Pet owners planning a trip basically have three options, says Karrie Jackson: Take the pet with you; find someone to care for it at your home; or find a place to board it.
Jackson, coordinator of Andover Boarding Kennel, held a seminar recently at Andover Veterinary Clinic called "All About Boarding Your Pet."
The session included what to look for when choosing a kennel, what pet owners can do ahead of time, and what questions to ask when boarding a pet.
Some people take their dog or cat along, but travel can be stressful for the animal as well as the owner. Pet owners should ask themselves, "Is it truly a comfortable environment for the pet?" Jackson said.
If you decide to leave the pet at home, you'll need to hire a professional pet sitter, or find a friend or relative willing to look after your pet.
Keeping the pet at home means its routine is kept "relatively normal," Jackson said, but this option can also be stressful, on the pet and on the caretaker, especially if that person is not a professional.
"Your dog is not sure why you're not there," Jackson said. "They can become destructive or try to escape to find you."
The third option is a boarding kennel.
Most pets "adapt really well to the boarding environment," Jackson said, but "some really stress out."
If pets are accustomed to being boarded from the time they are puppies or kittens, "they accept it easier," she said.
Jackson recommended visiting several boarding facilities before choosing the right one for your pet, and asking plenty of questions.
Are the kennels or kitty quarters climate-controlled, and do dogs have access to outdoor runs for fresh air, elimination and exercise?
Do dogs have the option of attending day care, so they can exercise and socialize with other dogs? If not, will they be walked regularly?
"I was amazed when I looked at several facilities that they don't even walk dogs," Jackson said.
Beyond basic room and board, will the pets get special attention?
"Will they spend quality time with him and make you feel better about leaving him behind?" Jackson asked.
Some kennels also offer special services like grooming and obedience training, and for some pets, it may be important that a veterinarian is on site, Jackson said.
Owners can help pets adjust to a boarding situation by leaving them for an occasional night or two before departing on a two-week vacation — or in the case of dogs, trying visits to day care.
Most dogs will make friends in day care, and on their second or third visit, "as soon as they come in the door, they will look for their buddies," Jackson said. "They know their owner is coming back for them, so it makes it less stressful for them when they are there."
Other ways to prepare your pet for a kennel include a visit to the veterinarian, preferably a couple of weeks before boarding.
Most kennels, Jackson said, require rabies vaccinations for dogs according to a vet's recommendation — at least every three years — plus immunization against distemper and kennel cough.
Many require medications to prevent heartworms and fleas, she said, and other vaccinations may be recommended. Be sure to check before making arrangements.
Whether your pet travels with you, stays at home or boards at a kennel, Jackson and Andover veterinarian Tim Harmon said two things are key to keeping your pet healthy and safe: familiar food and proper identification.
Pets tend to stay healthier and "stress less if they stay on their own diet from home," Jackson said.
And a phone number on an ID tag or collar is the best way to make sure your pet gets home safely if he is lost, Jackson and Harmon said.
"Microchips serve a valuable purpose as backup" if a dog slips out of its collar, Harmon said.
Probably the most important factor to ensure your pet's well-being is communication with the caretaker, Jackson said.
Let the sitter or kennel staff know if your pet has health problems or anxieties, if he doesn't always eat his food, or if your little dog would prefer not to spend day care in the company of bigger dogs.
"We really appreciate the owners that come in and communicate with us," Jackson said. "It helps us be more comfortable and confident that we are doing the right thing for that pet."
TRAVELING WITH PETS
Do you take your pet along when you travel? What tips have you learned to make the journey easier? Call Diane McCartney at 316-268-6593 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, and we'll share your experiences and advice in an upcoming Wichita Paws story.