I have traveled very little in the last 5 years or so. Whenever I have traveled I have gone solo or with friends, and someone has always been home to care for the cats. Part of this has been out of necessity–Crash had too many special needs to be left alone. He was too sick, and required too many feeds and medications to not have someone home with him most of the time. Part of this was also my own anxiety- I was too nervous to leave Crash alone. Then I was too nervous to leave him alone with Sneakers since Sneakers was a little too rambunctious for the old man. After Crash died, I was too anxious about leaving Sneakers alone (this was before Fuzzy George came along) because he would be lonely. Plus there are the ferals to care for.
Well sometimes life happens. There has suddenly been a lot of travel in my life, which has made looking for a pet sitter a top priority for me. Given that I have a high maintenance bunch-Sneakers hides from strangers and Fuzzy George eats all the food–I started looking for a sitter almost immediately when I got home. Thankfully, it looks like I have found a wonderful sitter for my crew and she has no problem caring for the ferals either!
Over the years I have learned you can find a professional cat sitter, someone who, like any tradesman, is insured. You can hire someone who works with animals daily (such as at a veterinarian office or animal shelter) but does pet sitting on the side. Or you can go the route of having a family member or neighbor care for your cats. If you want, you can even have someone “house sit” and live at your house caring for your cats while you are gone. I had no idea there were so many different options!
Finding A Pet Sitter
- First, make sure you start looking for a pet sitter well in advance of when you need to travel.
- Figure out what type of pet sitter you want. Do you want someone who is insured? Someone who is familiar with your cat and/or medical care? Someone who makes pet sitting their living or who does it on the side?
- If you have low maintenance cats, it never hurts to check with good friends, family or neighbors. Someone you know may be willing to check in on your cat to feed and play with them. This can be a great “first job” for kids of a certain age. Plus, your cat may do better with someone she is familiar with already.
- When looking for a pet sitter for the first time, you can ask your veterinarian for references. If you recently got your cat from a shelter, you can try calling the shelter to see if they have any recommendations.
- If you are going the route of professional cat sitter, whom you are not familiar with, ask for references. Anyone can say they are a pet sitter. In the days of Yelp! and thousands of other online review platforms, it should be easy to get references from companies before you hire them.
- Meet your pet sitter before you leave. Several of my co-workers pet sit. They like to go over to their clients house before hand. This helps them get a feel for the cats, learn where all the cats essentials are. If it is a new pet sitter, this also helps you get a feel for them. Does your cat like them? Do they show up on time? Are they attentive? Do they ask questions? If you have an off feeling, listen to it. One of my pet-sitting friends says to always listen to your gut when choosing a pet sitter.
- Discuss your cat’s quirks with the pet sitter. When my sitter comes over in July, she will not see Sneakers. He is terrified of anyone who is not me. The sitter needs to know this, as well as his most common hiding spots. We have discussed different ways to make sure she can check that he is ok (and didn’t sneak out of the house) and to make sure he gets food. I recently did some pet sitting for a cat who gets medication in his food. He recently decided he no longer approves of this and now hides whenever wet food is served. This was really helpful, as it changed the way I did things and assured me I didn’t have to worry when he suddenly disappeared.
- Even if you are having a friend, family member or neighbor watch your cat, have them come over before you leave. Show them where the cat food is kept, where the litter is kept. Go over your feeding routine. Talk about your cat’s favorite toys. Show them your cat’s favorite hiding places. Where is the carrier kept in case of emergency? What do you do with the contents of the scooped litter box? (I cat sat for someone who put it all in one big bag on the back porch until the end of the week so she only had to make one trip to the garbage can)
Preparing For Your Trip
- First, and most obvious, make sure you have all the supplies you will need for your cat while you are gone. Stock up on his favorite foods, make sure there is plenty of litter and all his prescription medications are full.
- Leave detailed directions for your cat sitter. You should discuss this with your sitter before you leave, but it doesn’t hurt to have the key points written down. When does your cat eat? What medications does he get? How frequently?
- I would advise having a list made up ahead of time, so you can print it out for last minute travels. This can be especially helpful if you are working with a pet sitting company that may have multiple sitters.
- Put out your cats favorite foods, medications and treats (if your cat won’t attack them that is). Leave out the cat food lids, etc. too.
- Label everything as clearly as possible. Sure, medications have labels but they can become worn and faded. It is easy to grab the wrong bottle, especially if the bottles look alike. Plus, if you have multiple pets you can make sure the pet sitter knows who gets what medication (or food or treat). It may be helpful to label the medication with the name and the reason for the mead (i.e. Amlodipine-Blood Pressure, Gabapentin- Pain).
- Leave contact information. Leave your contact information and information who to contact in an emergency, should you not be available. This is especially important if you are going out of the country.
- Make sure you leave the information for your veterinarian as well. Give them the name and phone number of your clinic. If there is a particular doctor they see leave the name of the doctor too. You may want to leave the contact information for the kitty emergency room too, just in case something happens when your vet isn’t open.
- Contact your veterinarian. Let them know the dates you are gone and names of your pet sitter(s). Tell them who is authorized to make medical decisions while you are gone, and to what extent (can they authorize an emergency surgery? euthanasia? just treatment to stabilize? Just order medications?)
- You might not think this is necessary but I have seen this be an issue. In the three years I have been at my current clinic I have seen several of our patients come in as medical emergencies while their owners were on vacation. Some were worse off than others, but all required medical attention. We even had one lady bring a cat in to us because she didn’t know where the cats owners took him for regular care.
- You also want to discuss with your pet sitter how payment will work. Will you reimburse them for vet bills should it arise, or will you work out payment with your vets office later? Not all clinics are willing to bill later, even for established clients.
- Give the pet sitter the exact days and times you will be gone. Will they need to come for a visit on the day you return or not?
- Make sure to get their phone number and/or email address so you can reach them if your plans change. You never know when a flight may be delayed due to inclement weather.
- Discuss the important minutiae not related to your cat. Do you have a security alarm? Do any of your doors lock behind you? Does your pet sitter need to watch for a locking gate when taking out the trash? Are there different keys for different doors (especially in apartment buildings!)
- You also want to discuss things like payment with your pet sitter ahead of time. Make sure you are both clear on how many visits a day, and the cost of each visit. Is it $20 a day or $20 per visit?
- Do you need them to feed the fish too? What about water the plants or bring in the mail? Turn a light on at a certain time? Ask if they can do any other small tasks for you, and if it is included in the price.
- Do you want your pet sitter to spend a long time playing with your cat(s) while you are gone or are you more concerned with them just getting food? Be clear with your pet sitter how much time you expect them to spend. Some cats don’t care if there is a human in the house, as long as they get food and a clean litter box.
- If you want your pet sitter to play with the cat(s) or spend some time with them during the day, maybe you want to offer up your tv for them. Cable TV can be an extra bonus for a cat sitter on a tight budget. Show them how the tv works before you leave though!
- You may be able to find a pet sitter to stay at your house if you are gone, if this is preferred. Check with your sitter to see if this is an option. There are many people who do “house sitting” and will stay with your cat(s) at your house while you are gone.
- If you want updates on your cat while you are gone (cell phone cameras are amazing things!) or if you only want to be contacted in the case of an emergency. A co-worker went out of town and her pet sitter sent her a picture and an update every day, because that is what the pet sitter was most comfortable with. My co-worker said it drove her crazy because she was trying to forget about home for a while.