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Making sure your pet is happy while you're on holidays

We’ve all heard of doggie day care, and if you’ve got a cat, you might have arranged for a moggie minder. But have you ever thought about trying to find a snake sitter? 

There are a lot of loving pet owners in the Nabo community, and like all pet owners, when you go on holidays you want to be sure your pets are having a good time too.

There are more pets than humans in Australia these days – more than 24 million of them – which means during the holidays, millions of Australians just like you face the same dilemma: how do you make sure Fluffy is taken care of while you're away?

Dogs and cats are Australia’s most popular pets, with a survey by Animal Medicines Australia last year finding that 38% of Australian households have at least one dog, while 29% of homes have a cat. Fish, ferrets, spiders, snakes and all the other pets across Australia need loving care when their owners are away too. (For those who are fascinated by figures, fish and birds are the next most popular, there are more than 410,000 lizards, snakes, turtles, frogs and other reptiles, and over half a million small mammals - rabbits, guinea pigs, mice, rats and ferrets.)

Dogs are the most common pets in Nabo homes too – close to 60% of you have a dog, and 31% a cat. Birds, chickens, rabbits and fish are also popular, along with an impressive array of pythons, dragons and lizards, lots of horses and even an alpaca called Alan. One Nabo pet owner made us smile by describing their dog breed as “alien” – yep, pets are definitely individuals!

Dog owners can sometimes take their furry friends with them, but the AMA survey showed that for most pet owners, not being able to take a pet with them on a holiday was the biggest challenge of ownership.

If you’re planning to head off on holidays, here are some top tips for finding a solution that will make you and your pet happy – and putting a safety net in place in case something goes wrong.


KENNEL OR SITTER?

The best solution may depend on what kind of pet you have.

“I think pet sitting at the animal’s own house is generally less stressful, but depending on the boarding kennels and the pet, sometimes boarding is a great experience for the dog. Kind of like going off to camp and meeting new friends! There are always exceptions but generally speaking boarding is a pleasant experience,” Dr David Neck, a veterinary surgeon from Perth and a past vice-president of the Australian Veterinary Association, says.

“Cats generally do very well in boarding. It’s like they are sitting in a protected cave, and food magically arrives at the mouth of the cave twice every day. They usually just chill out and sleep through the experience."


FIND A CARER WHO REALLY CARES

The demand for pet sitting services skyrockets as holidays approach. In our survey this month of Nabo pet owners, while taking your pet with you or using a boarding kennel were popular options for those heading of for the break, more than a third of you said a neighbour, friend or pet sitter would be helping out.

Pawshake – a national online platform that connects pet owners and screened local pet sitters – expects demand to double over the Christmas period.

“It's also a great time to sign up as a pet sitter as there are thousands of pets around the country that need cuddles and care,” says Jess Tanner, the Melbourne Community Manager for Pawshake, proud Nabo user and owner of a black rescue cat called Ben.

While 50% of bookings on Pawshake are for dogs, a vast array of other critters find carers too, including cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, spiders, snakes and other exotic animals.

Pawshake pet carers offer dog walking, home visits, house sitting and boarding, and if you’re away, a Pawshake sitter will send daily updates. Sitters and owners meet in person before a booking is finalised.

Tanner says whether you’re making arrangements with a neighbour or friend, or booking a pet sitter, “it's always best to meet up and have a thorough chat with your sitter or carer before finalising plans.”

“By doing this, you can be clear about your expectations, ask your sitter any questions you may have and be sure they are confident caring for your furry friend."

“Communication is key and a good pet sitter should have a lot of questions to ask you too - so be ready to pass on info about your pet's habits, dietary requirements, favourite games, sleeping patterns, medications if any, toilet routine, regular vet contact details, vaccinations and microchip information. No detail is too small!”

The RSPCA suggests your local RSPCA organisation or vet as a good place to start your search for a carer or pet hotel. Some RSPCA shelters provide boarding services and so do some veterinary practices – or they may be able to recommend a good boarding facility or pet sitter nearby.


HAVE A SAFETY NET

“Many people leave pets at home and rely on the goodwill of neighbours and friends to keep them fed, watered and exercised,” says RSPCA QLD spokesperson Michael Beatty.  But what happens if a carer gets sick, or the animal escapes?

Across Australia, the RSPCA receives thousands of calls every year – especially at holidays – from people reporting abandoned or ill-treated animals.

“The good intentions of neighbours looking out for the welfare of your pet can often lead to unneeded investigation,” Beatty says. Animals can also end up at an RSPCA shelter.

For the past 10 years, RSPCA Queensland has offered a free service within the state called Home Alone, where pet owners going on holidays can register their details, and the carer’s details.

Using Home Alone details, RSPCA QLD can quickly check if there is a care arrangement in place. “We check the system and can see someone is looking after them, and we can check with the owners.”

“If we’ve got concerns,” he says – or if the owners can’t be contacted – “we’ll obviously go and check.”

While the scheme isn’t national, you can do something similar by leaving a card with important details in a prominent position in your home, including your vet’s details and an emergency contact.

You can also download a free card template from the RSPCA to fill out and carry with you, so that if you’re taken ill or in an accident, emergency workers will know you have a pet and who your emergency contact is.

Pawshake’s Jess Tanner also suggests getting an emergency contact number for your pet sitter.

“Be sure to both exchange an emergency contact number - perhaps of a family member or even a neighbour - just in case.”

Dr Neck has another tip.

“Over the holiday period many veterinary clinics and hospitals rely on the after-hours emergency centres, so make certain that number is available too."


MAKE SURE YOUR DETAILS ARE UP TO DATE

If you have moved or changed phone numbers, make sure your details are updated with your vet and, if your animal is chipped, with the relevant microchip register

The bottom line? No matter whether you own a Labrador or a lizard, you want them to be as happy as possible. Finding a good boarding service or sitter, and making sure the right information is in the right hands, will make it a better time for all.

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