Hiring a Professional Cat Sitter: What You Need to Know

hiring-a-cat-sitter

I consider my cat sitter one of the most important people in my life. After all, she’s in charge of Allegra and Ruby when I can’t be there to care for them – what job could be more important? I’m fortunate that my cat sitter is also a close friend. My girls love Renée – Allegra probably a little more than Ruby, who sometimes gives Renée a bit of that “you’re not my mom” attitude… The peace of mind I feel, knowing that the girls are in the best possible hands while I’m away, is priceless.

I’ve also been fortunate that I’ve never had to hire a cold sitter “cold.” My cat sitters have always been friends, or were referred to me by a trusted friend. I realize that not everyone is that lucky, and hiring a cat sitter can be a daunting task. After all, you will trust this person not just with your precious cats, but also with your home.

Beware of pet sitter directories and apps

I’ve become very concerned lately with the emergence of more and more “pet sitter referral” services and apps. These services like to bill themselves as kind of an Uber for dogs and cats. They’re usually started by tech companies and investors with no pet care background. They may seem convenient – hire a cat sitter with the click of a few buttons, pay for the services online, schedule at a moment’s notice – but it’s not very clear how they screen the sitters in their network. When I recently spent some time poking around one of these directories, some of the qualifications listed for sitters were “I have always loved cats and dogs.” Would you trust your cats to a stranger with those qualifications?

While some of these services and apps offer insurance, many don’t. Professional cat sitters are bonded and insured. Additionally, these types of directories undercut the fees of professional pet sitters. They can afford to charge less – often half of what a professional sitter would charge – due to sheer volume, and due to the advertising that often supports their websites. “Many of the horror stories about pet sitters that you hear about on the news stem from people using these apps,” says Jill Rose, owner of Ally McPets Pet Sitting and Dog Walking in Redondo Beach, CA. While she acknowledges that not every experience with these services is negative, she’s concerned that many pets will be put in bad situations due to the lack of experience of the sitters listed. “It could just be a neighbor kid who wants to make a few bucks,” says Jill.

Hire a professional cat sitter

Unless you have a trusted friend or family member who can care for your cats while you’re away from home, hiring a professional cat sitter is your best option. When hiring a sitter, consider the following:

  • What kind of training and/or experience does the sitter have?
  • Will the sitter be able to recognize and deal with medical emergencies?
  • Will the sitter be able to deal with shy or aggressive cats?
  • Does she present herself in a professional manner?
  • Does she have a business license and insurance?
  • Does she present a service contract that addresses fees?
  • How long has she been in business?
  • Does she have a back up sitter if something happens to her?
  • For larger cat sitting services: will your cat always see the same sitter?
  • Does the cat sitter have contingency plans for inclement weather or natural disasters?
  • Is the cat sitter knowledgeable about basic first aid and general cat health issues?
  • Is your cat sitter a cat person? You’d be surprised how many pet sitters aren’t that good with cats.
  • How does your cat respond to the cat sitter at the first meeting?
  • How does the cat sitter interact with your cat? One of my cat sitters showed up for the initial consultation with a peacock feather in one hand, and a laser pointer in her pocket. I knew right away that she “got” cats.
  • Does the cat sitter seem to want to learn as much as she possibly can about your cats? This includes eating habits, play and sleeping habits, health issues, personality, hiding places, and more.
  • Ask some “what if” questions. What would the cat sitter do if she couldn’t find your cat? What would she do if there was a medical emergency?

Ask for references

Ask to speak to other clients of any sitter you consider hiring. Don’t just rely on testimonials on a website. Ask if the sitter belongs to any professional organizations. Membership in a professional organization may indicate a higher level of professional excellence, but keep in mind that most membership organizations don’t screen for quality and accept members simply for paying an annual membership fee.

Finding a local cat sitter

Pet Sitters International, the world’s leading educational organization for professional pet sitters, offers the largest online directory for professional pet sitters.

