Boarding Kennels–The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Taking care of your pet doesn’t stop when you’re away, but let’s face it; talking to your furry friend over the phone isn’t going to put food in her bowl or give her the attention she needs. You will need help. Family or friends might not have the time or inclination to watch after your pet beyond a walk, water, and food. For long vacations, they may not want the responsibility of caring for your pet at all. A professional kennel or pet sitter may be the answer to both you and your pet’s needs.

Using a boarding kennel will let your pet:

  • avoid the anxiety of airline travel or a long, cooped up ride in your car.
  • have a place where she is welcome and expected (unlike many inns or hotels that shun or charge exorbitant fees for pets).
  • receive more care and interaction than a friend or neighbor could provide during the day.
  • be watched by staff trained to look for potential medical problems.
  • be safe and sound in an area designed to prevent runaways–even those dogs who are “Houdini” back home.

Kennels can have downsides. These include:

  • stress and anxiety from staying in unfamiliar surroundings.
  • being around other animals that may transmit disease.
  • overcrowding, lack of cleaning, and an untrained staff.
  • inconvenient locations or hours.

Where Are the Good Kennels?

Family, friends, your vet, groomer, or trainer are always a good place to start. Look on the Internet or through the Yellow Pages under “Kennels & Pet Boarding.”  Once you have names–even ones you got from dependable sources–don’t forget to do a thorough check of the kennel’s background.

First, find out whether your state, county, or city requires boarding kennel inspections. If so, you should look for or ask to see a current certificate or license.

The Pet Care Services Association is a trade association for kennel owners to encourage professional standards in pet care. They require members to subscribe to a code of ethics, and PCSA offers accreditation for facilities that voluntarily agree to an inspection that meets PCSA standards of professionalism, safety, and quality of care.

It’s also a good idea to check with the Better Business Bureau for complaints about a kennel you are considering.

When you have whittled your list down to a select few, call them to see if they have space for your dog to meet your schedule. Pay them a visit and if possible, have your pet spend the day there or even sleep over, especially before a long trip. This could be the best test of whether this kennel (or any kennel) is right for you and your dog.

What should I look for?

When visiting, be sure to see all the places your dog may spend her time, including play areas, walk routes, and of course, kennel space. Your essential checklist should include:

  • Is the kennel clean in both appearance and odor?
  • Are the kennels well-lit and ventilated?
  • Is the temperature controlled in hot or cold weather?
  • Are the employees caring and professional?
  • Is proof of current vaccinations required (rabies, kennel cough, etc.) to protect your dog and others?
  • Does each dog have his own adequately sized indoor-outdoor run or an indoor run and a schedule for exercise? Will your dog’s stay include an individual run (indoor/outdoor or indoor only with scheduled play and exercise time)?
  • Are outdoor-exercise and play areas protected from the elements?
  • Does the kennel area have bedding and raised areas so your dog can rest off the concrete?
  • Are animals boarded separately according to species? (i.e. cats and dogs kept in separate areas)
  • Are the kennels spacious enough for your dog’s size?
  • What is the feeding schedule and are you allowed to supply your dog’s own food?
  • What emergency veterinary services are available?
  • Do they offer grooming, training bathing or medication administration?
  • What are the fees and how are they determined?

How do I help my dog prepare for boarding?

Does your dog know basic commands like sit or stay? Is he well socialized around other people and pets or does he tend to be aggressive or skittish? These are questions you should be able to answer before deciding to board your pet.

Be sure your pet is up to date on all vaccinations. Order any medications or special-diet food, if needed, and be sure to write out instructions for taking them. Include your vet’s phone number and emergency contact information for you and a local friend or family member. Also let them know of any special concerns, such as epilepsy or fear of loud noises.

When you drop your pet off, review the instructions and contact list with them. Make your goodbyes short and sweet. Long, drawn-out goodbyes could distress your pet. Have a wonderful trip and be secure in knowing your furry friend is in good care and look forward to that wagging tail upon your return.

 Heat

How you and your pet can keep your cool during the heat!

