Death of a pet on your watch

Has anyone ever had to deal with the death of a pet during your sit? I regularly care for an elderly cat and a few old dogs and they’ve all done fine, but I just realized that a sit I did this time last year has lost one of their cats. I’m always horrified to think that I might have to deal with this sooner or later, as every pet owner (temporary or not) does. I realize it would take a lot of communication with the owners, but that doesn’t always mean they’ll be able to cut their trip short right away. My one elderly cat’s owner would almost prefer that I be there when she passes since she’s had to deal with two other pet deaths fairly recently. I would take care of everything for her, of course, but I would feel SO BAD about it! I think my heart would just break in two if a pet died on my watch. Has anyone ever had it happen to them?

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@sbwade - We had a sitting booked in July for an elderly cat but the sit was cancelled as the cat sadly passed away a week before we were due to arrive. As you say, it would have been awful had she died whilst we were there.

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While the passing of a pet is hugely emotional for all concerned, I’d image the HO would feel some amount of comfort knowing their pet had a caring individual with them as they took their last breath. I’ve lost numerous kitties and mourned their passing, but it’s a natural part of having pets in our lives. The timing would be unfortunate, no matter who is present.

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As an owner I wouldn’t feel comfortable leaving with an aging pet that could potentially need to be put down while we’re away. We had a 20 and a half year old cat that we said goodbye to a few months ago. He was still going about his routine but it was evident that there was some discomfort and that he didn’t have the same quality of life. We asked ourselves if we were postponing the inevitable for our sake or his and came to the conclusion that it was only for our sake after consulting with the vet.

The questions we asked ourselves then we would have asked ourselves before leaving on our next trip (December) to make sure we didn’t impose that situation on someone else. I don’t know what it was worth to him but we preferred that we were the ones accompanying him to the end.

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@gchampagne I’m so sorry for your loss! It’s always hard.

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That crossed my mind a few times as well; just recently I looked after a diabetic 16 year old dog and it super stressed me out!!! I would be heartbroken too if a pet would pass away under my watch…

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Hi @sbwade this is a topic not often talked about but is so very important and I’m certain it has come into all of our member’s thoughts, especially where senior pets are involved.

Sadly I have had this heartbreaking experience and as a sitter you are just not focussed on the pet but also supporting the absent human family member who in my situation, were unable to return home.

There was a lot of communication of course and without exception they drew comfort from knowing that their beloved pets were loved and cared for by another human being, in their own home in the same way they would have done.

It was incredibly hard however their loss was so much harder of course as they had to deal with their grief and come to terms with the knowledge that they were not with their pet at the end.

Having a conversation with a pet’s family about speaking to their vet to let them know they will be away, who will be taking care of the pet, even an introduction where possible. But more importantly letting the vet know their wishes in the unlikely event of a life threatening situation, with any animals at any age and to put those wishes in writing, this can help remove decision making from the sitter and place it with the veterinarian, should the owner be out of reach.

Since those very sad experiences I have trained in pet bereavement support and volunteer with a UK charity. For any member, sitter or pet family member, there is help and support available, no one has to go through the loss and grieving alone.

Please feel free to Direct Message me for more details should you need any information or support.

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We were sort of on the other side.
Our first sit was in New Zealand South Island where we bonded with both the cats and the owner. We moved on to the North Island where we accompanied our previous HO while he was looking for a new home. After a lovely visit, we were just in his hostel having a last cup of tea before saying goodbye when he received a call from the current sitters saying that the mother of the other three cats had just been run over. We were all really upset, obviously, but I’m just so pleased that our friend wasn’t on his own and at least we could give him some support.

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This is something I think we all fear but never talk about.
The death of a much loved pet is devastating but not to be there must be unthinkable. As a sitter, we must cope with all the emotions and support. It’s something we all think about but hope never happens.

