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  • Linda

Pet sitters don't need to know everything.

There are a lot of different pets out there! If you take thirty seconds and write down all the different types of pets people have, it would be quite the list in that short amount of time. Pet sitters tend to take care of more dogs and cats than anything else, but there are so many other pets that people choose to bring into their family.

When I started out in professional pet sitting, I was just going to pet sit for birds. I love birds and thought it would be fun to just focus on birds. However, I quickly figured out that if I just focused on birds then I wouldn't be making much of an income in my area because there weren't a lot of bird owners or many who went away. Maybe it was because they didn't want to leave their birds with a sitter or maybe because they couldn't find a sitter who would care for birds. I'm not sure. Some pet sitters are nervous around birds for various reasons. Birds are fragile and quick and the bigger birds can also be very powerful and intimidating. Birds pick up on your vibes so they know if you are nervous. If I lived in Hawaii or someplace warmer, I might have the opportunity for more bird clients, but in my area, not too much!

So, I expanded to care for "dogs, cats, birds, and bunnies". But in addition to those types of pets, there were clients who also had fish, frogs, turtles, chickens, and sheep! Then there were the people with iguanas, snakes, hamsters, gerbils, guinea pigs, and the list goes on. As a pet sitter, you have to decide what pets you are comfortable caring for and be honest with the clients if you are not comfortable and tell them why. But, you don't have to know everything about every type of pet.

Pet sitting set me on a learning curve that I never thought I'd have to ride. I knew the most about birds, dogs, cats, and rabbits. I didn't know much at all about the other types of pets. The last time I had encountered a gerbil, it was my sister's pet when I was a teen and the little creature started choking on something and I attempted CPR and rushed him to the vet. He didn't make it. The last time I encountered fish was at Sea World and years before that I had a pet beta fish that committed suicide. He jumped right out of his bowl and I found him on my kitchen floor after coming home from work one night.

Do you see where I'm going with this?

I didn't know a lot about certain pets. Sure, I capitalized on what I did know, but had to be ready to learn so that I could be the best pet sitter in my area. What did I do?

Well, being an avid reader helped, and then of course there is always "look it up on google". I also attended pet sitting conferences and took a pet sitter certification program through NAPPS ( and a few years later I helped them revamp their entire nationwide program with a team of other great pet sitters. That gave me even more knowledge because I had to do research and attend committee meetings.

Top of the list though (for me) is that there was nothing better than learning about a specific pet from the owners themselves. So, the first time I was asked to care for a turtle, I was honest with the owner. Not only did I not know much about turtles. I didn't really know anything. I asked the owner to please tell me about caring for a turtle in detail so I could do the best job possible, and then I went home and looked up that specific type of turtle and read a lot about it before my pet sitting rounds. Punky the turtle and I became fast friends, then Harry came along, and well, you see....

In pet sitting, many times you learn on the go. You don't have to be perfect. You don't have to know it all. You just need to have a desire to learn all you can.

Some clients think that pet sitters are like vet techs - that they know everything about every pet disease and condition and medication. Truth is, we don't. But, the stellar pet sitters step up and learn. They learn from owners, books, googles, podcasts, etc.... They also learn from the pets themselves as they interact with them. They also know when to say to a client " This is way beyond me - I recommend you ask your vet".

Don't pretend to a client that you know everything about their type of pet. It doesn't serve you well in the long run. Plead ignorance and then set yourself onto a path of learning asap. Clients will usually be more than happy to show you the ins and outs of caring for their particular pet.

Also, if there is a type of pet you are really not comfortable caring for then tell the client and decline to sit if you are that uncomfortable. For instance, a couple of times I was asked to care for iguanas and snakes. Now, I'm sure they are lovely pets for some people, but not for me. In both instances, the owners said I wouldn't have to touch them or take them out of their cages, just drop food into their tanks. My response was "but if your house catches on fire or I have to evacuate them due to an emergency, I will have to touch them and I will not be able to do it." And like on Shark Tank I said, "I'm out. I decline."

For pet owners who are reading this - your pet sitter will be thrilled to learn more about caring for your specific pet. They love pets and should not be shy about asking you for more information.

Pet sitting is one of those professions in which there is always something new to learn - whether it is about specific pets, pet behavior, health issues, or business. If you like pets and learning, then don't let the fact that you don't know everything scare you away. Even after pet sitting for almost sixteen years, I still didn't know all I wanted to know.

Please don't consider your lack of specific pet knowledge a hindrance to starting a pet sitting business. Just be motivated to learn and apply yourself and you will do fine!


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