By Vicky Guy
When we think of a cat, independence usually comes to mind. Cats in the wild are excellent hunters and know how to protect themselves from the elements. They can even fend off most prey. Our domesticated furry friends on the other hand have grown to depend on us. They still exhibit their animal instincts inside, pouncing on a toy mouse or wrestling with their other animal friends. We provide them with their food, water, and place to use the bathroom.
Cats have also grown use to our companionship. They like to cuddle or sleep with us. Kneading and purring. Science is still unsure why cats display this behavior. I like to think its to show their love and affection. If you have been around cats long enough, you know each one has their own individual personality. You may also know cats can be pretty finicky or picky.
The cat is independent in the sense that they usually like affection on their own terms. Some cats only like one particular person and some love almost everybody. They sleep a lot and will often go hide away somewhere when they don’t want to be bothered. You can put food and water down and they go to the bathroom in a litter box. You don’t need to take them outside several times a day like a dog.
A big question and often one of controversy, is should you leave a cat home alone for days or even a week by themselves? The answer is not really a definite Yes or No. How long is too long? Most veterinarians agree, never to leave a cat alone for more than 36 hours without someone checking in on them.
In the past I didn't have an issue with checking in on a cat every other day. Really never had any incidents and the cats were always fine. I talked to other pet sitters who absolutely refused to do this. I thought maybe they were overreacting. That was until recently.
I was caring for these two cats. It was a 3 day sit, one visit a day. I would go in the mornings after I cared for my dog clients, so late morning. First day all was good. I came the 2nd day and found the 12 year old cat screaming in pain and she couldn't move her back legs. All with in an hour of finding her, contacting client, and getting to emergency vet, she had to be euthanized. Saddle thrombus was the diagnosis. Only 1 percent of cats that get this survive, I couldn't help but wonder how long she was in that state since the time I left the day before?
This was a one time a day visit but imagine if it were every other day. The cat would have been suffering much longer or I would have found her dead. In 14 years, I have never had to go through an experience like this with a clients pet. Clients were 1000 miles away, so that meant I stayed and held the kitty until her last breath. Absolutely heartbreaking.
I now have changed my policy because of this experience. Its quite possible this may never happen again. Its quite possible most cats would be fine with every other day visits. I personally just no longer feel comfortable doing this. When I go out of town now, I will also have someone check on my kitties everyday.
I think we have come a long way from the term “It’s just a cat!”. Cats for many years now, have become our companions and a big part of the family. Its true, they are generally lower maintenance and more independent than dogs but we need to realize that they still depend on us for most of their needs!
The not so fun part about your new puppy, housebreaking or potty training. My husband would argue, it’s called housebreaking, not potty training. He says potty training is for toddlers, not puppies. Call it what you want, the goal is the same, you don’t want your puppy messing inside the house. I am going to give you tips on how to get your puppy going to the bathroom outside in no time.
I have trained my own dogs over the years as well as helped with many clients’ puppies. I will admit when a client doesn’t follow my advice on this topic, I do get a bit frustrated! I want to make it as simple as possible even if it seems anything but.
The number one thing is persistence and well maybe, lots of patience. You need to be persistent of where and when your puppy goes potty. I recommend you dedicate a special area in the yard where you want your puppy to use the bathroom and take her there every time! For the first several weeks, don’t worry about walking your puppy. You do want to use a leash though. This gets your puppy use to having a leash and also gives you control to keep them in their “potty area”.
Initially your puppy needs to know that outside is for bathroom use. So when you take your puppy out, only stay outside until he goes potty, then bring back inside right away. If your puppy starts playing around and not going potty, bring back inside and try again in about 5 to 10 minutes.
You need to look for clues that your puppy has to go potty. If you see them searching and sniffing, that is a good clue. Also take them outside about 10 to 15 minutes after eating or drinking. You may need to adjust this time, if you find they need to go sooner after mealtimes. Also take frequent breaks outside during or after playtime. At first outdoor time will seem excessive but as your puppy ages, they will be able to hold it longer.
