Whether you are a new sitter taking of cats for the first time, or an avid cat lover, you will know that cats are very different to care for than dogs.
The traits that people love about cats, their independence, their sometimes quirky personalities, even their apparent disdain for their carers demonstrate how different they are to dogs.
Your first encounter with your new feline friend is an important way to establish a positive relationship. The secret is to be calm and gentle while approaching the cat and allowing them to make the first move. If they stay put, slowly hold out the back of your hand for them to have a good smell. While doing this you can keep an eye out for any tell-tale signs of aggression as many cats can get quite nervous meeting a new human for the first time. These include laid back ears and a twitching tail. The type and intensity of tail movement can say a lot about a cat’s mood. A good idea is to ask the owner what to look out for, so you know if the cat feels comfortable or not.
If the cat isn’t ready for contact, then just back off and give them some space. They will eventually come around when they are ready. If the cat has had a good sniff of you and has stayed in the same space, gently stroke it on the head between the ears, or if it allows a gentle scratch under the chin.
Every cat is different so find out from their owner what they like.
If first contact went well then you are off to a good start. If it didn’t don’t worry. It might just take a bit longer to earn their trust. Most cats will come around when they are ready. The trick is to be calm and talk to them in a low voice and allow them to make the first overtures. As they get used to you they will either tolerate you as the person that feeds them or eventually become a contented purring lap cat.
Cats are creatures of habit and introducing a house sitter into the household can be a big change for them. Maintaining continuity is vital, so make sure you have plenty of time with the owner to learn all the cat care details.
One important question which often gets overlooked is where are their hiding places? Cats often show their disproval by disappearing from sight. Many a cat sitter has spent hours frantically searching for an indoor cat only to have it appear from behind the desk just as they are thinking it must have got out. Owners will know their little hiding spots so this is great information to have before you take care of them.
You will also need the owner’s usual veterinarian number and location in case of an emergency. It is also important to ask what action the owner would like if their cat became ill and needed treatment. Would it be “do anything at all to save them, no matter what the cost?” Or “Get them to the vet but no expensive last ditch efforts”. There may be a strict limit to the amount of medical care or cost of care they would authorize. This can be a difficult conversation but it is important for you to know what level of care the owners would want, especially if it’s a longer term sit or they are going to be hard to contact while away.
There is one more vital thing to remember when looking after cats. It is important that they do not go without food for more than a couple of days. Not only is this stressful for both cat and carer but it can in some cases lead to the development of fatty liver disease. Sometimes a cat will stop eating due to stress, however most will resume their normal eating habits very quickly. If there are other pets around don’t assume that the cat has eaten as someone else may have emptied its bowl. Monitor who is eating and if you have a cat who is still not eating after a few days, make sure you contact their vet for guidance.
Caring for cats can be a unique pet sitting adventure but wining them over and having a loudly purring bundle snuggled on your lap makes it all worthwhile.