If you’re going away on a business trip or holiday that is not going to be pet-friendly then you have two options:
- Put your furkids in a boarding facility
- Get a pet sitter
A pet sitter is the better option because your pets can stay in their comfort zone and enjoy a mostly unchanged routine.
Pet sitters are also the best option if you have a nervous pet or one who doesn’t cope well with change. You being away from home is bad enough, but putting them in kennels may prove too much for them to deal with.
If you are going to go the pet sitter route, once again you have 2 options:
- Ask a friend or family member you trust
- Get in a professional pet sitter
The nice thing about getting a friend or family member to take care of your dogs and/or cats is that they probably know your pets well, your pets are probably comfortable with them and you can trust them in your home. You can also pay them in things like beer, wine and Indian takeaways.
They may not always be available, however, and there’s always the off chance that don’t use the same principles as you or they aren’t even pet-people.
In that case you should have a professional pet sitter that you can rely on.
What services do professional pet sitters provide?
Good pet sitters don’t just come in a few times a day, feed your dogs, and watch your TV. They provide additional services, for example, dog walking, playing with your pets, collecting post, watering the garden and grooming.
Some pet sitters offer pop-in services. They visit your home 2 – 4 times a day to let your pets know that they haven’t been entirely abandoned and to give them food and clean water, and a toilet break. Find out how long these visits are. Some sitters only stay for 15 minutes at a time. If this is the case, you need a dog walker to take your dogs out for a decent period of time. Other sitters may stay with your pets for up to an hour. In this case, they can take your dogs for a walk and do a very good job of keeping your cat company.
Other pet sitters offer live-in services. They stay in your home overnight, providing additional company for your pets and security for your house.
What are the requirements of a good pet sitter?
Good pet sitters should obviously be good with animals. Remember that all the diplomas in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans if they rubs animals the wrong way. This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to have a face-to-face meeting with potential pet sitters at your house. You need to see how your pets respond to the sitter and how the sitter behaves around them.
That’s not to say qualifications aren’t important. Ideally, you want someone has at least a certificate or diploma from a reputable course provider in companion animal training, basic behavior and, preferably, first aid.
It’s also nice if they have a good network of colleagues in animal-related professions. For example, vets for emergencies (if yours isn’t) and qualified behaviorists in case your dog has a crisis while you’re away.
Pet sitters should be properly insured, so they are covered for any eventuality. Some insurance providers have policies specifically for pet sitters. Policies include public liability, professional indemnity, care, custody and control of animals, buildings and property, and business equipment.
Membership to the National Association of Pet Sitters and Dog Walkers (NARPS) is also a good sign.
How to find a good pet sitter
Ask friends for recommendations and if they come up empty, try local trainers, behaviorists, veterinarians, and animal shelters. Look online for private pet sitters and pet sitting companies with a staff capable of sitting all types of animals.
Trust your gut. If you aren’t won over by the website or you think it lacks information, find another. Compile a list of pet sitters based on website information, and narrow it down through telephone interviews. Once again, if you don’t like what you hear, don’t feel compelled to take the process any further. You make your list even shorter by inviting sitters to your home for an interview.
During the visit, pay attention to things like:
- Professionalism which is related to things like punctuality, taking notes about your pets’ lifestyle, health, character, habits, fears, etc.
- How your pets respond to the sitter. Do they want to engage with the sitter or do they shy away. You also need to see if the sitter comfortable with your pets. For example, some people are happy with dogs and cats, but not with rabbits and lizards.
- Does the pet sitter have back up plans in case of personal emergencies, such as illness or car trouble?
- Will there be a written contract that specifically outlines the rates, the pet sitter’s responsibilities, additional services you require (which may affect price), and your obligations.
Also make sure you get references and then make sure that you check them. You wouldn’t trust human children with a stranger without first doing a background check, so why cut corners with your furkids?
It’s a good idea to have a ‘test run’. Ask the pet sitter to take of your kids for a day or even a weekend, while you stay with friends or take the opportunity to visit a spa.
Set your pet sitter up for success
- Keep all of your pet’s food and treats in one place so your sitter doesn’t have to hunt in all your kitchen cupboards. Buy extra supplies – just in case.
- Keep all leads and harnesses and any other special equipment (like muzzles) in an easily accessible place.
- Make sure your pet sitter knows where all your pets’ toys are and which toys are particular favorites.
- If any of your pets is on medication, make sure you fully explain what the sitter needs to do. It’s especially important that you find out if the sitter is completely comfortable with all the processes. For example, putting drops in your dog’s eyes or ears, and popping pills down your cat’s throat. Is she willing to give your diabetic pet insulin injections?
If your pets’ medical needs are complicated, it might be better to find a specialist dog boarding kennel or cattery which is equipped and has the staff qualified to keep your pet healthy.
- Don’t forget to include supplements in your list of instructions. Many pets take things like coconut oil, turmeric, MSM and Ginko Biloba to treat anything from skin conditions and hip dysplasia to cognitive dysfunction. It’s important that pet sitters know which pet gets what.
- Write all of the instructions down and put them up somewhere easily visible. For example, put the instructions for supplements on the cupboard where they are stored, or in the plastic container with all supplements.
- Leave a list of emergency contacts. This should include your veterinarian, and a friend or neighbor who will help out if necessary. Leave a key with a neighbor you trust and ensure your neighbor and your pet sitter have each other’s contact details – just in case.
- Show your pet sitter where the all the important switches are and how to work your alarm system. Write down instructions as a backup, but don’t write down the code.
One of the best things you can do for your pet sitter is also one of the best things you can do for your pet. That is, ensure your dogs and cats (and rabbits) are well socialized and comfortable around strangers. If your pet has any issues, such as separation anxiety or reactivity on lead, make sure your sitter can cope. There are sitters available who are qualified to work with various behavioral problems.
You should also make sure that your pets’ ID tags contain the correct information and that the microchip registry is up to date.
Make arrangements to contact the sitter when you get home. It’s a common courtesy and it gives you the opportunity to thank them for their work. Thanks is always appreciated.
Lay down the law
It’s important for pet sitters to comply with the rules of your house. For example, if your dogs aren’t allowed on your furniture, the sitter needs to make sure they don’t take advantage of mom and dad being away.
If the pet sitter will stay overnight with your dogs and cats, you need to decide whether they can have guests. For example, can your sitter have a couple of friends over for a quiet dinner? Or can their partner stay the night, or can they bring their children over to meet your dogs?
Some pet sitters feel that it isn’t professional to bring their children to work, but you have to consider that there may be an emergency which changes the situation.
You’re probably going to want to know how your dogs and cats are getting on without you. Ensure your sitter knows to check in with you regularly. Apps like Whatsapp enable sitters to send photos or videos of pets to set your mind at ease.
Don’t leave it to the last minute
Bear in mind that pet sitters are in demand, especially the good ones. You need to book their services early. That means if you are going away in December, book in January. However, even that might be too late for some sitters.
You may have better luck booking a pet sitter at the last(ish) minute if you’re travelling out of peak time. But it’s still a good idea to book at least 1 month in advance.
Choosing someone you trust with your pets is a big deal. Be thorough and don’t be afraid to ask probing questions about their qualifications and methods. Remember, you aren’t obligated to hire a pet sitter just because they came to your home for an interview. You have every right to shop around until you find a pet sitter you can trust.