Pet Sitters 101

You can leave your furry friends in the capable hands of a pet sitter while you’re out of town.­ See more pet pictures.
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­Are you heading out of town and can't f­igure out a way to bring your pet along? Would you prefer to simply leave it at home? Unfortunately, you can't just decide to leave it behind and run out the door. Very few pets, if any, are independent enough to spend an extended amount of time at home alo­ne. Fortunately, you can hire a pet sitter to solve all your pet care problems.

Hiring a pet sitter benefits you and your pet in several ways. Your pet can stay at home in a safe and familiar environment, eliminating travel-related trauma and allowing your pet to maintain its regular medical care. In addition, you know that your pet is in capable hands without having to impose on family, friends or neighbors.


­You'll want to interview a few different candidates before you hire a pet sitter. Put together a set of questions for the interview and make sure to ask for references. Professional pet sitters should be able to provide both proof of bondin­g and liability insurance coverage. Most importantly, you'll want to be sure they interact well with your pet. The cost of a sitter differs according to experience and services offered, so know what you'll need from your sitter before the interview [source: Pet Sitters].

If you decide to hire a pet sitter, you can lessen your stress by planning ahead. You should provide prospective sitters with your pet's history and routine. Make sure your sitter knows important information like your pet's medical conditions and its favorite toy. Make sure your house is similarly prepared: Your sitter should know where you keep food, leashes, cages, bowls and anything else required for the day-to-day care of your pet. This includes numbers for your vet in case of an accident or emergency [source: Pet Sitters].

Most importantly, keep the lines of communication open. You'll feel more at ease if you cultivate a good relationship with your sitter.

Read the next pages for a quick look at the day-to-day life of a professional pet sitter.


What Pet Sitters Do

There isn't much difference between a pet sitter and a baby sitter. Pet sitters are hired to care and take responsibility for your animal in your home while you're away. This can be a simple or complicated task -- it all depends on your pet.

The main responsibilities of a pet sitter are fairly obvious: They should provide your pet with food and opportunities to go to the bathroom, whether this requires taking it for a walk, cleaning its litter box or cleaning its cage. It's your responsibility to ensure that you have enough food and bathroom materials at home for the duration of your trip.


One of the biggest advantages to hiring a pet sitter is that your pet can keep its day-to-day routine while you're gone [source: Pet Sitters]. Therefore, the pet sitter should keep your pet on that routine. If you play with your animal every day at 6 p.m., your sitter should do the same. However, it's your duty to make sure your sitter's aware of your pet's regular schedule so he or she can make the proper arrangements. Typed lists are very effective.

The pet sitter is responsible for seeking out proper care for your animal in the event of a medical emergency. You should make sure he or she knows where your veterinarian is located and how to reach him or her. It's also a good idea to leave a sitter with the phone numbers of emergency centers that can treat your pet outside of normal business hours. Again, a typed list is very effective here.

Beyond those responsibilities, a pet sitter also should give your animal love and attention. Some pet sitters may be willing to take over some house-sitting responsibilities as well, such as checking the mail or watering the plants. This varies between sitters and is likely to cost extra.


Pet Sitter Rates

Pet sitter rates vary depending on a number of different factors, including experience and the specific services you require. Rates also differ according to the number of pets being cared for, the size of the pets and the amount of time you wish the sitter to spend with your pets.

Pet sitting rates should include provisions for any day-to-day pet-related needs. Feeding your pet, making sure it has fresh water, taking it outside if necessary, playing with it, administering medication, and cleaning up messes should all be included at no extra charge. Your chosen sitter may include a number of house-sitting tasks as well. After all, it makes more sense to have one person take care of everything than to hire both a pet sitter and a house sitter while you're away.


Average pet-sitting rates vary between $10 and $20 per visit. That said, it's hard to come up with an across-the-board average when so many different factors determine the actual price. Jobs that require the pet sitter to stay at your residence overnight, for example, can cost anywhere from $40 to $80, but prices generally fall right in the middle of that range [source: Sitters City].

Unfortunately, the biggest factor in determining your pet sitter's rates is out of your control: It's where you live. It costs more to hire a pet sitter in New York City than it does to do so in Kansas City. That's just the way it goes. Most sitters assume that you have one pet, so if you have multiple animals in your home, you'll likely be charged an extra fee per animal. There's also a difference in the cost of caring for cats and dogs. Cats are much more independent than dogs and require less effort. Therefore, they cost less. You should also prepare to pay a higher rate if you want an extended visit, care for your pet over the holidays or after-hours visits.


Questions for Pet Sitters

­You want to ask a lot of questions when hiring a pet sitter. Your scruti­ny will ensure that your animal's in capable hands. Some of the questio­ns you need to ask are rather obvious, but others raise issues that you may not even be aware of.

The most important question to ask your pet sitter is whether or not they are bonded and insured. A professional should be able to present you with proof of coverage. This will protect you, your pet and your pet sitter.


If you're speaking with a pet sitter over the phone, ask if he or she can meet with you and your pet in advance. It's always a good idea to conduct a face-to-face interview in your home. This gives you and your pet an opportunity to familiarize yourselves with the sitter. Some sitters will charge a small fee for this initial consultation, while others include it in their services at no extra cost [source: Pet Sit].

Ask the prospective sitter what kind of experience he or she has with your particular type of pet. After all, most people are familiar with taking care of cats and dogs, but not as many know how to deal with exotic birds, reptiles or fish. A professional sitter should also be willing to provide you with references, so don't hesitate to ask.

Most professional pet sitters use a contract, so make sure you get a copy in advance and look it over in detail. When discussing the logistics of a sitter's services, ask how much time he or she spends with your pet per visit and what types of procedures are in place for medical and natural emergencies. Ask about the sitter's terms of payment while discussing rates. Some sitters require full payment up front, while others only require a deposit when you make the reservation and the balance due when you return from your trip [source: Pet Sit].

If you interview an agency rather than an individual sitter, be sure to inquire about its hiring and screening processes. Employees of larger agencies should be able to provide your animal with the highest of care. Good pet sitters will often provide you with an evaluation form.

These guidelines will help you find the best pet sitter for you. For more help, visit the links on the next page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Butler, Joy. "Fun Dog Facts: Interesting Facts About Our Canines." Suite 101. (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • National Association for Professional Pet Sitters. "Hiring a Pet Sitter." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • National Association for Professional Pet Sitters. "For Pet Owners." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • National Association for Professional Pet Sitters. " Benefits of Using a Pet Sitter." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • Paw Pottery. "Paw Pottery Fun Pet Facts." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • PBS Kids Go! "Pets: Fun Pet Facts." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • Pet Sitters International. "Tips for Conducting a Professional Pet Sitter Interview." (accessed 01/27/2009)
  • Sitters City. "Petsitting Rates: How (and what) to Charge." (accessed 01/27/2009)