Coping With A Pet Death

@Angela-HeadOfCommunity Thank you! That’s a great resource!

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There are a lot of good points and experiences here. As has been said, it’s not something people like to talk about. But, we take the time at the beginning of every sit to ask the homeowners what their wishes are if something were to happen. This is generally captured by the amount of money they’re willing to spend upfront if we for any reason aren’t able to get ahold of them in an emergency situation.

Like we said, it’s an awkward conversation to have, but we were incredibly grateful that we had the information when we cared for a pet that needed emergency care while the homeowner was off-grid.

We hope no one else has to go through the loss of a pet while sitting, but if you do, know that you’re not alone. There’s many of us sitters on the forum that have been through it.


I sat with a 19 yo bichon frise - the HO let me know of the dog’s age and various ailments - blind, deaf, slow moving, occasional incontinence - but the house had easy to clean terrazzo floors and was in a good location. Lucky, the dog and I spent a lot of time sitting on the back deck overlooking a wooded lakeshore - lots of birds to watch.
We actually talked about what to do if Lucky took a turn and the HO told me that she had already discussed with the vet what to do when the time came. Fortunately that didn’t happen while I was sitting.
Another sit with a pair of labradoodles, a golden doodle and a pair of cats - the ho let me know that one of the l’doodles was ailing and had pretty much stopped eating. I gave him his meds and managed to get him to take some food over the week and he was fairly active. About a week after the sit I heard from the HO that Jasper had been diagnosed with cancer and that he had been put down. I’m happy to have been with him for a week that seemed pretty good.
More recently I was scheduled to sit for my brother with his pup pair - a little mutt and a 10 yo bernese. A few weeks before the sit the bernese fell ill and after about 2 weeks died a natural death. I was prepared to deal with things but fortunately didn’t have to.


Unless the HO’s trip absolutely cannot be rescheduled (e.g., family emergency, a wedding–maybe), I think it’s really unfair to the pet and the sitter to set up a sit when the pet is ailing and/or on its last legs.

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I would like to share my story as a home owner,

A few years ago, I had this terrible year where (among others) a dear colleague and my mother passed away and I also lost my all-time favorite bunny to cancer. The new female bunny I had just adopted and I hadn’t really become friends yet, but she seemed to get along with my male.

So I was just about to travel for my birthday weekend to meet a very dear friend in London. My house sitter was very experienced with rabbits, we clicked the minute she arrived. I got up at the crack of dawn, wanted to say goodbye to the bunnies and found my male lethargic and not willing to eat. I had two options: Not travel and deal with this myself, or leave and trust my sitter to handle this. I traveled. My sitter did all the right things, but bunnies can have blockages in their stomach, and then their bodies collapse very quickly. The vet tried hard to save him, but he couldn’t. It would have happened with or without me being there.

My sitter was in touch throughout the whole time and asked me which decisions to make. She assured me that I had not left her alone with this, but that she was there at the right time and place to support me and let me have this weekend with my dear friend, who is the best company you can wish for when your bunny dies on your birthday. It wasn’t the best trip of my life, but it provided much needed distraction and saved me from sitting at home on my couch crying my eyes out while my sitter was still there. Not Traveling would have just made everything for both of us more miserable.

I bought my sitters gifts from London to thank her and she bought me gifts to comfort me. We exchanged presents like it was Christmas day. There were no hard feelings on both sides, and two years later, she returned to have another worry-free house sit with two happy and healthy bunnies - one she already knew and the other one I had adopted after she left.

So in my opinion, there’s no right or wrong. Sometimes you just have to follow your heart.


@Elke thank you for sharing your story, I’m so sorry for the pain you went through and again thank you for reminding us there are happy ending bunny sits.


I have two elderly (over 15) dog sits coming up. One has local family, the other does not.

Even though I’ve had experience with elderly dogs (my own large-breed mutts each got to age 13) Is there any kind of template for discussing this?

Did I miss a section on the vet page that is included in the housesitter guide?

