Pet & house sitting is a growing trend that's a win-win-win for all!
More people are getting interested in traveling and looking for hotel alternatives. Pet sitting is brilliant because it matches animal lovers with animals that need love! It's great to spend time with pets, but it's not all just kissing puppies! Pet care is both an awesome and complicated responsibility.
What makes me a pro, you ask? I’ve been a professional pet sitter and dog walker for 15+ years, a general and emergency vet tech for 10, and also have studied animal behavior and veterinary technology. I’ve owned a pet sitting business and worked with others, and have accumulated hundreds of clients (and stories). I'm often asked questions, so I thought I'd post some tips that may be helpful!
You don’t need a veterinary background like me, but the more animal care experience you have, the better. If you're an animal lover, than you've probably grown up with and had pets as an adult, which gives you a great advantage, since you'll be able to appreciate another pet parent's perspective. If you’re just starting out, you might want to pet sit for friends or family initially to feel comfortable. CPR courses offer many helpful tips and techniques for animal care and emergencies.
Clients will give you all the needed details about the pets and house, including all your duties, as well as supplements and medicines to give if needed. It would be helpful for you to have some basic animal care knowledge, including being aware of which foods*, household items (dryer sheets, cleaning products) and environmental hazards (antifreeze, rat poison) are toxic to pets. Many indoor and outdoor plants can also be harmful, try to identify them to watch out for chewing or grazing. This happens more than you'd think.
Basic emergency protocols can be live-savers (such as giving hydrogen peroxide to an animal that swallowed something toxic). I've had to treat a dog that counter-surfed Hershey's kisses that the owner left on top of the fridge, and a dog that helped himself to an entire box of (beef-flavored) heartworm preventive chews. He may or may not have had a cat wingman. Couldn't get either to talk.
*Some foods that can be harmful/toxic to dogs/cats: garlic, chives, onions, onion powder, grapes, raisins, many fruit pits/seeds (including mustard seeds), avocados, chocolate, walnuts, macadamia nuts, salt, caffeine (coffee/tea), xylitol (candy/gum), alcohol, yeast dough, hops, and green stems of potatoes and tomatoes.
This, of course, applies to the animals, but also the pet parents as well. You have to meet the emotional needs of the pets and make them feel happy, comfortable and loved. You’ll also want to meet the clients' needs, mainly by ensuring that you’re taking care of the pets and house just as they want.
Sending happy updates, pictures and videos is a great way to illustrate this. You don't need to hold a cat up in front of a newspaper for proof of life. I had a pet sitter send me a pic like this once, and although I just about died laughing, I'd imagine you'd have to have a special sense of humor to appreciate that one.
Pets may suffer from a bit of depression after their parents leave, so it helps to pay them as much attention as possible so they don't develop separation anxiety, eating disorders or destructive behaviors. This especially applies to all herding and terrier dog breeds. They like to stay busy.
Dogs are creatures of habit, so keeping as close as you can to their normal routine often helps them feel less stressed. Communication about the schedule is important, because you'll want to know if the dogs require multiple walks per day and at early or late hours. I've had requests to walk dogs at 4am before, and I had to explain that I would personally feel more comfortable starting walks after the sun comes up. Make sure everyone's on the same page. Except for the dogs, they have difficulty with pages and telling time.
When you’re in charge of someone's fur babies and their beloved home, you are responsible for everything. You’ll want to be somewhat hyper-vigilant during your stay, keeping a eye and an ear out for anything out of the ordinary. You may be expected to organize repairs if something breaks. You will definitely be responsible for getting pets veterinary care if required. I’ve had to do everything from schedule appliance repair, wait for the cable man, take animals to grooming and vet appointments, and rush pets to the emergency room.
If the owners are away a while and you’re watching sick and/or geriatric animals, there is a chance they could get worse, need to go to the emergency room, or that the owner will want a home euthanasia. I’ve actually been on both sides of that scenerio, the pet sitter to euthanize the animals and also the vet tech that assists. Not common, but something be aware of.
You’ll want to leave the house just as you found it. Clients won’t expect house-cleaning service from you because that’s not your job, but you will be expected to clean up after yourself, the pets, any accidents, and any other special projects. Sometimes there will be a yard, garden, or plants that will need care, in addition to disposing of trash, recycling, and compost. Most of the time, you’ll have to poop-scoop the yard. If you're taking dogs on walks, always remember to bring bags for clean-up there, too. If you are preparing raw meals for the pets, be extra careful to thoroughly wash your hands, all surfaces, and food bowls to prevent the spread of harmful bacteria.
Be aware, careful and clean. You may find yourself, like I did, in a circle-of-life type of homestead, where the cats and dogs and chickens are all friends, and you're feeding the chickens beef, feeding the cats and dogs chicken meat and eggs, and well, you have a lot of species mixing going on. Or, a situation where cats ate the mice that lived around the rabbits, who were then ultimately fed back to the cats. (What?!)
Treat the client’s house better than you would your own, because hey, it’s not yours! Be respectful. Don't eat or use anything that the client didn't offer to you. Never invite anyone over unless the clients specifically allow it. Don't smoke, and don’t drink excessively either. I’ve had clients that have owned wineries and breweries leave me baskets of wine and beer, and tell me to help myself to the cellars. Clients like to be hospitable, and want you to be comfortable in their home, so be mature and don’t abuse the privilege. Keep a good head on your shoulders, always be in control of the environment and ready to go in case of an emergency, because emergencies can happen anytime. So, make sure to be the awesome trustworthy person you are and you can pet sit all over the world!