Stress-free Vacations: If This Picky Pet- Mom Can Leave Her Pets for A Month, So Can You!
Recently, my husband and I took a much-needed month-long vacation to Australia. I get it – I sound bougie af, but I promise you, I’m just a girl who has to fly across the entire world to see her family. Sure, I get to see kangaroos and that’s literally uh-may-zing every.single.dang.time…but it’s A LOT. Between the cost, the stress of prepping, the actual prepping – and – omg – the thought of leaving your little moosh-faces (uh, that’s profesh-speak for dogs and cats, obvi) for that long is super stressful. So, yes, ok, I have a touch of the bouge in that I go to Australia with some frequency, but it doesn’t come without a literal and figurative price.
I’m quite certain if you’re a reader of this blog, you know quite well that leaving your beloved pets at home is always difficult – jeez, sometimes seeing their head-tilt when you just leave for the grocery store pangs the heart with guilt! Nevertheless, there are several ways to make the process less stressful for them and for you. With a little preparation and planning, you can ensure that your pets are safe and secure while you’re away, and that you can have peace of mind, knowing that they will be well cared for.
This is a personal story about how I felt prepared and managed being away from my six – yes, six, don’t judge me – pet babies.
Help Someone Else Understand Your Pet’s Needs
As the owner of the best pet care company in Philly (in the US?), I’m different from the average person. I may hate leaving my four cats and two dogs, but I KNOW they’re in the BEST hands – heck, all these peeps were trained by my training manual!
But of course, I’m not immune to some mom-anxiety. I mean, c’mon. I’m Jewish, I was born with a silver Zoloft in my mouth. When I go away, I worry that something will happen to my senior cat (my favorite…shhhh), Bruce, and I won’t be home to give him love and support; I worry that my bad boy, Gortie will escape, as he’s wont to do; I panic that Cowboy, my Cattle Dog, will bark too much and annoy the neighbors; that Snacks will be scared of the new sitter and thus be mean and swat at them with his dagger-fingers….they’re a lot. You don’t even realize how many little things you deal with on the daily with your pets until you go to write them down for someone else and start to think of all their “isms” you need to explain!
Most importantly, I always make sure that not only do I have the sitter come do a big walk-through with me before we leave and talk through routines and locations, answer questions, show what position I sit in to give Zizzy her eye drops to avoid having my face ripped off when doing so, I also leave out written instructions of everything we talked about – a chart of medications, feedings, so that in case they missed anything when we spoke, they don’t have to stress over it. There’s also an online portal for my company to which they have access (for all of our clients) as well…but if you don’t use a professional service as cool as mine, you may not have that .
Next, I make sure that all pet food, and the all-important treat stashes, are fully stocked, meds are clearly labeled and I have clarified any and all rules surrounding all consumables. When is Groove allowed to have a long-lasting treat and where? Can the dogs and cats eat near each other? What time are meds doled out? Where do all 6 water bowls go?
In preparation for our trip, we bought extra food for all pets and pre-made all meals. I do admit, the latter is a little extra. You don’t have to do that. But, I’m me.
For the dogs, two of the foods we use in our food rotation are Northwest Naturals Freeze-Dried Chicken and Northwest Naturals Freeze-Dried Beef & Trout. We pre-packaged them so the pet care sitter didn’t have to think about amount. Because Groove wasn’t going to have his first birthday until the day we were returning (awww!), he was still on puppy food, while Cowboy, our two year old, is on adult food, so we also pre-made the meals so the sitter didn’t have to think about that, either. Oy, the drama! For their dry rotation, the boys eat the puppy and adult formulas of the same food, Farmina N&D Pumpkin, Lamb and Blueberry, which we always feed them in their Kong Wobbler puzzle feeder or on their Pet Parents Forager Mat.
