It’s inevitable you’ll need to be away from your cat from time to time, but if it’s an extended period, you might want to hire a professional pet sitter—that is, if you don't have a trusted family member or friend who can do it.
When you entrust your cat to someone else, especially a stranger, it can be stressful for kitty. So here are a few tips for making pet sitting more fun—for cats and humans.
Get your cat microchipped
Even the most experienced cat sitters have had a cat escape. Sometimes mistakes just happen, especially if your cat is scared or out of his element. The best way to ensure your little escape artist finds his way back to you is with a microchip.
Your veterinarian or local animal shelter is the best place to go if you have questions about microchipping. It’s usually an outpatient procedure where a vet uses a special syringe to place a chip about the size of a grain of rice under your cat’s skin. If your cat is small, your vet may recommend placing the chip when your cat is spayed or neutered. A standard fee covers the chip itself and a registration with the tracking service.
Brands that are part of the American Animal Hospital Association’s network of registries are searchable by brand with a simple scan of your cat’s chip. Once the vet or shelter has the tracking service’s name, they can contact them to get your information and reconnect you and your cat.
Let pet sitter know what to expect
Remember, even though you’re not home, your cat still wants her routine. Have your pet sitter stick to the usual schedule as much as possible. If your cat is particularly insecure when you’re away, it might be best to have a sitter who stays in your home while you’re gone.
I like to make a list for my cat sitter. That way, she can refer back to it if she forgets something. Here’s what’s on my list.
How much waste should be in the litter box. How often do you scoop your cat’s litter? Will she go somewhere else if it’s too dirty? How many times a day does she urinate or defecate? This will help your sitter to know if the kitty is acting normal or if a trip to the vet is needed. Remember, your cat may not be 100% her usual self when you’re away. So let the sitter know if stress affects kitty’s potty habits.
How much food your cat will eat. Let your sitter know how much your cat typically eats. I also recommend pre-portioning her food so the sitter can keep an eye on how much your cat is eating. A change in eating habits is often a sign something is wrong. So be clear on what’s normal and what’s something to worry about.
Your sitter doesn’t know your cat as well as you do. So the more information you give them, the better. If your cat is prone to stress-related illnesses when upset, put it on your list. If they tend to stop eating, write that down. The point is, there’s normal “I’m stressed because my human is gone” and “Something is wrong; please take me to the vet behavior.” You know your cat best. So be clear about which is which.
Write a permission letter for veterinary care
In the event of an emergency, your sitter will need the phone number and address for your regular veterinarian, as well as the local emergency clinic. Draft a short letter that gives your sitter permission to sign off on veterinary care for your cat. Then be sure to discuss with them what your expectations are. Should they use their judgement or call you before taking the cat to the vet? Are you ok with resuscitation if your cat stops breathing? These topics aren’t easy to discuss, but should something happen, you’ll be glad you did.
In the rare case that something does happen, call your vet to inform them that an alternate care giver is bringing your cat in. If you’re comfortable, leave a credit card at home for the sitter to use, or check if your vet accepts payment online or over the phone. They may even let you keep a credit card number on file.
Whatever you decide, have a clear plan that you communicate to your sitter. It will give you both peace of mind.
Ask the sitter to play with your cat
Having a cat sitter isn’t all litter boxes and vet visits, though. They should make time for play too. I ask my sitter to take out a new toy every time they come by and play with my cats for a few minutes. This is good for a couple of reasons.
First, the cat associates their temporary caregiver with something positive. If every time they show up, they take a few minutes to play or share a treat, your cat is going to love seeing them.
Second, playtime keeps your cat active and mentally stimulated. If your cat is alone all day in your home, they’re going to get bored. Your cat is used to you being there for at least part of the day. And bored cats get depressed which can affect their overall health and wellbeing.
My cats’ top five toys for when I’m not home are
- Silver Vine – cat attractant relieves stress and encourages play
- Wiggly Wand – a great interactive toy for playing with the sitter
- Buzzer attachment – a fuzzy/paper wand attachment that can also be batted and tossed
- Magic Carpet – for shredding with fun crinkly sounds
- Hide and Sneak – for security and playing that stimulates hunting instincts
Have a backup plan
In the event that something keeps your sitter from caring for your cat, such as locking themselves out of your house or a prolonged illness, it’s best to have backup plans. Obviously you can’t prepare for every emergency, but you can consider some of the more common ones.
Leave an extra key — I’ve locked myself out of my house so many times, I’ve lost count. But even if you’re better than I am at checking for your keys before you pull the door shut, your cat sitter might slip up. They’re focused on your cat—especially if your cat is prone to rushing the door—and accidents happen. Leave a key with a trusted neighbor or hide a spare in a secure place outside your home. If your sitter ever loses the key, you’ll be glad you did.
Get a standby sitter — It’s hard enough to find one responsible cat sitter, let alone two. But keep in mind, this one is just an emergency backup. It’s a lot easier to get your allergic bestie to agree to check on your cat if it’s only in the event your regular sitter gets in a car accident. Even if it’s just someone who can get your cat to your vet’s office or a boarder until you can get home, make sure you have a plan. You don’t want to leave your cat without food or water for an extended period of time.
Enjoy your trip
The last thing you want to worry about on a vacation is your cat. You will have a lot more fun and be a lot more relaxed knowing your cat is being cared for by someone who knows what to do. If you’re worried about asking too much of a friend, hire a pet sitter. There are probably several in your area that have plenty of online reviews so you can do some research. Ask for references. In fact, ask lots of questions. If you don’t like the answers, keep looking. There are plenty of cat lovers just like you out there who would savor the opportunity to look after your fur baby.