If you're planning a trip and planning to leave your four-legged family member at home with a pet sitter, it can be a little nerve wracking. It's a better option, in my opinion, than boarding your pet at a kennel, because your dog or cat is able to stay in familiar surroundings with little disruption to his daily routine.
In order to reduce the stress level for everyone involved, there are a number of things you can do ahead of time to ensure your pet is well cared for during your absence.
Finding a Reliable, Qualified Pet Sitter
This is the most important step in the process, for obvious reasons.
If you don't have a family member or trusted friend who can care for your pet, ask for recommendations from a neighbor, a co-worker you respect, or even your veterinarian.
Other options are to look online, in your local phone book, and/or visit the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International websites and search for pet sitters in your area.
The Humane Society offers a great list of questions to ask potential pet sitters, including:
- Do you carry commercial liability insurance and are you bonded?
- What training have you completed to be a pet sitter?
- Where will you take my pet in the event of a medical emergency?
- Do you have someone to fill in for you in case you become ill or have some other emergency?
- What services do you provide for pets beyond feeding and walking or litter box scooping? (At a minimum you want to hear that a potential sitter spends time playing with and petting your cat or dog. Other services might be brushing or bathing.)
- Will you provide a written service contract which includes the services and fees we agreed upon? Also, if you need the sitter to stay at your home while you're away, you'll want specific times each day she agrees to be in your home with your pet.
- Can you provide references of other clients who would be willing to talk to me?
Meeting a Prospective Pet Sitter at Your Home
You absolutely want to meet with a potential pet sitter at your home before you sign up for services.
- She should arrive at or a little before the scheduled time – not late.
- She should come prepared to take notes about the specifics of caring for your pet, including your pet's name, the amount of food you feed and supplements you give, any medical problems your pet has, your dog's or cat's personality, fears, habits and routines.
- She should pay careful attention when you show her where your pet eats, the location of the litter box or potty spot outside, and all specifics about food, water, supplements and medications.
- At some point during your visit, the pet sitter should let you know how she makes sure you have returned home as scheduled. Some professional sitters leave a note asking the pet owner to call or text them to let them know they're back.
- You'll also want to see how the prospective sitter interacts with your pet and whether your dog or cat is reasonably comfortable around her.
- If possible, when dealing with a new pet sitter, hire her first for just a weekend getaway. If things go well, you'll feel more confident using her again for a longer absence from home.
Make Things Easy for Your Pet Sitter
The smoother things run for the sitter, the better care your pet will get.
- If you live in a guarded or gated community, make sure your pet sitter has full access to the property so she can come and go easily from your home.
- Even though you discussed the specifics of caring for your pet during your meeting, leave clear written instructions for her and include a local emergency contact if you have one, your own contact information, and the name, phone number and address of your veterinarian.
- Leave pet food and other supplies in one location, and make sure there's some extra just in case you don't make it home on the day you planned.
- When you get home, be diligent about letting your pet sitter know you're back.
One Last Thing: When It Comes to Pet Sitting, Dogs are Not Cats
It's generally far easier to leave a cat at home with daily visits from a sitter than it is to leave a dog under the same circumstances.
Cats are attached first to their territory. A dog's primary attachment is to his people.
Unless you have an unusually independent dog who needs very little daily interaction with you or other family members, I recommend you not leave him alone at home for several days or a week with just a short once or twice a day visit from the sitter. This is especially important if your dog is rarely without human companionship.
If you know someone who is willing to live at your home with your dog while you're away, that's ideal.
Alternatively, if you know someone who is willing and able to temporarily 'adopt' your pet and keep him at their house, I think it's preferable to leaving your dog on his own for most of the day and night for a long period of time.