A typical cat visit

A lot of my new clients, particularly if they’ve never before hired a professional pet sitter, want to know what happens during a cat visit, what is included. They wonder what makes my rates higher than the kid next door who does pet sitting for neighbours on their summer break, or that other person they found on Kijiji. They wonder why I have such excellent online reviews, what makes my clients so happy about my service. Well, here’s what I do!

I drive to nearly all of my pet visits, even if they are within walking distance of my home. This is because I’m often coming from or going to another cat visit. If I’ve been given a parking spot in a garage, permission to park in the driveway, or a guaranteed parking spot in front of the client’s home, this means that I will have more time with the cat than if I had to park blocks away. I’m often told “there’s always parking off-street,” but let me tell you… this is not always the case! Whether paid or unpaid parking, there have been times when I’ve driven around and around the same small area for AN HOUR looking for parking (Little Italy, Griffintown, and Downtown have been the most parking-unfriendly so far. Even parts of the Plateau and Mile End are problematic, as it’s mostly residential parking via permits. I have gotten many, many expensive parking tickets, despite my best efforts to find appropriate parking).

Clients should have made other arrangements to have snow removed from their driveways/stairways/ entrance-ways. It is not safe for me to walk through snow and/or ice up and down stairs while carrying my big heavy bags. I offer snow removal of stairs and entrance-ways (NOT driveways) as one of my extra services, but I strongly encourage clients to make other arrangements, as I charge based on the time is takes me to do it. I would surely develop blisters on my hands and a bad back from shoveling snow at all of my cat visits each day!

I collect mail. I carefully enter the home, ensuring the cat doesn’t make a dash for freedom. I remove my shoes and coat. If the cat is super friendly, I spend a few moments greeting them before going about my chores. Or I try find hiding cats, to make sure they are ok. I take pictures throughout the visit, so the client can see how their pets are doing. I love taking pet pictures.

I try to be as efficient as possible, so I can get all the chores done quickly and effectively and maximize my time with the cats.

Usually, I start off washing the food and water bowls and food areas and putting out fresh food and water. I clean water fountains at least every other day, or every day as-needed. This means I unplug them, take them completely apart, wash with soapy water, rinse well, and put them back together again with fresh water. I check the state of the filter – water fountain carbon filters need to be replaced every 1-4 weeks. I rinse cans and ready them for recycling.

I do a quick walk-through of the home to check for vomit or litter box accidents, and spot clean them according to the client’s instructions. Some cats have fun with toilet paper and paper towels, which also need to be tidied.

I scoop litter boxes and sweep around the litter box areas. I track what’s in the litter box – yes, I count the pee clumps and the poops as I scoop. This is an important way of determining if something is wrong with the cat’s health. For example, if I see that a litter box has been walked around in, but hasn’t been used in 24-hours, it might suggest that the cat is trying to pee, but can’t.  A cat that has trouble peeing – in pain, takes a long time to pee, can’t pee – needs close monitoring and urgent medical attention for potential urinary tract blockage or infection. This is one of the many reasons why I must visit at least once per day. If I walk in to an overflowing litter box, or only see the cat every other day, I might not be able to notice a problem and won’t be able to act quickly.

I can include a litter box wash (empty old litter, clean with vinegar or whatever product the client wants, refill with new litter) with each 7 days of pet sitting, but can wash them more frequently for an extra fee. If I have to wash out the litter box on the first day of the pet siting reservation, the litter box wash fee will be applied.

If instructed to do so, I water plants and alternate lights and drapes to make it seem like someone is home.

With the time remaining, and depending on cat temperament and the client’s wishes, I brush the cat, trim claws, play with the cat, and snuggle and pet the cat. I can use the client’s tools and toys, or my own (I carefully clean and disinfect my grooming tools with a special cat-safe disinfectant after each client, and I don’t share toys between clients. Once your cat has played with it, it’s theirs). If the cat is shy and hiding, I sit close to the cat and softly talk or sing to them.

Some clients have their hearts set on my basic visit, which is 20-30 minutes, expecting me to spent most of the time sitting on the couch, petting their cat. I have a couple clients with simple set-ups that exist like that, but generally, a 20-30 minute visit does not give me time to interact with the cat at all. There are set-ups where, on the first day I realize that it is actually a 45-60 minute job. Most pet owners do not do all of the chores – feeding, refreshing water, scooping litter box, water plants, etc. – at the same time in one chunk of time, so it can be difficult to estimate how long it takes to complete them all while taking pictures and notes. Maybe you’ll feed them in the morning as you put together your own breakfast, then take care of the water later when you think about it, and only scoop the litter box if you smell something funny. Maybe you have an extensive urban jungle that takes 15 minutes or more to water. Perhaps your cats are mischievous hooligans, with a new mess to clean every day. And yes, time spent going outside to collect the mail or take out the trash is included in my time.

Clients sometimes generously suggest I relax on the sofa and watch a movie with their cat. I’m happy to do this for your cat… if paid accordingly for my time. Currently, I charge per 15 minutes beyond a 60-minute visit. As a full-time self-employed solo pet sitter, a working mom with a family to come home to, and a shy introvert, I don’t have any interest in spending unpaid time in your home, even if you have the fluffiest, most awesome cats ever. I’d rather finish my workday, so I can get back to my home, my sanctum sanctorum.

