The Kids Are Home, But They're Not Alone

We’ve all experienced it: that feeling in your gut that tells you leaving your pets home in someone else’s care could be a recipe for disaster. This can be especially problematic when you have a house full of senior animals with a long list of medical issues and medications. What’s a pet-parent to do when you just can’t avoid going away and leaving them home?

I know many people who haven’t taken a vacation in years because they are too worried about leaving their pets, even overnight. Many, like us, have taken up the RV lifestyle, so we can take our pets with us. But many of my clients travel for work and I have that same dilemma. With seven dogs, four cats, two aging parents, two miniature horses, and eight chickens on our property, it can be daunting to prepare to go away. Luckily, my mother is still pretty spry at 81, and she manages to care for my father, the horses, the chickens, and her dog. That leaves our six aging, medically challenged dogs and four cats requiring care.

Being a veterinarian and owning my own clinic has its advantages, one of which is a supply of animal-loving employees willing to pitch in when needed. They all like to earn a little extra money, which is a win-win, as far as I’m concerned. Having someone from my office care for our pets gives us peace of mind, since they know the medical issues and personalities of everyone. But we still try to make it as easy as possible for all concerned.

We have a list of phone numbers available, including: plumber, electrician, emergency clinic, a family friend that could help out in a pinch, and different specialists from which our dogs receive care. There is a four-page list describing each animal with a list of which food they eat, each medication and how often it is to be given. We always make sure there is plenty of extra medication, just in case our return trip is delayed.

Our dogs are trained to use washable piddle pads, so there are pads in strategic places they can use during the day or night when no one can let them out. We make sure there is laundry detergent available for washing and lots of extra pads and towels. We leave preferred shampoo available, just in case one of the kids has an accident or falls down in their poo (17-year-old dogs fall down at the worst possible moments).

Recently, we decided to make it easier on our pet sitter by portioning all meals into small containers labeled with the dog’s name and AM or PM. The medications and supplements are pre-loaded into the food, making mealtime much simpler. However, this past trip I realized that one of the dogs might need to be taken off one of his medications, as he had developed diarrhea. Not knowing if the new pain medication or the “accidental overnight fire drill” (the smoke detector started beeping “low battery” and in her effort to make it stop our pet sitter made it go into alarm mode) had caused the loose stool, I wanted her to stop giving the medication. But that would have meant dipping out new food and replacing the other supplements and medications. Wisely, she waited twelve hours, and the problem resolved. (Poor George had “fire drill colitis”).

We also leave a supply of anti-nausea and anti-diarrheal herbs and medications at home. Our sitter always touches base with me before adding anything, but it’s nice to know everything is available for her.

Leaving our pets at home in their own environment with someone who knows them well, has been the best solution to our travel dilemma. My back-up option is leaving the dogs at the one of the veterinary clinics and having my mother take care of the cats. We only use this in dire circumstances though, because there is no one at the clinics overnight and our old dogs can’t go all night without taking a potty break. They are also used to sleeping in our bed and I’m pretty sure we’d have “veterinary clinic colitis” times six if they had to stay for long.

It’s not easy leaving the kids at home. Search around to find the best solution that suits your needs. A good boarding kennel, in-home care in someone’s home, in-home care in your home, or a pet sitter coming by multiple times per day are all options. Trading pet-sitting with a family member or neighbor may also be a good option. My technician stays at our house so often, we really should just move her in. But she would have to bring eight cats, and I think that might be our breaking point!