4 Options for Your Pet When You Take a Summer Vacation

dog in suitcase
Going on vacation? Be sure to make the right plans for your pet while you're away.

Summer travel season has begun! But before you pack your bags, you have to face that nagging concern: finding a place where your beloved four-legged friend can stay and have as much fun as you. 

If you’re like many pet owners, leaving your furry family member behind might leave you feeling guilty or worried while you’re trying to relax on vacation. 

You can eliminate some of that stress if you find the right place for your dog or cat. We’ve put together a list of alternatives to help you determine which is best for your family.

But how do you know whether to board, hire a pet sitter, ask a friend or family member to watch your pet or bring your pet along? The answer may vary, says Dr. Wailani Sung, a veterinary animal behaviorist, depending on whether or not the pet has behavioral issues. And cats and dogs have different needs. In addition, pets with medical conditions, such as diabetes, may require a sitter or facility that can manage the condition and provide round-the-clock care, if needed.

Pet Resorts or Kennels

Many kennels these days are not the chain-link-fenced runs of the past. Instead, they’re often more like resorts for your pet, offering amenities including playtime with other dogs, swimming, special treats, multi-level kitty condos and even web cams so you can see how they’re doing for yourself. 

“Most dogs that play well with other dogs can be boarded in typical boarding facilities where they are in individual runs or where they may have access to play with other dogs for part of the day under supervision,” says Dr. Sung. “This would be the ideal situation for most well-adjusted dogs.” 

Cats often find boarding stressful, even under the best conditions, but leaving your feline at home with a caretaker isn't always an option, leaving you with no choice but to board her. In addition to making sure the boarding facility you choose is clean and well-ventilated and offers cat cages with plenty of space, you might also want to bring a paper bag or high-sided box to place in her cage in case she feels more comfortable with additional privacy. Also, while you'll want to leave her litterbox at home, you should bring her usual litter to the kennel along with a shirt or blanket that smells like home, all of which will add to her comfort.

There are a few important questions you should ask to make sure you’ve found the best kennel for your cat or dog, writes trainer Mikkel Becker. First, make sure the kennel requires appropriate vaccinations (if you're not sure which vaccinations should be required, consult your veterinarian). Then, ask for a tour of the facility so you can make sure the animals have protection from the heat and cold and it’s clean and well ventilated. Your pet should also have mental and physical stimulation throughout the day. If playtime with other dogs is offered, the pups should be segregated by size, and many kennels offer one-on-one playtime between staff members and kitties, too. It’s also important to know whether the kennel is staffed at night and how they handle medical emergencies.

Pet Sitters

You can hire an experienced pet sitter to stay overnight in your home or to come and care for your pet (or pets) several times a day while you’re away. The advantage, of course, is that your pet gets to stay in the comfort of her own home. Overnight pet sitters are more expensive, writes Dr. Marty Becker, but you’ll have the comfort of knowing your pet isn’t alone overnight. If you think your pet will be OK being alone at night, you can hire a sitter to drop by a few times a day to walk, feed and interact with your pet. The best way to find someone is often by word-of-mouth from friends, family, neighbors — or even from your veterinarian.  

“Dogs that are fearful, anxious or reactive towards other dogs may do best being boarded by an individual or staying at home being cared for by friends, family or a pet sitter,” says Dr. Sung.

Staying at home is typically the best option for cats. Because cats don’t have to be let outdoors if they are litter-trained, it’s often fine to have someone come in during the day (rather than stay at the house overnight) to check on him, make sure he has food and water and play with him a bit if he’s a social cat. 

Family Member or Friend

More informal pet-sitting arrangements can be made with a family member or friend who can either bring your pet home with them, come to your home to stay or drop by each day. But Dr. Becker warns that you want to be confident that this person is trustworthy and responsible. If they forget, your pet will be in trouble and you may not know it.

Dr. Sung reminds dog owners to be sure to instruct a friend, family member or professional pet sitter on how to appropriately care for the dog in case of exposure to situations your dog is reactive to, such as thunderstorms or fireworks. “I do not automatically assume that the person knows how to handle my pet; I give them very specific instructions,” she says. The same holds true for cats, who can also find unfamiliar sounds alarming and stressful. Anyone watching your pet should be aware of anything that tends to frighten your pet and how you'd like them to handle those situations.

If you bring your kitty to someone else’s home, make sure to bring a hiding place like a  crate, as well as his food, medication, litter, favorite toy and bed. 


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