(TL;DR - Watching your older sister’s dog while she's away, sitting for your uncle's cats when he's at work trips, or imagining living in a penthouse handling a business of ferrets? There are apps and websites you can join that will get you as much of that work as you can handle.)
Learning to Doggy Paddle
A step above dog walking or feeding a friend’s cat & changing the litter, in-home pet sitting, pet boarding and exotic pet management has seen a fair share of growth over the last few years, especially now that everyone who adopted a dog during COVID can go on vacation again.
The landscape has evolved quite a bit since the days of asking your friends’ parents if you can watch their golden retriever when they go away on vacation. It’s also not just Rover’s game anymore, with a half dozen competitors in the mix from Wag! and SitterCity to CuddlyTails and even Meowtel. This creates continual opportunities for dog walkers, cat sitters, bird lovers, snake handlers, lizard minders, ferret holding corporations, and tarantula…guardians(?).
Joining multiple sites is a quick way to maximize your chances of getting as much work as possible. Building your reputation on these sites over time will be a touch harder than concentrating on one site, but you might not find enough work to fill all of your hours if you only join one. Another mistake newbies to the apps make is not specializing enough. Dog vs Cat, “normal” pet sitting vs. “exotic” pets, sitting for a home with multiple pets or pets with special needs, even certain allergies could limit the jobs that you can reliably build up your reputation doing.
One way to decide which work to pursue is researching the rate certain jobs get in your area. While local trends and geographic differences are available, there’s no substitute for getting on the pet-sitting apps and seeing how much various services fetch. This will also keep you from low-balling yourself and accidentally undercharging your first clients.
Veteran pet-sitters recommend mentioning if you’re comfortable with birds, lizards, snakes, spiders, or other non-traditional pets. Given the special handling required and most people's hesitation to take care of exotic animals may mean your more likely to land one of these special pet-sitting gigs. That said, even if your forte is exotic animals, you might also want to make a profile on the larger apps like Care.com & Rover given pet-setting for traditional pets like dogs and cats make up the overwhelming majority of available work.
According to veteran pet sitters, making a check-list will make your gigs much easier to manage. Even creating a simple checklist and reviewing it with the pet owners before they leave solves so many problems before they occur. Here are some things you may want to include in a pet-sitting checklist:
- Desired feeding schedule. This can also include when the pets will start harassing you for food, and circumstances where these rules can be bent/broken. Don’t forget to ask who gets the diet food!
- Any bathroom red flags or urine/feces symptoms that the owners are concerned about (or conversely know about & aren’t concerned about) can alleviate hours of anxiety and stress. No one wants you to lose sleep over Bingo's poops.
- Any critical medical history is essential. The fact that more pet owners don’t talk about this is something good sitters never get used to.
- Especially for dogs, topical or oral tick/flea prevention meds. Their application isn’t always obvious, so it's better to not assume.
- More generally, how’s their temperament? Are they good with other kinds of animals? What about strangers? Know that before you take Bubbles to the dog park.
- Location of treats, toys, medicine and cleaning supplies. Sending a panicked 3am text only to find the Fabuloso sitting behind the litter is never a good look.
- Lastly, behavioral tendencies. Some owners take their pet training very seriously, and going the extra mile to give treats in the same way they do will get noticed. Alternatively, knowing which behaviors to discourage is just as important.
A “Dog, Eat Dog” Country
When it comes to earning money as a pet-sitter, the numbers both bark and bite. Almost 50 million US households own at least 1 pet dog, with almost 70% owning a pet of any kind. No matter how you slice it, dogs dominate pet ownership in the United States, followed by cats, then birds and the “long-tail” of bunnies, ferrets, and exotic pets like snakes and rescues.
This means if you decide to opt out of dog sitting and dog boarding, you will be shut out from millions of potential clients. Given that dog ownership also increased by 11% during COVID, even if you’re a cat person, it might be sensible to tolerate them on behalf of your wallet.
For the fam, not the ‘gram
You know those pictures you take of the dogs you walk & the cats you sit? Don’t just post them on Instagram, send the best ones to the pet families! So many sitters forget how much pet owners love getting pictures, videos, or even voice memos of their pets. So make sure to document, share, and maybe even build a folder for your pet regulars. Gifting a photo retrospective built over a dozen pet sitting stints would be treasured forever and is sure to endear you to prospective regular clients.