Initial meeting with a potential cat sitter

I believe that the two most important aspects of choosing a cat sitter are how your cat reacts to the sitter at the initial meeting, and your gut feeling about the interaction between the sitter and your cat, and between you and the sitter. If there is even a smidgen of a doubt in your mind about a potential sitter, keep looking. The right person for you and your cat is out there.

Do you have a cat sitter you love? How did you find him or her?

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36 Comments on Hiring a Professional Cat Sitter: What You Need to Know

  1. donnad
    June 2, 2017 at 10:07 am (6 months ago)

    We used to ask friends, but one time we asked a friend, who said she would happily take care of our two cats for the four days we were gone, but she didn’t. It turns out we left on a Thursday morning, she was supposed to come by Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and we would return on Monday. AS it turns out, we got home on Monday and she and her children were camped out on the couch watching TV. The cats had not yet been fed, the litterboxes had not been scooped all weekend. She offhandedly commented that she hadn’t been able to make it over until Monday. So my cats went without food and fresh water, and had filthy litterboxes from Thursday to Monday. And then it’s Monday, and she’s camped on the couch watching TV, when the litterboxes haven’t been cleaned and the cats haven’t been fed since Thursday. Needless to say she was never asked to take care of our cats again.

    The next time we needed a cat sitter I asked my vet. It turns out one of the vet techs has a side business as a pet sitter. I now have six cats and all of them like her or at least tolerate her, they are cats afterall. She comes twice a day to feed them and she scoops the boxes every day. One of my previous cats need insulin every day, and she would take care of that too at no extra charge. I would not trade her for the world.

    A good way to find a pet sitter, ask your vet to recommend one. Often someone who actually works in the office will be happy to pet sit for the extra cash, and you already know they must like animals to work at a vet clinic.

    Reply
  2. Kirsten
    June 2, 2017 at 8:10 am (6 months ago)

    I don’t think it’s fair to assume that “non-professional” sitters or sitters run through a website are automatically inferior. In fact, as Harry’s post at the top of the page shows, the issue is whether the individual is competent and trustworthy or not, not how they work.
    As I only accept bookings through the Cat in a Flat website,I am insured. I provide every client with a contract detailing how many visits we have agreed and what the rates are – and as clients pay before the first visit, there’s no opportunity for me to sneakily raise my rates (although of course I wouldn’t).
    I like to ask lots of questions when I first meet the client and the cat, and if there’s anything I’m not sure of once the booking starts, I ask. For example, I was sitting for a gorgeous boy over new year, and realised I didn’t know how he reacts to fireworks, so I messaged his people and offered to spend Hogmanay sitting in with him if he was likely to be distressed. As it turned out, they said he’d be fine, so I spent Hogmanay watching my own cat sleep through fireworks.
    I only accept bookings within an easy walking distance so inclement weather and natural disasters aren’t a problem.
    The point about how the sitter interacts with your cat is also very important. I recently met with another sitter I was booking to look after my cat, and within a few minutes of her saying hello to him, he was purring like a Rolls-Royce engine, rolling on his back on the floor, and drooling, and he happily curled up on her knee. I ended up not going away, but if I had, I would have been confident that she would have looked after him very well.
    I would also suggest asking if your potential sitter has pets of their own, because if they do, they’ll understand the anxiety you have about leaving them!

    Reply
  3. Harry Ennis
    May 28, 2017 at 7:37 pm (6 months ago)

