How to Choose a Vacation Pet Care Provider

So, you have booked your summer vacation. Great! Next question: Who is going to take care of your pets? Sometimes this is not an easy decision. Maybe the solution you used last time didn’t work out so well. There are a variety of options, each with advantages and disadvantages that differ based on each pet’s  personality, needs and profile.

In this article, we explore the various pet care options and consider which option is best and under what circumstances.

Option 1: Have a friend or family member take care of your pets.

What is it?

The most natural option when you’re not going to be there to take care of your pets is to have a friend or family member do it. In this way, the friend or family member comes to your home and takes care of your pet exactly as you do.

What kind of pets is it good for?

Depending on the friend or relative, the time they have available and their disposition, this solution can work well for all kinds of pets.

  • Excitable and high-energy dogs
  • Shy dogs, timid and/or anxious dogs
  • Older dogs
  • Dogs with disabilities
  • Dogs who do well on their regular routine
  • Multiple dog households

What does it cost?

It depends! Sometimes nothing – often this is a favor that one friend does for another. Perhaps a neighborhood teen can do it for a nominal amount.

What are the benefits?

This kind of arrangement is simple to put together. The advantages are:

  • Someone you know is caring for your babies
  • Only folks you know are coming in and out of your house
  • Your pets may know and be very comfortable with the caretakers already (no stranger to get used to)

What’s the down side?

There are actually a few down-sides to this option.

  • Depending on how long you’re going to be gone, it’s a big ask. You might not be comfortable asking for so much of someone’s time or energy. You might not want to jeopardize a friendship in the event something goes wrong during the time you’re gone.
  • Favors such as this are often done on a best-efforts basis. You can’t be quite as sure that all of your requirements (exercise, dietary needs, medications at certain times) will get delivered exactly at the times and in the ways as you’re requesting.
  • If you’re relying on a child or teen, you will probably want an adult to oversee the outcome. If you’re relying on a teen, you want adult oversight even more as your house has just become a safe spot for unsupervised behavior.

 

Option 2: Have an in-home pet sitter take care of your pets.

What is it?

In this scenario, an in-home pet sitter comes to your home and takes care of your pet/pets much as you do. The sitter will provide food, fresh water, medications, and interaction with the pets for a certain amount of time. The sitter is often (but not always)

  • Trained in dog behavior
  • Trained in pet CPR
  • Certified in pet care (e.g., Certified Professional Pet Sitter)
  • Bonded and insured

What kind of pets is it good for?

  • Multiple pet households especially when the sitter does not up-charge for multiple pets.
  • Exotic pet households. Resorts can’t accommodate all kinds of pets (aquariums, iguanas, rats, hermit crabs, and snakes for example). Your vet can care for almost any pet but it is unlikely you’ll want to take your fish there.
  • Aggressive dogs. Pet sitters are experienced in working with dog-to-dog aggression. An experienced pet sitter will make sure walks happen at times and locations that minimize contact with other dogs.
  • Energetic dogs are a good match for in-home pet sitting, since you can contract with your pet sitter to take the pet to the dog park or walk the dog a certain number of times per day.
  • Shy dogs, timid and/or anxious dogs.
  • Older dogs
  • Dogs with disabilities
  • Dogs who do well on their regular routine but not so well when their route is disrupted.

What does it cost?

Pet sitters charge different ways (per visit, per visit per pet, and per day are common methods) but usually the cost is a function of the time required. Two visits a day will be less expensive than three or four, depending on the services involved. The average cost of a 30-minute visit is $26, while overnight pet-sitting costs $85-$120

What are the benefits?

Pet sitting companies have built up some experience and lessons learned about things that can go wrong. They have training, processes, and checklists that they use to ensure sitters stay coordinated and deliver excellent care. There are prescribed communication channels and pictures to keep you up-to-date on what is happening at home while you’re away.  There is someone whose job it is to oversee he completion and quality of all visits. Technology such as door and web cameras can provide an extra layer of comfort allowing you to see your pets and their caretakers in action.

What’s the down side?

Sometimes cost is seen as the downside for this option. Also

  • You might not want strangers in your house
  • You might want to specify that only a particular sitter perform all the visits, only to find that no single person is able to perform 100% of the tasks.

 

Option 3: Board your dogs privately with a pet sitter.

What is it?

In this scenario, the pet sitter offers to take care of your pet in his or her home. So, instead of being in a commercial kennel or the vet, the pet is in a home environment – just not their own home.

What kind of pets is it good for?

Chances are that the pet sitter will have dogs of his or her own. So, in-home boarding can be good for happy-go-lucky dogs who get along well with other pets.

What does it cost?

