your veterinarian’s office. The veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center have their favorite home care specialists and your veterinarian will too.

Consider contacting the Better Business Bureau for information on prospective kennels. Kennels provide an important service, but not all pets enjoy staying in kennels. The typical family pet is used to more space, better furniture and solitude.

Before you chose a kennel for your pet, visit the kennel. Is it clean or is there a bad odor? Will the kennel give medications and feed the food your pet is accustomed to eating? Kenneled pets are prone to hunger strikes and intestinal upset and feeding their regular food is one way to help prevent this. In case your pet gets sick while boarding, ask how the kennel handles medical problems. If the kennel is associated with your pet’s regular veterinarian, the answer is easy, but if the kennel is not, be sure they know who your pet’s veterinarian is and how to contact the office in an emergency. Good idea to let your veterinarian know where and when your pet will be boarded. Finally, read the boarding agreement carefully, especially dropoff and pickup rules or you might find your bill higher than you expected.

Home care is also an option for some pets, especially cats, birds, fish or reptiles. My clients have arranged home care for their pets from a variety of sources. They will often check with their AMC veterinarian or neighborhood veterinarian for a local pet sitter. A professional, such as a veterinary technician may be just what the doctor orders for pets with a medical problem like diabetes. A healthy hamster may do well with your neighbor teenager changing the water, bedding and food once a day. Some pets need a companion as well as a caretaker. If this describes your pet, you may look for a pet sitter who will move into your house while you are away. This setup works especially well for multiple pet households. For a short trip, a healthy cat can be left alone. One clever solution to the litter box problem if you leave your cat alone is an automatic toilet flusher for toilet trained cats.

Whenever you leave your pet with a friend, pet sitter or kennel, provide the substitute caretaker with:

  • Your travel schedule and contact information
  • The veterinarian’s name, number and location
  • A schedule of your pet’s daily routine
  • Enough of your pet’s regular food, medications and supplies (litter, pooper scooper, bags and chew toys) to last longer than your trip in case of a delayed return.

This blog may also be found in the “Tales from the Pet Clinic” blog from WebMD.


For over a century, The Animal Medical Center has been a national leader in animal health care, known for its expertise, innovation and success in providing routine, specialty and emergency medical care for companion animals. Thanks in part to the enduring generosity of donors, The AMC is also known for its outstanding teaching, research and compassionate community funds. Please help us to continue these efforts. Send your contribution to: The Animal Medical Center, 510 East 62nd Street, New York, NY 10065. For more information, visit To make an appointment, please call 212.838.7053.