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Everything You Need to Know About Pet Boarding

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While we would love to have our pets accompany us on vacation or on an out-of-town visit, there inevitably are times we must leave them behind. And if it’s your first time boarding pets, it may seem like an intimidating and overwhelming process. To help you make the best choice for your fur baby, get to know your pet boarding options, as well as what you should do and know before leaving your dog or cat with a boarding facility.

Types of Pet Boarding Facilities

Dog Kennels

When people think of traditional pet boarding, dog kennels usually come to mind. Dog kennels usually have an individual, designated area for each canine. Pet parents may prefer to keep their dogs separated from other dogs because they’re aggressive; are small, meek, dogs; or don’t like other dogs, explains Kirsten Seeger, manager at American Pet Hotel in Los Angeles, California.

At kennels such as American Pet Hotel, each dog has its own 8-by-8-foot individual run, and they’re taken out by trained staff anywhere from four to six times a day.

When each pup is checked in, there’s typically a thorough questionnaire that covers food, allergies, mobility and personality, so that the dogs can be the most comfortable they can be.

“We’re diligent and nutty about food and medication, and keep precise lists,” says Seeger.

Typically, the onboarding process requires filling out basic paperwork, and the pooches need to be up to date on their rabies, Bordatella and DHPP. If your dog won’t be interacting with other canines, there may not be a temperament test.  However, some kennels do offer group play. If you choose one of those kennels, the requirements will likely be a bit different (similar to the doggy daycare requirements below).

Cat Boarding

Cat boarding facilities are similar to dog kennels in that cats are placed in their own individual area. Depending on the facility, cats may be placed in cages or, if the facility may be cage-free, condos or suites.

At cat boarding facilities such as at Cateau Marmot in Los Angeles, which is a cage-free facility, there are both individual bungalows and several different group areas. The group areas include a lounge room and sun room, complete with windows and bird feeders right outside, which attracts squirrels and birds for resident felines to observe.

“The cats come out and roam freely,” explains owner MacCaully Shields. “They’re in charge.”

As far requirements go, for cats to be boarded at Cateau Marmot, for example, they need to be fixed, up to date on their rabies vaccination, and have a “snap” test, which is a quick test that checks for FIV, FeLV and heartworm.

Doggy Daycare

While doggy daycare is typically a place you take your dog for several hours during the day, some offer pet boarding as well.

Some daycare facilities, under the supervision of a trained staffer, offer an open area where pooches can roam freely and play with one another. Other facilities house pets in separate, caged areas for part of the day, and then let them roam in an open play area with other dogs for the rest of the time. This is best if your dog is social and enjoys the company of other dogs.

At South Park Doggie DTLA Daycare and Boarding in Los Angeles, besides offering doggy daycare, dogs can either sleep overnight in “slumber party” groups, or stay in private rooms where they’re in crates.

The dogs need to be up to date on their rabies, Bordatella and distemper shots, and pups over 8 months need to be fixed.

“Otherwise, the dog may show too much dominance or is overstimulated,” explains Elizabeth Casillas, South Park Doggie DTLA Daycare and Boarding manager.

Pet parents will be questioned on their canine’s medical history and whether they have any behavioral issues. Because there’s a heavy degree of socialization at this type of facility, there’s a more in-depth evaluation process.

“We [are] basically checking to make sure they’re people- and dog-friendly, and there’s no signs of aggression,” Casillas explains.

At South Park, there are different steps during the evaluation process. The first step is where the dog has some interaction with one of the staff attendants. This could take anywhere from several minutes to an entire hour. If the dog “passes,” they progress to the next step, which is one-on-one interaction with another dog. If the pooch shows no signs of aggression, the dog is then taken on-leash into a room with a small group of dogs. If that goes well, then the last step in the evaluation process is with a larger group of dogs.

“If the dog shows outright aggression or dominant behavior, then they aren’t going to be a good fit,” explains Casillas. “However, if the dog is aggressive because it is nervous, afraid or demonstrating shy protectiveness during the evaluation, we can work with that.”

Russell Hartstein, CDBC, CPDT-KA, founder of Fun Paw Care in Los Angeles and Miami, Florida, says most dogs aren’t suitable for dog boarding or doggy day care. Because dogs play best in twos, putting them in a multi-dog facility can result in a stressed animal, he explains.

“So, you’ll want to carefully assess whether dog boarding is a good fit for your pet,” Hartstein says. “Otherwise, they may come back very stressed and sick.”

Pet Hotels

While some pet hotels may provide more luxurious accommodations, sometimes a pet hotel is another way of saying kennel boarding or cage-free boarding. You’ll want to review each pet hotel separately. Contact the facility directly to receive specific information about the setup and structure.

Veterinary Office

If your dog or cat has special medical needs—an older pet on medication, a pet who has an infection, is contagious, is bandaged up from a wound, or is recovering from surgery several weeks ago—you may want to board him through you veterinarian’s office, explains a vet tech at the Arcadia Small Animal Hospital who asked to be referred to only by her first name, Sharon.

