Pet owners are busy people with busy lifestyles. We spend time on our pets, hobbies, and family and work responsibilities. Most of us are jetting around the place. Add in the requisite off time for vacation, and a significant amount of time is actually spent away from our furry companions. It’s perfectly fine to relish the opportunity to travel, but it can be guilt-inducing to see our pets look at us with their pleading eyes as we prepare to leave. This is especially true of pandemic pets who have likely never spent a night without their humans.
Luckily, there are ways for you to keep your pet happy while you travel. Some things can be done beforehand, and some can be done while you’re away. The important thing is that you will have to enlist the help of friends and family, or a professional pet sitter. If your friends or family will be taking up the duty of pet sitter, please remember that they won’t have the same skills in pet care as a professional. Be very clear about what you expect and listen to what they say they can do. Try to find a middle ground that works for everyone involved, including your pet.
It’s also possible to put your pet in a pet boarding facility, but that’s an approach that we’d like to avoid, if possible. These tips will focus on making your pet feel loved and cared for even while you’re gone. It’s easier to do that when they’re staying in familiar surroundings.
One of the biggest tips we can give is to prepare your dog for your absence. The best way to do this is to actually leave them behind some of the time! It can be hard to say goodbye to our pets, especially when we don’t have to, but getting them used to you being gone will make your life (and theirs) much easier.
For pandemic pets who have had their humans around 24/7 for all their life, this can be a big change. You don’t have to leave them for very long. Start small, with 30 to 60-minute excursions. Once your pet is comfortable with that, extend it to a couple of hours or maybe even a whole day, from morning to night. Repeat this process for a couple of weeks before your trip so that your pet gets used to you being gone. They should view your leaving as part of the normal routine of their lives.
You also can’t make a big deal out of your leaving. Yes, many pet owners will spend a long time saying goodbye to their pets before they step out of the door. What this tells your pet is that your leaving is a special event, and that they should either get excited or anxious. That’s the exact opposite of our plan to keep them calm and relaxed.
Whenever you leave your pet in someone else’s care, you want your communication to be as clear as possible. Create a detailed manual for your pet so that whoever is taking care of them knows exactly what to do and when to do it. This will also allow you to preserve most of your pet’s normal routine. At the minimum, you must specify:
- Medications to take and when
- Walk schedules and routes
- Any tendencies your friend, family member, or pet sitter should know about
Think about anything your pet does that could surprise your pet sitter. Some pets, such as the Border Collie Kelpie Cross, are full of energy and may want to keep playing the entire day. Others, such as the Shih Tzu, might be asleep for 16 hours straight. You are the one who knows your pet’s habits better than anyone else, so communicate them to the people helping you.
If your pet hasn’t met your pet sitter before, you need to introduce them well before your trip. Give them a chance to get to know each other so that your pet isn’t suspicious of them when they visit. One good tip is to have your pet sitter bring over treats that your pet will only get when the sitter is around. This positively reinforces the idea that the sitter’s arrival is a good thing. If you have the opportunity, have the sitter come by at roughly the same times they would while you’re away.
There are lots of ways to do this, depending on your pet. It can be as simple as leaving one of your used t-shirts in their bed or buying a treat-dispensing toy for them. Some pets also enjoy calming music or an electric fan blowing at them as they sleep. Include these things in your care instructions so your sitter can be prepared to refill treats, play music, or do anything else your pet loves.
Many pets will get bored and curious when left alone for hours at a time, so you’ll have to put away anything that they could get into while they’re at home. Lock doors to rooms they shouldn’t enter, put food containers inside the cupboard, and fence off entire sections of the house if necessary. Stow away or secure things that could get tipped over and broken. When you come home, you want your reunion to be a happy one, not one spoiled by a cracked lamp or spilled snacks.
Leaving your pet when you go on a trip is something many pet owners will have to do at some point. Follow our tips and you can come back to a pet who is happy, healthy, and excited to see you.