    I was going away once and I thought it was best to leave my cats at home thinking they’d be more comfortable. I found a “professional” house and pet sitting business but just had a gut feeling about the guy – owner of the company when I met him. He just appeared to be a bit too confident on the verge of arrogance to me but there was any others to chose from so I decided to try it out. I have 3 cats with very different personalities and he was originally booked to come in once/day but told him if he needed to come in more often to just do it and I was authorizing up to 3 visits per day, if he needed more he just had to call or email me – my number was local so it was easy to reach me. I told him my male cat is very social and craves attention and loves everyone. I checked in with him several times while away and was told all was well and he only needed to come in once/day. When I arrived at home about 10 days later, I have a small 1 bedroom condo, I could smell cat pee when I opened my door. My entire bed was drenched, soaked in cat pee and there were a couple of poops as well. I was so upset because I shared with him that my social male also had crystals and the only time he peed outside the litter was when he had an episode and the other 2 never have. This had to be going on the whole time I was away – we cleaned it up and he didn’t do a thing once we were home. I figured out in the end it wasn’t crystals, thank god because he probably wouldn’t have survived, but he was missing us and craving attention. I checked my security system logs and discovered he was only here for about 5 minutes each time so he got absolutely no attention at all and I think this is why he was using the bed for his litter. The pet sitter said he didn’t notice anything which I just can’t understand that because you could smell it as soon as you opened the door and you can see it as well on the bed. Since then, I now take them to a cats only b & b and they seem to be more happy about this since they get much more attention and out times (within the facility). Moral of the story is to trust your guy because I also inadvertently found out his 12 year old daughter was doing the service too. Would never recommend or use this company again.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 29, 2017 at 5:46 am (6 months ago)

      What an awful experience, Harry, and yes, a testament to trusting your gut. I’m so sorry you and your cat had to go through that.

      Reply
      • Harry Ennis
        May 29, 2017 at 7:27 am (6 months ago)

        Hi Ingrid, Thanks but it was not your fault! If, as your article had stated, if I had just trusted my gut I would have never booked him! Sometimes when we can’t pinpoint something concrete we tend to think we are wrong but usually are not! When I checked in when I returned I asked him if he noticed if everything was OK, if they were using the litter, etc and he told me everything was 100%. I just felt very guilty my poor little boy had to go through that and like I said once we were home we never noticed anything else!

        Reply
        • Ingrid
          May 29, 2017 at 7:57 am (6 months ago)

          I didn’t read your comment to mean it was my fault, Harry! 🙂 I was simply re-emphasizing the point I made about gut instinct being important. Thank goodness your boy was fine once you got home.

          Reply
      • Aldona
        May 29, 2017 at 9:36 am (6 months ago)

        Oh my goodness! That is horrible! Yes, I think everyone should trust their gut when it comes to someone taking care of their babies. I have heard similar horror stories from some clients, and they are very wary about hiring a sitter now (and they let me know just how wary they are up front). I’m glad your kitty ended up not having crystals though – that could have been a very bad situation!

        Reply
  4. Louise K.
    May 24, 2017 at 10:57 pm (6 months ago)

    I used to have a neighbor who would come over and feed the cats, but she moved. Currently, I board my cats at the vet. It’s not ideal, but I know they’re safe and cared for. My older cat has medical issues, so if something comes up the vets are right there.

    Reply
  5. Maureen
    May 24, 2017 at 10:39 pm (6 months ago)

    I used to be a Pet Sitter. I had contracts, I was licensed& insured . I had great clients and to this day I keep in touch with some of them. Pet Sitting is a profession and it disturbs me that these business’s are out there . I hope people check references and do expect some knowledge and a professional attitude.. If hiring someone you don’t know well please don’t be casual about it.

    Reply
  6. Shannon Cole
    May 24, 2017 at 9:40 pm (6 months ago)

    Great article. I’ve been a professional pet sitter for 20 years. Lots of great points made. However, in terms of pet sitters International, anybody can join PSI if they pay the membership fee. Doesn’t necessarily mean they are a professional pet sitter. You are paying for the membership and the rights to use the PSI logo. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great starting point for people just starting out as pet sitters. But being a member does not make you a professional. There are lots of other credentials that qualify a person as a professional. Such as experience, First Aid training, medical training in veterinary medicine (such as a vet tech or vet assistant), being bonded and insured, references Etc.

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 25, 2017 at 5:27 am (6 months ago)

      I’m pointing this out in my article, Sharon – I realize that membership in PSI is not necessarily an indicator of quality.

      Reply
  7. Robin L. Coxon
    May 24, 2017 at 8:07 pm (6 months ago)

    Thank you for this very informative information. I have a question concerning kittens born to a feral mother. We have a mother feral cat that has given birth to four kittens in our garage. We have been leaving food and water for all of them. My question is at what age should we try to trap them to try and get them somewhere where they can be adopted and neutered eventually? We would like to take one of the kittens in to our house but not sure when is the advisable time. Can you share some knowledge on the subject?

