What to do with Fluffy and Fido while you are away on a trip.
Courtesy of the American Boarding Kennels Association, the non-profit trade association for the pet boarding industry in the United States and around the world. ABKA offers information, publications, education and facility accreditation.
Every day people face the question of what to do with their pets when travel, illness, or family emergencies disrupt normal care. Some pet owners attempt to solve this problem by taking their pets with them, only to discover that hotel restrictions, travel-induced pet illness, and runaway pets can turn their trip into a disaster. Other pet owners turn over the care of their animals to well-meaning but untrained neighbors, or friends. Again, the results are often unsatisfactory. Pets entrusted to such part-time custodians frequently escape or become seriously ill because of lack of reliable, frequent, and knowledgeable supervision.
Fortunately, the majority of pet owners who find themselves in need of substitute pet care utilize the services of professional boarding kennels. Annually, more than 30 million pet owners recognize that full-time, knowledgeable and experienced boarding kennel operators provide the most dependable, secure and safe pet care available.
What is a Boarding Kennel?
Throughout the United States and Canada, there are approximately 9,000 boarding kennels offering their services to more than 30,000,000 pet owners annually. Most boarding kennels provide a variety of pet services such as boarding, grooming, training classes, pet supply sales, and pet shipping. Although the vast majority of boarded pets are dogs and cats, many kennels also offer boarding for horses, birds, reptiles and exotic pets.
Evaluating a Kennel
After finding your local kennels, you can determine the one to use by:
Telephoning the kennel. Call to see if the kennel can accommodate your pet. During peak times such as the Christmas season and summer vacations, many kennels are booked up and cannot accept your pet. Also, because some pets require special handling or accommodations (very young puppies, animals on special medication or feeding schedules, or giant breeds, for example), all kennels may not accept them. While you are on the phone, make an appointment to visit the kennel.
Making a personal visit to the kennel. A personal visit is essential to determine whether the kennel will be satisfactory. During your visit, observe or ask about the following…
General appearance of the kennel proper:
Following regular daily clean-up procedures, the kennel should look (and smell) neat and clean. Kennel operators are proud of their kennels and like to show them off, but some of them do not permit visitors in areas where animals are housed. There are two key reasons for establishing a “No Visitors” policy. First, some dogs react unpredictably to strangers. (They become excessively fearful or aggressive.) As a result, the presence of strangers in the kennel can cause such dogs to injure themselves or develop intestinal problems. Second, visitors do not follow the same stringent disinfecting procedures used by kennel personnel, and can transport contagious agents (bacteria, viruses) into the kennel. However, kennels with a “No Visitors” policy should provide you some type of viewing window, so that you can see where your pet will be staying.
In visiting your local kennels, you will observe that there are several types of kennel designs currently in use. Some kennels have indoor/outdoor runs; some have totally enclosed facilities; and some house pets inside, but utilize outside exercise areas. Each of these designs has its own advantages, and you should ask the kennel operator to explain the advantages of the system in use at that kennel
When you are on a trip, your pet may decide to try to “find” you. Because of this tendency, and because very few homes are designed with pet security in mind, pets can escape from inexperienced individuals who might be asked to watch your pet. Boarding kennels, on the other hand, are designed to prevent this kind of accident. During your kennel visit, look for sturdy, well-maintained fencing, gates and dividers between runs. If your dog is a climber, digger or some other type of “escape artist” tell the kennel operator so that extra precautions can be taken (wire covered runs, locks on gates, etc.). Cats always require covered facilities.
Kennels areas where your pet will stay should be free of sharp objects, harmful chemicals and objects your pet might swallow. Primary enclosures (sleeping quarters) should provide solid dividers between your pet and the other boarders, both for reasons of safety and so that your pet will be able to relax and sleep without feeling challenged by his or her neighbors. Exercise areas should include barriers between runs high enough to prevent male dogs from urinating into adjacent runs. Surfaces should offer good traction even when wet. Firefighting equipment should be readily available.
Proper supervision is the key to good boarding. Pets should be checked frequently during the day by someone who is trained to recognize the signs of illness and distress. Experience and practical knowledge are required to detect or interpret such symptoms as lethargy (“I thought he was just sleeping”), severe intestinal disorders (friends or acquaintances rarely check the backyard for bloody stool), urinary problems (it is almost impossible to detect blood in urine when pets urinate on grass), loss of appetite, coughing, sneezing, or discharges from the eyes or nose. Yet, all of these signs can be significant. Competent kennel personnel are trained to recognize and evaluate such signs and to seek veterinary assistance when needed. Therefore, you should try to evaluate the competence of the kennel personnel.
The kennel should be free of dirt, fecal accumulation, odors and parasite infestation (flies, fleas, ticks). There should be a strict schedule of disinfecting with effective chemicals.
Water: Individual containers filled with clean drinking water should be available to each animal.
