It happens — we have to travel or leave our cats for a few days or a few weeks. Personally, I love traveling, except for this little fact. When you’re far away from your cats, the last thing you want is to be worrying about their care. Chances are you may need to ask someone (professional or not) to serve as a cat sitter. You could board your cats, but this is often expensive. My vet says — and my experience bears out — that many cats do better at home than in a kennel.
You might live in an area where professional pet sitters are plentiful, or like me you may need to rely upon the goodness of a trusted friend or neighbor. Whatever the case, here are some characteristics of a quality cat sitter. (Here are further tips on cat care when you leave town.) For the purposes of this article, “cat sitter” means anyone watching your cats — whether they’re a credentialed professional or whether they’re a friend, relative, or neighbor.
A good cat watcher should care about the details (and you should be explicit and clear in explaining the details of your cats’ care while you’re gone). Does your cat need medications or special care while you’re gone? Make sure that the instructions are clear to you both. Make sure that the cat sitter cares enough about the details so that the procedures will get carried out correctly. If it’s crucial that your cat gets medication at 2 p.m. daily, for example, the cat sitter should be prepared to carry that out. Notice whether the person blows off the details or seems interested and concerned. That’s a good starting place.
This may sound crazy, but I know of two instances where people enlisted friends to check on their cats. You guessed it — in both cases, these cat sitters “forgot” to check in for a few days. In one case, the cat suffered serious medical decline. You don’t want this to happen. We’re all busy, but there’s no excuse for this. Make sure the person you’re enlisting is organized and not apt to “forget” such an important commitment.
Your chosen cat sitter should ideally love cats. He or she should be adept at working with all kinds of cats — the silent shy ones, the obnoxious ones, or the cat that may be a little aloof, for example. Ideally, you’ll be able to use a person who is good at reading cat body language and approaching each cat on the cat’s terms. Observe the person with your cats — it’s likely you’re highly tuned into your cats and you’ll be able to pick up on whether the person will or won’t be a good fit.
A good cat sitter should understand the nuances of cats and be able to notice when things are okay and when things may be a little off. This kind of knowledge often comes from years of working with and observing cats. Is the cat acting strange? Crying in a new way? Sitting or moving in an obviously uncomfortable way? Perhaps drinking too much, or not enough? Not eating? An experienced cat person has radar for these types of things. It could be nothing, but you don’t want to take a chance. If I had to pick between two friends to watch my cats, I’d pick the friend most interested in and knowledgeable about cats.
This is the hallmark of a good animal watcher — they think outside of the box and ask you to provide information you may have glossed over.
Do you really want someone you’re not sure you trust ambling through your home or apartment? Be sure you can trust the person — you don’t want to be worrying about the security of your place on top of worrying about your cats.
If you’re lucky enough to be able to employ a good professional cat sitter, check their references. Ask about their professional affiliations. Are they a member of Pet Sitters International, for example? Are they bonded? Insured? Are their customers happy? Find out what you can! Get educated about credentialing — check out the Pet Sitters International link above to see what’s involved in being a professional pet sitter.
Finally, if you’re using a friend, consider what you can do in return! Offer to watch their pets when they travel or bring them a gift from your travels. A good cat sitter is priceless.
What are your experiences with cat sitters, professional or not? What do you look for in a cat sitter? What do you worry about when you travel? Share your thoughts in comments.