If you have a fearful pet or you simply prefer that he stay in familiar surroundings while you’re out of town on business or vacation, you likely have hired or considered hiring a pet sitter. That’s smart. Dogs and cats thrive with a routine, so when their family leaves on a trip, it can turn their world upside down. Being at home can help to ease their anxiety.
Part of ensuring your pet’s emotional and physical wellbeing when you’re away from home is not just finding a pet sitter but finding one who can help your pets adjust to your absence with the least amount of stress.
It’s no wonder that animals left at home can be fearful, anxious or stressed, even in the care of the most loving pet sitter. They’re alone, and then a stranger whom they may have met only once pops in and stays for half an hour.
Pet sitters can be a little anxious themselves. In my 25 years of caring for pets in their homes, I’ve visited many frightened animals. It’s always a concern that a terrified dog may bolt out the door before the leash is attached. And a worried cat can hide so well that the only way I know he’s still there is by checking the litter box and food bowl.
There’s no such thing as a Fear Free certified pet sitter—yet—but it’s easy to recognize one who has the skills to help your dog or cat feel comfortable when meeting him as well as when you’re away. Here are some things to look for in a pet sitter who uses stress-busting techniques to meet a pet’s emotional as well as physical needs.
When your prospective pet sitter arrives for a get-acquainted visit, observe how she interacts with your pets. Does she:
- Let your dog or cat approach when they are comfortable or does she try to pet them before they are ready?
- Use body language to appear less threatening? Does she get down on the ground at their level and sit sideways with minimal eye contact to encourage them to approach?
Ask questions about her methods:
- What kind of equipment does she use on walks? Head halters? Front-clip harnesses? Treats? Beware of a pet sitter who needs to use prong collars or shock collars. Go for a walk with her and your dog to make sure you’re comfortable with the way she handles and interacts with him.
- What does she do after the walk? She might spend a few minutes calming your dog, so she doesn’t leave him amped up and frustrated.
- How does she administer medications, if applicable? She might wrap your cat in a towel to calm him while she gives an insulin shot. She might let your dog lick peanut butter off a toy while she medicates his injured foot.
- What does she do during visits? She might sit with your dog while brushing or petting him. She might turn on soft music or leave the TV on so your pets hear familiar noises of regular household activities. (One of my clients left the shopping channel on, so her Bulldog heard only happy voices.) She might sit near your cat just for company, or let him take a nap on her lap.
Once your pet sitter gets to know your animals, they will greet her like an old friend and enjoy her visits. If you need help finding a pet sitter, check out a list of Fear Free certified veterinarians in your area and ask them for a referral to a pet sitter whom they know and trust.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.