From cost perspective, private boarding compares favorably to commercial boarding by 10 to 20%. So if commercial boarding in your area costs $50-60 per night, expect to pay $40-50 per night. Home sitters may also charge less for each incremental pet compared to a commercial kennel.

What are the benefits?

Pets adapt easily to a home environment and are quick to accept every form of comfort, attention and affection. The general rhythms of morning, midday, and evening routines will feel familiar to your pet. For some private boarding facilities, your dog just joins the gang going in and outside, eating meals, watching TV, and sleeping in the bed.

What’s the down side?

Doggie cameras are not usually provided in a private home setting. As with any other boarding situation, you will want to visit the home before you leave your pets there. Among the questions you will want to ask are:

  • Will my pet have the run of the house or be kept in an enclosure?
  • How often are the pets let outside?
  • How is outside play supervised?
  • How do you handle it if two pets do not get along well with each other?
  • Where will my pet sleep?

 

Option 4: Board your dogs at a commercial kennel or pet resort.

What is it?

With commercial boarding, you drop your pet off at a facility that has been designed and staffed to take care of many pets.  At a minimum the facility will have chain-link enclosures and hard floors to help maintain separation among the pets and sanitary conditions. The facility often has outside areas for supervised play and indoor play areas as well. Dogs are grouped by disposition and size during play time Nicer facilities will have “rooms” for your dog – with beds and webcam technology so you can check in on your pet.

What kind of pets is it good for

Kennels and resorts are ideal for easy-going and energetic pets who need lots of outdoor time and socialize well with other dogs. For a happy-go-lucky dog, every day is a party at a pet resort.

What does it cost?

Kennels and pet resorts can range from $50-$140 per night per dog.

What are the benefits?

Staff are trained and paid to be “eyes on” with your pet at all time.  Doggie cams are frequently provided.  Opportunities for play are extensive.

What is the downside?

From the shy dog’s perspective, boarding is loud, smelly, and stressful. The dog may refuse food. The stress can be a drain on the immune system and the dog may even come home sick.

Option 5: Board your dogs at the vet.

What is it?

With vet boarding, the pet owner delivers the pet to the veterinarian for care and feeding while he or she is away. The veterinarian typically has a kennel area and has staff who provide potty breaks, medications, food/water and medical attention as required (e.g., wound or bandage care).

What kind of pets is it good for?

Vet care is best for

  • Dogs with known or extreme health issues where the pet owner wants to ensure the best possible outcome
  • Dogs having just had or about to have surgery
  • Dogs with uncontrolled or emerging medical conditions such as seizures

What does it cost?

Typically vet boarding costs $25-$45 a night per pet.

What are the benefits?

Staff are trained and paid to be “eyes on” with your pet at all time.  In the event of an medical emergency, trained professionals are right there.

What is the downside?

As with commercial kenneling, vet boarding can be loud, smelly, and stressful. A bad vet experience can create anxiety during the boarding and vice versa after the trip is over.

Summary

The table below sets out possible scenarios that might apply to you or your pets and well each option suits the scenario.  The traffic light colors have these meanings:

  • Green means “this is a good option for this particular scenario”
  • Yellow means “good option for this scenario with a few cautionary notes”
  • Red means “generally not the best option for this scenario”
Scenario / Option Option 1 Option 2 Option 3 Option 4 Option 5
In-home boarding by a friend or relative In-home pet sitter Private Boarding Commercial boarding Vet boarding
My dog is the shy and/or anxious type
My dog is friendly with dogs and people with lots of energy
My dog has lots of energy and is sweet with people but aggressive with other dogs.
Keeping the cost low is important to me
My pets need medications on a strict schedule
My dog has a health issue or needs surgery while I am away
I have different kinds of pets or exotic pets and need someone to care for them

Further Reading

Dog Boarding Stress:

https://zerobitesdogtraining.wordpress.com/about/kennel-stress-in-dogs-things-you-need-to-know/

https://doghealthinsider.com/dog-boarding-and-stress/

https://www.petboardinganddaycare.com/understanding-minimizing-stress-in-boarding-pets/

https://www.petmd.com/dog/slideshows/8-signs-bad-boarding-kennel

Dog-Dog Aggression:

https://positively.com/dog-behavior/aggression/dog-dog-aggression/

https://www.petmd.com/dog/conditions/behavioral/c_dg_AggressionInterdog

https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/dog-care/common-dog-behavior-issues/aggression

Risk Of Boarding Pet At Vet Or Resort:

https://fidoseofreality.com/who-watches-your-dog-overnight-at-the-veterinarian/

https://www.dogonefunchicago.com/dog-boarding/is-boarding-dangerous-for-your-dog/

https://loveandkissespetsitting.net/why-you-should-not-put-your-pet-in-a-kennel/

https://www.alldogsgym.com/behavior/articles/behavior/doggie-daycare-dangers