Food: Feeding procedures vary from kennel to kennel. Some kennels supply preferred brands of feed, which they serve to all boarders. However, they usually allow you to bring your pet’s favorite food, if you wish. Other kennels maintain a stock of the most popular brands, and feed whatever you request. Still others require that you bring your pet’s food when you check in. Determine the kennel’s policy, and if there are any additional charges for special feeding arrangements.
Veterinary services: Ask about the procedure for obtaining veterinary service, if required. Some kennels retain a veterinarian on the premises. Others prefer to use your pet’s veterinarian so that there will be a continuity of care. Remember that it is customary (and responsible) for you to be financially responsible for any veterinary care required for your pet while it is being boarded.
Immunization requirements: Dogs should be immunized against rabies, distemper, adenovirus, parainfluenza, parvovirus and bordetella. Cats should be vaccinated against rabies, panleukopenia or distemper, feline rhinotracheitis, and calici virus.
Medication policies and procedures: If your pet is taking medication, advise the kennel operator of the nature of the problem and the type and frequency of medication. Many kennels will not accept animals requiring excessive medication (more than three times per day, or nighttime medication, for example) or animals requiring potentially dangerous medication (diabetes shots, for example). Remember, it is essential that heartworm preventative medication be continued during boarding, if your dog is presently taking such medication. Inquire whether the kennel provides such medication, or if you should bring a supply. Ask if there is an additional charge for medicating.
Parasite control: If you live in an area in which fleas and /or ticks are a problem, your kennel should utilize procedures for controlling these parasites (pre-entry examinations for boarders, sprays, dips, etc.).
Provision for animal comfort:
Temperature control: The kennel should be able to maintain temperatures within healthful, comfortable limits for your pets. If you have an older pet, or a pet that requires warmer or cooler accommodations than are normally provided, determine if special arrangements can be made.
Protection from the elements: Exercise areas should provide shelter from wind, rain, snow and direct sunlight.
Ventilation: Good ventilation (no drafts) helps minimize the spread of airborne bacteria and viruses.
Light: Lighting should be at comfortable levels during the day.
Bedding: Find out what arrangements are made for pet bedding. Some kennels provide resting platforms, bedding or newspaper. Others require that you bring bedding from home. Check if there are any restrictions on owner-provided bedding (wicker beds and feather pillows, for example, may not be accepted).
Sleeping quarters: As you know from observing your pet, most of his or her time is spent resting or sleeping. Your kennel should provide a place for this purpose (a primary enclosure). It should be clean and dry, and roomy enough for your pet to stand up comfortably, turn around easily, and stretch out.
Exercise area: All animals require exercise, but the requirements for dogs and cats are different. Let’s discuss their requirements for exercise individually:
Dogs: Dogs should have enough space to enable them to break into a run. Exercise time will depend upon the kennel’s layout. In some kennels, dogs are allowed free-access to their own individual exercise runs during the day. In such kennels, you may want to make arrangements to limit your dog’s exercise time, if there is any reason he or she should not be allowed to exercise at will (an older dog with a heart condition, or a ‘hyper’ dog who tends to run weight off, for example). Other kennels use a ‘time-sharing’ method for scheduling exercise. In such kennels, make sure that the time allowed and the frequency of exercise periods are adequate for your dog.
Cats: Because cats exercise isometrically (by stretching), and because they are not ‘pack animals’ that need, or enjoy, the company of other animals (as dogs do), they do not necessarily require separate exercise areas, but are content when housed in roomy primary enclosures. However, some kennels also provide ‘play areas’ for those cats that appear to enjoy the additional space. Whether or not your kennel provides such play areas, your cat’s primary enclosure should be large enough to permit stretching and moving around, and should contain a regularly cleaned litter box.
Additional services: Many pet owners find it convenient to schedule grooming, bathing or training for their pets while they are in the kennel for boarding. Ask if such services are available. If you are in the process of moving, the kennel may even be able to take care of shipping your pet. Such a service can save you time and trouble, and helps ensure the safety of your pet.
As a customer, you are entitled to be treated in a friendly, business-like manner. Furthermore, a kennel’s customer-handling practices are a reflection of their awareness of their responsibilities to you, the customer, and to themselves as professionals.
Therefore, you should observe the following:
Personnel: Kennel work is physically demanding and difficult. Nevertheless, kennel personnel should appear clean and neat. They should also demonstrate a high level of understanding and concern for your pet by their questions, their animal handling techniques, and their attitude.
Appearance of kennel grounds and office: Kennel property should be neat and well maintained.
Rates: Rates should be available in the kennel office. Be sure that you understand the method of calculating boarding charges. Some kennels have a checkout time, after which you are charged an additional day. Others charge by the night or day.
Boarding agreement or contract: Your kennel should have some type of boarding agreement, which clearly states your rights and the kennel’s responsibilities. This type of form protects you and the kennel from any misunderstandings in these areas.
