A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

13 Signs You Hired a Bad Pet Sitter

Has your dog become a food snob? Is your cat suddenly glued to your side? Not all pet sitters are created equal—here's how to make sure you have a good one.

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Dog on the toilet - Jack Russell Terrier

Your pet is obsessed with drinking from the toilet

It’s true that some animals (ahem, dogs) will drink out of the toilet for no discernible reason other than that they like to be as gross as possible, but if your pet seems extra thirsty or dehydrated after returning from the sitter, it’s a bad sign, says Kurt Venator, chief veterinary officer at Purina. “If your dog is thirstier than normal when you come home, it may be dehydration and an obvious sign that your dog is not being provided adequate amounts of clean, fresh water,” he explains. These are the secrets your pet wishes it could tell you.

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Dog Food
Chodyra Mike/Shutterstock

Your pet turns up their nose at their regular chow

Giving your pet a few treats is one sign of a loving caretaker. However, overindulging your furry friend is doing them no favors in the long run, particularly if it causes them to lose their appetite for their regular, healthy meals. Gaining weight can lead to a host of health problems for pets as well as their owners, Dr. Venator says.

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Pet eating foot. Dog and cat eats food from bowl
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Your four-legged friend eats everything in sight

On the other hand, if your pet is ravenous when you pick them up, it can be a sign that they’re being neglected or underfed, Dr. Venator says. It may not be intentional—your pet sitter may simply be spacing meals too far apart or not giving the appropriate amount of food per serving, he says. Make sure your sitter has your pet’s regular feeding schedule so there’s no confusion.

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Adorable beagle white brown color is howl and look on above. And he sit with 2 back leg infront an isolate white background. There has copy space for text. Dog on white screen.
Tony Kan/Shutterstock

Your dog goes berserk barking when he sees you

Barking is a major way dogs communicate anxiety or loneliness. So if your pup won’t stop barking, panting, or whining when he sees you, or if he seems completely exhausted, it may be a sign that he was barking throughout the day and was neglected for long periods of time, Dr. Venator says. Learn the signs your dog is secretly mad at you.

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Cleaning Day

You furry friend pees on your carpet

Let’s face it: Accidents happen. When you own a pet, you can expect even the best of them to have potty problems sometimes. However, if this is something that is very uncommon with your pet, make a note of it, Dr. Venator says. It can be a sign that they’re not getting enough outdoor time with their sitter.

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Overhead view of tanned girl in striped pants sitting on carpet with beagle dog sleeping beside. Portrait from above of woman in trendy bracelet resting on wooden floor with cute puppy.
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Your pet refuses to leave your side for a second

Many pets, especially dogs, require more than just a potty break, food, and water to thrive. If they’re not getting enough mental and physical stimulation during the day, they may regress behaviorally. “If your dog’s extra clingy when you return home, this might indicate that they are not getting the enrichment and attention they need from their caregiver when you are away,” Dr. Venator explains. Find out the sure signs your dog trusts you.

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Sleeping Cute Chihuahua dog under blanket in bed

Your furry friend just seems off

Be aware of any changes to your pet’s behavior. If you see a drastic change in the way your dog or cat acts with you or with other people, it is time to take a closer look at your pet sitter, Dr. Venator says. “Animals prefer routine, and your sitter should be providing the same level of love and affection that you do to keep them healthy and happy,” he says. Find out the silent signs your dog is depressed.

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Kitten sitting on a windowsill and looking out for curtains

Your animal hides under the couch when the pet sitter comes over

Hiding is a clear sign your pet isn’t comfortable with its sitter. In the case of new arrangements, this may simply mean they need time to warm up, but if you’re past the trial period and your pet still hides, it may be a sign they’re not being treated well or are even being abused. “Pay attention to your dog’s behavior when your pet sitter arrives at the home. If they uncharacteristically hide or feel the need to protect themselves by running to a crate, under a bed, or behind a couch, this may be a sign that your pet sitter isn’t providing a positive environment and ideal care,” Dr. Venator says.

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Cute cat in plastic litter box on floor
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Your cat’s litter box is overflowing

Kitties like a clean place to do their business, so a full litter box can lead to potty accidents and serious discomfort. If you are constantly coming home to a foul litter box, that is a clear sign that your pet sitter isn’t doing their job, says Beth Stultz-Hairston, vice president of Pet Sitters International. This is more common when you leave pets in the care of neighbors, friends, or non-professional sitters, as there often isn’t a clear list of expectations, she says.

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Puppy eating foot. Dog eats food from bowl
Gladskikh Tatiana/Shutterstock

The new bag of pet food you bought is still full

An empty food bowl and a full bag of food tells a pretty clear (sad) story, unfortunately. “This likely means the ‘pet sitter’ has not been there or has not been there as many times as agreed upon,” Stultz-Hairston says. If you have an alarm or programmable door lock, you may be able to check how many visits are actually being made and the length of each stay. Learn the 50 things your vet won’t tell you.

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You don’t hear a thing from your pet sitter

No news isn’t always good news, especially when it comes to your furry friends. In fact, you should expect regular texts or emails from your sitter. “Professional pet sitters will send updates from each visit, along with photos or video (if requested), to verify if visits have been completed and to also notify pet owners of any concerns with the pet’s health or behavior,” Stultz-Hairston explains.

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Owner trains his dog to give hive five
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Your pet sitter doesn’t offer a meet-and-greet

Not all pet sitters will be a good fit for your animal, and the best way to figure that out is to arrange for a meetup before you give your pet to their care, Stultz-Hairston says. “A professional pet sitter should come to your home in advance of the pet-sitting assignment, which will allow you to see the pet sitter’s interaction with your pet,” she says. Learn the secrets your pet’s groomer won’t tell you, too.

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Student writes notes into notebook on white desk with black pen, top view

You don’t have anything in writing

Informal pet-sitting arrangements can lead to confusion, frustration, and even tragedy. The best way to make sure all your pet’s needs are being taken care of is to make sure you have a clear contract outlining those needs and what exactly you expect the pet sitter to do, Stultz-Hairston says. In addition, she recommends looking for a local pet-sitting business that is insured, bonded, trained in pet care, and willing to provide references. Next, learn the little mistakes every dog owner makes.

Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen is a health, lifestyle and fitness expert and teacher. She covers all things wellness for Reader’s Digest and The Healthy. With dual masters degrees in information technology and education, she has been a journalist for 17 years and is the author of The Great Fitness Experiment. She lives in Denver with her husband, five kids and three pets.