Can't Take Your Best Friend on Your Trip?

Puppy in crate
Boarding at your veterinary practice can be a great option, particularly for senior pets, pets who may need frequent medications, or those who need to be checked on during the night.

When you’re looking for someone to watch over your pet when you travel, how do you decide which option is best? Start by asking your veterinarian for a list of recommended kennels and pet sitters. You can also search for local sitters on the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters and Pet Sitters International websites. Once you’ve narrowed your choices, you’ll want to check them out in person to find the best fit.

So what should you look for? We asked two experts, Dr. Margie Scherk, a past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, and Gina DiNardo, vice president of the American Kennel Club, for their tips.

Boarding at a Traditional Kennel

Look for kennels that are clean and clean-smelling inside and out. They should have good ventilation, a comfortable ambient temperature, and attentive, well-trained staff. Cages and other areas that pets have access to (such as common outdoor exercise areas) should be secure and clean, and boarded animals should look clean and have access to fresh water at all times.

Make sure you’re comfortable with the answers to these questions:

  1. How often do you check on the pets? At least three times a day is ideal.
  2. How frequently are the kennels and any exercise areas cleaned? They should be nearly spotless, and ideally, outdoor areas should be made of concrete or gravel, which are easy to clean.
  3. How often are the pets exercised or allowed to go out and play?
  4. How often are pets fed? Can you accommodate my pet’s feeding schedule?
  5. What can I bring that is familiar (pet’s own bed, food, toys, litter)?
  6. If a pet stops eating, what do you do? You want the staff to take this problem seriously. “They should monitor how much the pets are eating,” Dr. Scherk says. And if a cat’s appetite decreases for even two meals, they should consult the vet rather than switching diets, which can cause stomach upset or other issues.
  7. Is the facility monitored at night?
  8. How will my pet be cared for if she gets sick? Do you call the facility’s veterinarian or the pet’s own vet?

Facility staff should ask for your emergency contact information and a local contact. Be wary of any facility that doesn’t request this information. All responsible kennel operators will ask for vaccination records and the name of your vet. They may refuse pets with fleas or treat them — and charge you.

For Your Dog

What matters:

  • Clean cages, runs, and exercise areas.
  • Bedding that will keep your dog warm and off the floor while she sleeps.

When to walk away:

  • If there’s any odor. “A well-run kennel should not stink of doggy odors, so make sure you don’t smell anything offensive,” DiNardo says.
  • If certain areas are off limits to visitors. A responsible operation will let you inspect the entire facility up close.
  • If there are any holes or sharp edges in fencing or cage walls.

For Your Cat

What matters:

  • A calm, quiet space with multilevel cages to hide and perch in. “Cats need to feel secure when their environment changes,” Dr. Scherk explains.
  • Cozy bedding and clean litterboxes.
  • Wide feeding bowls so the cats’ whiskers don’t touch the edges and interfere with their ability to sense threats.

When to walk away:

  • If the facility is dirty, disorganized, or smells bad or the cages are cramped inside.
  • If there are dirty litterboxes, dirty drinking water, or dried-up food or insects in the bowls.
  • If climbing structures aren’t secure or have sharp edges.
  • If cats are bored, crying, sneezing, or huddled in the back of their kennels.
  • If the cats can see or hear dogs or other cats. “This may make them feel threatened,” says Dr. Scherk.

If cats are let out into a larger kennel with other cats. Dr. Scherk explains that cats should be let out on their own to avoid confrontation and intimidation, as well as spread of disease.

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