When you travel, you can't always bring your furry friends along. If you can't find a family member or pet sitter to come to your home, take your cat or dog to a boarding facility. There are many options available, but boarding facilities can vary in the services they offer and the accommodations they provide your animal. Use these tips to choose a boarding facility that your pet will consider a second home.
- Ask for referrals. Contact pet owners you know in your area and inquire about their experiences with boarding facilities. Make a list of the boarding facilities that your friends recommend and list any pros and cons they mention. Also, ask your veterinarian for suggestions.
- Check them out. Once you have a list of potential boarding facilities, visit each one in person. Find out if someone is on the premises at all times and if a veterinarian is on call 24/7. Meet the staff to see how friendly and knowledgeable they are about cats and dogs, and seek out any specific staff members that will be assigned your pet's care. Also, check for overall cleanliness of the property, the size of the enclosures, and if the animals (mostly dogs) have protected access to the outdoors. Be sure the facility is heated in the winter and air-conditioned in the summer.
- Read the rules. Most good boarding facilities will insist that your pet be up-to-date on its inoculations. Bring a copy of your pet's health record with you as you tour the various facilities. That way, if you find a kennel you like, you can register your animal immediately. Also, most boarding facilities will ask that your dog be vaccinated for kennel cough (bordetella) before being dropped off. Kennel cough is a highly contagious upper-respiratory infection that spreads quickly in the close confines of a boarding facility. Check with your veterinarian about the vaccination and do it at least a week before it's time to board your dog.
- Tour the grounds. As you tour each facility, be sure to walk the entire property. Make sure the yard is securely fenced in case of an accidental escape and that there is no uncollected dog waste lying about. The outdoor space should also have an assortment of dog-friendly structures your pet can play on.
- Don't forget Kitty's needs. Most cats, even those who live with dogs, would probably prefer to relax away from the hustle and bustle and constant barking of the dog runs. If you want your cat to enjoy its time away from home, be sure the boarding facility you choose has a separate soundproof area just for cats. Also, see if they offer a "cat room" where your pet can roam around for a few hours each day and stretch its legs. Make sure all litter pans at the facility are clean and that there's isn't a strong scent of cat urine when you walk in the room.
- Ask for a single room. Make sure the boarding facility you are considering does not double up by putting two dogs in each kennel. If you have two bonded canines and there's enough space in the kennel, you can ask if they can room together, but never leave your pet at a facility where they'll make it bunk with a stranger.
- Get a copy of your pet's agenda. Ask the facility if they'll provide you with an example of what your dog or cat's day will be like. How often will it be fed? How many hours will it be free to play? Is there supervised time with other pets staying at the same location? Is there a trainer on staff who might teach your dog a few things while you are away? And, do they have webcams in place so you can watch your pet from afar on your computer?
- Know the hours. Find out when the facility is open and when you can pick up your pet. There is nothing more frustrating than getting home at 6 p.m. on a Saturday night and discovering you can't bring your furry friend home until Sunday afternoon or Monday morning. And, if you expect to drop your pet off on the way to the airport, you want to be sure you won't find a "closed" sign on the front door when you get there.
- Keep them healthy. If your pet has any special dietary or health needs, make sure the facility will allow you to bring special food and that they are willing to administer any drugs your pet might need. Even if your dog or cat doesn't require a special meal, ask if you can bring along your own food so your pet won't have to change diets while there. And, ask if they can groom or bathe your dog while being boarded. Dogs, in particular, will smell a lot better if they get a bath before you pick them up.
- Do a dry run. If you are going to have to board your pet for more than a week, you might want to do a "dry run" ahead of time by leaving it at the facility for a weekend. If your dog does well on the sleepover, it will probably be fine for a longer period of time. But, if it comes home stressed, dirty, or upset, you'll know to look for another location.
- Book early. Good boarding facilities book up early, especially during holidays. Make all reservations beforehand, and leave the name, address, and phone number of your local veterinarian with the kennel, along with how and where you or another responsible person can be reached in case of emergency.
- Don't forget your pet's identification. Your pet should wear a collar with identification tags. You can also take the extra precaution of getting your pet a microchip before being boarded. Collars and tags can get lost, but if your pet has a microchip, it will be much easier to find if it happens to get misplaced while you are traveling.
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