For the cats, we rotate many foods, but amongst the favorites, we left out Orijen Regional Red and Wervua Splash Dance wet foods and Open Farm Grain Free Homestead Turkey & Chicken for their dry. The older ones get Cosequin joint supplement sprinkled over their food, and, of course, being Jewish cats, a couple of them are on Prozac. I mean, hello. For them, we wrote extensive instructions – not just what they eat and medications but, for example, what do their various body languages and sounds indicate. For example, different meows and tail flicks mean different things. If you don’t pay attention, or know these details, you’ll end up dealing with behaviors you don’t want or injuries you could have avoided.
And if I want the litter boxes to be kept neat and clean, well, make it easy for the sitter to do so! I leave bags easy to find, and a scooper next to each of our ten litter boxes….Yeah, you read that right. I said ten. Go ahead. Keep judging.
Help Someone Else Understand Your Home’s Needs
If you know that you will be leaving your pets at home for an extended period of time, start preparing for their stay/your departure well in advance – start jotting little notes to yourself so you can prep a little handy “household & pet manual” for your sitter.
For the sake of someone else staying in your home, make things as easy as possible: label things so that someone else can find what they need, use post-its for items like cleaning supplies, of course all of the pet supplies…and don’t forget where you stash the coffee! Do little things to ensure your sitter’s own comfort, like leaving them clean towels, comfy sheets and fresh soap, and even ask them what they might like for some snacks in the cabinets and fridge. The best way to have a sitter want to spend more time in your home and with your pets is to make them feel at home. Let your sitter know your casa is their casa – don’t make them feel like they’re “the help” – make them feel welcomed. And for heaven’s sake, don’t leave them dirty sheets or dishes in the sink.
We left out a shovel and Pestell Paw Thaw Pet Safe Ice Melter – just in case, both dogs’ Chilly Dogs Alpine Blazers because in either rain or snow they not only have to stay dry but they have to look good doing so (!), and obviously, they always wear their 2Hounds Design collars (Groove sports the 2 Hound Dogs Collar while Cowboy rocks the Red Argyle, and they wear their no-stress Freedom harnesses to match, I mean, hello. I can’t have my boys lookin’ a mess).
A Helpful Recap if You Want to Be More Like Me (Bougie With a Touch of Practical…or More Like the Other Way Around)
Research your sitter and ensure they are actually a professional and not just a “kid who loves animals.” A professional will:
- Be insured
- Take notes
- Know how to give medications
- Know that details that make the difference – at my household, something as simple as leaving the wrong treat on the floor could end up in a major dog fight!
- Be in it for the heart of it, not the money (though be sure to pay well, these are your babies, and they are professionals!) – You’ll know how much they care when they send the photos, the fun messages, the video clips.
- Be ready for anything that comes with working with living beings – the behaviors, the emotions, the ailments and more.
Regardless of other beliefs, pet sitting is NOT for the faint-of-heart, and once you hire a professional, you’ll stop worrying about leaving town.
It’s important to leave your pet sitter with detailed instructions when you leave for your trip if you want things to go as you hope and expect. Just like with the one you love, don’t assume they know what you want – you have to tell them!
Here’s a quick-reference guide of what they need to know:
- Your pets’ diet – timing, amounts, types, brands, where they eat and if there are rules around how they eat.
- Playtime -What toys they prefer to play with, if they go to the park, if they play with other dogs, if they like other pets in the household.
- Health and Medications – Leave clear instructions about not just what medicines they take, but any allergies or health conditions they have, and who their veterinarian is.
- Household – Cleaning supplies, comfort items, how the tv and coffee maker work, where you want them to sleep, what the WiFi password is, where all the backup pet supplies are, and where emergency shut-offs/fuse boxes are! Oh – and alarm codes! Srsly….don’t forget this one.
- Emergency Contacts – Make sure they know how to reach you, if you’re not reachable, who is, who your vet is and what your emergency veterinary hospital choice is, who’s got the spare key to your house (or who knows the code to your keypad), if you have rules/limits about veterinary care (take them no matter what, X dollar spending limit, etc.)
- Behavioral Matters – this is a huge topic. You know your pets and you know what it means when they look to the left instead of the right, but you better warn your sitter. What are their fears and triggers? What are their greatest joys? And, as it relates to behavior, what are your values around training? *Ask Queenie’s Pets about how to be Force-Free, Fear-Free and Stress-Free with your pets!