I highly recommend crate training. I personally like the metal crates. The reason is you can adjust how much space your puppy has with a divider. You only want enough space for your puppy to stand up and turn around. Dogs generally do not like to potty where they sleep. If your puppy has too much room, you may find they will go in the crate. You can adjust this barrier as your puppy gets bigger. If you have a plastic crate, you can use a box inside to block off part of the crate.
Rule of thumb if your puppy is under 6 months, they should not be in crate for more than 3 or 4 hours. This will mean you for the first few months; you will have to get up in the middle of the night to take them out. If you work, you will need to hire someone to take them out during the day or come home on your lunch break. Puppies are a lot of work at first!
Never use the crate as a punishment. You want your puppy to feel safe and comfortable in their crate. To get them use to it, you can offer a training treat, a special toy, or lots of praise. If you cant keep an eye on them while you are home, you may put them in there, keeping in mind the time restraint. Or you can use a leash in your home, but keep in mind those sharp little razor teeth may chew through it.
When your puppy goes potty outside, praise them in a high pitched voice “good boy/girl!” Or you can offer a training treat. I also like to use phrases when trying to get them to go like “go potty”, “go pee”, “go poop”. Eventually they will associate these words and not waste time going to the bathroom. They know we are out here for business, which may come in handy during a rainstorm or freezing cold weather.
If you should catch your puppy going inside the house, do not start yelling or screaming. A firm “NO!” and take them outside to their spot will do! Never rub their nose in it or physically hit them! All you will be doing is scaring them, so the next time they will just go off and hide to do their business.
Some people like to use training pads or newspaper. I am very much against this! With the exception of toy dogs who may not be able to handle the elements of outside. Using training pads or newspaper is just delaying your pet from going to the bathroom outside. It’s an unnecessary step. This will confuse your pup. They will get use to going on the pads which are inside. Then you want to transition to outside but they are already use to going inside! Doesn’t really make sense.
Some puppies are quick learners and people don’t have much problems housebreaking. Others can take much longer to train. Again the key is persistence and patience. You must have a routine and stick to it. All family members and any help you may have also need to stick to the pups routine.
I recommend getting a puppy in late spring or summer. This will make it much easier for you and your pup to want to go outside, because you will be spending a good amount of time out there the first several weeks. It’s not fun training a pup in a blizzard or below zero temps! When winter does blow in, your pup can have fun enjoying their first snowfall! Hopefully with these tips, they will be housebroken by that time!
When I meet new acquaintances and tell them what my business is, they often get excited followed by many questions. When I first started in 2005, pet care businesses were only around for a few short years. I mean when I first responded to a Help Wanted ad for a Dog Walker, I imagined it was like what I saw in the movies. Someone walking like 8 dogs at once down a beautiful beach boardwalk. Now where I live, we don’t have beaches and I only walk clients individually.
When I tell people I am a dog walker/pet sitter, they assume I just play with puppies and kittens all day. My job is often downplayed or not taken seriously. Though I do get to play with dogs and cats, there is so much more to it! Is my job hard? No and yes!
I am my own boss and can have some flexibility. I make a decent living without having to have a college degree. I get to work with animals, which I love. I meet some awesome people! With that come the downsides, the hard part of the job. It can be mentally and physically exhausting.
I often work 7 days a week, all holidays, and all hours. I have my normal dogs I walk during the week, often sprinkled in with vacation clients. When everyone is excited Friday has arrived, it has no meaning to me. I am working through the weekend. I often have to schedule family time around work time. Makes for not so happy husband and kids. Sure they sometimes ride along with me, just so we can spend some time together. There are moans and groans. I don’t blame them, who wants to spend time in the car?
Then there are family parties and holiday gatherings. I either have to leave early or arrive late. Often missing out on quality time. My 2 youngest children still believe in Santa. Christmas Eve, I often can’t get presents under the tree until 11pm or midnight. Then I have to wake up at 5am to rush off to work, so I can get back home in time for my kids to wake up and see what Santa brought them. Or they have to wait for “Mom to get home”.
