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How to choose a pet sitter

How to choose a pet sitter? While there’s nothing wrong with hiring a neighbor or a friend to watch your pets, these tips are for people who are looking to hire a professional.

Each pet has different needs, and every pet sitter has different strengths so it’s about finding the right match. I own a professional dog sitting business in Del Mar, Calif., and I can tell you that not all pet sitters are the same. Some are very good at what they do. Others are quite lazy. Others employ a bunch of college kids who may or may not be reliable.

Here are some tips on how to choose a pet sitter.

How to choose a pet sitter

Find an actual pet sitting business.

Most pet sitting businesses are owned and operated by one or two people. Some have a few employees, but most are running the businesses themselves. They will likely take pride in their work, offer a great service, carry insurance, accept credit card payments and keep in contact with you regularly while you are away. They will likely be reliable, with a wide variety of experience. You should be able to find pet sitters in your area through a Google search such as “Fargo pet sitting.” Don’t bother with a phone book. Intelligent pet sitters don’t waste their money on those listings.

How to choose a pet sitter

Don’t hire a pet sitter off of Craigslist.

You will likely be able to find individuals advertising pet sitting services through Craigslist, or Most of these are students who love animals and are looking for some extra cash. While most of them are hopefully reliable, they typically do not have actual businesses set up. They may not know how to handle powerful dogs. They may not know what to do in an emergency. They most likely will not carry insurance.

Ask the pet sitter for references.

Don’t trust someone with a key to your home without asking for a few references first. The pet sitter may list testimonials on her web site. It’s also reasonable to ask for additional references. Call or email each reference and ask questions such as:

  • How did you feel about the pet sitting services your pets received?
  • Did your pets seem comfortable with the pet sitter?
  • Was your house kept as clean as you left it?
  • Were the dogs walked?
  • Did the pet sitter touch base with you every day?
  • Were her rates reasonable?
  • Were there any problems?
  • Would you hire her again?

Make sure the pet sitter carries pet sitting insurance.

A pet sitter who does not carry insurance is either just starting a pet sitting business or she isn’t taking her business very seriously. Pet sitting insurance is not expensive for the pet sitter (less than $200 per year), but it will cover her if she accidentally damages a client’s property or if a client’s dog bites someone, etc.

You want your pet sitter to have insurance for your sake because you don’t want to get stuck with the bills if she damages your property or if your dog bites someone while under her care, etc. If she has employees, she should also be bonded in case one of those employees steals something.

Judge a pet sitting business by its web site.

A serious business owner wants to give off a good impression. Her web site is the first thing a potential client will see. If her pet sitting web site is clean and professional, that is a good sign.

Don’t hire the cheapest pet sitter.

You should expect to pay a pet sitter at least $20 for each half-hour visit, but the rates will vary depending on where you live. You definitely want to hire a pet sitter based on your impressions of the business, not on the rates. Cheap rates may also mean poor service (although not necessarily).

A pet sitter might have the lowest rates for a variety of reasons. Most likely she’s just starting out and trying to gain new clients. She might also be a student or someone looking for some extra cash as a side job. Or, she might not value herself as highly as she should. For more info, see my post on what to charge for pet sitting.

Ask the pet sitter what her rates include.

Most pet sitters offer 20-minute, 30-minute or 45-minute visits. Make sure to ask what is included in those visits. Is there an extra charge for dog walking? She does offer dog walking as an option, right? Most dogs need to go for walks. Does she charge extra for medications? Will she wipe up muddy paws, bring in your mail and scoop the litter box? Make sure to ask so you are both on the same page.

How to choose a pet sitter - what do the rates include?

Set up a meet and greet with the pet sitter.

Most pet sitters will want to set up a free meet and greet at your home prior to taking care of your pets for the first time. This is when you should have a key ready for the pet sitter and any requested pet sitting forms filled out. The pet sitter may ask you to provide vaccination records or to sign a liability contract. All of these requests are reasonable.

During the meet and greet, make sure to ask all your questions such as how often she will visit your pets, how she will keep in touch with you and so on. For more, see my post on what to ask a pet sitter. This is also the time to show her your pets’ usual routines such as where you keep the food, where the pets sleep, where the leashes are, etc. Take note of how your pets act around the pet sitter.

Trust your instincts.

The pet sitter may be the greatest pet sitter in the world, but if you are not comfortable with her, then you will just worry while you are away. You are giving this person a key to your home and trusting her with your animals, so it has to feel right. Hiring a pet sitter is about decreasing the stress for the pets and the owner. If something just doesn’t seem right about the person, then contact a different pet sitter or consider leaving your pets at a boarding kennel. Hiring a pet sitter is not for everyone, and if you do hire a pet sitter, you need to find one you are comfortable with.

What would you suggest for how to choose a pet sitter?


Tuesday 18th of June 2013

1. Be honest about your dog's personality and your budget. Some dogs feel better "at home" even if no one else sleeps there. Some dogs would rather be elsewhere if it means people are nearby.

2. Establish a relationship (both you and your dogs) with the pet-sitter *before* you are out of town.

3. Put the info about your dog IN WRITING in a place easily accessible in your home. Pet-sitters aren't just caring for your dog or cat, so if it isn't written down, they may not be able to remember the details (did she say that fluffy gets 3 eye drops once daily or 1 drop 3 times a day?). Don't expect your pet-sitter to consult a long email via a smartphone just to find out important info either (vet's #? how much food your dog eats? etc.) while they are trying to do their job. A good pet sitter will ask you lots of questions anyway & write them down. But you can help by having the daily routine written out along with emergency info. Someone who doesn't ask or care to take notes is probably not someone you want to hire.

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 19th of June 2013

Great points. I agree!

Nancy's Point

Tuesday 18th of June 2013

These are great tips. I've never used a pet sitter. When you think about it, there's a huge trust issue involved here, so people really should give a lot of thought to who they do decide to use or not use for this service. Cheapest is not always best. Very true here for sure.