Ensure your pets’ idiosyncrasies are known and explained so that you know they will be understood by your sitter so they aren’t both left frustrated and having a bad time.
Saying Goodbye and Checking In – A How-To Guide
If you have a long trip ahead of you, don’t make a big deal about leaving your pets right before you go. In the week or two before you leave, do the things you and they love to do together – hit the park, or snuggle on the couch, let them lick the plate or sleep on your chest – whatever your “thing” is. Dogs can sense when you’re about to leave and cats usually end up sitting in the suitcase -they all realize there’s an energy shift, but fawning over them a ton will only amp up their anxiety.
When it’s actually time to leave, simply leave like when you’re going to work, say “bye bye!” and head out like it’s no big deal, even if your heart is breaking a tiny bit (or a lot) as you leave them. Make sure you know what time your sitter is coming for the first visit so you have that peace of mind.
It’s my recommendation not to FaceTime, Zoom or otherwise video or audio “visit” with your pets whilst you are vacationing. Your pets do not understand the concept of hearing you but not being in the same physical space as you. Instead of being comforting to them, it is confusing. Let them settle into the comfort of their time with your sitter instead of hearing your voice and wondering why they can hear your voice but not see or smell you. Just let your sitter send you videos and photos and enjoy your pets that way.
For my husband and me, our collective Jewish Mom/Catholic Dad guilt instead had us get our pets mid-trip gifts we left with Kathleen to give to them so they knew we still loved them (because, of course they knew they were from us!) So the dogs got a Tall Tails Rope Octopus, and the cats got their absolute favorite, Caru Cat Smoothie Lickable Treat. It was upon our homecoming that we got to rejoice in seeing one another again
Coming Back Home to Pets
Honestly, our animals are the only reason I wanted to come home from our wonderful Australian trip. Sorry, employees, clients and customers. I mean, I love y’all, but, let’s keep it real here. Like I said in the beginning….KANGAROOS.
When we arrived home, we were attacked with love! We ignored the misbehaviors we worked on with the trainer for the past 6 months and let them go bananas upon our return. We spent the weekend on the couch, cuddling and giving them treats in between our jet lag comas. Our cats, well, they were like “hey, ‘sup. You’re back. Cool.” But we forced all of our snuggles upon them anyway.
We had all the favorite treats on hand, such as:
- Gorton The Fisherman (cat): Acana Freeze-Dried Duck & Pear treats (he ignores the fact that these are actually made for dogs)
- Snacks (cat): Caru Cat Smoothie Lickable Treat
- Groove (dog): Red Barn Collagen Braid
- Cowboy (dog): Crump’s Naturals Sweet Potatoes & Liver Chews
- Zizzy (cat): Cat-Man-Doo dried tuna flakes
- Bruce (cat): Vital Essentials Minnows
So, In Conclusion (aka Be Like Me)
When preparing to leave your pets home for a month (or a weekend), there are several things to consider to ensure their well-being and your calm mind while you are away. Having a trusted professional on the job and your own, well-organized preparedness set in place will put you in position to go away with ease and be able to sip that margarita more easily. Knowing you can trust will allow you to trust.
Did I mention that I was pet sitting in Australia? Our friend happened to also be leaving the country to visit her own family overseas, so we stayed at her home and watched her cat, Willow. She left us a chart of instructions (color-coded!) a fully stocked Nespresso machine, Willow’s favorite brush and treats, and some delicious cookies for us. Willow slept on our faces.
By the way…Yeah, I’m pluggin’ products – but not, like, all fake-like, like on tv shows. Everything in this blog is legit what goes down at my house. I didn’t even use fake names to protect the no-so-innocent. Lord knows, all inappropriate barking and face-scratching references herein are real, as was my trip to Australia. I really do have a manual for how to take care of my pets, including a glossary of words they know. And I really did get to hold a baby Tasmanian Devil.