Pet Sitter Emergencies: What Up With That?

Posted: Feb 5, 2013
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In the years that I have been working emergency medicine I’ve noticed a disproportionate number of emergencies occurring while pets are in the care of a pet sitter. This is not to say that the pet sitters are not doing their job, but if a pet is going to get sick it seems to be more likely to happen when an owner is out of town.

I recently had a black lab come in two days in a row for eating something that he shouldn’t while in the care of his pet sitter. Day one was a pan of brownies; day two was a pack of xylitol gum.

There have been many discussions on the ER floor about why this happens. Are the pet sitters more likely to err on the safe side and bring the patient in? Does the stress of owners leaving and a change in routine make the animals more likely to get sick? Are animals more likely to push boundaries with pet sitters (run a little further into the road, take on its dog park nemesis)? Or are these pet sitters doing something wrong?

We don’t have definitive answer to any of these questions. The answers are likely different for each patient. Generally, we just shake our heads a lot when we hear that the patient has been brought in by a pet sitter. The next thought is that we should never go on vacation without our own pets. Of course, we should go on vacation and our pets will survive. Unfortunately in many of the cases we see, the owners were very optimistic that all would be well with their pet while they were touring Tuscany for 3 weeks, or hiking across South America for the summer. There are contact numbers for when they are in cell phone service but no good plan for care or payment if we are not able to reach the owner. We are often left with our hands tied, or the pet sitter taking on the vet bill until the owner can be reached (bless ‘em).

The take away lesson here is to prepare your pet sitter for the worst (and your tell your clients to do the same). Hopefully, just being prepared will stave off the illness or bad behavior.