Healthy Pets

How to Choose a Cat Sitter

posted: 05/15/12
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As independent as they may be, it's great to find a sitter whenever you're away for an extended period of time.
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Housecats rely on their pet parents for food, water and the occasional treat. Other than these basic needs, cats seem to prefer an independent life. So why not just set out a three-day supply of food and water when you leave town for a long weekend?

Turns out, cats do need us -- maybe more than we realize. Hiring a pet sitter will ensure that your cat has adequate food, water and supervision. This is especially important because these creatures are accustomed to human companionship and become stressed by its sudden absence. Plus, a pet sitter can contact a veterinarian if your cat becomes ill or injured.

As a general rule, your cat should not be alone for more than 12 hours. If your cat has a strict feeding schedule or requires medication, she may be able to spend only three or four hours alone. You can expect most professional cat sitters to come to your home at least once a day -- more often if your pet's health demands it.

"We do no less than one visit per day for cats," says Jennifer Pierce, who, along with her husband Andrew, owns the Atlanta-based Spoiled Rotten Pet Sitting Service. "Some pet sitters will visit every other day, but that's way too long to leave a cat if something goes wrong. A cat's health can go downhill very quickly."

According to Pet Sitters International, it takes about 30 minutes for a professional cat sitter to care for one cat per visit. During the visit, the sitter will feed and water your cat and change the litter box. A cat sitter also will play with your cat, so be sure to leave plenty of toys -- including a few new ones to keep your cat entertained.

If you hire an amateur cat sitter, such as a neighbor or friend, make sure you choose someone reliable who will be able to come by at least once a day for at least 30 minutes. A professional may be better trained to handle fussy eating habits or medication, but a cat-owning or otherwise capable friend is a good choice, too.

Be sure to ask any cat sitter about their previous cat care experiences. Ask a professional sitter for references -- and be sure to call them. As a bonus, professional pet sitters are typically bonded and insured, which provides additional safety and peace of mind.

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There are a number of boarding facilities that accept cats for overnight care, but this option may be nerve-wracking for cats that are used to a far more private (and quiet) environment. Hiring a pet sitter to watch your cat at home sidesteps this issue, and is often about half the price of boarding your cat away from home.

On average, a pet sitter will charge $15 to $20 per day for one cat, with an additional $5 or so for each additional cat. It may cost more for the sitter to pay early morning or evening visits to your home. Pierce adds that if a cat requires more than 30 minutes of care or entertainment, her company charges an additional fee.

Industry organizations like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International offer training and certification to their members, as well as online member databases to help you locate a pet sitter in your area. Your cat's veterinarian or fellow pet parents also may have suggestions.

Expect your pet sitter to use a contract that details their services, fees and responsibilities -- some sitters will even water houseplants or bring in the mail. Ask the sitter how they would care for your pet if a natural disaster occurred while you were gone, or if your pet becomes sick or hurt.

Most pet sitters will come to your home several days before their services are needed. This way, the sitter can meet the cat, get a quick tour, go over the cat's schedule and answer (or ask) additional questions.

If you hire a friend or neighbor to check on your cat during your absence, you could offer to pay them $5 to $10 a day or present them with a gift upon your return. Or you could return the favor instead. For example, PetSwapUSA.com matches pet owners willing to watch each other's pets -- for free.

Whether you choose a professional or a volunteer to cat sit, the time and effort you put into planning will help ensure that your time apart is a positive experience for your feline friend.

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