Take Him or Leave Him: Where Your Pet Should Stay When You Are Away

The beach is calling. The mountains are calling. Your job is calling. Your mother is calling. No matter what calls you away, you have a decision to make. Do you take your pet along or leave him in the care of someone else? Here are some thoughts for pet owners faced with the choice…take him or leave him.

Leaving: What Your Pet Needs While You Are Away

Your pet needs to be healthy and happy while you are gone, so make sure he is guaranteed:

  • Sustenance. Your pet needs food and water. Not only that, she needs to be fed her regular diet on her regular schedule. Changing food or feeding times can cause gastrointestinal upsets. Diarrhea and vomiting are no fun, especially when your favorite human is not around to comfort you!
  • Safety. Your pet needs a safe environment protected from all forms of danger. Danger can be an open gate, an unfriendly dog, or a sudden thunderstorm. A safe environment should also be a clean space. Your pet should not be exposed to intestinal parasites or fleas in an infested yard, nor should he be exposed to other pets carrying contagious illnesses.
  • Stimulation. Your pet should not be bored or lonely the entire time you are gone. She needs some physical activity and TLC.

Pet Care Options

With your pet’s needs in mind, consider these options when you are called away.

Traditional Boarding

Traditional boarding facilities can be independently operated or associated with veterinary hospitals. If your pet is elderly or has medical issues that require close supervision, consider boarding him at a veterinary hospital under a doctor’s care. If your pet is healthy, you may consider one of the many independent kennels that provide quality pet care. Just make sure your kennel has access to a veterinarian or emergency clinic should a problem arise. Even young, healthy pets can get sick while their owners are away.

Wherever you board your pet, she should have her own private quarters."

Wherever you board your pet, she should have her own private quarters. The kennel should be big enough to allow comfortable movement as well as separation of resting and eating areas. Dogs will likely eliminate outside, but cats use litter boxes that need further separation from eating and sleeping spots. Cats also like to climb and hide, so look for kitty condos that can accommodate these feline quirks.

If you are boarding more than one furry family member, you may request that they stay together. Some facilities have boarding suites that can accommodate an entire family of pets. If your pets stay together, the kennel staff should monitor their eating and elimination habits individually. If two cats or dogs are in one kennel, how do you know which one had diarrhea? How do you know if they both ate or if one scarfed down all the food? It’s important to watch carefully.

If your pet is a social creature, you can ask for extra play time with a caretaker or with other healthy boarders. Some facilities charge more for the additional personal attention, so familiarize yourself with the fee schedule in advance.

In-Home Boarding

With in-home boarding, your pet is cared for in a home rather than a kennel… but not in your home. Many pet sitters care for pets (usually dogs, not cats) in their personal homes. One advantage to in-home boarding is affordability. Another advantage is that your dog may have more human contact and may enjoy the company of the sitter's pets and other boarders. Before leaving your pet, verify that the premises are secure and all animals staying there are healthy and properly immunized.

"Check references and comments about your dog’s potential caregiver."

If you like this option, bring your pet for an on-site visit before you go. Make sure he is comfortable with the sitter, their home, and the other pets there. Survey the surroundings. Is there a good place for your dog to eliminate and exercise? Will he have a private area to eat? Does she have a comfy place to sleep? Bringing your dog’s food, toys, and bed may make the transition easier. You can find local in-home sitters online or by word of mouth. Check references and comments about your dog’s potential caregiver. As with traditional boarding, make sure your dog has access to veterinary care for emergencies. Ask your veterinary healthcare team for recommendations.

Pet Sitters

If you want your pet to stay in your home, you may employ a pet/house sitter. The advantage is that your dog or cat will not have to get used to new surroundings. Being at home with familiar sights, sounds, and smells can reduce the stress of not having their favorite human with them.

Some sitters come to the house a couple times a day to feed, walk, and play with your pet. Others will actually reside at your house and perform daily household tasks, such as bringing in the mail and watering the plants. This option may increase the security of both your home and your pet.

Either way, you need to feel comfortable giving the sitter a key to your house and your alarm code. Look for a reliable sitter with good references and a warm personality. Have the sitter come to your home for an interview, during which both you and your pet can express an opinion! To ensure seamless medical care, let your veterinarian know your pet will be with a sitter and display emergency contact information prominently at home.

Friends and Family

Do you have a friend or neighbor who already knows your pet? If so, perhaps they would enjoy taking care of her in their home or yours. How nice it is to leave your pet with a trusted friend or relative. And if they have pets, you can use the barter system and return the favor. Bartering is kind to the pocketbook and may be a good way to bond with your friend and their fur babies. The emergency contact rule still applies here.

Taking: What Your Pet Needs on the Road

If you decide to take your pet with you, think about these things: Does your pet suffer from car sickness? Will he behave inside a plane? Does she acclimate to strange places?

If traveling by car, schedule frequent pit stops. Your dog will need exercise and potty breaks. If you are traveling with your cat, place a portable litter box on the floor of the vehicle. If traveling by plane, will your pet be allowed to fly alongside you? If not, are you comfortable transporting them in the cargo hold? Consider the weather and length of layovers before agreeing to fly your pet in the baggage compartment.

Whether traveling by car or plane, pack your pet’s food, medication, and medical records and always keep them with you. Remember to pack extra food and medication for unpredictable delays. Also, ask your veterinarian for a health certificate if crossing state lines. If you are traveling to another country, be sure to check the regulations of the destination country (vaccinations, blood tests, microchipping, and parasite treatment may all be required).

If your pet is a good traveler, make your travel plans with him in mind. Look for pet-friendly hotels, restaurants, beaches, campgrounds, etc. You want him to enjoy the trip too!

Whether taking or leaving, you can arrange it so that you and your pet are prepared for whatever calls you away from home.