A small white dog and a young kitten standing on top of a suitcase.

Pet Care Options for When Your Pet Can’t Vacation with You

Ahhhh, vacation! Time to get away from the routine of everyday life, to relax and spend quality time with family and friends. While your four-legged family members can often join in the getaway fun, sometimes it isn’t possible — or even a good idea. Maybe your pet is the type who’s better off at home. Whatever the reason your pet won’t be joining you on vacation, the good news is that there are several options for pet care while you’re away. Here’s what you should consider when your pet can’t come along.

Where will your pet be happiest?

Pet care arrangements take planning and should start with considering where your pet will be most comfortable. Your choice of in-home pet care or overnight boarding should take into account your pet’s type (dog versus cat), age, behavior and health. A young, healthy dog who is well socialized may think staying at a pet hotel or boarding kennel is like summer camp. But for a shy, older cat, hiring a pet sitter to stay at your home may be more appropriate.

Once you determine what’s best for your pet, you can then explore the many options available in your community to ensure your pet is safe and well cared for while you’re away. Start by getting recommendations from other pet owners, family members or your veterinarian. Then look into any boarding facility or pet sitter you’re considering before you make arrangements.

Taking your pet to a boarding facility

Boarding has traditionally been a popular solution for dog and cat owners needing to leave their pets while vacationing. Today’s options run the gamut from simple cage-and-run kennels to spa-like pet hotels. Plus, some veterinary clinics offer pet boarding, which may be a good option if your pet has health problems that require daily medication. Many pets — particularly dogs — adapt well to staying at a boarding facility because they’re social animals. Other pets, however, may become stressed or depressed by an unfamiliar environment or changes in daily routine.

You and your pet — whether dog or cat — should be comfortable with your boarding facility choice. You’ll want to visit the kennel before dropping off your pet and talk with the manager or supervisor.

Questions to ask when checking out a boarding kennel

  • What kind of training do employees have in monitoring pets for health problems?
  • Are cats housed in an area separate from dogs?
  • Is someone on-site 24 hours a day?
  • Is a veterinarian on staff or on call?
  • If a pet becomes sick, will that pet be separated from the other boarding pets?
  • How often will my dog be walked? Or, how often will someone visit or play with my cat?
  • If my pet takes medication, will someone be able to give it as my veterinarian has directed?

As you’re visiting the prospective boarding facility, you’ll likely think of other questions to ask and that’s fine. Kennel staff want you to be comfortable with your decision as well as what’s best for your pet.

In-home pet care: Professional pet sitter or friend?

If a boarding facility is not an appropriate place for your dog or cat, you can have your pet stay in the comfortable, familiar surroundings of home while you’re away. You can hire a professional pet sitter or leave your pet in the care of a friend or family member. One of the best ways to find a pet sitter is by asking family, coworkers, friends or your veterinarian for a referral. Online directories such as those provided by Pet Sitters International, the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters, Rover.com and Care.com can help you locate a pet care professional close to your home.

Pet sitters come in two varieties: those who stay overnight in your home and others who drop by throughout the day. Pet sitters who can double as house sitters mean your dog or cat is not alone all night in addition to all day, and their presence helps avoid signals to potential thieves that no one’s home. And live-in pet/house sitters are more likely to notice potential health concerns sooner and can arrange for veterinary care if needed. While live-in sitters may be more expensive, the benefits of a less-stressed pet are typically worth it.

If you decide to have a friend, neighbor or family member care for your pet, you’ll want to know how much experience they have with pets and if they’re comfortable assuming responsibility for your pet’s care. A veterinary technician or veterinary student (if you live in a city that’s home to a college of veterinary medicine) who does pet sitting on the side is a great choice if your cat or dog requires medication or has health issues that require a trained eye.

When leaving your four-legged family member with someone else, you’ll need to provide enough information that the pet sitter can care for your pet. It’s better to provide too much information, rather than not enough, so be as detailed as possible when writing instructions. Be sure to include:

  • How often and how much to feed your pet, including what treats are appropriate (and where to find food and treats)
  • How frequently to change and refill water bowls
  • How often to scoop and change kitty litter boxes
  • How to exercise your pet, including where and how frequently, and your pet’s preferred playtime activities
  • How and when to administer the appropriate dose of medication, if your pet is taking medication
  • What type of grooming your pet needs or is accustomed to.

You’ll also want to leave your contact information, the phone number and address of your veterinary clinic, and the phone number and address of the nearest 24-hour veterinary hospital. In the event of an after-hours medical emergency, make sure your pet sitter knows your pet’s breed, age, approximate weight and any underlying health issues such as a heart murmur, medication allergies or untreated seizure disorder. An alternative is to leave a copy of your pet’s medical records for your pet sitter.

In the end, whether you choose to board your pet or hire a pet sitter, there’s no right or wrong — just what’s best for your lil’ buddy. So choose the service that meets your pet’s specific needs and that fits within your budget. Bone voyage!

The information in this blog has been developed with our veterinarian and is designed to help educate pet parents. If you have questions or concerns about your pet's health or nutrition, please talk with your veterinarian.


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