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Pet Boarding 101: Where to Keep Your Pet While You’re Away

Written By
9 min read

Updated - Jun 8th, 2022

There comes a time in all traveling pet parents’ lives that we have to leave our beloved furry companions behind. Sometimes, we’re lucky enough to have friends or family step in and care for them. Other times, we need to ‌board them or hire a pet sitter. 

But what exactly is pet boarding and how do you choose between the boarding choices to make the best decision for your pet’s comfort? We’re here to help you navigate the world of pet boarding so your pet can have a fun and comforting experience while you’re away.

Let’s dive in!

What is pet boarding?

Pet boarding is leaving your pet at a professional facility meant to care for them while you’re away. Some offer short daytime care, while others offer overnight and longer stays for traveling pet parents. Pet boarding facilities are called many names. There are boarding kennels, doggy daycares, pet hotels and resorts, and veterinarian boarding kennels.

If you’re worried about the safety of your pet, or how long you can leave your puppy alone, look into facilities that have trained, certified staff. Professional Animal Care Certification Council offers resources and a certification directory of professional animal care facilities.

Pet sitters are another great option. Pet sitters come to your home to take care of your pets. You have the option of daily visits and walks or even having the pet sitter stay in your home while you’re away. It’s usually less expensive than traditional boarding, but can be hard to book during peak seasons. 

Allowing your pets to remain in their own home can be the best option for dogs and cats with high levels of anxiety or socialization issues. The National Association of Pet Sitters is an excellent resource for finding reputable professionals.

Pet boarding facility options

The traditional days of our pets going to boarding facilities and staying in kennels are long gone. Now we have many options, from luxurious pet hotels offering five-star pet amenities, to in-home boarding options, and pet sitters as well. No matter the temperament or health needs of your pet, there’s a boarding choice that’s sure to give you peace of mind when you can’t be with your furry family member.

All pets who will spend time in boarding situations will typically be vetted beforehand. Some usual requirements are: potty-trained, spayed or neutered, good temperament around other pets and humans, have up-to-date vaccinations as well as heartworm, flea, and tick preventatives, and come with collars and tags or microchips.

Here is a quick overview of each type of boarding facility:

Dog kennels

This type of boarding is more traditional with individual designated areas for each pet. You have the choice of options like an individual run or pen, and most offer three to four daily walks and opportunities for group socialization.

Cat-only boarding

If your cat is not used to dogs, a cat-only boarding situation may be less stressful for them. Many cat boarding facilities house cats in crates, or cat condos and suites with other cats if they are social and tolerate other cats well. Always be honest about any behavioral issues your cat might have.

Doggy daycare

Dog daycares have become very popular for working pet parents, allowing their dogs daily socialization with other dogs and lots of free-range exercise and group playtime activities. Some also offer overnight and extended stays. During part of each day, in some daycares, dogs are kenneled for quiet time. This can be beneficial for those social dogs who would rather play all day than rest. Young dogs especially need to rest periodically throughout the day.

Some offer individualized crates or areas for the quieter or stressed dogs, or slumber party sleeping for multiple dogs when staying overnight. 

Requirements for doggy daycare include up-to-date vaccines for Bordetella (kennel cough), rabies, DHPP (distemper), spay or neutering for dogs older than 6 months (age varies by facility), dog potty training dependability, and in-depth temperament evaluations because of the heavy canine socialization in these boarding situations.

Pet hotels and resorts

A pet hotel offers luxurious accommodations in what is typically called a boarding kennel or cage-free boarding. Amenities can include a TV to keep your pooch company, spas, pools, more individualized attention and exercise, and group playtimes. Each one can offer different amenities and packages, but they will pamper your pup in style.

Veterinary hospitals and clinics

When you have a dog or a cat with a chronic illness or require daily monitoring as with a diabetic pet, veterinary hospitals and clinics might be the best option. The staff at your local veterinarian already has an established relationship with your pet and the pet’s health history. Older pets who can’t tolerate noise and change may also benefit from staying at the vet’s while you are away.

Vet boarding facilities typically house dogs in crates or fenced runs at the animal hospital and walk them several times a day. They typically house the cats in crates or kennels.

Private pet boarding

These are homes where people who are passionate about animals take in boarders for just a few hours during the day or longer periods of time. These facilities rarely are certified, but passion for animals and the home-like feel offer your pet the comfort of a home environment, fewer animals to deal with, and more playtime and attention than traditional boarding environments. 

The downside to these facilities is that they can book up fast during peak travel seasons and holidays.

Pet sitters

If you have family or friends that will either come to your house and take care of your pets, or better yet, stay in your house with your pets while you are gone, you are very lucky! But if you don’t, there are reputable pet sitting organizations to help you find quality pet sitting services.

Dogs who don’t like strangers or are very diligent watchdogs may have trouble with a stranger entering their territory. You may need to schedule two to three introductory visits prior to leaving to ensure the pet sitter and the pet are comfortable with one another.

