Heading out of town? Make sure these boxes are checked first.
pet sitter walking dog
Credit: hobo_018 / Getty

While most of us want to vacation with our pets, sometimes that's just not possible. Choosing a responsible boarding facility, pet hotel, or in-home caregiver requires some due diligence so both you and your beloved furry pal are comfortable while you're gone. 

To help put your mind at ease, we've created this pet sitter checklist to help you find a pet sitter and make sure they have everything they need to take care of your fur baby. While focused primarily on dogs and cats, adjust accordingly for other furry and feathered creatures. Keep a copy on your phone or attached to the fridge for easy reference!

Two Months Prior to Vacation

When you have the luxury of gathering intel ahead of time, this stage of the checklist helps solidify your top choices. 

  1. Research boarding options or sitters. Sites such as Camp Bow Wow, Pet Suites of America, Pet Paradise, or VCA Hospitals narrow down kennels and pet hotel options by city and state. You can also find sitters in your area through the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Rover, or Trusted Housesitters.
  2. If you plan to board your pet, visit your top two or three choices. Tour the grounds and the sleeping accommodations. Important questions to ask include:  
    • What will my pet's day be like, hour by hour? 
    • How much interaction with other animals will my pet receive? 
    • Is there an extra charge for individual playtime? 
    • How many people will my pet interact with during the day? 
    • What will you do if he gets sick? 
    • Do you supply food and treats for my pet? 
    • Which local veterinarians refer clients to you?

One Month Before Your Vacation

Now's a good time to review the options that work best for your lifestyle, budget, and the duration of your vacation. 

  1. Interview candidates. Confirm credentials and call references before making appointments. Here are some essential interview questions: 
    • Ask the pet sitter if they know pet CPR and have first-aid training.
    • Do they have commercial liability insurance for accident and negligence coverage?
    • Are they bonded to protect against theft?
    • What types of animals do they feel most comfortable with and why?
    • What will they do in case of an emergency? 
  2. Discuss a schedule and payment. Generally, the average overnight sitting rate is about $35 per night, while daily visits cost about $10 to $20 per visit. If the sitter will also do other household duties like water plants and take in mail, expect to pay extra.
  3. For both pet sitters and boarding facilities, ask to speak to at least two former clients. 
  4. Make a boarding reservation or hire the sitter. Although it's possible to secure short notice—or even same-day—sign-ups, reserving now ensures your pet won't get turned down.

One Week Ahead

Now it's time to finalize some details. 

  1. Get a copy of your dog's vaccination record showing they've had shots for rabies and bordetella (aka kennel cough), as well as a DHPP vaccine, which covers distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus. Also have proof of your cat's vaccinations, which should include rabies, feline leukemia, and the FVRCP vaccine series, referred to as the "3–in–1 vaccine," for seriously contagious and potentially deadly viruses: calicivirus, feline panleukopenia (distemper), and viral rhinotracheitis
  2. Double-check the arrangements and confirm with either the boarding facility or the sitter. 
  3. Give the sitter a tour of your house. Point out where cleaning supplies are kept, how to clean the litter box, and other particular pet care needs. Show them how to work your alarm system and where the circuit breaker is located in case of emergency. Have a copy of your house key ready to hand over.
  4. Provide your travel itinerary and how you can be contacted, as well as your local veterinarian's information. It's also a good idea to leave the number of a family member, friend, or neighbor who's familiar with your pet in case of an emergency.
  5. Include details of your pet's allergies or medication needs.
  6. Stock up on pet supplies such as food and medication, and write out instructions for both.

The Day Before You Leave

Just a few more things and you're ready to go!

  1. If you hired a pet sitter, create a detailed schedule. Write down feeding instructions (how many times a day, how much food, where food is located), exercise and playtime instructions (how many times a day and for how long), and grooming expectations, if necessary. You might want to prepare your pet's food portions to avoid any overeating.
  2. Pet-proof your home and close any doors to rooms you want to keep your pets out of while you're away, and let the sitter know.
  3. Display supplies for the sitter. Arrange leashes, toys, food, and grooming essentials within easy reach.
  4. If you're boarding your pet, prepare their go-bag of food, medication, special toys, and any other necessities before taking them to the facility.

Now enjoy rest and relaxation completely assured that your sweet pooch or kitty is well taken care of.