I have a very narrow focus of attention when I’m at a cat visit – the cat. Clients sometimes leave me informative notes throughout their home (“this is the internet password,” “here’s some catnip”), but I might not see them unless they are placed somewhere obvious, like on the counter or with the cat food (a quick text or email is better for such notes, or to point me where to look for the notes). When I do my walk-through of your home, I’m specifically looking for cat messes, not post-its, which, unless they have my name in big, bold letters, I will assume are for someone else. I’m not going to go through your drawers and cupboards unless I need something like a fork for the cat food, or if I can’t find the paper towels. I don’t want to invade my clients’ privacy, it’s stressful for me to go through clients’ things when I’m not sure where things I need are, and it takes away time I could use for other things, like taking care of your cat. For the most part, I know where all the supplies I need are, as we go over all of that during the free consultation.

Before I leave, I send a report of what happened during the visit to the client, with pictures. I send reports via email, text, or WhatsApp. For premium visits and upwards, if I am given WiFi access, I also send a brief video if requested.

As I am packing up to leave, I change my socks. When I do this at the free consultation, in front of clients who are meeting me for the first time, I often get flustered at being so nerdy, but I do it, anyway. Good hygeine and cleanliness is important to me, both for myself and for the well-being of my clients. I do my best to ensure that I am respectful of my client’s property and that I am not introducing outside dirt into the home. You’d be amazed at what the bottoms of my socks look like at the end of each cat visit, even in the most immaculate homes.

The visit timer stops once I exit the home, or once the visit tasks are complete, including taking trash to outside bins.

Water fountains

I’ve written about water source options for cats before, but thought I’d revisit the topic, focusing on water fountains.

We know that people need to drink lots of water in the summer. We don’t want to get dehydrated. The same goes for cats. Cats have a low thirst-drive, and they should have easy access to fresh, clean water at all times. I’ve even seen videos of people setting out giant ice balls for their cats to lick to help cool off – it’s on my to-do list for my own cats!

At every cat visit, even if it is twice in one day, I empty water bowls, wash them with soap, and replace with clean, fresh, cold water. I generally let water fountains go every other day before washing with soap, but if they are dirty – particularly if I see anything inside the water, like kitty litter or dust – I will also wash them at every visit.

It’s better to wash out the water bowl than to keep refilling it with water without washing it. If you’ve ever noticed a slimey or reddish film coating the sides of the water dish, you’ve seen the bacterial biofilm that can live in those water bowls. Also mineral deposits from hard water that are hard to scrub out. Don’t make your cats drink slimey water! It could discourage them from drinking and lead to health problems like urinary tract blockages.

I’m becoming increasingly familiar with various water fountain models. But they’re all similar to clean, even the big elaborate ones and the small cute ones. They all need to be unplugged, taken apart, and washed with soapy water every few days to clean off bacteria, dirt, and contaminates. Even the ones with filters.

I think a lot of pet owners assume that an electric water fountain cleans itself, or that it doesn’t need cleaning. But that motor is only recirculating the same water, and any contaminants introduced to that water remains trapped in there, sloshing around. A cat’s water fountain with a filter is not like a Brita water pitcher, though both help make water taste better by running it through charcoal filters. We don’t need to clean a Brita pitcher every couples of days simply because we don’t drink directly from it – our saliva never touches it, and we keep the pitcher on the counter or in the fridge, where it won’t accumulate the amount of saliva, dirt, dust, and fur that a cat’s water fountain will on the floor. Some cats like to paw at their water, which also introduces kitty litter into it. So yes, those nice big electric water fountains still need to be cleaned every couple of days.

If I have enough time at a cat visit, I sometimes even use q-tips dipped in dish soap and a child’s tooth brush (which I carry for this purpose and disinfect after each use) to get all the corners and crevices of the fountain totally clean. It’s a good feeling when you get all the yucky stuff out and the fountain looks squeaky clean!

Filters in fountains also need to be replaced regularly, roughly every 1-4 weeks, depending on usage. If it feels slimey or looks greyish/brownish/reddish, it needs to be replaced. When you look at an old filter next to a new filter, you’ll understand what a clean, working filter is supposed to look like. A client recently asked me which way the filter is supposed to face, and I contacted PetSafe, which makes many of the water fountains I encounter, to find out. I’m always curious and I love learning new things and helping clients. For models that take the rectangular filters, the white side of the filter is to face the incoming water, and the black part faces the water going out. So water flows in through the white and out through the black.

Don’t let this discourage you from getting a nice water fountain for Fluffy. I like water fountains. If I had a conveniently located outlet and the floor space, I might get one for my cats. Cats like them, they’re usually too big and heavy to knock over, they are pleasant to listen to, and help provide moisture during the dry winters. While they need to be cleaned regularly, it might save you a day or two in between cleanings, whereas a simple bowl of water needs to be cleaned once or twice per day. There are many models of water fountains available, and some are quite beautiful and charming.