When I tell people how I live, they’re both fascinated and occasionally, a little scared. For the last six years, I’ve been pet sitting so that people can travel for an extended period and be assured their precious pets and homes are going to be taken care of.
Yes, I’m one of those dog-walking house sitters who loves all creatures, big and small and there are literally thousands of opportunities to take care of domestic and exotic animals anywhere in the world.
Most of us think exotic implies something wild like a tarantula, a snake or a monkey however, an exotic pet can be anything other than traditional domestic animals like cats and dogs. The term can include companion animals like peacocks, rodents, birds, opossum’s, ferrets, lizards and many more.
Not every family wants a dog. Some people love the cuteness of a flying squirrel, some like the Jurassic look of a bearded dragon, and others want the low maintenance of a hermit crab. In America, each state has its own regulations governing animals that may or may not fall under this exotic pet umbrella.
Caring for exotic animals takes a little more knowledge and experience than traditional pets and the number one tip is to do your research beforehand. Explore your local pet store and interact with exotic animal owners. You can join online groups to learn more about unusual pets and their unique needs. You could also volunteer at a local animal shelter or wildlife sanctuary for some hands on experience.
My husband and I visited an exotic animal sanctuary in Panama. I was chatting to a cockatoo who watched me cautiously but was definitely interested. My husband walked up to the enclosure, and the beautiful creature instantly shimmied toward him and said, “Hello,” and cocked its head toward him for a head scratch.
Pet sitting has taught us, regardless of how many ‘sits’ you have under your belt, pets will always surprise you.
Some pets have needs that aren’t always a walk in the park. Avian pets like cockatiels, parakeets, or canaries can be very social. They don’t just need food, water, and a clean habitat, they need our attention and interaction.
If you’re new to caring for exotic animals, try to learn the particular needs of the animal you agree to look after. Ask the owner specific questions regarding handling, diet and care after all, this will make life happier for you, the pet and the owner.
House Sitters America gives homeowners the opportunity to search for sitters via the pets they are willing to care for. So whether you own a toucan, a chinchilla or a python, the tick boxes will ensure you can select from the list of sitters happy to care for your particular pet.
Pet owners want you to fill their place in the pet's life and you will become their surrogate carer while the owner is away. Some owners might want you to handle their pet, others might only want you to feed and keep an exotic pet safe and provide the same loving care they would.
If you are caring for unusual pets, make sure you take precautions when handling them with. Wash your hands before and after each interaction.
Most unique pets tolerate being handled but don’t necessarily enjoy the experience as cats, dogs, or rabbits would. The owner should leave detailed instructions or a manual about caring for their pet and it’s essential you follow it.
If the pet owner wants you to handle the pet, make sure you are comfortable handling them while the owner is still present.
Before I do a handover with my clients, I ensure the pets left in my care are comfortable with me and vice versa.
One of the golden rules of house and pet sitting is to follow the schedule set out by your clients. If that means Muffin the guinea pig gets fed at 7 am every morning, you should follow the same routine.
If your task is to take care of pets in pens, tanks, or other enclosures, make sure they are secure. I had a pet rat that was quite the Houdini. Luckily, Stripe also listened when I called him. The moral is to check the closure more than once daily, especially after entering the enclosure for feeding or cleaning.
You can also add a reminder, like tying a ribbon, to ensure the pets are safe inside and the enclosure is locked.
When you get your pet-sitting instruction manual or written info about the pet, take a snapshot of the vet's contact details and emergency contacts with your phone. That way, you’ll always have access to the information. You should also know the location and how to get there in an emergency.
Before becoming a professional house sitter, I cared for a tenacious parakeet who wanted to eat everything I ate and didn’t mind shredding my books and pencils. Tito knew a few words, but I learned to read his behaviors as signals of his wants and needs.
What it taught me was that pet care is unique to every animal and that caring for an exotic pet is one of the most rewarding pet sitting experiences you can have.
Assistant Outreach Manager