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I’m wearing both my HO and HS hats on this topic. I first joined as a HO as I had an elderly cat and had a couple of lovely sitters care for her. The last sitters unfortunately had to take her to the vet the day before I arrived home from my holiday. My cat had been in reasonably good health but, whether she fretted I don’t know, because she went downhill in the last couple of days. She was still alive and the vet had kept her comfortable until I arrived where I was able to say goodbye to her and have her put to sleep. I had left clear instructions with my vet which were on record (from a couple of years ago) and explained this to my HS plus taken them to where the vet was but it was still a shock for all of us and I felt so sorry for my HS having to experience this.
As a HS I have looked after several elderly cats and, of course, it is always there in your mind. I ask for clear instructions of the wishes of the HO and now ask for written authorisation in case a trip to the vet is required. In August I cared for a lovely 17 year old cat so it was sad to learn she had had to be put to sleep a couple of weeks ago. Last week I was looking after a 20 year old cat and she was going quite well. One elderly cat I have looked after 3 times with a 4th sit coming up early next year. I do worry about her as she’s quite frail and so very loved by her HO but we do have an excellent relationship and very good communication which is so important in this situation.

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Yes. Sadly I’ve had a couple difficult situations. I always discuss these things with the home owners before they leave to make sure we’re all on the same page since you never know what can happen.

On one two month sit, I was about 2 weeks in when I came downstairs to a blood filled litter box. I took the cat to the vet and it turns out he had advanced kidney cancer and his internal organs were basically swiss cheese. For him it was just a matter of keeping him comfortable until the time came. His mom was in the US (sit was in the UK) but there was other family around to help with decision making. And the night he died, I could tell that was going to be it so I called her son and he came over to stay with us until Bennie died. It was sad but he was an 18+ year old former stray who’d led a long life and he died quickly and without pain. His mom was sad but grateful he wasn’t alone.

Another sit, literally within hours of the home owners leaving their cat completely shattered its leg. The vet’s theory is that he got it stuck in something while out exploring and freaked out when he couldn’t easily get loose. Apparently it’s a really common injury for cats. So I had to wait until they arrived at their hotel in Africa (from Europe) so I could call them to tell them. The vet wanted to amputate (the leg was in like 9 pieces) but they decided to have him repair it. I went to the vet every day to sit with the kitteh and keep him company. He stayed there the whole two weeks they were gone since it would have been difficult to bring him home. He’s doing great. I did another sit for them right before covid started. From that I learned to always confirm where the carrier is because carrying a growling cat through this village after trapping him in a towel covered laundry basket was not the best experience.

The last experience was a couple years ago in spring. I was taking care of a random selection of poultry and the roosters lost their minds. One night they pecked one of the chickens to death so I had to dispose of the body. The next night they attacked some of the ducks. Thankfully the ducks could flee to their pool but I came out in the morning to once-white ducks with blood all over them. It was pretty gorey.

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I had one sit where the very elderly cat was due to be put down the day before I arrived as it had been ill and was 20+ years old. The owner said we could still come and stay to look after the house. Then on the morning of us travelling down we were told the cat had a reprieve and could we continue to look after him. We did this for a week being very mindful he could pass at any time - he survived the week but I heard a week later that the deed had to be done. I made sure we were very clear with the owner about action to take should the elderly cat become unwell or just pass naturally.

Also - found a dead chook this week on a sit - probably murdered by a cockerel! Upsetting but not avoidable. Owners were fine when informed and we had discussed such incidents with them before they left, thank goodness.

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@Provence its such a sad time when we say goodbye to our beloved little ones. They become attached to us in a way that is very difficult to explain to folks that don’t care for, or have their own pets. Their spirit stays with us always, as do the memories of our time together :broken_heart:

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I’m with this 100% - I learned my lesson the hard way.

I went on a trip last summer, just days (less than a week) before we left, our senior dog fell very sick with kidney disease. I had to leave him at the hospital, feeling hopeful that he would recover as he always had (my family was going to assist with picking him up and looking after him). Even though he recovered for a couple of days, it was clear when I got back that it was real this time. It’s almost as if he only got a little better because he wanted to wait for me to say goodbye.
Looking back now, I should have cancelled or postponed my trip and should have ended his suffering sooner. I was in agony the entire time I was away and I felt incredibly guilty for going on vacation during his last few days.

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@Angela-CommunityManager 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.

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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.
tom

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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.

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.

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@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.

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