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How to Choose a Pet Sitter for Your Cat

If you're taking a trip and leaving your cat at home, you have three basic cat care options:

1. Ask a family member, friend, or neighbor to care for your cat while you're away.
2. Board your cat at a kennel or a veterinary clinic.
3. Hire a professional pet sitter.

Cat sitting at home offers the best of all worlds for cats and their owners. Trauma is minimized. Cats cope better when they stay in their home environment. Owners need not go through the ordeal of transporting unhappy cats and worrying that they might be exposed to other animals' illnesses. The cats stay in their familiar surroundings, maintain their diet and exercise routine, and are attended to by caring professionals.

To find a cat sitter, ask friends/colleagues if they know of any (potential) cat sitters. Also ask your veterinarian for recommendations.

When choosing a pet sitter, meet with him/her before your trip. During that interview, observe the sitter's interaction with your cat. Spend time introducing the sitter to your cat. Acquaint the sitter with your cat's health issues, habits, hiding places, and favorite toys. Plan to have your cat sitter visit at least once daily while you're away. Before hiring the sitter, consider asking him/her the following questions, if applicable:

•  What experience do you have as a pet sitter? Do you have experience or training specific to cats?
•  What services are included in your fee?
•  Do you know how to administer my cat's medications?
•  Do you charge additional fees for extra services, such as medicating my cat, picking up my mail, and watering my plants?
•  Do you have a standard contract that spells out services, payments, and other obligations?
•  Are you bonded and insured for liability? (These types of insurance cover theft, accidents, and negligence on the part of the sitter.)
•  Can you provide references and their contact information? (Always check a sitter's references!)
•  How much time will you spend with my cat?
•  How would you handle a medical or home emergency?
•  Are you affiliated with any pet care organizations?
•  Do you have a backup in the event that you experience car trouble or become ill?

Before leaving your cat with a pet sitter:

•  Make reservations with your pet sitter as soon as you know you need to go out of town, especially during holidays.
•  Make sure your cat is up-to-date on vaccinations.
•  Gather everything the sitter will need to care for your cat, including house keys, food and water dishes, any medications your cat may need, and enough food and treats to last for the duration of your trip plus a little extra in case your trip is extended.
•  In your cat's sleeping area, leave a piece of clothing you've recently worn. Your scent will remind your cat of you and be a source of comfort.
•  Do a "once-over" to make sure your home is safe for your cat while you are away. Ensure all doors and windows are locked. Put away items that might be tempting to a cat but dangerous to play with unsupervised (e.g., certain toys, string, ponytail holders). Wash all dirty dishes, dispose of all refrigerated cat food to prevent spoilage, and empty the garbage.
•  Leave your sitter with written, detailed cat care instructions, including your veterinarian's phone number, your travel itinerary, and contact information regarding where you can be reached in an emergency. Alert the pet sitter to potential changes in your cat's behavior, appetite, etc., that should prompt a call to you or your veterinarian, especially if your cat has health problems.
•  Leave an extra key with a trustworthy neighbor as a backup, and give him/her and your pet sitter each other's phone numbers. Make sure the extra key works before giving it to your neighbor.
•  Finally, spend more quality time than usual playing and interacting with your cat in the days leading up to your trip. Separation from you for a long period may be difficult for your cat. Spending a little extra time with your cat before your trip may make you and your cat feel better.

Sources: Feline Friends Chicago, Sharon O'Brien, www.seniorliving.about.com, www.petsitters.org, www.petfinder.com

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