Monday, September 26, 2022

House- and Pet Sitting 101


Traveling is on the rise, be it just for a week or for several months on end. But what to do with furry friends, aka dogs and cats and other pets? A perfect way to protect your pets and also the house is to have a house sitter, taking care of both. If you are new to house-sitting - no matter if you are a home/pet owner or if you want a caring and responsible house-sitter, here is your comprehensive checklist for both parties. Your house sitter is, in essence, working for you - for free.


The relationship between home/pet owner and house sitter is rarely based on money but on trust and the free exchange of services (house and pet sitting) for goods (pet companionship & accommodation). 

The lowest prices for dog boarding I found online:  Pricing in 2022: 15-21 nights for one dog is $45/night = for 3 weeks it will be $945.00.  Cat boarding starts at $29/night = for 3 weeks $609.00

A house sitter will be meeting your pet's needs, providing companionship and love as well as keeping them fed, exercised, safe, and healthy. The service is usually free and the majority of the house sitters work for free too to keep your garden alive and the house clean.  Your house sitter is, in essence, working for you - for free - even though they have their own household to pay for.  It is a house sitter's job to ensure that the needs of their animals and property are met in the ways that you specify.

Your house sitter will care for your pets to maintain their good health and happiness. Animal psychologists and veterinarians agree that boarding animals in kennels for any length of time can place a huge strain on their physical and emotional health. Even taking your pets on holiday with you can be a far less pleasant experience for them than it is for you (think of cargo holds, vaccinations, and sedatives, time spent in quarantine, time spent in a travel container, motion sickness, unfamiliar surroundings, unfamiliar food, heatstroke, hostile strange animals… Also save a bundle on pet care fees, often hundreds of dollars!

Also important: Having someone in the house will prevent your homeowner's insurance premium from going through the roof - or maybe be denied insurance - often after only two weeks of your home being vacant.

You can ask your house sitter to stay in regular contact with you to keep you informed of any issues that may affect your animals or property. Make arrangements with your house sitter early on - and write her/him about what time and day you are welcoming them, and when you exactly return from your trip. 

With the high gas prices right now (and maybe in the future) consider participating in your house sitters' travel costs, or choose only house sitters who live in your area.  After all, you are saving hundreds of dollars in pet hotel costs, maybe even dog walker costs, or expenses for your house cleaner.

Ask your house sitter to come at least a day or two earlier to make friends with your pets. It would be cruel to leave your pets right away when your sitter (after all, a totally unknown person to your furry friends!) arrives. 


Your welcome list is a checklist! Write it like a (numbered) checklist, not like a fiction story! Use a new line for each info/instruction, so it is easy to read for the house sitter. 


Your animals' special needs, health, and safety need to be documented and provided for while you're away. Your house sitter is prepared to make your animals' health and happiness a top priority but they can't do their best without all the necessary information and preparation by you.

  • Place up-to-date immunization records (copies) for your house sitter
  • Show them microchip information
  • Provide the lost pet register contact information
  • What are the local leash/poop scoop laws? 
  • Where to discard doggy bags and used cat litter?
  • Place municipal license or registration records for your house sitter
  • Place medical history (including last dates of de-flea and de-worming treatment) out
  • Provide a copy of current medication (including generic names of drugs, dosage information, and your usual supplier)
  • Place the vet's contact information and let your house sitter put it on the phone/laptop
  • Give after-hours animal medical emergency service contact information
  • Provide a photograph of your pet that is both current and adequately detailed to identify them with
  • Hand out a map with the location of good dog parks and other permitted dog walking areas

The more you can tell your house sitter about your animal's usual habits and quirks the more fine-tuned their care and attention can be toward your pets. Honesty is essential! Does your dog bark excessively? Does he dig in the garden or in the planters, or rip up blinds?  If your dog is antisocial around other dogs or is about to come into season tell your house sitter.  If your dog is an 'escaper' when letting off the leash or if your cat is a scent-marker then you need to leave this information for your house sitter. Also if your cat might be aggressive in some situations. 

  • Does your pet have any unusual habits (for example, your cat may regularly vomit, your puppy may urinate when showing submission, or your dog may try to leap out of open (car) windows?
  • Where are your pet's favorite hiding places?
  • Does your pet have any phobias or anxieties?
  • Are any rooms or parts of the property 'off limits' for pets
  • Tell (and write down) the routines in your pet's day (including eating, sleeping, exercising, and playing times)
  • Is your pet on a special diet? What amounts of food do they usually eat? When do they usually eat? 
  • How many treats are they usually permitted?
  • Does your pet have any major and minor health problems (for example, skin allergies or old injuries)?
  • Where is the vet’s clinic? And how to get there? Write it down with a map or drawing. 

