Finding someone to care for an exotic pet while you are away can be a real challenge. Many of us have friends and family who are comfortable looking after cats and dogs but they may not be so keen on handling more unusual pets (or their food, depending on the pet). Many areas have pet sitting services but these are often geared towards dogs and cats and finding someone knowledgeable about exotic pets can be tricky. So how does the exotic pet owner go about finding someone to look after their treasured companions?
First, plan ahead. Don't wait until a week before you go away to find someone. It would be best to have someone in mind before you are even planning a trip so that you have options in case you need to get away on short notice.
The kind of pet you have may also determine if you need someone to come into your home or if you can take your pet to a sitter. If it is possible to move your pet and its cage, taking your pet to a boarding facility can be an option depending on where you live. Your veterinarian may also offer short term boarding. Both of these options carry the risk of exposure to animals carrying contagious diseases though, so check on their procedures for isolating sick animals as well as general hygiene and handling protocols. Also, keep in mind that your pets might be significantly stressed by moving them to a place where the routines and noises are different from your home. Vaccinations may be required to be up to date depending on the facility and the type of pet you own.
Sitter Coming into Your Home
If you can find someone you trust to come into your home, your pet can stay in a familiar environment which might be the best option. It can be difficult to find someone you not only trust enough to care for your pets and their particular needs but whom you also trust enough to come into your home while you are gone. If you have a variety of exotic pets, finding someone is all that more challenging!
Professional Pet Sitters
A professional pet sitting service offers several advantages if you can find one that deals with exotic pets. In addition to coming into your home to care for your pets on a daily basis, they will often also do basic "security" measures such as taking in the mail and papers, and rotating lights left on to give your home a lived in look. In addition, a professional pet sitter will be bonded and insured, giving you extra peace of mind. Search for organizations such as The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (US) or Pet Sitters International.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT
Referrals offer a good way to find someone who knows enough about exotics to care for your pet. Some ideas on where to find referrals:
- If you can find (or already belong to) a society or organization related to your type of pet this is a great place to either find someone who shares your interest in exotic pets who can pet sit for you or give you a recommendation for a pet sitter. Finding someone with the same kind of pet is a great option for a pet sitter because you know they will understand the quirks and needs of your pet.
- If you know of someone with the same kind of pet as you ask them what they do when they must be away from home.
- If you have a vet who sees quite a few exotics they may know of someone who offers pet sitting or has experience and would be able to properly care for your pets. If you are lucky enough, someone on your vet's staff may be willing to pet sit for you or your vet offers pet boarding.
- If you have a trusted pet store you frequent, you can ask them if they have someone on their staff who will do pet sitting or if they know of any pet sitters.
Check References and Trust Your Instinct
Once you have found a potential pet sitter you should interview them about their experience, knowledge about your pets, and ask for and carefully check references. Trust your instincts and if you can't find someone who really knows about your specific kind of exotic pet try to gauge how interested they are in learning about any special requirements of your pet. A trial visit so you can see how they interact with your pet can speak volumes about how they will care for your pet while you are away.
Detailed Care Instructions
Once you have found a pet sitter it is a good idea to have a fairly detailed conversation about what they should do in a variety of situations. It is also very important to leave any care information (diet, cleaning, handling, etc.) in writing and make it detailed so nothing gets forgotten or overlooked. I find it helpful to start writing instructions well in advance as you may not think of everything right away. Remember that what is routine to you might be totally new to your sitter so go through your daily routine with your pet and write down what you do so that your instructions are thorough. Leave phone numbers where you can be contacted while you are away if necessary. Perhaps also leave the number of a relative or friend as an alternate contact in case the pet sitter is unable to reach you.
Detailed Instructions in Case of Medical Emergency
Leave a number for your exotics vet. It is also a good idea to call ahead to your vet's office to let them know you will be away, who will be caring for your pet, and to "pre-authorize" emergency treatment if needed. Leave a phone number where you can be contacted with your vet too. Make sure your pet sitter is clear about what you expect to be done if an emergency or natural disaster arises and consider assembling a "go-bag."
Finding a trusted pet sitter can be a stressful part of planning a vacation but finding someone who will care for pets like you do is well worth the effort for your peace of mind while you are away.
Edited by Adrienne Kruzer, RVT