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Adventures in pet sitting: How to be a great pet sitter

Posted by Stephanie St. Martin  April 2, 2013 09:13 AM

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When pet owners leave for vacation, business, or a quick family visit, they need to find an ally to help them care for their pets. Enter the pet sitter.

Yes, the pet sitter. A savior to pets and owners alike! So before you jump head over tail into your next pet care job, read these tips on how to be the best pet sitter you can be!

Discuss expectations.
Before you agree to take any pet care job, discuss with the owner what their expectations are and learn their pet's needs. This enables you to make sure that you are qualified. If the pet has medical needs that you aren't comfortable performing, it's better to know now and not when it's too late.

Depending on the pet, you may be required to stay at the owner's home to care for it. Other pets may only require a check-in, clean water, and food. Note: If you are going to stay at the home, be sure to confirm additional details (Will you have your own set of keys? What doors should you use? Is there a doorman? Will their alarm be disarmed? Have they told their neighbors?) for the duration of your pet care job.

Some owners appreciate a daily check-in. Send a photo of their pet via text message. This will let them know you're taking care of their pet and will put a smile on their face!

Schedule a "practice visit" with the owner.
Even if you know the owner and the pet, you should schedule a time to visit their home and conduct a "walk through." You may already know where the toys are and where the food is kept, but "practicing" may provide additional insight. See where extra kitty litter and doggy walk bags are kept. See how the pet behaves when people enter the room.

The owner will also be checking to see how comfortable the pet is with you. If the pet is not comfortable with you, it may be best not to take the job. Don't get discouraged: You want what will be best for the pet. If the pet is anxious, it's best for the owner to find someone who puts their pet at ease.

Ask Questions.
Pet owners know their pets better than anyone. Since you will be watching their "kids," you need to ask questions about their personalities and quirks.
General pet questions include:

  • How old is the pet? (This will help you determine how much energy they have and how much playtime is needed.)

  • What is the pet's history? Is there anything that makes the pet aggravated? (For some rescued animals, certain things cause trauma and anxiety; so know what to expect when it comes to behavior.)

  • How is the pet with kids? How is the pet with other people and animals?

For dogs, some good questions to ask include:

  • How does the dog behave on a walk? Does the dog need space from other dogs and people?

  • How often does the dog need to go out?

  • What commands does the dog know (sit, stay)? Do you have hand signals associated with those commands?

For cats, try to ask:

  • Does the cat have a favorite toy?

  • How often does the litter box need to be changed?

  • Does the cat like to hide?

If you don't ask questions, you may be caught off guard while you are pet sitting. Some dogs pull on their leash (and you'll need a firm grip). Some cats like to hide under the bed, so there's no need for you to panic if you can't find her! These answers can help you better prepare for the job.

Discuss your pay rate.
In terms of fees, do some research and find out what the going rates are in your city. Compare your rates with those of other pet sitters. You can do this on services like Also, it's good to let owners know of your cancellation policy (24 hours is typical).

Get emergency information.
Ask the owner to leave you their cell phone number. Also ask for the phone number of a family member to reach if they are unavailable. Be sure to get the veterinarian's phone number and have the poison control number handy, too. You hopefully won't need to use any of this information, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.

Pet sitting can be a great way to help out a neighbor, friend, or coworker. The more prepared you are, the better the experience will be-for both you and the pet!
Readers - what do you think? As pet owners, what expectations do you have for pet sitters?

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