    Reply
    • Louise K.
      May 24, 2017 at 10:54 pm (6 months ago)

      Robin: Ingrid will probably give you a more educated answer, but I do know that there is a small window of time in which kittens need human contact in order to be tamed. If you wait too long, it’ll be too late and they may remain feral. Google “socializing feral kittens” and there are several reputable organizations that have articles about this.
      Good for you for wanting to help these cats, and the best of luck!

      Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 25, 2017 at 5:28 am (6 months ago)

      Alley Cat Allies has a wealth of information about this topic on their website, Robin.

      Reply
  8. Sue Brandes
    May 24, 2017 at 4:56 pm (6 months ago)

    Thanks for the post.

    Reply
  9. Lynn
    May 24, 2017 at 4:46 pm (6 months ago)

    Yes, this is a vital article, we would never just choose someone from a pet sitter app! We’ve only used family members or a best friend we know very well..You can’t trust anyone to come into your home and be with your kitties..We’ve seen enough horror stories about seemingly “nice” people who then, abuse animals, even at grooming stations…be very cautious when you leave your kitties alone with a caregiver..

    Reply
  10. Nora
    May 24, 2017 at 2:57 pm (6 months ago)

    I have a cat sitter that I trust, but she costs $66.00 a day. Hence my vacations are always staycations.

    Reply
  11. Carolyn Sturgill
    May 24, 2017 at 1:39 pm (6 months ago)

    While most of your advice was absolutely spot on, one of the requirements went against what I recommend as a cat sitter. Please don’t decide if a sitter will be a good fit based upon the cat reaction at the time of first meeting. Many cats won’t come out for the consultation, and choose to either hide or observe from a safe place. That’s fine, and absolutely normal. I tell kitty clients to always leave the cat be and not feel embarrassed if they’re not given to meeting me that day. One main reason is that I don’t want the cat to associate the sight of me with that day they got dragged out from under the bed by their hind legs. They’ll come out when they’re ready, honest! 🙂 Otherwise, this is a great article and I’ll be sharing it — adding one more caveat: Security cameras are a great way to make sure your cat sitter is doing what you’re paying them to do. 😉

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 24, 2017 at 2:19 pm (6 months ago)

      I absolutely agree that potential clients shouldn’t force their cats to interact with the sitter. If I had one of those shy cats, and if I found that I had a good rapport with a potential sitter after the initial meeting even though kitty might not have made an appearance, I’d probably have him/her come over for a couple of additional meetings (I’d pay them for their time, of course.)

      As for your suggestion of security cameras: I’ve often wondered how pet sitters feel about those cameras! I guess I trust my cat sitter so completely, it would almost feel like a violation of that trust to monitor via a camera, but I can see their place, especially with a new sitter.

      Reply
      • Carolyn Sturgill
        May 24, 2017 at 4:50 pm (6 months ago)

        You’re our favorite kind of client, Ingrid! A thoughtful and excellent cat owner. 🙂 Many pet sitters hate cameras, but I wonder if they really just hate wondering if they look foolish or fat or dressed ridiculously while playing with client pets. I frequently have appearance paranoia, so I understand that. I view cameras not just as a way for clients to keep a watchful eye on personnel, pets and their homes, but also a way for them to get a sneak peek into what their pets are up to while they’re away. I don’t mind if a client has cameras, but the ones that move spook me a good bit. 😀 Thanks very much for this article again, it made me feel good reading it and I can imagine your sitter is over the moon! 🙂

        Reply
        • Corinne
          May 24, 2017 at 5:32 pm (6 months ago)

          We have security cameras in and outside the house. Without them you have no idea what people will do who are hired to care for your pet. Yrs ago we hired 2 women and they were specifically told not to let the dogs outside and leave them. One of ours had figured out how to open the gate so we told them that. After vacation a neighbor came over and asked if we had been away. I said yes…why? Well she thought we were on vacation because our dogs were out for hours barking. I was so angry, the sitters disobeyed us and put our dogs in danger in addition to annoying neighbors. I would never had thought they would do that and they seemed trustworthy etc. If a sitter has an issue with cameras I’d wonder what they were hiding!

