Monday, September 12, 2011

What to Look for in a Pet Sitter

By Linda Cole

I'm always happy to pet sit for a friend or neighbor, and it's a responsibility I take very seriously even though I usually do it for free. Finding a good pet sitter should be as important as finding a trustworthy babysitter for your kids. There are some things you need to discuss with a pet sitter whether paid or not, because this person has the keys to your home and the responsibility of caring for your pet while you're away.

We don't have professional pet sitting services in my area. People who need to find a pet sitter have to rely on family, friends or neighbors to help them out. Since I'm not a professional service, I rarely charge to watch someone's pets, especially if they're good friends. I pet sit because I want to help and because they trust me to do what I promised to do.

Pet sitting is more than just running over to someone's house and throwing down some food or rushing through a walk with their dog. You want someone who will spend time with your pet, give him attention and play with him along with trying to maintain the regular schedule your pet is used to. Vacations or family emergencies shouldn't upset your pet with a change in routine just because you're away from home.

I used to take care of a retired friend's cats while they took a yearly Florida vacation during the winter months. I did accept pay for this one because it was usually a three month job in winter, and they lived in the country. Two of their cats had medical issues that required daily medication and this was a challenge because they were outside cats. This is a perfect example of why a pet sitter needs to have a good bond with your pets. Knowing where my friend's cats liked to hang out made it much easier when I had to track them down to give them their medication, and they didn't freak out and run away when they saw me coming. They were as comfortable with me as they were with their owner.

As a pet sitter, it's important to know as much as possible about the pet. Each cat or dog has their own temperament and way of behaving. A pet sitter should be able to read a dog's body language and understand pets. Dogs may not be as eager to please someone who isn't their owner. A pet sitter needs to be relaxed and confident around pets, especially dogs, and your pet should be at ease with them.

When you ask a family member or friend to watch your pet, have them come over so you can discuss the pet's routine, any medications that may be needed, where emergency phone numbers are kept, phone numbers where you can be reached, your vet's name, how much food to give, where it's kept and if treats are allowed. Show them where your pet is likely to hide and any other information that can help them understand your pet better. Is your pet afraid of storms? If you have more than one pet, make sure your pet sitter understands possible behavior issues. Does everyone get along? Are there food issues to be aware of, like food aggression or a preference for wet food over dry food?

Have your pet in the room with you while you discussion the above. Watch to see how the person interacts with them. It is important because most family members or friends are taking care of your pet for free, in most cases, and you want to make sure the intended pet sitter has a genuine and sincere desire to care for your pet and likes being around pets. Non pet-related questions I always ask include: what do I need to know if the weather changes? Should I turn on/off the air conditioner? What windows need to be shut if a storm blows up? Where should I put the mail and newspapers?

Trust, commitment and a sincere desire to want to care for your pets are three very important qualities in a pet sitter wither unpaid or professional. If you take the time to make sure a family member or friend really wants to take care of your pet, you will have peace of mind knowing your dog or cat is well cared for while you're gone. And what's most important is your pet can stay at home where he belongs.

If you have pet sitting services in your area, Julia Williams has some great information on what a professional pet sitter does and what you need to know when hiring a pet sitter.

Photo by Mario Spann

Read more articles by Linda Cole


  1. Those are some really good points in looking for a pet sitter. I am so darn fussy, I just stay home. I do have one person that I trust. But she lives a way away so it is hard for her to come. It is so important to get the right person. She won't leave her animals either. Thanks for this good info.

  2. Great pointers for those who don't have a boarding facility in their area.I prefer to use a professional boarding facility for my dogs. They love it as they get to play with other dogs and dogs are pack animals by nature.

  3. The Rumbleparents are not allowed to go away together without us, but this is a very good article in case they sneak out one day without us...

  4. I wish you lived around here! I'm like Marg and am very picky. I haven't been away in a long time!

  5. this must be pet sitter week lol. I just read a post yesterday that was on LifeWith4Cats that was devoted to the same topic. Valuable tips were mentioned in both of yours and they certainly can't be repeated too often!

  6. Great article, Linda! We are SO picky when it comes to pet sitters. It's a running joke that our incredibly instructions are like a "manifesto." We've found that our pet sitters have always been super appreciative of those details, though, since it helps them "know" our pets better. :)

  7. Evey pet owner must be able to answer this question with a peace of mind. It's always like getting your personal assistant, you'll always get the best.


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