Six Things I Look for in a Cat-Sitter


If it’s the holidays, every third person in my neighborhood is cat-sitting. As I write this, I am tasked with caring for the cat who lives downstairs, a sagacious little creature named Chicken, and in return my neighbors will take care of my monsters while I’m off stomping around the Northwest in a couple of weeks.

I’m the sort of person who worries nonstop about my cats when I’m away. This is just an extension of who I am — I worry about everything all of the time. In the past, when I had a landline and an answering machine, I would call my house from vacation for two reasons: 1) If the answering machine picked up, I knew that my house had not exploded in some freak accident, and 2) I would talk a little bit so that the cats would hear my voice, figuring that it might be soothing to them.

I’m sure they were sleeping on the couch, rolling their eyes in their sleep: "Sheesh, lady. You’re interrupting our vacation FROM YOU."

Seriously, though, worrying can disrupt the enjoyment of my vacation, which is why I cherish a good cat-sitter. What makes a good cat-sitter? I have some ideas.

1. Someone who stays at my home

When I’m gone for a long period of time, I like to try to find someone who will not just cat-sit, but house-sit, too. I try to make the deal enticing: food in the fridge, plus beer or wine or coffee or whatever they might like. I try to find someone who might enjoy living in my neighborhood for a few days. I feel so much better when I know someone is at home for long periods with the cats.

2. Someone who checks in frequently

Ideally, I’d like a text or email when the sitter picks up the key — when she lays eyes on the cats for the first time — and then I’d like daily check-ins. I never get so wrapped up in my vacation that I stop thinking about whether Cheetoe is feeling comforted enough or if Caper is getting enough food (she never gets enough food), so a check-in late in the day (a short text is fine) lets me know that all is well and I can sleep easily.

3. Someone who love cats

Someone who likes cats is a much better cat-sitter than someone who is ambivalent or, perhaps, allergic. Cat-sitting isn’t merely checking food and water: It’s hanging out and playing, maybe watching a little TV, and letting them curl up in a lap.

For instance, I love my sister. In a pinch, I know she would check in on the cats if I needed her to. But would she enjoy it? No. Would she hang around? No. What would I come home to? Angry cats who have peed inappropriately and vomited on everything out of anxiety. That wouldn’t be my sister’s fault; that would be my fault for not finding someone to spend some cuddle time with them.

4. Someone who takes photos!

My friend Katie was kind enough to send me photos of my critters during a recent trip away. That made me smile:

5. Someone who updates the kitty-sitting on Facebook/Twitter/Instagram

Hey, why not? It’s just one more way to show that you’re engaging with your friend’s pet.

6. Someone who does what they’re told, not more

Don’t do more than you’re asked to do. I’ve had some well-meaning cat-sitters clean my litter box, though that was not required. Had I intended for them to do this, I would have left instructions and the proper equipment around. As there were no bags around to do the job, one cat-sitter went through cabinets looking for a receptacle. Not that I had weird things in my cabinets, but I could have weird things in my cabinets.

It’s nice to clean up hairballs and a little vomit, but definitely not a requirement. I don’t want anyone to be so grossed out by my cats that they never come back.

Here are a few things I do before I head out of town to make the job easier for my cat-sitter:

  • I leave written instructions near the cat food. I have a couple of different types of foods and a few errant bags of food they won’t eat, so I make sure to leave pretty detailed instructions on what to feed and when.
  • I put out extra bowls of water. I realize the human time my cats will see when I’m away is a couple of hours per day at most, but probably more like 20 minutes. Since no one is around all day to make sure they have water, I just leave some out in various vessels that the cats will find if they run out of their primary source.

  • I make cleaning supplies visible. Again, it is never expected that a hairball or errant poop should be cleaned up, but a fellow cat-owner knows how gross and annoying it is to come home to find a stain on the rug. If they want to clean it, I make it easy for them. Leave out all-purpose cleaner, carpet cleaner, paper towels, and a scrub brush.
  • I leave instructions on how to use the TV. I have remotes for the TV and for the cable. If I want people to hang out, obviously I have to make it easy for them, so I make clear which is which.
  • I get a thank-you gift. I try to leave something in my apartment for my cat-sitter before I leave or give them something after to thank them for putting up with cat shenanigans. It’s that kind of stuff that makes your cat-sitter more likely to be your cat-sitter again and again.

What do you like in a cat-sitter? Let us know in the comments!

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