          Reply
        • Aldona Birmantas
          May 24, 2017 at 9:40 pm (6 months ago)

          Fellow cat professional sitter here! I agree about the initial meeting part. I’ve on more than one occasion had a cat be very aloof with me at the meet & greet. But then one the second or even very first visit, they are all cuddles!

          And I don’t care if a client has cameras. Moving ones would probably irk me but oh well.

          Reply
  12. Eastside Cats
    May 24, 2017 at 11:31 am (6 months ago)

    The Hubby is always around; he refuses to go on vacation with me! LOL!

    Reply
  13. Jill
    May 24, 2017 at 10:52 am (6 months ago)

    Thank you Ingrid for sharing this valuable information!

    Reply
  14. Adam Myatt
    May 24, 2017 at 10:51 am (6 months ago)

    Meowzers! Guys can be cat sitters too

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 24, 2017 at 11:08 am (6 months ago)

      Yikes! Of course they can, Adam! 🙂 I corrected my article!

      Reply
  15. Trish
    May 24, 2017 at 10:23 am (6 months ago)

    I’m lucky – our pet sitter is a vet tech who works at the vet clinic/hospital we’ve been using for 22 years. She knows our fur-kids, and we know her. We know that in an emergency, she’d take them to the clinic.

    Reply
  16. Catherine Fort
    May 24, 2017 at 10:03 am (6 months ago)

    Having recently moved to a new state, I have limited opportunity for “word of mouth” recommendations. I called my new vet’s office (a cat-only practice) and asked them if they had someone they recommended or if there was someone on their staff who did sitting. One of their vet techs, indeed, has a pet sitting business, with 12 years of experience in that and 35 as a vet tech. She reviewed their files before she met with me, and I know my cats are in excellent hands with her!

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      May 24, 2017 at 10:37 am (6 months ago)

      Asking your vet for recommendations is always a good idea. I’m glad this worked for you, Catherine!

      Reply
  17. Janine
    May 24, 2017 at 8:20 am (6 months ago)

    Thanks for posting this. It is great advice. I never need a pet sitter, but you never know what can happen in the future.

    Reply
  18. Suellen
    May 24, 2017 at 7:17 am (6 months ago)

    Great advise! My cat sitter is a dear friend and teaches vet tech program st local community college. Another source of sitters can be your local community college vet tech students ( if u r lucky to have that in your community).

    Reply
  19. Jerry
    May 24, 2017 at 7:06 am (6 months ago)

    At first I was lucky and a trusted friend lived in a downstairs apartment for me. My two cats loved him, and he took great care of them. Unfortunately he has passed away si I wss faced with a dilemma. I tried looking for a local pet sitter, but one of my cats has asthma and needs to get inhaled medications everyday. I could not enjoy my vacation worrying if he was getting his meds. So now I board them at the vets office. It is expensive and they are not crazy about it, but at least I have peace of mind.

    Reply
    • Jerry
      May 24, 2017 at 7:08 am (6 months ago)

      Sorry about the bad spelling. I am not a great typist

      Reply
  20. Samantha Millea
    May 24, 2017 at 6:44 am (6 months ago)

    This is a great article and its something that I’ve thought about recently too but I would be too fearful of hiring a cat sitter, my mind would be full of what if’s. Like what if the cat sitter forgot that my cats door dash and somehow they escaped. And how would she get them back knowing that they are scared of new people. In my mind Im thinking a cattery would be better but even then I’d be worried about my cats somehow escaping or getting too stressed. Whats your views on a cat sitter vs a cat hotel/cattery?

    Reply
  21. Summer
    May 24, 2017 at 3:52 am (6 months ago)

    We love and trust our pet sitter! She is not cheap, but my human knows that when she (and often I) am away, Binga and Boodie (and sometimes me) are well taken care of. She is worth what my human pays her… and then some.

    Reply

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