As a veterinarian who’s worked with and in many pet boarding facilities, and has managed pounds on behalf of councils, I am well versed in the requirements for appropriate boarding care. Whilst most of these facilities are created with good intentions and run by animal lovers we still, like most service industries, see a great variation in quality of care and value for money. It is not uncommon for vets to perform post-boarding consultations that deal with pets that have come home from boarding with issues such as parasite infestations, fight wounds, diarrhoea or contagious disease. This can be understandably upsetting for owners and may leave them wondering was their pet really cared for well?
So how do you know the right boarding facility for your pet? How can you be assured that whilst you’re on holiday, moving to a new house or at that work conference that your pet is in good hands? Here are some handy tips.
Indoors versus Outdoors
The preference for indoor versus outdoor boarding may depend on the species and size of the animal you have or what is available in your area.
Indoor boarding facilities provide pets with a more sheltered and temperature-controlled environment which can be greatly beneficial, particularly to elderly patients or those particularly prone to heat stroke. These facilities however, generally allow a smaller space per pet, have reduced stimulation and air conditioning can increase the risk of the spread of infection. Be sure to request a tour and discuss these concerns with the staff.
Outdoor boarding facilities provide fresh air, a more enriching outlook with more space per pet and better ventilation. However, being outdoors they have the potential of being exposed to temperature extremes depending on the time of year. As above, request a tour and discuss any concerns you have with the staff.
Our outdoor boarding area has misters over all dog runs to cool their rooms in the Summer months, and the play yard has a paddling pool available for those that want to take a dip. All heat-stroke prone boarders (e.g. squishy-faced dogs or obese animals) are transferred to the air conditioned vet hospital on super-hot days. To accommodate for Winter temperatures our raised hammock beds keep the pets off the ground and plenty of towels and blankets are provided so they can snuggle in.
Dog zones versus cat zones
As you can imagine, boarding can be quite stressful for some pets and this is drastically increased if cats are boarded with dogs. Cats should be kept separate from dogs including not being able to see them from their enclosures. Dogs benefit from this too as cats may make them on edge or cause them to vocalise more as a response to spotting a cat. If you have cats and dogs at home that get along and you’d prefer them to stay together, a pet-sitter may be more appropriate.
A good boarding facility will have a strict protocol for vaccinations. They should require your dog have a C5 vaccination that is up-to-date, and your cat has an up-to-date F3 vaccination. Anything less that this poses a real health risk to your pet as it opens them up to other pets transferring vaccine-preventable illness, or your pet sharing their (sometimes undetectable) illness with others. The biggest vaccine-preventable disease we see post-boarding visits is Infectious Tracheitis which is commonly referred to as Kennel Cough. This is because in these multiple dog environments it is easily transmissible from dog to dog. Whilst the vaccine does not stop them acquiring the illness, it will drastically reduce the clinical symptoms and turn it from a life-threatening illness to a bothersome cough.
In cats the most common vaccine preventable disease we see post-boarding is cat flu which is highly contagious (and flares up at times of stress) and similar to the dog kennel cough vaccine it drastically reduces flu symptoms if the pet is vaccinated.
So the bottom line is to make sure the facility requires vaccination. Better yet, they should check your pet’s entire preventative cover. For example, all dogs and cats that enter our boarding facility must have up-to-date flea prevention to ensure our kennels and cattery remain flea-free. There is nothing worse than getting your pet home and findings fleas on them!
All good boarding facilities should have strategies in place to minimise stress, because let’s face it, these environments are stressful! Your pet is missing you and is surrounded by a sea of unfamiliar faces. They need reassurance, calm handling, and staff that notice the small things.
Ask the facility how they handle the stressed pets. Do they use pheromone therapy? Will they call you if they are worried about your pet’s mental state? Of course, some pets don’t mind at all and relish the excitement of a new and different environment and new human or four-legged friends. If your pet is particularly anxious in these environments, a pet-sitter might be a better fit or speak to your vet about a plan to help them cope.
Ideally a good boarding facility provides additional enrichment to your pet during their stay. Many facilities will offer basic enrichment with additional options at added cost. This is perfect as you can opt in or out based on your budget and your pet’s needs. For example, a really active dog might need an additional play time each day, but your elderly cat may need no additional fuss. Ask the facility how much interaction they have with each pet. Do they spend time with each pet petting and playing with them?
I do not recommend cats come into direct contact with other cats while in boarding as they tend to hate meeting other cats, and it will likely end in fights. In fact, our facility goes as far as to ensure that each run faces outward so that no cats can see other cats, in order to reduce the stress associated with this. An acceptable exception, is cats from the same family whom we quite frequently house together (based on the owner’s preference).
Dogs are a little bit different, and many love to have a friend to play with. Many boarding facilities don’t allow direct contact between dogs due to the risk of fights or injury, however some do have fantastic play zones for this very purpose. Be sure to confirm the dogs are always supervised when playing and check what policies the facility has in place when in comes to introducing new dogs and managing disagreements.
Whilst playtime may seem like a great idea, this is one area I see poorly managed and I often treat resulting bite wounds, so it’s important you get the low-down on how they’re run. If your dog is aggressive or fearful, please tell the boarding facility when booking so they know to keep them separate from the other dogs.
Boarding facilities vary greatly in price and this boils down to what they are offering. If you’re after a budget option, be aware this might mean a smaller enclosure or less human interaction. If you’ve got an active dog that you want walked three times a day, this will likely cost more. If you’ve asked the questions above, then hopefully you will know what your money is buying you.
Other questions to ask:
- What are the qualifications of your staff? Are they trained in pet first aid?
- Do you have a relationship with a nearby vet if my pet has health concerns while I’m away?
- Can you accommodate my pet’s special needs e.g. giving medication or elderly pet supervision?
- Will you send me updates of how my pet is going?
- What do you feed my pet? Is food included in the cost?
Unfortunately, many pet owners learn what to look for in boarding after their pet has had a bad experience previously so be sure to do your research. Also consider that not all pets suit boarding facilities, some are far better suited to a pet-sitting setup where they receive more one-on-one attention. Boarding facilities should be happy to answer any question you have, including the points above, and provide information freely. They should also be open to feedback and comfortable with discussing any concerns you have after your pet’s stay. Through this open communication and research you should be able to find the perfect place for your pet to stay.