How to Find the Right Pet Sitter

The enjoyment of a vacation includes feeling comfortable about the care of your pets. Heres how to plan wisely.

You have a wonderful vacation planned: a two-week escapade to the Caribbean after a long year of hard work and stress. Youve been looking forward to it for months, but a nagging problem remains: Who is the best person to take care of Whiskers while youre away? This important decision should depend on your cats personality,


health condition, age and the resources available where you live. Hiring a pet sitter, kenneling your cat or even boarding him with a veterinarian are options for care when you arent home.

Hiring a Sitter. Most cats prefer the status quo, so leaving your cat at home where he feels safe and secure under the care of a reliable pet sitter may be the least stressful option for everyone. A pet sitter will not only care for your cat, but can also water your plants, bring in the newspaper and mail, turn lights on and off and generally make your house look lived in while you are away. Ideally, you can ask a responsible person you know and trust. Sometimes, friends or family you ask to pet sit may even be able to stay at your house to maintain the normal schedules and maximize pet interaction.

But if you simply cant find a reliable person to care for your cat, you can hire a professional pet sitter. Finding the right sitter requires time and effort locating and interviewing potential candidates, so start well in advance of your trip. You can ask your veterinarian or cat-owning friends for a referral to a bonded and insured sitter. If you cant get a recommendation, look in the Yellow Pages. Call and interview potential candidates on the phone, then interview the sitter at your home. A pet sitter should make an initial visit free of charge to meet you and your cat, and to get the necessary care information.

Ask the sitter for a list of references. Find out what experience the sitter has with cats. An appropriate pet sitter will be sensitive to a cats needs and health issues. Make certain he or she visually sees the cat on each visit and notes if the cat uses the litter box and what food the cat has consumed. If possible, you can have the cat sitter call you each day from your home for an update.

Have the sitter visit your cat at least once a day, preferably twice. Often, cat owners assume the cat will do well with a visit only once every two or three days, but infrequent visits can be potentially dangerous in the event your cat becomes ill or missing.

Tell the sitter what brands of food your cat eats, how much and how frequently, and where the food is kept. Leave a list of detailed instructions, and include the phone numbers where you can be reached while youre away, and backup phone numbers of friends and neighbors if she cant reach you (of course, leave the number of your cats veterinarian, as well). Remember, the sitter is not only responsible for your cat but also your house, so make sure she knows whom to contact if any problems arise.

Alert Your Vet. Let your veterinarian know who the sitter is and that she has the authority to bring your cat for treatment in your absence. Some pet owners leave a letter on file with their veterinarians authorizing the sitter to bring kitty if problems arise and saying that the owner will be responsible for charges. In other cases, the sitter may pay the veterinarians bill and request payment from you later. In all cases, make sure the sitter has a service contract outlining the terms of the service and what is to be done that is signed by both of you. Give the sitter a working key, and make sure she gives you a business card so that you can call while you are away to check on your cat.

If your cat requires medication or shots, ask if the sitter is able to administer them. If your cat is acutely ill, you might want to reschedule your trip. If rescheduling is not possible, then its probably best to hospitalize the cat at your veterinarians or be absolutely certain the sitter knows what to look for and wont hesitate to call your veterinarian.

A pet sitter charges by the visit. Expect to pay $10 to $20 per visit, depending on where you live. Schedule a sitter well in advance.

Kenneling Your Cat. Some cats, such as the more laid-back personalities, are good candidates for a boarding kennel. Use the same methods of locating a good one as you would when finding a sitter. The preference is to select a cats-only kennel or one that has separate facilities for cats and dogs because the noise of dogs is very frightening to cats. Call and ask to visit. Visually inspect the facilities. Assess the kennels cleanliness with your nose and eyes. Assess the condition of the other cats. Avoid any facilitiy with sniffling or sneezing cats. Make certain that the kennel does not let the cats intermingle because of the spread of infectious disease.

Look for a cat-savvy kennel owner, one who is pleasant and willing to answer your questions. Observe the individual cages, and make sure there is enough room for the cat to move around. Cages should be made of a sturdy surface that allows for proper cleaning, such as some kind of Formica, hard plastic or stainless steel.

When boarding your cat, take your cats own bed for him to sleep in. And bring your cats food so he doesnt have to make a dietary adjustment. Tell the kennel how much to feed your cat and how often.

If your cat has a medical condition that needs careful supervision, or if he needs medication and is difficult to pill, dont leave him with a sitter or a kennel. If possible, leave him with a veterinarian boarding facility or a trained technician who can oversee the cats condition.

Kennels should ask for proof of vaccinations, so bring your cats health certificates with you. A kennel charges by the day and may cost from $10 for basic services to $40 for more luxury-style facilities. Kennels, too, must be booked well in advance.