Most people who work in this field are very compassionate people, to a fault even. We want to help everyone! We will put all others’ needs before our own. So you also need to have customer service skills. It’s not like Fido is picking up the phone to call you to come care for him. You need to interact with people still and need the skills to do so. I have so many amazing clients and have developed friendships even. I have also encountered the not so ideal client. The person there is absolutely no pleasing or is highly demanding! They sometimes make you question why you are even a pet sitter. You just feel like quitting! It’s even tougher when you absolutely adore their pet! But then I realize as tough as it is, I just have to let this client go. Ending a client relationship for any number of reasons can be quite stressful.
Then there are the pets I care for. Most are well behaved, friendly, cute and cuddly. Occasionally though I encounter the total opposite. Pets that are out of control wild or worse, aggressive. I have been doing this since 2005, and have been bit 5 times. 3 out of the 5 were on accident. Luckily none of them were real serious. I was bit by a Great Dane in the butt, he was protecting his house. He was completely fine with me at the initial consultation. That changed when the owners were away. Another time I was giving this sweet Mastiff a treat, she got my finger on accident. Her tooth went through my finger nail. Knock on wood but I am lucky there have been very little bites. I have encountered quite a few aggressive dogs and cats. I know the warning signs and have been able to prevent being bit.
Sometimes half my visits consist of cleaning up after pets. Dog had diarrhea in the crate or on the carpet. Cat vomit everywhere! Pee on the floor! Scooping litter boxes. Dogs sometimes destroy everything in sight! This will leave less time for playing or walks.
People may think it’s great to be able to enjoy the great outdoors. Sure I love walking on that beautiful picture perfect day but that doesn’t happen daily. I have to endure rain, snow, cold, and extreme heat. Often dogs hate these weather conditions too, so trying to get them out to do their “business” is a huge task. Then wiping paws before they track mud all through the client’s house, which most dogs don’t like.
There are days I just don’t feel well and certainly don’t feel like walking. I just want to lie in bed. I can’t call in sick though. Have to do it! To schedule time off takes a lot of planning and stress. While I am on vacation (rare occasion), the business doesn’t stop. The person I got to help me with clients while I am away will inevitably have some sort of issue. I will also inform all my clients that I am away but somehow they forget. They will need someone last minute, I am 1000 miles away, and my back up already has a full plate.
I put a lot of miles on my vehicle, around 20,000 a year. I constantly need new tires and brakes. I spend a lot in gas. I often eat lunch in my car or don’t eat lunch at all. I basically live in my vehicle! When I am not walking a dog or pet sitting, you can find me in front of my computer doing accounting work, finding ways to market the business, answering emails/texts, and managing my website.
After all this, I then try to find time to spend with my family and my own pets. I need to cook dinner, do laundry, go to my kid’s school functions, help kids with homework, grocery shop, clean my house; the list goes on and on. My husband is a great help but I often feel like I am missing out or I am not being the being the best parent I can be. Sure I think most people that have a demanding job feel this way. That is no comfort though when it is you!
Let’s not forget the hardest part of this business; often I have been caring for these pets since they were very young. I get to watch them grow and build a bond with them. It is so hard when they move away or pass over the rainbow bridge! I truly feel like I have lost my own pet. It is heartbreaking.
After reading all this, you may think "wow she is really complaining! Why is she still in this business?" Well its because I do love what I do. I also want people to know that the reality is there is more to this than just playing with puppies and kittens all day! Honestly most of my clients are not puppies or kittens. They may have been at one time, but they grow up fast! This field is definitely not for everyone; in fact I have seen more pet sitters give up because they just couldn’t sustain this lifestyle for long. Burnout is a huge problem! I have suffered burnout quite a few times over the past 14 years but I work my way through it. This is my livelihood. It is a real job despite of what others may believe! At times it’s so much harder than just going to a 9-5.
I have put my heart and soul into this business! I have made sacrifices in my personal life and financially. I have some really amazing clients! Being able to help someone is the greatest feeling in the world! Walking into a clients home and having a happy dog greet you or a kitty ready for your attention is so worth it!
