House Sitting Blog
23 Mar 2011
Cat tip of the week: What's all this kneading and suckling about?

Some cats never stop some typical kitten behavior, such as kneading their mother’s tummy by moving the paws one by one around the nipple. This helps the little kitten to nurse, making suckling easier by creating a constant milk flow.

Some adult cats go back to performing these actions when they feel safe and comforted. Instead of their mother’s tummy they will happily use your sweater or blanket to knead and suckle on.
I have noticed this often – but not exclusively – in kittens that left their mothers quite early. Most cats seem to be in seventh heaven, really contented and often purring too whilst ‘kneading’. They look so happy that many cat owners probably think it’s well worth the wet patches on their clothes / pillow / blanket.

Occasionally a little claw may be used and that, of course, may slightly damage your clothing or Manchester. You could try to find your cat a super soft little blanket (or old sweater) that you can leave on your bed (or put on your lap) for this specific purpose.
If you’re going to look after someone else’s cats it worth asking beforehand if they have a favourite blanket or pillow. And don’t hesitate to pop that soft old sweater into your suitcase whenever you go on a pet sitting job…

Writing this I can’t but smile thinking back on one of the pets I grew up with; Bas, a Golden Retriever who enjoyed all the kneading and suckling that one of the cats performed on him. We often got strange looks when people noticed. But hey, it made for two happy pets and no damage!


Tags: cats, kneading, suckling
11 Mar 2011
Is this the right house sit for me? Part 1

Let's face it. House and pet sitting comes with a huge responsibility: you are looking after someone's property and most likely, after some beloved and very special pets. Therefore I'd like to offer you some advice on how to decide whether a particular house & pet sit could work for you. It's important to look beyond the alluring part of it and that is that you'll live or holiday in a new environment for free.

Pet sitting definitely comes with the need to adapt yourself to a completely new situation. In most cases an animal's happiness will be proportionate to how well you stick to its routine. It's not till the pets are happy that you'll be able to relax and enjoy the new place. Which leads me to the fact that in some cases you may have to give that extra bit to be able to do a good job.

Now, what am I talking about?

Obviously all pets are different. Some are real indoor pets and have to be kept inside all the time. (Which can come with a bit of stress if the pet seems to be constantly looking at opportunities to escape.) Other pets live outside and are not allowed indoors or they just prefer to spend most of their time outdoors.
We all know the hyperactive dog that never ever seems to get tired. (We need an energetic sitter here!) Other dogs barely want to step out of the house or out of their back yard. I have vivid memories of 1 particular dog, Lexie, who was not keen at all on going out but who was happy as could be, playing with me at 'home' and in the back yard. I soon stopped trying to drag her around the block; instead I stayed at home and tired her out with all kinds of games in her home environment.
Although initially it didn't make sense to me that a dog wouldn't want to go out, that was her routine and it was what kept her happy. (And I should have known as the owner had told me.)

There is no 'standard' for pet behaviour and every pet sit has been different for me. Many of those sits would have been 'easy' for all pet loving sitters. But some of them needed that extra stretch of pet love and / or acceptance.
Some examples of things I've had to do (or undergo) include:

  • cooking 3 star dinners for some very spoiled furry friends (with or without a dog on my feet). 
  • looking after an incontinent dog (dog nappies have no more secrets for me)
  • accepting Charlie's binge drinking at night (Charlie is a cat with a medical condition that makes him thirsty. He is used to drinking (slurping) water out of his own glass on the bed side table at night.
  • going to the loo with Zeus on my lap for a full 6 months. (Zeus is a sweet & beautiful Ragdoll)
  • showering with 3 pairs of feline eyes on me. (I've definitely lost all sense of prudishness)
  • sharing my bed 
  • constantly being followed around through the whole house 
  • looking after pets who are used to having their owners at home most of the time (some of them need and demand to be close to their carer all the time)

I personally don't find it too hard or upsetting as I've lived with pets - mostly spoiled ones, considered humans - since I was a little kid.
This is however not the reality for every pet sitter and luckily lots of house & pet sitting opportunities come with more generally accepted pet behaviour.
It remains important to know beforehand what you can expect from the particular pets you want to mind.

Some of the questions I'd like you to ask yourself, as the pet sitter, are:

  • What are you prepared to deal with?
  • What behaviour can you cope with?
  • How much time do you want to invest in your temporary pets and their care?

It is important to know for yourself what your limits are.

Before committing to a house sit I strongly recommend to get a sneak preview of who the pets are and what their habits are. It is best to arrange a live interview to meet the pets and the owners so you can ask about the things you need to know. These could include:

  • Are there any health issues at all?
  • What are the grooming habits?
  • Where do the pets sleep? (indoors / outdoors / in the bedroom / ...)
  • At what time to they go to sleep / get up / have breakfast / have dinner / go for a walk etc?
  • How long do they usually stay at home alone and what are they used to? (week + weekend routine)
  • ...

Asking all these things is one thing, but spending an hour or 2 with the pets and their home owners in their own environment should  really give you a more complete image. Both home owners and candidate house sitters will get the opportunity to check each other out which is a very important part of finding that good match.
Home owners will often be able to check on their sitters' references.
The opposite could be a good idea too (if they've used pet sitters before, you could try to talk to them to find out more about the pets). The more information, the better you'll be prepared and the more likely it is things will go well.

Will everything go well if you have all the relevant information?
Whilst I think information is the main key to a successful house & pet sitting experience, it doesn't guarantee a perfect house hold straight away. Despite being in their home environment, some pets still need time to settle in with their pet sitter.  Even when you're sticking to their exact routine, things may not go according to plan from the first day. Some of the recurring signs I've dealt with include pets eating less, being restless or being extremely needy during the first days.
This seems quite normal behaviour (although you always have to rule out illness if there are any worrying symptoms) and things usually go back to normal after a couple of days. Lots of love and attention will take you a long way.

Of course there is so much more to talk about than the pets.
I'll be back soon with more tips on how to find the right house sit - and mind set - to do it.