  • Write it all down and submit it to your potential pet/house sitter 
  • BEFORE you both agree to the sit.

Prepare for your pet(s):

  • Enough food (main meals, dry food, treats, chewing bones) or catnip
  • Bowls for food and water 
  • Medications (flea, tick, lice, heartworm, worm, and other treatments, with dosage information)
  • Toys (indoor chewing and tugging toys, chasing toys)
  • Exercise equipment (leads, balls, tennis racket, towels, cold weather gear, muzzles, collars, harness, snow boots)
  • Cleaning equipment for your animal (medicated shampoo, towels, hoses, brushes, clippers, and scissors)
  • Cleaning equipment for your animals' messes in your home (mops, brushes, sponges, disinfectant)
  • Waste collection equipment (poop scooper, bags, gloves, kitty litter, and trays)
  • Where should the doggy bags be disposed of?
  • Traveling equipment (car restraints, car blankets, travel containers)

  • Make a visit to the dog/cat groomer before your house sitter arrives.  Bathing and nail-clipping are a must - so that they don/t ruin your house sitter's clothing) 
  • Ideally, your house sitter should spend at least a full day or two with your pets in your company before you leave. Schedule some time to take your house sitter and your dogs out for a walk. Your house sitter could handle your animals in your presence to get everyone acquainted with each other before you go.
  • Put anything away that could be harmful to your pet. During Christmas time, the tree decorations, tinsel, pine needles, firewood, cooked bones (think gum and gut-perforating splinters and shards), strings, ribbon, or knitting wool are all potentially deadly to curious cats and dogs. Add pesticides, flavored medicines, digestion aids, sweetened pills, chocolates, confectionary, biscuits, space cookies, tobacco, and sweet liquors to this list. It is critical to put any dangerous substances in your garage completely out of the reach of your pets (preferably behind a locked door).
  • Block your pets' usual escape routes from your property. 
  • You may need to repair holes in the fence or fill scraped-out depressions beneath fences or gates with heavy objects.
  • Secure any gates on your property (including those to a swimming pool).
  • Unplug any appliances that your house sitter won't be using to prevent possible accidents
  • Consider installing a door flap so that your animals can leave the house if they need to (for their toileting or in case of an emergency such as fire or flooding).
  • Leave a piece of your worn clothing in your pets' sleeping area to give them a nice reminder of their beloved human while you are away

  • Provide information to the building super or handyman for your house sitter (phone/email)

  • Write down where the fuse box is, and where the main water valve and sump pump are

  • Write down also down where candles, matches, and flashlights are in case of a power outage

  • Will you need the house sitter to drive the dog(s) in your car to a dog park or for veterinary treatments?

In the event of a medical pet emergency, are there pet carriers and a way to get to the vet?  Is there a pet ambulance in the community?  In the event of fire or flood or any other major emergency, who is closest to the house?  Who is authorized to make legal or financial decisions?

Introduce Your House Sitter

  • Let your neighbors, friends, and family know that you have a house sitter moving into your home on a particular date
  • Introduce your house sitter to the neighbors
  • Leave your contact information, such as email, phone, and also those of neighbors, friends, or family members that the house sitter can contact if they need help
  • Tell your service providers (maid, cleaner, gardener or grounds person, etc.) about your house-sitting arrangement
  • Contact your insurance company to let them know you will have a house sitter moving into your home. Your home and contents premium will be unaffected by this information

It is only common sense to store your valuables in a secure locked area while you are away. If your valuables are especially expensive then you need to maintain your usual security precautions in your absence. Make an inventory of your valuables before you go (with photos). Put your wine collection and bar supplies well out of sight.

Ensure your house and grounds are clean and tidy in preparation for your house sitter's arrival. Note that in the house sitting agreement, your house sitter has agreed to maintain your home and garden to the condition that they first encountered them.


  • If you are happy to have your house sitter use your vehicle while you're away you need to do the following: 
  • Familiarize them with your vehicle before you go 
  • Add their name to your motor vehicle insurance policy
  • Provide local driving regulation information for their reference 
  • Have the house sitter confirm in writing that they will be liable for any costs and damages incurred while using your vehicle including paying any excess fees on any resulting insurance claim
  • Leave your garage door opener or similar device out in plain sight to allow your house sitter access to your garage, and certainly the garage key numbers.
  • You may be happy for your house sitter to use your bicycle. 