While boarding through a veterinary office, cats usually are in a cage, while dogs are in a large run and get several walks a day. Multiple dogs may be housed in a single run.

As for the onboarding process, pet parents typically need to provide basic information, such as what the pet eats, if there is any special medical attention or care needed, and emergency contact info.

“Another benefit of boarding through a vet’s office is that there is already an established relationship between the veterinarian and staff and the pet,” Sharon says.

Private Pet Boarding

An alternative to traditional types of pet boarding is private, in-house boarding where you take your pet to someone’s home. Benefits include a more intimate setting with fewer animals, and typically more playtime and attention, explains, Aki Mason, owner of Sky’s the Limit Pet Boarding in Azusa, California. Pet parents can decide whether they want their pups to be socialized or separated.

For cat boarding, while arrangements may vary, felines may get an entire room or space to themselves. Plenty of cat toys and a cat tree may be provided.

Mason just requires that pet parents bring their own food, and bedding if they think it’ll help the pet feel more comfortable.

“Most of the pets are repeaters or my current regular clients, so the dogs already know me and they’re happy and comfortable staying here,” Mason says. The downside is that since private, in-house pet boarding is smaller quarters, it can get booked up fairly quickly.

How to Choose a Boarding Facility

The first step of the boarding process is asking the right questions, Hartstein says. The more information you get up front, the better.

Start by visiting a boarding facility’s website and look over reviews there and on review sites like Yelp.com to glean as much info as you can. If you have additional questions, give the facility a call. Hartstein recommends asking questions such as:

  • What is the owner and/or staff’s background, certifications, education and expertise? Are they part of any professional organizations?
  • How large are the playgroups?
  • How are the facilities cleaned?
  • What’s the ratio of dog or cat per people?
  • How much playtime and exercise will they get?
  • How noisy is the facility?
  • How will the animals be grouped together? For instance, by size, age, temperament or activity level?
  • Do they allow intact—those not spayed or neutered—animals?
  • Do they offer transportation for your pet?

It’s helpful to take a tour of a pet boarding facility you’re considering, says Katy Nelson, DVM, an associate veterinarian at Belle Haven Animal Medical Centre in Alexandria, Virginia.

“Ask to tour the kennel where your pet is boarding and ensure there are double doors to prevent escaping pets, a trained staff on hand, well ventilated runs and a clean environment,” Dr. Nelson says. “You may want to ask for some extra walks, too, for smaller pups with smaller bladders or larger dogs with higher energy levels.”

Know the Pet Boarding Requirements

Standard requirements when you plan to board your pets include them being current on their vaccinations, as well as heartworm and flea and tick preventive medications, before going to a boarding facility, Dr. Nelson says.

“Multiple stressed pets in a close environment can be a recipe for illness,” Dr. Nelson says, “just like schools and daycares for tiny humans.”

Your pet also should have basic obedience training and a suitable temperament to be around unfamiliar humans and pets, Hartstein says. Make sure they are potty-trained, spayed or neutered, and microchipped, as well.

The pet boarding facility also might give your pets a temperament test. This ensures they are human- and animal-friendly and can get along well with others.

“Be open and honest with the kennel staff as to what situations your pet thrives in,” Dr. Nelson says, “and which ones may lead to behavioral issues, such as cage aggression, resource guarding or just the fact that your Shih Tzu doesn’t like big dogs.”

Check if there are specific times when pet parents can come and go, Hartstein says. That way you don’t disrupt socialization time and routines among the boarded animals.

Each pet boarding facility may have special requirements, so ask for those ahead of time.

How to Make Sure Your Pet Is Comfortable

Your pets are sure to miss you when you’re gone. But there are things you can do to boost your pets’ comfort and happiness while being boarded.

Bring your pet’s regular food, Dr. Nelson says.

“That way a new food on top of a new environment does not lead to gastrointestinal [GI] distress,” she explains.

Don’t forget dog treats! For example, Castor & Pollux Organix cookie dog treats are made to break easily for rewarding pups.

Sending your pet with a blanket or towel with your scent on it also boosts comfort while you’re away. Ask if you can bring your own pet’s bed from home to provide another comfort from home, Dr. Nelson says.

If not, make sure the provided pet beds are the proper size and comfort level for your dog. For instance, confirm they have large dog beds for your black Lab or smaller ones for your Dachshund.

For many pet parents, bringing an experienced, certified pet sitter to their home is the best option for their fur baby, and it’s often the most convenient. Be advised that this option can be more expensive.

Understanding the different options for boarding pets, along with the process and requirements, will help you make the best choice for you and your fur babies. Plus, you’ll ensure your pet stays healthy and happy while you’re away.


Jackie Lam

Jackie Lam has contributed to Cat Fancy’s CatChannel.com, PawCulture, The Honest Kitchen and Graphiq’s PetBreeds. She is a cat and dog aunt to Boo, Ninja, Kali, Murphy, Kona and Miette. A freelance writer and brand storyteller, she also writes about money, blogs atHeyFreelancer.com, and enjoys writing fiction, learning the drums, helping cultivate community among fellow freelancers.

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