More Pet Sitters Welcoming Specialty Pets

Analysis by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

specialty pet sitter

Story at-a-glance -

  • From 2016 to 2018, there was a sharp increase in the number of pet sitters caring for all types of pets
  • The percentage of pet sitters caring for fish rose from 61 percent in 2016 to nearly 83 percent in 2018
  • Pet sitters caring for birds rose similarly, from 61 percent to 78.3 percent, while those caring for reptiles and amphibians grew from 39 percent to 61.5 percent
  • Hiring a knowledgeable pet sitter who’s on the lookout for potential problems and knows when they’re occurring and when veterinary attention is needed is essential for the well-being of your specialty pet

While dogs and cats still reign supreme in terms of being the most popular pets in the U.S., a sizeable number of households also have more exotic pets, from fish and guinea pigs to birds, reptiles and horses. Finding someone to care for these animals while you’re traveling can prove to be a challenge, since some pet sitters lack the expertise or desire to care for more unusual pets.

That being said, if you haven’t had luck finding a pet sitter to care for your exotic pet in the past, give it another try. Pet Sitters International (PSI), an educational association for professional pet sitters and dog walkers, has released its 2018 State of the Industry Survey, which reveals a sharp increase in the number of pet sitters caring for all types of pets.

More Pet Sitters Are Caring for Birds, Reptiles, Fish and ‘Pocket’ Pets

If you belong to one of the roughly 3 percent of U.S. households who own birds, the 1.5 percent who own horses1 or the smaller number that own fish, cage pets, reptiles or amphibians, you have more pet sitters at your disposal than in years’ past. According to PSI, the percentage of pet sitters caring for fish rose from 61 percent in 2016 to nearly 83 percent in 2018.2

As for cage pets, including guinea pigs and hamsters, this rose from 57.5 percent in 2016 to nearly 80 percent in 2018. Those caring for birds rose similarly, from 61 percent to 78.3 percent, while those caring for reptiles and amphibians grew from 39 percent to 61.5 percent. Other categories also increased:

  • Livestock, from 26 percent to 38 percent
  • Horses, from 20 percent to 28 percent
  • Exotic pets, from 3 percent to 7.6 percent

“We were happy to see these numbers increase,” Beth Stultz-Hairston, PSI’s vice president of marketing and operations, said in a news release. “While many of our members have long offered services for a variety of pet types, it appears the demand is growing for more pet sitters to make these standard services.”3

Seeking a Sitter for Your Specialty Pet

It’s best not to assume that all pet sitters will know how to care for your specialty pet. Instead, seek one out who specializes in exotic pets (they’re out there!) or at least has experience in their care. For instance, even pocket pets like hamsters and rats need time outside of their habitats to be healthy. Will the sitter spend time with your pet outside of its cage, and will he or she do so in a safe manner?

Birds, too, need a lot of exercise outside of a cage for physical and mental well-being, but when a bird is free in your home there are countless dangers lurking around every corner. A pet sitter coming into your home will need to know that seemingly harmless items in your home, like open doors, running ceiling fans, electrical cords and other pets, can be deadly to birds.

As for reptiles and fish, they require very specific attention to temperature, and changes in lighting may be necessary for their survival. Your pet sitter should also be able to spot signs of boredom or illness in your pet that may not be obvious to someone who’s unfamiliar with such animals.

For example, a lethargic reptile may need more environmental enrichment, while one that suddenly begins to turn his head upward as though he’s gazing at the stars in the sky (known as stargazing), may have a problem with his central nervous system. Hiring a pet sitter who’s on the lookout for potential problems and knows when they’re occurring and when veterinary attention is needed is essential for the well-being of your pet, especially if you’ll be gone for more than a couple of days.

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How to Choose the Right Pet Sitter

Even with the increase in pet sitters for specialty pets, you’ll still narrow your pool of potential sitters considerably when you add an exotic pet to the mix. For this reason, start your search as soon as possible. Pet sitters with good reputations are often booked up well in advance, especially during holidays, and you don’t want to be forced to “settle” based solely on availability.

A good resource may be to ask friends and family for a referral. Your veterinarian may also have a recommendation. At that point, interview potential sitters to find out about their experience and care. Be aware that each pet sitter will define a “visit” differently, with some limiting them to a set length of time (such as 30 minutes a visit) and others using a more fluid definition, such as staying to give pets extra attention if necessary.

You’ll also want to ask for references of past clients, discuss communication (such as whether the sitter will give you daily updates) and find out what will happen if you’re delayed getting home — will the sitter step in to care for your pet until you can return? During the interview, you may also want to let the sitter interact with your pet so you can see how they handle your pet firsthand.

You’ll probably quickly get a sense for how knowledgeable they are regarding your specific pet. Once you’ve chosen a sitter, you can help him or her succeed by providing clear and detailed instructions regarding feeding, medications, emergency contact information (including veterinary information) and any other important care details they’ll need.

Also, be prepared that if you have multiple types of pets, it’s possible you’ll need to hire more than one sitter, as some only care for cats and dogs, while others, like the amphibian enthusiast in the video below, only care for exotics. Therefore, be sure to ask your exotic pet sitter whether they’ll care for your cat and dog, too!

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