Boarding your four-legged family member

(BPT) – Whether traveling for business or fun, it’s not always practical to take along a four-legged family member. Arranging care of a beloved pet for an extended absence can be daunting. Knowing what to look for in a kennel, and what to look out for, can help you choose wisely.

Ask around

“Family and friends can be a good source of recommendations,” says Christi Olszewski, registered veterinary technologist (RVT) and instructor at Brown Mackie College – Albuquerque. “Your veterinarian is also a good reference point.”

Scout out facilities

Be sure to tour a facility before boarding your pet.  “Ask to see everything, not just a single room or two,” says Dr. Barry Kellogg, senior veterinary advisor for the Humane Society Veterinary Medical Association.

Here are some factors to consider during your tour:

* Cleanliness: Floors, runs and kennels should be clean and free of debris.

* Light and ventilation: The interior should be bright, with odors whisked away.

* Cage size: Each animal needs space for a bed, plus room to move. For cats, the space also should accommodate a litter box, and offer a place to hide.

* Exercise runs: Runs are usually located both inside and out; those with a double-gated entry provide extra security.

* Separation of dogs and cats: Ideally, cats and dogs are kept in separate rooms, not just separate enclosures; it can be highly stressful for cats to reside near unfamiliar canines.

Who are the caretakers?

“Most kennels won’t have a veterinarian on staff; however, the staff should be trained and experienced, and include at least one RVT with technical knowledge of health concerns and elderly pets,” says Olszewski. Kellogg reminds pet owners to “watch staff interaction with your pet. You want to see if they can sense the personality, and understand animal communication and behavior.” The experts also advise to ask about the ratio of staff to pets. The fewer animals each staffer is responsible for, the more individual attention your pet is likely to receive.

Daily activity

 “Ask about the daily routine, the number and length of walks and exercise sessions,” Olszewski advises. “Exercise should occur more frequently than is necessary for bladder relief.”

Kellogg suggests defining ‘exercise.’ “Do they put him in a run by himself, or is there a person there with hands-on interaction? Some dogs prefer to go running alone. Other animals would become highly stressed without human playtime,” he says. He also recommends against group play.

 “Dogs are pack animals, but the pack is hierarchal. There will be issues. This is always the risk associated with group play,” he says.

When boarding a cat, beware the cat condo structures with lots of cubbyholes. “A big castle may look appealing, but the carpeted surfaces pose a sterility problem. It cannot be cleaned thoroughly, and can become a source of disease,” Kellogg says.

Individual needs and preferences

 Even though the Humane Society of the United States names boarding kennels as a known cause of stress in pets, you can take steps to help calm your furry friend. “Providing a familiar blanket or sleeping pad can help to reduce anxiety associated with being in different surroundings,” Olszewski says. “This stress coupled with a sudden change in diet can lead to gastro-intestinal upset. I recommend providing the kennel food your pet regularly eats.

If your dog is on medication, ask about the administration procedure. Most facilities will give medications, but some will not. Ask ahead of time to be sure.

Safety issues

Safety is the most important thing you want for your pet. Here are some important issues to address.

* Vaccination policy: Look for a strict vaccination policy, verified through a veterinarian; unvaccinated animals could threaten the health of vaccinated ones. 

* Aggressive animal screening: You will no doubt feel better if aggressive animals are not permitted.

* ER clinic affiliation: Many kennels have a contract with a local ER clinic; an RVT on staff is trained to know what to look for and when to take an animal for treatment.

* On-site supervision overnight: Is someone on the premises 24 hours a day?

* Disaster plan: Fires, floods and earthquakes happen. Ask for details of the facility’s plan to be sure they have one in place.

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