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Hi @MissChef apologies for the delay on responding to your question …

There is no formal template. The most important aspect of any pet sit is clear and detailed information from the owners regarding their expectations and their pet’s needs, current health, veterinary availability, emergency contacts and in the unlikely event of an emergency, a care plan.

I open a discussion with owners as to their wishes in the unlikely event of an emergency health care situation, which can happen to any pet regardless of age but of course when pets are elderly and possibly with existing issues, the chances are increased,.

I suggest that they advise the vet that they are going to be away and that a sitter will be caring for their pet, I have even been introduced to vets, especially on a long sit.

I suggest letting their vet know their wishes (in writing) in the unlikely event of a life threatening situation … I’m also reassuring and stress that it is unlikely that this will be needed but it’s for everyone’s peace of mind, it also moves the responsibility for any decision making to the professional.

Also there is the consideration of any potential costs associated with unplanned veterinary care. We have had situations where we’ve covered costs with the owner fully reimbursing us on return, other owners have made financial arrangements with their vets.

Sitters have access to the Vet Line as well, which can be invaluable and not just in an emergency.

Whatever works for everyone. The chances that something happens is low and rare but the need to have plans in place will give everyone peace of mind when nothing is left to chance.

Thank you @MissChef and please don’t hesitate ask any other questions.


I wasn’t going to mention this but thinking about it today, I have learned something and this could possibly help other sitters but I hope and pray that no one ever has to go through this

I started a return sit on Tuesday. I spent 2 months with this dog in December/January so it is only a relatively short time since we last met, and it was almost like no time has passed, straight into our old routine. We went to the beach on the Scooter in the evening as normal, walked along the beach, the dog had his swim in the river and as we headed back, I stopped at a beach hut for a small beer – it was hot. The dog wandered off a bit, so I went to get him and put him on the lead. As we headed back to the scooter park, he started to act strangely, trying to poop, but nothing then started shaking. By the time we got to the scooter he had collapsed, and I really thought he was gone, but got up again, panting shaking. I got him water from a stall, but he wasn’t interested. I was in a bit of a panic – on the beach, scooter. So, I called the owner, fortunately, they answered and straight away realized he had eaten poison. They told me to get him to the vet now and sent me their vet location in a screengrab. I did have the vet details, but on a printed page on the table at home. I managed to get a local taxi to agree to take the dog and got the HO to call the vet to be ready. 15 minutes later we were at the vet, trying to get the dog to vomit, but sadly it was too late, he passed away a few minutes later.

It was a terrible experience, and I have spent the last 2 days trying to think where he picked up poison, could I have done anything differently, if I had gone left on the beach, not right, not stopped for a beer…

The one thing I have learned is to have a note of the vet on me, on a card in my wallet or screenshot on my phone. If I hadn’t been able to get a hold of the owners, he would probably have passed on the beach, and although the outcome was awful, that would have been even worse.

I have since learned that at least 10 dogs have now been poisoned in that area in the last few days – some local stray dogs who are fed by local volunteers. This has been an ongoing thing over the years in Bali and has me asking a lot of questions about this island paradise.

The owners have been very understanding, they walked the dog on the same beach regularly, and are allowing me to stay in the house until the end of the sit, which is only a short week this time.


@Petermac we have spoken by DM … we are so terribly sorry that this dear little soul should meet such a tragic ending this must have been heartbreaking for his owners and I know how so terribly sad it has been for you. The one comfort for both him and his family was the love and care you gave him until he passed, your comfort should come from knowing you did all that you could do for him and his family … in life and in passing.

Our thoughts are with you and his family.


Horrible. I’m so sorry. We all need reminders, thank you for yours.

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@Peter I was very sad to read about your experience and the death of the dog, with whom you had formed a close relationship.

We lived in Indonesia for 5 years and unfortunately it’s not uncommon for people to poison dogs. On Java, which is predominantly Muslim, dogs are viewed as « unclean » animals. Most locals don’t want to go anywhere near them. This created a problem for the people who worked in the homes of expats who had dogs. As a result, dogs frequently « disappeared » while their owners were on vacation. Things are a bit better in Bali, which is Hindu. Expats on Java, who had brought their dogs with them, were always on the alert for possible poisonings, etc. As you spend a lot of time in Bali, maybe it would be good to talk with the vet to better understand the risks. As you’re obviously a dog lover, most Indonesians won’t give you a straight answer about dog poisoning. One of the best lessons that I learned during our 8 years in SE Asia is that answers aren’t linear, especially on such a sensitive topic. I hope this makes sense.

