So. You’ve volunteered to babysit your friend’s cat. And now you’d like to hear some cat sitting tips in order to provide the furry rascal with the best cat sitting services it has seen in its nine lives. Well, hold on to your whiskers- we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about how to babysit a cat.
Before we dive into the list of do’s and don’t’s for volunteer cat sitters, it is important to note that it’s okay to be nervous. After all, your friend (or relative) is entrusting you with the well-being of their beloved pet and that’s a lot of pressure to put on someone. But don’t worry- we have full confidence that you will be the best cat sitter they’ve ever had.
Now, let’s see how you can help out your friends babysit their feline like a professional cat sitter!
1. Conduct an interview
Before you even start cat-sitting, it is important that you sit down with your friend (or the cat’s owner) and conduct an interview. This will help to ensure that you are on the same page in terms of expectations, schedules, and duties.
Some key questions to ask during the interview include:
- When are you leaving and when are you coming back?
- What is the feeding schedule?
- How often does the cat need to be given water?
- Are there any special medical needs or medications that need to be administered?
- Where is the litter box located and how often does it need to be scooped?
- Is there anything else I should know about taking care of your cat?
This is the standard set of questions that you should ask any cat owners, but feel free to add any others that you think are necessary. The best practice is to get as many detailed instructions as possible rather than omit something crucial and then call your friend at 2 am to fill in the gaps.
From personal experience, try to ask questions that will help you understand your friend’s cat’s behavior and quirks. For example, one of my cats, Cassie, loves getting into narrow, seemingly closed-off hiding places, and immediately gets stuck. My other cat, Kevin, absolutely despises the very sight of closed doors.
Ask your friends you’re cat-sitting for if their cats have quirks like that. Most cats do.
It’ll help you be a more prepared cat-sitter, and prevent any potential disasters.
2. Get emergency contact information
In the event of an emergency, it is important that you have your friend’s (or the cat’s owner’s) contact information on hand. This way, you can reach them immediately if something goes wrong.
Make sure to get both their phone number as well as the number of someone who can reach them if you can’t.
3. Research cat clinics in the area
Before you start cat-sitting, it is also a good idea to research local cat clinics in case of an emergency. This way, you will know where to take the cat if something happens and you can’t reach the owner.
Ideally, the cat owner will provide you with the emergency contact info of their regular vet. However, some veterinary clinics only work from 9-to-5 or on select days. So make sure you have the address of the 24/7 vet that can attend to your furry friend if something happens.
4. Pick a place to stay
Once you have the interview questions out of the way, it’s time to start thinking about where you’re going to stay while you’re cat-sitting. If possible, it’s always best to stay at the cat’s owner’s house. This way, the cat can stay in its own familiar environment and won’t get too stressed out.
However, if that’s not an option, and you’re going to be pet sitting at your own place, try to carve out a separate room for your cat client. This way, they can have their own space to relax, get used to the smells, and new environment.
5. Prepare your home
If you’re pet sitting at your own place, there are a few things you’ll need to do to prepare for your cat guest.
First, make sure that the front door and windows are secure, so the cat can’t escape. Second, set down the food and water bowls (ideally you’ll have a few of them), litter box, get their favorite toy, and other items that carry the smell of their home. To ease the pet’s anxiety, you can ask their cat owners for a used t-shirt that carries their smell and line the cat’s bed with it.
Some cats have a carefree and playful nature and won’t mind staying somewhere for an extended period of time. Other cats are too attached to their own environment and can behave differently in a new setting.
It might take these creatures a few days, if not a few weeks, to get used to their new pet sitting place. This is especially true for rescue cats or cats that were abused by their previous owners.
6. Make sure you’re stocked up
Of course, you’ll need to make sure that you have enough food and litter for your cat guest. Ideally, you should get these items from the owner before they leave so that their cat can eat the same food and use the same type of litter.
If you think you’re going to run out of food or litter during house sitting, ask the owner to order more. Cats (especially purebred cats) don’t react well to changes in their diet which can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and other health issues you’d rather avoid as a pet sitter. Similarly, some cats can develop an allergic reaction to litter that doesn’t agree with them (this is especially true for scented or wood-based cat litter).
7. Get to know the cat
Before you start your cat-sitting gig, it’s always a good idea to spend some time getting to know the cat. This way, you can understand their personality and figure out the best way to take care of them.
This is where the cat-sitting clients usually come in. Once again they should give you as much information as possible about their feline friends, their temperament, habits, and behavior.
For example, my Kevin loves to yell like a dying banshee for no apparent reason other than he can. This would definitely send a cat sitter into a frenzy unless they were familiar with the fact that this is just what Kevin does.
8. Ensure daily cat-sitting visits
When it comes to cat sitting, one of the most important things you can do is ensure that there are daily visits. This means coming over once (or twice) a day to feed the cat, clean the litter box, and provide some companionship.
Some cat health issues can develop rapidly and with no prior symptoms, so it’s important to keep an eye on them and make sure they’re doing okay. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, don’t hesitate to contact the owner or take the cat to the vet.
In general, experts advise to not leave a cat alone for longer than 24 hours. And that’s already pushing it.
9. Keep up the routine
When cats are left alone, they can get anxious and stressed out. To make sure this doesn’t happen, it’s important to try and keep up their usual routine as much as possible. This means feeding them at the same time, playing with them at the same time, and cleaning the litter box at the same time.
Here is a short list of tips on what you should do during every pet sitter visit:
- Feed the cat
- Change the water (ideally, ensure that there are a few water bowls set up around the house)
- Clean the litter box
- Play with the cat
- Check for any health issues/ changes in behavior
10. Be on the lookout for any health issues
As a cat sitter, one of your main responsibilities is to ensure the health and safety of the cat. This means being on the lookout for any changes in their behavior or health.
