Terribly morbid, I know - but this is something all cat sitters must think about. I hope that you will never have to deal with anything like this but if you do, you need to be prepared!
First things first, when meeting with your human client, be sure to note any sicknesses, ailments or past or present health concerns of their cat. Ask the cat parent to be very honest about their cat’s personality.
Be sure to ask questions like:
- “How is your cat with strangers?”
- “How does your cat act when it isn’t feeling well?”
- “How often does your cat poop? What consistency is it?”
- “How often does your cat throw up? Is it normally food, hairballs, bile?”
Knowing the answers to these questions can help gauge if the kitty isn’t feeling well. For example, my first kitty client on Meowtel was a spry 8 year old floof ball of love. We clicked instantly. I looked forward to our visits because – duh, CATS! – but also because he was so sweet and loving. Every time he heard the key go into the lock, he would either be at the door or in the window meowing. He knew it was time to get food and love!
Mid-way through the reservation, I walked into the apartment and he was nowhere to be found which was incredibly odd. As you can imagine, I panicked. I checked the built-in cupboards, the kitchen cupboards, the bathroom, even behind the shower curtain. My heart dropped. “Could he have gotten out somehow?!” I thought to myself. The answer was no, he could not have, as I checked all of the windows and doors to ensure there was no way to Houdini out of the house. I finally went over to the kitchen table, lifted the tablecloth and found him sitting on a chair. I started talking to him telling him how much he scared me. He wouldn’t come near me at first which I was a red flag that something was off. Finally, he came down to greet me and I scooped him up to hug him. His breathing was shallow but fast. Internally, I was panicking. “This is my first client! He can’t be sick! Oh sh*t! What do I tell his dad?” Externally, I stayed calm and held him. I put my ear to his nose then his chest to see if I could hear any weird noises while he was breathing. It was labored and I could tell something was wrong.
His dad’s preferred method of updates was text message but when it comes to emergencies, use common sense and call! I called his dad; he didn’t answer so I left a calm but urgent voicemail. I followed up immediately with a text asking him to call me back ASAP. While I was waiting for his call, I held the cat telling him he would be ok.
After speaking with his dad, we came to the joint conclusion for me to take him to the vet. I was able to get him into his preferred vet, all thanks to Meowtel’s Vet Authorization forms which had been filled out prior to him leaving (Pro tip: Always require that your client fills these forms out)! My kitty client recently had a bout of bronchitis so I thought perhaps his issue was as simple as a bronchitis flare up or maybe even pneumonia. However, it was actually much worse. After the vet spoke to the owner on the phone, they did some x-rays and ran some tests (Pro tip: Do not make any decisions on your own. It is vital that your human client speaks to the vet, gets the run down of the situation, and approves all procedures and costs. This is not your decision to make)! It turned out, my kitty client had congestive heart failure. I then had to rush the kitty from his vet to the 24hr emergency hospital where he was put on oxygen, stayed overnight, had an echocardiogram and was pumped full of meds. He had a sizeable pocket of fluid around his heart which was affecting his heart function and breathing. Thankfully, he was able to come home the following evening. He had gotten to a point where his breathing had become normal and he was no longer oxygen dependent. As if he hadn’t gone through enough, he had also developed pneumonia. He was sent home with antibiotics, a diuretic to pull the fluid away from his heart and another heart pill, all of which he had to take twice daily.
You may wonder, if I had been watching him for a while, how had I not noticed sooner? It’s because cats are cagey. They hide often hide their pain until they just can’t anymore. In this case, he may not have felt great but until the fluid had built up around his heart to the point that it had, it did not take a physical toll on his little body. I had asked the vet during the visit, “Is there something I missed?” She responded, “Absolutely not. You caught this very early. Had you not sensed something was wrong and hadn’t acted as fast as you did, tomorrow you may have walked into a very different situation.” She then said, “I bet he was acting completely normal yesterday, wasn’t he?” I responded, “He sure was! Today was the first day anything seemed off.” She told me that’s what happens with cats.
Thankfully, after many months of medications, follow up vet appointments and lots of love, my kitty client is healthy. He will never not have congestive heart failure and he will have to be on his heart meds for the rest of his life but he was healthy enough to receive permission from the vet to fly to Puerto Rico with his family for Christmas.
While my human client was very thankful I handled the situation the way that I did, not all scenarios end this way. Sometimes, sadly, a kitty client can pass away while in your care. If this happens, you must immediately notify the kitty’s parents and then immediately notify Meowtel. Do not take matters into your own hands. Do not assume you know what the parents would want to do until you speak with them. There have been instances with other pet sitting services where a sitter actually had a pet cremated before speaking to the parents. Please do not let this happen. Imagine that you were the parent that was away while your pet passed, how would you want the sitter to handle the situation? Always put yourself in the parent’s shoes.
I hope that you never have to endure a situation like either of these but there’s a good chance that you may. The moral of the story is: put the time and effort into really getting to know your clients. If there are any changes in their behavior, tell their parents immediately. It’s up to them to let you know if something seems off but you need to be the one who gives them the information to make the informed decision. Be alert. Be aware. Be communicative. You just may save your kitty client’s life.