Thank you for tip about keeping the vet’s info on us. We plan to go hiking with a dog during a summer sit in Switzerland and I’ve already been thinking of possible risks. Now, I’ll be sure to have the vet’s number in my phone.


@Mary-Kay Thanks for that.
One thing I have noticed recently is the increase in “designer” dogs. The better-off locals, or Jakartans moving to Bali, appear to be more interested in status than the actual dog. Poodles, doodles, Frenchies and golden retrievers are everywhere. The local dogs are getting ignored and abandoned, fed by rescues and volunteers, and unfortunately, poisoning seems to be the local way to deal with this. But poison doesn’t care what dog it attracts.

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@Petermac The trend toward designer dogs is interesting. My first thought is that it’s probably wealthy Chinese Indonesians (non-Muslims). Some of the locals we knew had guard dogs, but they stayed outside. For Muslims, it 's “haraam” (forbidden) to keep a dog indoors. The sight of a dog during prayers is impure because dogs are thought to be “unclean”.

I don’t want to hijack this thread but one last thought I’d like to offer is - please don’t let this experience impact your feelings for the people of Indonesia. Reflect on it, yes. Learn from it. Indonesians are baffled by the way westerners treat their pets, in many cases feeding them better food than local villagers can afford. They’re pragmatic when it comes to survival. If they see the local dogs as a threat, they will get rid of the threat. I’m not saying that it’s right. It’s just that they’re coming at it with very different life experiences than we are.


No, but we have taken care of some very old dogs (over 14 years) with special conditions (blind, brain tumor, damaged spine etc.). We knew that they could drop dead at any moment due to old age, but we have a special love for the grannies of the animal world and the HO obviously was at peace with the possibility of death. It’s more concerning to take care of an animal in a dangerous environment like Turkey. They literally poison dogs there because they are seen as a pest. The HOs told us that they already had several close calls with one of their dogs and their cat got run over by a car a year after our visit. There were also huge poisonous spiders running around.

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Nope! You did everything I would have wanted you to do as an owner. What a sad experience :frowning:


Oh @Petermac that is just so sad. You love the dogs in your care and you knew this one well which makes it even harder to bear. You also love Bali. Mary-Kay has also clearly explained the situation and attitude in Indonesia towards dogs which is hard for Westerners to maybe comprehend.
You looked after that dog so well and it could easily have happened when the owners were walking it there. But that doesn’t stop us from thinking what could I have done different, and the answer, is nothing in this case.
I’ve learnt to include the vet details in my phone contacts for the various owners and it’s come in handy on several occasions.
You’re a wonderful and compassionate sitter who loves dogs and they all are blessed to have the care and love you provide.


@Petermac that is a terrible experience to go through. We feel so bad you had to go through this. Our heartfelt prayers are with you in this difficult time.
We don’t want to think someone will deliberately poison the dog. That is too cruel. Sometimes restaurants will sprinkle rat poison near their trash to keep pests away. In the US rat poison is kept in special sealed containers, but in some countries that’s not the case. We lost one of our cats like that, since the rat poison pellets are attractive to all animals and eating just one, could be deadly.

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So sorry to hear your experience.

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When I owned Ponderosa Pet Crematory in Flagstaff Arizona, I was surprised at the number of animals that passed away while owners were out of town. But interestingly some owners of older pets contacted us ahead of time to know our protocol and leave our information for the sitter.
To sitters: if a pet should pass of course contact the owner. Many cities have pet cremation services that can remove and store the body until owners return. Many veterinarians can also assist with pet aftercare. Sounds rough but try to avoid holding the body at home or burying it in the backyard, unless you and owners agree. This can really be a shock but it happens, and there are professional pet aftercare services in most places.