  • Overheating (heat prostration) can kill an animal. Never leave an animal alone in a vehicle, since even with the windows open, a parked car, truck or van can quickly become a furnace. Parking in shade offers little protection, as the sun shifts during the day. When traveling, carry a gallon thermos filled with fresh, cold water.
  • Don’t force your animal to exercise after a meal in hot, humid weather. Always exercise him or her in the cool of the early morning or evening. Exercise is important, but overexertion during hot weather commonly causes heat stress. Avoid excessive exercise during hot days.
  • In extremely hot weather, don’t leave your dog standing on the street, and keep walks to a minimum. He is much closer to the hot asphalt and his body can heat up quickly. His paws can burn since they are not protected by shoes.
  • Never take an animal to the beach unless you can provide a shaded spot and plenty of fresh water for her to drink. Rinse her off after she has been in salt water.
  • Always provide plenty of shade for an animal staying outside the house. A properly constructed dog house serves best. Never leave your dog tied in a place where it can’t find shade or access to water. This seems very commonsense, but sometimes dogs left on chains or leads may wind themselves around a tree and cut off their access to water.
  • Bring your dog, cat, or rabbit inside during the heat of the day and let her rest in a cool part of your house. Always provide plenty of cool, clean water for your animal.
  • Please be sensitive to old and overweight animals in hot weather. Brachycephalic (snub-nosed) dogs (especially bulldogs, Pekingese, Boston terriers, Lhasa apsos and shih tzus) and those with heart or lung diseases should be kept indoors in air-conditioning as much as possible.
  • A clean coat can help to prevent summer skin problems, so keep your dog or cat well groomed. If he has a heavy coat, shaving your dog’s hair to a 1-inch length will help prevent overheating. Don’t shave a dog’s hair down to the skin; this robs him of protection from the sun. A cat should be brushed frequently to keep his coat tangle-free.
  • Never tie an animal outside on a correction collar. He can choke to death. If you must tether him, use a buckle collar with identification tags instead. (This applies in any season.)
  • Be sure there are no open, unscreened windows or doors through which your animal can fall or jump.
  • Freeze a water bottle and keep it in the hutch with your rabbit.

Know the Warning Signs
According to Dr. Lila Miller, ASPCA Vice President of Veterinary Outreach, “symptoms of overheating in pets include excessive panting or difficulty breathing, increased heart and respiratory rate, drooling, mild weakness, stupor or even collapse. They can also include seizures, bloody diarrhea and vomit along with an elevated body temperature of over 104 degrees.”

Water Safety

Like children, pets should never be left unattended near water.  Keep in mind that many dogs (and some cats) enjoy swimming but their ability varies by fitness and breed.   Around any water:

  • Always, monitor your pet for signs of exhaustion.
  • Pets can get sunburned, especially those with short hair, white fur, and pink skin. Limit your pet’s exposure when the sun is strong and apply sunblock to his ears and nose 30 minutes before going outside.
  • Remember to clean the ears.  Generally, a quick wipe inside will help elevate extra moisture that tends to build into an ear infection.

In the Pool:

  • Introduce your pets to water gradually; teach them where they can safety exit the pool. Pet steps are available from many sources.
  • Rinse your dog off after swimming to remove chlorine or salt from his fur, and try to keep your dog from drinking pool water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that could cause stomach upset.

Before heading to any public water, call ahead to check ordinances.  Not all areas allow dogs and many have specific regulations.

You will also want to carry a first aid kit for your dog, just in case.

Fresh Water:

  • Water in lakes, ponds and rivers may contain parasites and bacteria that can infect your dog. Always provide plenty of fresh, clean water for drinking.
  • If you bring your dog on a boat or canoe, a life jacket is just as important for your dog as it is for you. Falling or jumping overboard is always possible. Any dog that spends time near water should have her very own pet life vest.
  • You should gradually introduce your dog to the idea of boating. Your dog might not like the concept or wearing a life jacket, and the movement of the boat may be a little disconcerting. Let your dog wear their life jacket at home, along with a treat, before you actually introduce them to the boat. The first time on the boat with your dog, don’t depart from the shore. Let them get used to the movement of the boat on the water and just let them roam around on board.
  • Where is your dog going to go to the bathroom?  If you’re not going to be going back and forth to the shore, make sure your dog has an appropriate spot on the boat to go to the bathroom. Lastly, be sure you dog stays out of the way of other boats and watercraft. A brightly colored PFD may help other boats notice your dog in the water but it’s not worth the chance.

At the Beach:

  • Upon arrival check with the lifeguard on duty for daily water conditions.  Dogs are easy targets for sea lice and jellyfish.  If a sting does occur, douse the site with vinegar.  You should also inquire about potential rip currents and underwater dangers at ocean beaches.   Other hazards include seaweed, rocks, limbs and debris.
  • Along with swimming, running on the sand is strenuous exercise. A dog that is out of shape can easily pull a tendon or ligament, so keep a check on your dog’s activity.   Never leave your dog alone by the water!
  • Cool ocean water is tempting to your dog.  Do not let your dog drink seawater; the salt will make him sick or even cause death.  Make sure your dog has a shady spot to rest in and plenty of fresh water.
  • Don’t forget the paw protection.  Beach sand can become hot enough to burn tender paws and can hide broken bottles and jagged rocks.     If you dog does sustain a cut from running on the beach treat the cut promptly by applying direct pressure until the bleeding stops.  If needed wrap large or deep wounds and take the dog to a veterinarian.
  • Salt and other minerals in ocean water can damage your dog’s coat, so rinse him off at the end of the day.
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