Making Sitting Safer: Advice for Pet Sitters

Heather Harris, CVT
Veterinary Specialist

While pet sitting, the family is trusting you to keep their animals safe while they are away. Unfortunately, stressful times like when an owner is away might be the very time that a normally docile dog becomes a counter surfer for the first time, grabs, and eats something poisonous. Taking some precautions before the family leaves, and when you first arrive, can help to minimize dangers to the animals in your care.

Have a discussion with the pet owner before your arrival about safety measures in case something goes awry while they are gone. Ask the owner to leave their veterinarian’s contact information in a central location, such as the refrigerator or kitchen counter. Find out where their veterinarian is located in case you need to take an animal to their facility. It is also helpful to have the pet owner write a signed letter giving you permission to take their animals to the veterinary clinic in the event of an emergency where they cannot be reached.

Symptoms of poisoning in pets can include vomiting, diarrhea, drooling, breathing changes, seizures, loss of balance/trouble walking, weakness, collapse, or behavioral changes. It can be difficult to know what’s normal behavior for each animal if you are not accustomed to being around them. Communication with the pet owners about the symptoms you are seeing can be very important.

If you think that a pet ate something toxic, call their veterinarian or the Pet Poison Helpline® before attempting any home remedies. Look through the house for evidence of items that have been knocked over, chewed on, or are out of place. If you need to go to the veterinarian, take the packaging of the product with you for identification.

There are numerous household products that are toxic to animals. Walking through the house when you first arrive to identify and possibly put things that could be hazardous out of paws’ reach can help to avoid some scary situations during your stay with these pets. For example, bottles of medication or supplements can be left out on counters while owners are packing for their trip, which can prove to be too tempting to a dog that is coping with a big change in their household. This is a good time to clear counters and tabletops! Leave a note for the owner if you moved any of their items so that they will know where to find them. This will also help to alert their attention to the fact that the product is toxic to animals, and may help them to avoid an exposure with their pet in the future. Chances are, they will be very grateful for your expertise.

The following infographic details some common items in each area of the household that are poisonous to pets. Taking the time to identify hazards ahead of time can help to prevent injury to the animals in your care. More extensive lists of household toxins are available on the Pet Poison Helpline® website.