Keys and Alarm System

  • Familiarize your house sitter with any security locks you may use including combination numbers and spare keys. And write it down!
  • Give your house sitter their own set of house keys plus a spare set
  • Assign a spot for the key (and do write it on the welcome list)
  • Write the numbers if you have an electric house and garage key on the welcome list

What Else?

  • Empty some cupboards, space in the fridge, and drawers for your house sitter to stow their belongings, and provide enough hangars
  • Empty space in your fridge and freezer

  • Leave instructions for the safe use of your electricity and gas devices

  • Leave enough dishwashing pads, paper tissues, and toilet paper for your house sitter

  • Show your house sitter where the relevant meters are as well as the fuse boxes and cut-off switches

  • Leave detailed written instructions on how to program the heating and air-conditioning systems

  • Leave instructions for your house sitter on how to keep ahead of your washing machine and dryer

  • Mark up a local map with some of the area's best assets for your intrepid house sitter. Include your local supermarket, library, internet cafe, cinema, DVD rental shop, dog park, etc.

  • Local transport maps covering travel by bicycle, bus, train, tram, and underground are invaluable for helping your house sitters get oriented

  • Leave any supplies for your indoor plants out for your house sitter. Attach written instructions to these.

  • Leave enough wild seed to keep your bird feeders topped up while you're away.

Garden and Pool Maintenance

  • Have your pool equipment and chemicals available for your house sitter to use, and attach clear written instructions if and how to use these

  • Make sure your garden tools are accessible 

  • Leave a copy of your shed keys for your house sitter

  • Check that your lawnmower is in good working order. Leave a spare can of fuel for your lawn mower if required. Attach hoses to outdoor water supplies for watering your garden and lawn

  • Check the garden hose and the water outlets for leaks and spilling

  • List the places for the watering can, fertilizers, and leaf-bags on the welcome list

Safety Issues

  • Make arrangements with the security company for a code and security password specifically for your house sitter to use. Security systems can be very tricky (and noisy) so be sure to tell your house sitter how to manage your alarm system in exact detail. Write a checklist for the alarm system!
  • If you have cameras or recording devices on your property, you must declare this to the house sitter before the assignment starts. House sitters can declare whether they consent to the homeowner operating the devices or not
  • Provide a first aid kit and write down where it can be found
  • Provide plenty of rubbish bags of the right size and strength
  • Nothing beats good communication with the people and animals involved to ensure a successful experience for everyone.
  • State who may (or may not) visit your home with your house sitter's consent, include this information in your house sitting agreement.
  • By placing all of your records in plastic A4 sheets in a sturdy folder, this pack can be used by your house sitters for years to come.


The best benefit of house sitting: the pleasures of the company of pets. 

Animal care is the bottom line. Pets are dependent upon you while their human companions are gone. Many dog owners will ask you to walk their dogs twice a day. That's really not enough! Walk them at least three times.  Dogs need exercise, medication, special food, and grooming. 

  • Arrive on time. Don’t turn up late at the house sitter's place (or way too early for that matter)
  • Bring a couple of small cookies for the pets, but ask first if you may give them a cookie
  • Show an interest in the house and pets as soon as you arrive. This gives your hosts instant reassurance. Any worries will be put to rest. You’re there to provide a service! But to your hosts, you are still a stranger in their home, pets and treasured possessions will be in your hands
  • Treat the pets like your own ones - maybe even better. Play with them and walk them frequently.
  • Ask homeowners if they want updates on their pets and the house - by email or FaceTime.  Let them know how their pets are faring
  • Be friendly and polite to neighbors - You are the homeowner’s ambassador!
  • Never invite anyone into the home - Unless you have first asked for the homeowner’s agreement. Remember it’s NOT your home. This is the basic rule of home sitting
  • Take care to hand back the home exactly as the homeowner left it - maybe even better. If you moved anything, put it back in its rightful place. When they get back, homeowners have a right to feel at home again!
  • Don’t take anything from the fridge or store cupboard unless you replace it - especially not alcohol.
  • Ensure the bedroom and bathroom is spick and span. Depending on instructions, either take off, wash, and put back clean sheets and all the towels, or leave the bed ready to make up again. Above all, ensure that returning homeowners have the least possible work to do on arrival.
  • Cook a nice meal for the returning homeowners, and stock the fridge up on fresh milk, eggs, yogurt, and fruits

Enjoy your time with the temporary pets, maybe you make good friends 

with them and with their owners. That would be the perfect house sit!