Finding Special Sitters for Special-Needs Pets

Wheelchair-bound dog taking a walk
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Just because your dog has special needs, doesn't mean you can't travel. Follow Dr. Patty Khuly's advice on finding the right sitter.

As anyone whose pet requires a little extra time, attention, work or unique know-how knows, finding a substitute caretaker can be trying. It’s tough work finding someone who knows exactly how to manage the many day-to-day things you undertake on behalf of your beloved pets. More so when your pet has singularly complicated health or behavioral issues.

If you doubt the veracity of my claim, it’s probably because you’ve either lived a charmed pet existence with few special-needs animals in your life… or you’ve never needed to sneak out of town at a moment’s notice with few pet care options at your disposal. 

Just try to find someone who knows how to manage a diabetic pet's hypoglycemic episodes… or a blind pet’s disoriented perambulations… or a geriatric pet's miscellaneous physical requirements. 

Then there are all the behavioral issues to consider. 

Take my household, for example. I’ve got two dogs who need to be separated whenever I'm not around, another whose spinal disease has rendered him largely incontinent and still another whose hydrocephalus means he needs to be diapered whenever he’s indoors. Not an easy bunch. 

So what’s a travel-loving pet owner to do?

Put Them in Good Hands When You're Away

Unfortunately, it’s been my experience that plenty of pet owners whose pets have special needs will outright refuse to leave their homes. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the following solutions to this admittedly troubling problem.

1. Call upon your veterinarian. Even if your veterinarian doesn’t offer boarding (we don’t), most will make an exception for a chronically ill or particularly needy pet (we will). In fact, it’s another way we end up knowing so many of our infirm patients so intimately.

But is it always best to keep your pet at the vet’s? Though, strictly speaking, it might be one of the safest, be aware that many clinics aren't staffed overnight, and it may not always be the most comfortable situation for your pet. Staying at home or in the company of a dedicated sitter may well be more enjoyable.

2. Consider high-end professional boarding facilities. These are a great option if what you want is full-time care. Many will even allow you to log in online and check in on your pets round the clock. But they’re not all created equal. Make sure you do your homework!

It’s always a good idea to interview them. Ask what they’d do in a crisis. Which ER facility do they use? Would they take your pet to your vet or theirs in the event of a nonemergency issue? How well versed are they in your pet’s issues? Do they have a separate area for pets with unique behavioral issues (aggression, for example), or do they commingle them?

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