Not sure how much you know about pets, but turtles are generally considered tank pets. They're good at taking a beating, but don't provide much in a group setting since you already have a tank there.
Cats provide 500-ish agility, which is considered the most important buff for Hunters. If you have a Warrior or Death Knight in the group, you may skip the cat pet as they provide the same buff. Pet survivability 101: 1. Growl
Turn off Growl in groups. Growl has a tendency to pull aggro in AOE situations when the group's tank is collecting the mobs. This is likely the primary reason why your pet sometimes takes a dirt nap. 2. Pet stances
Keep the pet on Assist and it'll attack stuff you attack and run back to you when your target is dead. Passive can be used to bring your pet back to you and prevent it from suddenly running off to kill something that hit you.
Here's a "all in one" pet macro I use:
#showtooltip Call Pet 1
/cast [@pet,dead][mod:shift] Revive Pet
/cast [nopet,nomod] Call Pet 1
What is does:
Using this macro will send your pet to attack your current target, or call your pet back to you if the pet is already attacking something. If your pet is dead and visible (corpse), using this macro will revive it. Alternatively, if your pet is dead and not visible (corpse gone), you can hold down Shift and click the macro to revive it.
If your pet has been dismissed, it will call out your 1st pet on the list (change this by changing the number in Call Pet from 1 to whatever). 3. Misdirection
Use Misdirection a lot in groups. With the pet on Assist and Growl turned off, your pet should now survive most encounters as the only real threat left is AOE and pets only take 10% AOE damage. By using Misdirection every AOE pull, you can glue mobs to the tank. Get in the habit of using Misdirection before every AOE pull, provided the ability is ready. Your tank will love you for it.
Here's my Misdirection macro:
/cast [@focus,nodead,help] Misdirection
What it does:
Sets your current target as the focus target, provided you don't already have a focus target. Next time you hit it, it will cast Misdirection on your focus target without you having to switch targets manually.
This allows you to use Misdirection on the tank mid-fight without having to first select the tank and click Misdirection. Get in the habit of using this on the tank when you enter the dungeon to set your focus target and then hitting that macro every AOE pull. 4. Mend Pet
Don't be afraid to pop a Mend Pet if you see your pet is taking damage. The healers will often prioritize group members over their pets (since a dead Hunter despawns the pet), so your pet will die if the healer has to choose between the two of you. If your pet is taking more damage than Mend Pet can fix, call your pet back to you (using either the above pet macro or by clicking Follow or Passive in the pet action bar).
Your pet will survive most AOE stuff that would kill anyone else thanks to the 90% AOE mitigation, but some bosses will apply a DoT on melee or random characters in the fight, which includes your pet, and those DoTs might be strong enough to kill your pet. Summary
When I read your post, the first thing that came to mind was Growl. A lot of Hunters, myself included, forget to turn off Growl when they go from questing to running dungeons. This is the main reason why your pet would suddenly get squished.
If you start using Misdirection and turn off Growl in dungeons, your pet should survive nine out of ten times. Once you master Mend Pet, you'll hardly ever lose your pet.
Oh, and one more thing. Check out Petopia
for detailed information on pets, including a list of pet categories (or families). Ferocity and Cunning pets generally do more damage with the correct pet talent build, but you can build your Tenacity pet to do a lot of damage as well.
As a BM Hunter, I prefer a worm, for instance. They're Tenacity pets, but I built mine for damage dealing and the Burrow ability just makes tanks freak out. I love it. Edited, Dec 20th 2011 5:14pm by Mazra