Choosing a place for your pets to stay while you are away from home is a very important decision. Every person has different requirements and expectations. You can chose from basic kennels to luxury resorts and everything in between. There are a number of important factors to consider regardless of the type of facility you chose.
Is the staff responsive and friendly?
The people make the place! The Pet Boarding industry has a high turnover rate – staff changes from year to year may mean that the quality of care changes. If the staff is not friendly, educated, and responsive with you, your pets are likely getting the same type of treatment that you received. Good communication from the staff means that you are more likely to receive good communication regarding your pet while they are at the boarding facility.
Do your dogs have access to the outdoors?
This may seem like a ridiculous question, but it isn’t. Some local jurisdictions (Montgomery County is one of them) do not allow dogs at boarding facilities to go outdoors under any circumstances. This is due to noise ordinances and concerns about barking noise. Dogs in these facilities never go outdoors during their stay and must urinate and defecate in a common indoor area. Most of us do not consider these conditions acceptable for our dogs. It could impact potty training for young dogs or cause well-trained dogs to hold their urine and stool for long periods.
Is the boarding facility open to visitors at all times?
A good boarding facility should not have any problem with visitors coming to tour their facility anytime during the hours they are open. They should be very willing to show you around. Once again, the staff should be friendly and helpful and they should be aware of the pets who are around them while you are on your tour. Check for odors and cleanliness. Make sure the facility is in good repair. Observe the animals who are currently there for signs of stress. Do most of them seem anxious and upset and reactive or are they generally calm and relatively content? Check to see if there are staff members around caring for and observing the patients who are there.
What health requirements does the boarding facility have?
Any good boarding facility should ask for proof of vaccination and require that these immunizations are completed 3-7 days prior to your arrival date. Any vaccination takes 3-7 days to be effective. Last minute vaccination or vaccination after arrival at the boarding facility puts your pet and other pets at risk. Beware of any boarding facility which does not require up-to-date vaccinations prior to your arrival.
What will my pet be fed? May I bring her/his own food?
Some boarding facilities feed a regular adult food to all guests. Some will feed a bland diet to minimize gastrointestinal upset during their stay. Others will feed your pets their own diet if you bring it with them. There can be an extra charge for this, but it is important if your pet is on a prescription diet or has a sensitive stomach to changes in food. Ask your veterinarian if you have concerns about a diet change for your pet while they are boarding.
What happens if my pet gets sick while boarding?
The most organized boarding facilities will have you sign a document which allows you to chose where your pet is treated. You should have the choice between your regular veterinarian or a veterinarian chosen by the boarding facility. You can also pre-authorize treatment up to a certain dollar amount in case they cannot contact you for approval. This allows them to begin treatment until you can be reached for any further decision making. If you cannot be reached, some boarding facilities will have you list another contact to make those decisions for you. Always be certain the boarding facility knows who your regular veterinarian is and how to reach them.
How many hours of the day is my pet actually being observed?
People often assume that their pets are directly observed for more hours of the day than they actually are being observed. Some boarding facilities have staff present 24 hours a day. Most do not. Some have no one present for 12 or more hours overnight. Some have a security guard overnight, but not a trained animal caretaker. Illness and accidents (even death) can occur overnight when pets are not supervised. Some dogs cannot go 12 hours without a bathroom break. You must take this into consideration when choosing your facility.
How many times per day is my fed and walked or exercised?
This is an important question to ask. It may not be the frequency that you would assume it to be. For dogs, this is where the concern for outdoor time comes up again. Do cats remain in the same cage the entire time or do they get the chance to stretch their legs in a play room? Some boarding facilities charge extra for additional walks, feedings, or exercise.
Do I get any information on how well my pet is eating and their bathroom habits during their stay?
The most organized facilities have a chart with notes on appetite for every meal and the results of every bathroom break. There should be documented evidence that medication has been given also. Some share this with you. Some use it for their own needs and only let you know if there is a problem. You should ask how they keep track of eating and bathroom habits and if you are made aware of that. There are a few facilities out there who weigh the pet when they arrive and again at the end or during their stay. There are pets who are too stressed to eat well and do lose weight during their stay. It could be a concern if the weight loss is excessive.
What if my pet needs medication while she/he is boarding?
Most boarding facilities will administer medications to your pet for an extra fee. Be sure to send the original prescription bottle with the medication name, instructions, your pet’s name and your veterinarian’s information on it. Include enough medication for the stay and a few days extra in case you cannot pick them up on time or they spit out a pill or two. Keep the rest of your medications at home. Make certain you ask for all remaining medication and bottles. Always count the medication you send and count what is left before you leave the boarding facility. This is the best way to confirm that your pet received his/her medication appropriately.
Is a bath required at the beginning and/or end of the stay?
This varies quite a bit. Individual boarding facility preferences vary. A clean well-run facility should not require flea dips or flea baths. Regular flea and tick preventative should be sufficient to protect against fleas. Bathing usually has extra costs associated with it.
What times can you pick up and drop off your pet?
This is an especially important question over holidays. If you depart or arrive home on a holiday when the boarding facility is not open, you pet may have to stay an extra day and you will have to pay for an extra day of boarding. Make sure the drop off and pick up times work for your schedule.