It can be difficult to figure out what to include in a house guide for your first pet sitter. You want to make sure everything that might need to be in there is included, but you don’t want to overwhelm anyone!
If you’re looking for a pet sitter, I highly recommend Trusted House Sitters. It’s part of the true sharing economy — your pet has someone staying with them and your pet sitter has a place to stay on their trip. You both save the hundreds of dollars you’d be paying if you hired a pet sitter or rented an AirBnB.
After my first six months of full-time house sitting, here’s what I’ve learned about what to include in your house guide.
Let me know when you’re actually leaving and coming home. I’m shocked by how often people give me tentative travel dates and never provide updated information! It’s helpful to have flight numbers so I can know if your flight is delayed significantly.
If you will be unreachable for a portion of time, let me know in advance. Don’t forget to tell me if you’ll have a different phone number in the country you’re traveling in or if there’s a specific app you’d like me to contact you through.
For me, the most important thing is the wifi network and password! It’s also good to know where the router is, in case it needs to be reset.
For cats, I want to know what their regular feeding schedule is and how flexible it is. Do they free feed? Is it imperative that the cats be given a carefully measured portion of food when the clock strikes noon? Do you sort of eyeball an amount and toss it in the bowl when you remember? Let me know and I’ll follow your lead.
Don’t forget to show me where all the litter boxes are and how often you normally clean them. Some cats are very fussy and will be upset if it’s not cleaned immediately after they go, while others are happy with once every other day. Do I need to actually change the litter during my stay? Let me know. People commonly forget to tell me where they keep spare cat litter to top it up.
For dogs, I want to know their walk schedule. If they use a special harness, I want to know how it works. If they have any issues with walking, like pulling or slipping out of the lead, let me know how you’d like me to handle this. It’s especially important to let me know if there are any behavioral issues with other animals or children. Is it okay for strangers to pet them? Can they accept treats from the doorman? Can I bring them into a shop with me? Can I leave them outside a shop for a few minutes?
Some dogs are creatures of habit, so let me know what route you usually take them on and what time of the day you do it. If you take them out exactly on a schedule every day, let me know. If you’re flexible about walk times, that’s good to know, too. I’ll want to know how long you normally take them out for, how many times a day, and anything I might need to know about waste disposal or things that might come up on our walk. Does the dog have a rain coat, sweater, or booties? How do you keep them from tracking dirt inside? If you have specific ways to handle things, let me know and I’ll do that.
It’s important to tell me about any behavioral issues. Will they tear up the house or bark if left alone? Will they eat any food left unattended or eat the mints out of my purse? Is there a specific corner they sometimes pee in? Will they run out the door if I’m not careful? These are all important to know so I can prevent and manage issues.
Letting me know about any pet medication is extremely important. Owners never forget to tell me about medication their pet needs to take every day, including tips on how to make it easier on both of us. If there’s a medication they take occasionally, let me know what signs to look out for and if you’d like me to call you before giving the medication if it seems necessary.
If there’s routine medication to give them, like heart worm pills or flea and tick repellant, let me know what dates to administer it. Does your dog like to take it with peanut butter? Will I have to force it down? Pets can be pretty different about the best way to take their pills, so sharing your tips makes the experience better for everyone.
Don’t forget to give me emergency contacts for pets. This usually includes the vet’s office, a trusted friend, and animal control.
Anyone who’s staying in your house is probably going to be using your kitchen, even if they’re not going to be preparing elaborate meals. Let me know if there are specific rules to be followed for cleaning the countertop, stovetop, or anything else.
If you’re vegetarian, vegan, kosher, or have other rules about what you’d like to keep out of your kitchen, make sure your I know this. I’ve heard many horror stories about house guests making a kitchen unkosher! Is it okay to bring takeout and eat it in the house using disposable plates? Even within kosher rules, people have various ways of observing things.
Generally, I’ll eat or toss anything perishable you leave behind. I’ll also use oil, butter, spices, and condiments and replace anything I use a lot of, if it’s a long stay. Some hosts are happy for me to make myself at home and even buy groceries with me (especially short stays in rural areas), but most of the time I’ll provide my own groceries.
Most of the time kitchen appliances are pretty standard, but every once in a while there’s a stove or other appliance that’s not intuitive. This comes up most often in international sits or off-the-grid locations. When in doubt, leave instructions.
It’s especially important to let me know if the electric is easily overwhelmed! Plenty of older homes can’t have multiple appliances running at the same time. I have my laptop plugged into the kitchen and have the electric kettle on when the refrigerator turns on — and the circuit breaker pops. If that sounds like your house, let me know and tell me where the electrical box is.
If there’s anything you don’t want me to use, like expensive kitchen gadgets or your family heirlooms, tell me ahead of time or move them out of the kitchen.
Rules for recycling vary significantly from place to place. Most towns provide a flier outlining this. Leaving this makes it easy for me to follow the rules. Don’t forget to tell me when the recycling, trash, and bio go out! Some places have special bins and times for putting them out and taking them in, so I’ll need to know this.
Let me know if it’s okay to adjust the thermostat. It’s also helpful to know if it’s on a timer.
Be sure to tell me if a cleaning person, landscapers, or repair person is scheduled to come. If they are, I’ll need to know if they have a key, how to handle payment, if I should be there (or not) while they’re there, and if there are any instructions I should relay.
Don’t forget to let me know if there is any specific requirements for plant care, things to do in the lawn, snow to be cleared, or anything else that needs to be done.
Usually cleaning supplies are under the kitchen and bathroom sinks, so let me know if that’s not where you keep them. Letting me know where the vacuum cleaner, broom, mop, and laundry supplies are prevents me from having to look for them or pester you with questions. If there’s anything I should know about the washer or dryer, like needing to use a lingerie bag so it doesn’t eat socks or a certain setting not working properly, let me know.
It’s helpful to know if any spaces are off-limits. Is it okay if I work in your office? Are you nervous having a guest use your home gym? Don’t forget to tell me what spots are off-limits for the pets!
I don’t generally have any reason to go into any bedrooms other than the one I’m staying in. Some hosts have simply kept the doors closed. Others have asked that I go in to the bedrooms to water plants, open and close windows, or make sure no pets have left any ‘gifts.’
It’s also helpful to know if it’s okay for me to have people over. This doesn’t come up very often, but sometimes I’m visiting a city to see friends. My hosts have let me know it’s fine for one or two people to come enjoy the backyard or hang out and watch a movie. Some hosts have given me permission to have a friend come join me for a weekend during a long sit. It’s your home, so whatever you’re comfortable with is fine. I wouldn’t bring someone over without getting permission from my host first.
Every house has its quirks. Is there a trick to close the gate? Is there a leak I should keep an eye on? Anything I should know about the neighbors? Be sure to mention it.
It’s also helpful to know where the water and electrical shutoffs are. Hopefully I won’t need to use this, but it’s better to be prepared. If you’ll be unreachable, it’s always good to leave an emergency contact for home repairs.
So far I’ve never had to use this, but it’s good to know if a neighbor has a spare key.
If you’re leaving a car for your pet sitter to use, don’t forget to check your insurance coverage ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to leave a note in the car stating that I have permission to use the car.
If you’re leaving a bike, don’t forget to leave the lock or combination to the lock. It’s also helpful to know local tips for biking, including how safe it is to leave a bike locked outside.