Some common signs that something might be wrong with the cat include:
- Change in appetite
- Diarrhea or vomiting
- Excessive scratching
- Difficulty urinating
- Blood in stool or urine
If you notice any of these things or anything else that seems out of the ordinary, contact the owner immediately. They will be able to give you further instructions on what to do and whether or not you should take the cat to the vet.
11. Supervise contact with other animals
If you are cat sitting, or rather hosting, a cat at your own place, it’s important to keep in mind that not all animals get along. For this reason, you should always supervise any contact between the cat you’re sitting and any other animal in your home.
Before you even agree to cat sit, bring up this issue with the cat owners. Chances are they are familiar with how their cat reacts to dogs and other cats.
If they’re not, it is best to stay on the side of caution and not let them interact unsupervised. Make sure you don’t simply dump two cats in the same room and expect them to become fast feline friends.
Keep them in separate rooms, let the new one settle in, and if you still want to introduce them, do it slowly.
12. Keep the litter boxes clean
Cats are notoriously picky about their litter boxes. If it’s not clean, they will hold it in and this can either lead to bladder infection or a puddle on the floor. Neither is a desirable outcome.
For this reason, it’s important to keep the litter box clean at all times.
Ideally, you should scoop it out once a day and do a full clean once a week. This means taking everything out, washing it, and then refilling it with fresh litter.
Also, litter scooping and keeping the box clean will help you keep track of the cat’s routine and notice any changes in their bowel movement (something that can be a sign of serious health issues).
13. Remember grooming
Cats groom themselves, but they still need some help from time to time. This is especially true if they are long-haired cats.
As a cat sitter, you should be prepared to help with the grooming. This means brushing them, combing them, and trimming their nails. Ideally, the pet owner would go through this cat care routine before they leave town. But sometimes cat sitters are left to pick up the slack.
The brushing part should be easy for a cat sitter, especially if a) they love cats and b) the cat loves it.
If not, here are a few top tips on how to groom a cat that hates grooming:
- Start slow and be gentle
- Get them used to the idea by brushing them for short periods of time
- Give them lots of treats during and after the grooming session
- Use a grooming glove or a grooming arch
Nail trimming is a different story. This is something that should ideally be done by a professional (i.e. the vet or a groomer). Most cats don’t look fondly at the prospect of their nails being clipped and some even render this task a two-person job.
If you’re not comfortable doing this, make sure to let the pet owners know in advance so they can make arrangements beforehand.
14. Take note of the cleaning supplies
It’s a popular belief that cats are extremely clean animals. But that doesn’t mean they can’t make a mess from time to time.
When you’re house sitting and cat sitting at the same time, take note of the cleaning products that the pet owner has. You might need to use them if a cat coughs up a hairball, accidentally kicks a piece of poop out of the litterbox, or does another weird cat thing.
The point is that a good cat sitter needs to know where the paper towels are, as well as a universal cleaning spray. However, it’s important to be aware of the fact that some cleaning supplies can be dangerous for cats. This includes products that contain bleach, ammonia, or benzalkonium chloride.
If you’re not sure whether or not a product is safe to use around cats, err on the side of caution and don’t use it. It’s better to be safe than sorry.
15. Play and socialize
There is a common disbelief that has plagued humanity for a long time that cats are anti-social creatures. And that is simply not true. Cats are social animals and they love their human family members. They’re just a bit more aloof and self-sufficient than other pets.
When you’re cat sitting, make sure to take some time out of your day to play with the cat. This will help them stay active, mentally stimulated, and sharpen their hunting instincts. It will also give you a chance to bond with them.
Here are some top tips for cat sitters on how to play with cats:
- Use a toy that simulates prey, such as a string or a laser pointer
- Be patient and let the cat make the first move
- Adapt to the cat’s play style (some like the toys to go slow others like it when toys zoom past them)
- Don’t use your hands as toys (not only can you get scratched but this also sends the wrong behavioral message and can undo the training their cat owners have done)
- Don’t be afraid to get a little rough (just not too rough)
- Let the cat win sometimes
- If the cat gets tired or disinterested, don’t push them
In addition to playing with them, it’s also important to socialize with them. This means spending time with them, petting them, and talking to them in a soft voice. The goal is to make them feel comfortable and safe in your presence.
This is especially important if the cat is going to be left alone for long periods of time while you’re cat sitting. Socializing with them will help reduce their anxiety and make them more likely to bond with you.
16. Be prepared for the unexpected
Cats are creatures of habit and they like their routine. So, when you’re cat sitting, it’s important to stick to their regular routine as much as possible.
However, there will always be times when the unexpected happens. A pet owner might have an emergency and need you to take care of their cat for a few extra days. Or, the cat might escape from the house and you’ll need to help them find their way back home.
No matter what happens, it’s important to stay calm and be prepared for anything. This means having a list of emergency numbers (including the number for the nearest 24-hour vet), as well as a list of the cat’s regular routines.
It’s also a good idea to have a first-aid kit on hand, as well as a carrier in case you need to take the cat to the vet.
17. Check in with the owner
Finally, don’t forget to check in with the cat’s owner and let them know how their furry friend is doing. This is where you can share any concerns or changes in behavior that you’ve noticed.
It’s also a good idea to send photos and short videos of the cat having fun and enjoying their time with you. This will help put the owner’s mind at ease and give them something to look forward to when they get home.
And there you have it! These are just a few things to keep in mind when you’re cat-sitting. If you follow these tips, we’re sure that both you and the cat will have a great time.