Adelaide Pet Sitters: What Can Go Wrong

Updated November 29, 2020

In the last 5 years, having someone look after your dog in their own home has become a genuine alternative to using dog boarding kennels. Generally, the change has been a very positive one. However, with new industries always come new challenges.

The dog you see isn’t the only one harmed. In fact, he’s one of a whole string of similar stories I’ve seen and heard recently in Adelaide. Let’s call him ‘X’.

The Story Of X

X’s owner visited several places listed in our guide to Adelaide boarding kennels but wasn’t happy to leave him at any of them. She then heard about pet sitting and thought how great it would be.

She chose a pet sitter from one of the major websites that link dog owners with sitters and made a booking. You can read more about these sites and how to arrange pet sitting here. At least now she could relax knowing her dog could be cared for by someone in a home just like hers.

The pet minder picked up X from his home and everything seemed OK. Warning bells only started ringing when the owner was sent pictures showing lots of other dogs in the same yard. It seemed that X was being housed with five dogs, none as small as hers. It was too late to back out now, but she was reassured it would all be OK.

What Went Wrong

Later in her holiday, she emailed to see how X was going. Further photos were sent showing that X was looking a bit thin but when she asked she was told that everything was going well.

thin underweight dog

The photos show X within 24 hours of collection. He is critically thin, at a body condition score of just 1 out of 5. This can’t just happen overnight. His owner also noticed that he was weak and unable to jump up like he used to and that he had a mild diarrhoea.

There are only three possible explanations for what happened while X was at the dog sitter:

  1. Feeding was poorly supervised so that X’s food was eaten by other dogs
  2. He was highly anxious, leading to weight loss and poor appetite
  3. He had, or acquired an illness during his stay

We’ll never know the truth, but you’ll be relieved to know that with individual attention and veterinary care he’s making a full recovery.

Is The Pet Sitter To Blame?

Yes. No matter what the cause, this is unacceptable. All three explanations needed and lacked the correct response.

  1. Feeding should always be separate to prevent fighting and stealing and to ensure each dog is healthy enough to eat
  2. Anxiety should be recognised and the appropriate steps taken
  3. Sickness should be identified and a vet visit made

Why Dog Sitting Can Be A Problem

The are many, many good and kind dog sitters but we are seeing and hearing about more and more problems. It reminds me of the gold rush we saw into puppy farming 10 to 20 years ago.

Lack Of Regulation

Most of the time no one (including their own agency) has physically been to a dog sitter’s premises to check on their standards. Essentially, it’s a trust-based system and that works OK most of the time. However, unless there is a complaint, it’s unlikely that anyone will know what is going on.

Lack Of Infrastructure

Animal pens are very expensive, as I know only too painfully from building our new clinic. Additionally, the last thing most dog owners want is to see their dog penned even at night. However, without pens, dogs can’t escape other more aggressive or assertive dogs and infection control is useless. That’s probably why we are seeing some dogs coming out of pet sitters with:

  • Diarrhoeas and respiratory infections
  • Suspected food stealing
  • Changed personalities

Lack Of Expertise

X’s case highlights either an ignorance of basic dog care or a callous disregard. I hope it’s the former. Either way, it’s too easy for anyone to set up as a pet sitter and then it’s buyer beware.

A lack of expertise can be any of the following:

  • Recognising signs of stress
  • Avoiding triggers for conflict
  • Knowing what illness looks like
  • Maintaining a safe and secure yard and house

Are you getting the feeling that there’s an incredible difference in the pet world between appearances and reality? Too right there is. Now read two more examples:

If you run a pet sitter agency, dog kennel or want to talk about recent experiences with dog or house sitting, feel free to leave a comment expressing your views below.

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By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. Meet his team here.

2 Replies to “Adelaide Pet Sitters: What Can Go Wrong”

  1. Thank you for the article. Now I am concerned about what to do!
    My husband and I are booked to go overseas for 7 weeks over the Christmas period and we were hoping to have a sitter at our house to look after our dog and cat.
    Is this a safe option and what should we be looking for in an animal/house sitter?
    Any recommendations.

    1. Hi Michelle. The best I can say has been said in this article and the companion article about choosing a pet sitter which there is a link for above. Like many informal internet-based industries, it is unregulated and relies on trust. That means there are excellent pet sitters and also some very dodgy ones. You just have to go in with your eyes open

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