What is a cat sitter?
A cat sitter is just someone who takes care of your cat while you're on vacation or out. There are people who will do a wide range of services - from coming by just to change the food bowls and give them water, to coming there for a play session to keep your cat active, to cat sitters who will actually stay at your house. It all depends on how much attention you think your cat needs.
Do I need one?
It kind of depends on your cat and its personality. Some cats will get separation anxiety and start tearing stuff up if you're away. Others just get depressed if no one is around to play with. Some cats also have special health issues - if your cat has had serious illnesses in the past or is older, it can be a good idea to have someone checking in every day just to make sure your cat is healthy and doesn't need a trip to the vet.
The absolute minimum you need is to make sure the cat has food and water while you're away. If you're away for more than a week, then someone needs to be coming in to check on the cat. It is a good idea to do it even for shorter periods, just in case. You can get water fountains for cats that will hold water for that long, and you can put out enough food, but there is always a risk they'll knock it over or get sick or injured. Most cats will be fine on their own for awhile. They sleep most of the time anyway and can amuse themselves. They don't need anyone to do things like take them out to use the toilet, like dogs. But it is not a good idea to leave a pet alone for extended periods.
Where can I find a cat sitter?
Your local yellow pages is a good place to start. Look under pets or pet sitting. There's also a directory of cat sitters online here. You can search based on your zip code. You also might be able to get a neighbor you trust to do it for free.
What do I need to know about finding a good person to do it?
You should ask for references from other pet owners, preferably ones in your neighborhood or area. Call up those people or go by to talk to them - make sure they've had good experiences. Line up your sitter in advance of your trip, and don't wait until the last minute. You can try calling the Better Business Bureau, as they will know if any complaints have been filed against them.
What should I do to prepare the house for them?
Remember that you're basically hiring a babysitter for your cat. You should do all the things you might do to get ready for that situation. Make sure that the sitter knows:
1) Where your vet is, and where an emergency clinic is.
2) How they can contact you, and how to contact a neighbor or other friend who will be in the area and have a spare key to your house.
3) Where all the food, litter, cat carriers, and all other accessories they might need are. Cat carriers you might want to leave out in the open, so that if they are needed the sitter can "grab and go" to the vet.
4) Where your cats like to hang out and what their hiding places are. Cat sitters will usually want to do a head count at the very least, even if your cat doesn't want to play with strangers. They need to know where they can find the cats and verify that they are still OK.
5) Any special features or details about the house. Alarm information, quirky things you don't want them to do or touch, etc.
6) A way to pay the vet if there is an emergency. If it is a family vet, you might call up in advance and give them authority to charge your credit card. You can also give the card number and information to the sitter if you trust them.
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