When you get a cat, you may not think much about their litter box and other supplies. Simple right, get a litter pan, a scooper, and litter. These days there are so many different product choices when it comes to the cat box. It can be overwhelming. You may even by now have found out your cat or cats, can be pretty particular about their bathroom.
I have been a cat owner for 33 years and a professional pet sitter for 14 years. So I have scooped many a cat boxes! I even pet sat for a cat that went pee in the toilet, pretty cool! I have seen many different types of litter boxes, scoopers, and cat litter. So of course I have my preferences on what products I like the best. Before I get into that, I would like to go over a few helpful tips.
As I mentioned, cats can be finicky. If you find your cat is going to the bathroom outside the box, you have some investigating to do. First you want to make sure your cat is not sick, they often will do this to “show” you something is wrong.
If your cat is healthy:
Let’s start with the least.
Scoopers: The flimsy thin cheap plastic scoopers often break mid scoop. My least favorite is the small metal spatula type scooper. Sure they are sturdy and good to unstick litter clump from the side or bottom of the box. But they are usually too small and with no sides, makes scooping a slow process. The clumps you just scooped tend to fall off the sides easily. Included a picture to show you the scooper I am talking about.
Litter Boxes: I am not a fan of the litter boxes that have lids and lock. I do understand their intended purpose especially if you have a dog that likes to “snack”. Again, I like cleaning the litter box to be a relatively quick task. Having to unlock the 4 locks on these boxes, lifting the lid, and finding a place to put the lid to scoop the box is kind of an ordeal. Then lining the lid back up when you’re done and locking all the locks again. If you really must use a lidded boxes, their a better options out there. The ones that just sit on top are good. They even have ones now that are tall and the lid has a hole on top.
Litter pan liners: First off I don’t think these are needed at all, especially if you do daily scooping’s. If your cat has claws (which most do), these are completely a waste as they puncture holes in the liner. So you go to lift it out for easy disposal and the litter falls right out creating a huge mess! I often find these liners don’t stay in place or fit the box well. So then you have cat urine puddled on them.
Litter: There are so many litter choices on the market; it could make your head spin! You have the traditional clay litter, clumping litter, crystals, pine litter, pellets, recycled paper, wheat, corn, and etc. I have personally tried most of them for my own cats. Clients use all different types. My least favorites are the traditional clay, crystals, and any litter that you can’t easily scoop through. Sure the traditional clay is a very economical option but the only good use for it is to clean up an oil spill in your driveway. It doesn’t clump and you can’t scoop out the urine. The crystals make a mess just like any other litters but now you have larger grains all over the floor. It too doesn’t have a great clumping factor and I find it doesn’t stay fresh for long. Most generic clumping litters don’t stay fresh for very long. They are hard to scoop through.
Now what I prefer:
A metal scooper that looks like the plastic ones or a sturdy plastic scooper. The metal ones are best because you can still break loose the hard clumps without the scooper breaking. Now some of these scoopers handles can bend easily after a while, so look for ones with sturdy handles.
Any box without lids. I have seen people make their own using a Rubbermaid tub and cut an opening for their cat. Tall sides help keep litter in. A mat under the box helps but I have realized you will still probably find litter all over the floor. Some people use one of those washing machine trays under their boxes. Kind of keeps the litter in one area. Regardless, keep a broom and dust pan nearby.
Litter: My favorite by far is Tidy Cats Clumping Litter. It’s worth the extra $2 it sometimes cost me over a store brand. If you scoop this every day, you could easily get up to 2 weeks without having to completely change the litter box. My cat’s boxes are in the basement, so once in a while I do forget to scoop for the day. But I don’t find it to be a problem with this litter. My second brand would be Arm & Hammer. I have also used World’s Best Cat Litter. Its okay but I honestly don’t like the smell of it.
A helpful tip to keep in mind is I often see people either put too little litter in the box or way too much. Too little will cause a big mess and make it harder to clean. Too much is like you are digging in a sandbox. That also makes it hard to scoop.
The alternative to all this is you could train your cat to use the toilet but I am guessing not many people have the time or patience for that!