Hours of operation: Days and hours of business should be clearly posted. If your kennel is closed on weekends or holidays, note and respect that policy. On those days, all pets are fed and exercised and the facilities are cleaned and maintained, but the kennel office is closed and there is no one in the office to meet customers.
Using the information listed above, you have now located, evaluated and selected your boarding kennel, and have completed most if the steps necessary for successful boarding. However, there is still one thing required to assure that your pet receives the best care possible, and that is that you fulfill your part of the boarding. Even the best kennel in the world cannot take proper care of your pet unless you assist them by observing the following recommendations …
Preparing For Boarding
Make your reservations early: Most kennels are booked up on holidays and during vacation times. If you wait until the last minute to make your reservations, you may be disappointed. As you make your reservations, verify those items which you should bring with you to the kennel (immunization records, special food, medication, bedding, and toys). Make arrangements for any special services that you wish to have performed while your pet is in the kennel (grooming, training, or shipping). As you make your reservations, find out what type of payment arrangements are acceptable (credit cards, personal checks, money orders).
Prepare your pet for boarding: Remember that pets, like people, usually appreciate a vacation in new surroundings with new friends. Dogs, once they become familiar with their new surroundings, have a marvelous, exciting time, almost like kids at summer camp. (If your dog has never been boarded before, you might consider short, overnight stays at the kennel prior to an extended boarding stay to help him or her get used to boarding. Every time you return your dog is less likely to affected by “separation anxiety” and can enjoy boarding more.) As a rule, kittens take to boarding easily and have a wonderful time. Adult cats usually display a very nonchalant attitude towards boarding and prefer to sit quietly and observe the daily kennel routine. They don’t seem inclined to make new feline friends or participate in group play, but seem content to rest, eat, make friends with the help and purr. Make sure that all immunizations are current (and have immunization records, if your kennel requires them). Don’t overfeed your pet right before going to the kennel. The extra food is not really necessary and the result might be an upset stomach. Finally, because pets sense and reflect our emotions, DO NOT allow any member of the family to stage an emotional ‘farewell’ scene. Your pets can be made to feel unnecessarily anxious about the kennel visit if they are subjected to this kind of dramatic display.
Check in during business hours: Bring all agreed upon medications, etc. Make sure that medications list the prescription number and name of the pharmacy so the kennel can obtain a refill if your return is unexpectedly delayed. Allow enough time in the kennel office to fill out the necessary paperwork. The kennel needs to know such things as: name, address, phone number, return date, additional services requested, where you can be reached in case of an emergency, the name of a local contact, your veterinarian’s name and phone number, special feeding instructions (if any), medication instructions, etc. If your pet has any special problems which are not covered on the check-in forms, such as fear of thunder, epilepsy, or deafness, point them out to your kennel operator. All of this information helps your kennel take better care of your pet, especially if there is any type of emergency requiring special action. (And this is what professional care is all about. Anyone can feed your pet, as long as nothing goes wrong. But what you want for your pet is supervision by someone who can assess and respond properly to emergencies). Don’t be surprised if your kennel operator asks you to leave your dog in the kennel office, rather than allowing you to place your dog in his run. This is done so that your dog will see you leave and will realize that you have entrusted him or her to the care of the kennel operator. It also eliminates the possibility of your dog getting the erroneous impression that you are placing him in the run to “guard” it. When dogs get that impression, they sometimes become aggressive.
Relax and enjoy your trip: Remember that you are leaving your pet in the hands of capable professionals. Pets in the kennel probably receive more care and attention than they would at home.
Picking Up Your Pet
When you return from your trip, here are some things that can help you and your pet to have a happy homecoming:
Pick up your pet during the kennel’s normal business hours: Attempting to conduct business after hours is not only an imposition of the kennel operator and a possible disruption of sleep for the boarding animals, but can also result in a wasted trip to the kennel (because all personnel may be working in the kennel area and unable to hear the doorbell). For these reasons, many kennels assess an additional charge for after-hours pickup, to discourage the practice.
Ask about your pet’s stay at the kennel: Did your pet adapt well to kennel food, routine and environment? Did he or she display any unusual behavior or require any special handling? This information will be entered on the kennel’s records, to assist kennel personnel in caring for your pet during the next stay, but you should also be aware of it in the event that you move or use the services of another kennel in the future.
Contact your kennel operator if you have any questions about your pet’s behavior after returning home: Sometimes pet owners become unnecessarily concerned about behavior, which is completely normal. (For example, many dogs tend to sleep almost continuously for a day or two after returning home. This is usually a result of being back in a relatively calm environment after the excitement of the kennel). However, if you observe anything that appears to be out of the ordinary, contact your boarding kennel operator to discuss your observations.
Developing a good relationship with a boarding kennel will make things a lot easier for your pet, your family, and you. Taking a few of the precautions mentioned in this booklet before and after you board your pet will result in a pleasurable (and economical) vacation for every member of your family. Do your homework in advance, and trust your kennel owner to provide a safe, happy homecoming when you return. Have a good trip!