How to find the right boarding facility for your pet

Asking the right questions is the first step in finding the right boarding facility for your pet. Start by checking for pet organization recommendations in your area. Do a thorough scan of their websites, Yelp reviews, and tour the facilities you are interested in. Look for clean, nice-smelling, well-ventilated environments where the staff and dogs appear relaxed and happy. 

Then ask questions like:

  • What are the certifications, backgrounds, and education of the staff?
  • Is there transportation available for pets?
  • How large are the play groups?
  • Do they separate the animals by size, temperament, age, and activity?
  • How are the facilities cleaned and how often?
  • What is the ratio of dogs or cats to humans?
  • What will a typical day look like for your dog/cat in their facility?
  • Do they allow dogs and cats in the facility that haven’t been spayed or neutered? (This can trigger over-stimulation or dominance issues).
  • How are emergencies or altercations between animals or animals and staff handled?
  • Are there cameras to let you check on your pet remotely?
  • Are there double doors or safeguards against accidental escapes? What happens if an animal escapes?
  • What extra services do they offer? (aqua-therapy, grooming, training, etc.)
  • Can you provide your own dog food/cat food and treats, bed, or favorite toys?

If you’re considering a pet sitter, be sure to interview them and watch them interact with your pets. If you like them, schedule a few visits prior to your leaving for your pets to get to know the sitter and be comfortable when you go. This can help give you peace of mind while you’re away.

Some pet sitting organizations may schedule more than one person to attend to your pet. If that is the case, make sure all sitters have spent time with your pet prior to your travel date.

In all cases, make sure you are completely honest about your pet’s behavior. How well do they get along with other animals? Do they have any food aggression or resource guarding issues? Being honest helps the staff ‌avoid situations that can be triggering for your pet.

Signs of anxiety to watch out for

Sometimes, the most perfectly suited boarding facility can still be stressful for your pet, especially if it’s their first time there. Here are some signs to watch for (even during initial visits prior to your leaving) that may show extreme anxiety.

Dogs

  • Refusal to obey commands and extreme panting
  • Excessive lethargy or hyperactivity
  • Biting or growling when approached,
  • Hiding
  • Diarrhea from stress

Cats

  • Refusing to eat or drink
  • Hiding
  • Pacing or constant meowing
  • Hissing or striking out when approached
  • Cystitis or urinary tract infection from stress

Pros and cons of pet boarding facilities

Pros:

  • Routine meals and exercise
  • May allow own food, toys, and bed
  • Attention and socialization with other pets and people
  • Professionally supervised environment
  • Staff are trained to handle the unique situations and personalities of each boarding pet
  • They monitor food and medications
  • No strangers come into your home
  • A good option for pets who enjoy socializing with other animals
  • Free-range play groups and individualized options are also available
  • Cage-free options for dogs who don’t care for crates or kennels
  • Cameras may allow you to watch your pet remotely

Cons:

  • Can be more expensive than a pet sitter, but with more amenities available to customize your dog’s comfort.
  • It is stressful with some animals risking injury or an altercation with other boarder animals.
  • Potential exposure to illness and disease from multiple animals or new foods
  • You must drop off and pick up the dog or cat from the facility if transport services are not available
  • Even the most docile of dogs can become reactive when caged, acting with aggression when approached, or when people or other animals walk by or reach into the cage.

Pros and cons of pet sitting 

Pros: 

  • In-home pet sitter keeping your home occupied while you are gone
  • Can drop by daily or stay in your home to care for pets
  • Can be less expensive than boarding facilities
  • Less stressful on your pets since they are in their home environment
  • No transporting is necessary
  • Great for pets with high levels of anxiety or geriatric pets 
  • Routine remains intact while you are away
  • Pet sitters may be able to take care of other home tasks while away like watering plants and taking in packages and mail
  • Most reputable pet sitters can provide references for you to check

Cons: 

  • Can be difficult to book during peak season periods – book ahead!
  • A stranger is in your home
  • Risky if your pet doesn’t respond well to strangers – you may need several scheduled visits before your pet gains familiarity with a pet sitter.
  • Pets can get lonely if left too long (as in daily visits rather than in-home care)
  • You risk accidental escape if they leave a door or window open.
  • Will the sitter be dependable? Camera doorbells and watchful neighbors can let you know if the sitter is not following the care plan. Most sitters have phone apps that track their arrival and departure, as well as time spent with your pets.

When traveling without your beloved dog or cat is not possible, most pets will adapt well and even enjoy themselves in boarding or pet sitting situations. However, be aware of your pet’s limitations and needs when looking for the best boarding options for them, then provide their comforts from home and detailed instructions for the caregivers. 

Always remember, even the most carefully planned pet care situations aren’t without risk. Ensure your pet has coverage in the event of future accidents or illnesses with pet insurance.

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!