Boarding your pet – joy, stress, excitement, dread…everything all rolled into one. I’ve seen a lot of questions recently that arise from people who have certain expectations when they board their pet. These expectations, when unfulfilled create a less than desired experience. I believe most of these misconceptions happen because it is difficult to think of all the questions that you might need in order to determine if you know what you need. My experiences are centered around boarding facilities that are inside of veterinary clinics. However, many of these are valid questions of any boarding facility.
Luckily, I know all of the burning questions that you want to ask but weren’t sure about until now. Next time you board your pet, you’ll know exactly what you want to ask.
- How many times per day are the dogs given potty breaks? *Edited: After some consideration, I’m updating this to reflect three potty breaks per day as the minimum instead of two.
- Can I have extra playtime for my dog? Let’s face it, there are some dogs who are so high energy, extra playtime is a must. This can be called different things, but it usually means for a small fee your dog will be let outside, played with or loved for a short time. I love kennels who offer this service. It says that they recognize that different dogs have different needs and they try to accommodate them.
- What kind of food do you feed? Can I bring my own food? They should feed a high quality diet that’s formulated for being easy on the digestive system. Boarding any dog can cause stress and having a high quality diet to support this change of environment is essential. The best diets out there are going to be Science Diet Sensitive Stomach or Hill’s I/D, Purina EN or Royal Canin’s Digestive Low Fat. Feeding a premium diet to boarding patients isn’t cheap and the presence of such indicates a patient-centric focus. They should also always accept your own food. Many dogs have special dietary needs.
- What happens if my dog gets sick while there? There are many advantages to boarding within a veterinary clinic. The main one is that if your pet gets sick while there, care is only down the hall. Most veterinary clinics with boarding facilities already have policies in place to address this. The most common of them are that the owner is attempted to be contacted before services are provided. If the owner is unable to be reached, minimal care is provided so that the pet is not suffering. If you are in any way uncomfortable with this process, ask for details or specifics. The various definitions of some of these words (such as minimal care, if the owner is unable to be reached) are up to the clinic’s interpretation. This is why it is doubly important to make sure that all contact information is current, working and you provide an alternate form of contact. In my experiences, this is one of the greatest areas of contention between a pet owner and the clinic. Rarely is the clinic out to take advantage of the client. Their focus is on the health of the pet. However, services performed are services performed and they cost money. To me, this is an acceptable trade given the convenience of having a doctor available. ** This is an important question to ask and understand of non-veterinary clinic boarding facilities.
- Do you have 24 hour surveillance available for your boarding pets? Boarding pets are usually healthy pets. Keeping this in mind, you can have a great boarding facility that does not have any time of 24 hour services. Dogs are usually sleeping at night and as long as their other systems (cage security – both inside and out) are on point, this shouldn’t be an issue. Boarding facilities that do have some sort of 24 service get a gold star.
- Do you let the dogs out together? While this might seem like an excellent service, take caution with these facilities. Allowing a service where dogs who don’t know each other can have playtime together is no small feat. That being said – this doesn’t mean that it can’t be done. Look for this service to either be provided to their regular day-boarding or known clients. Alternatively, if you must fill out a detailed behavior profile in addition to behavioral testing by one of their staff, this service being contingent on the results of this testing – this is a good sign. Having social time can be beneficial for many dogs, it just has to be done right.
- Should a kennel always be able to fit me in? Frequently, this happens around the holidays. I’m always surprised when clients become angry. In my mind, this is a good thing. It means that we are sticking to our capacity limitations. We only have so many large runs, medium and small kennels. If we over-book ourselves we compromise the quality they are able to to provide. That being said, offering to put you on a wait-list and being polite about it is a must.
- What areas of training does your staff have? At a minimum, kennel staff members should have basic behavior and restraint training. They should also know how to recognize symptoms of illness and know a variety of medicating techniques.
- Where do the cats board? Good boarding facilities will board cats where they cannot be stressed by excessive foot traffic or direct exposure to dogs.
- What happens if my cat doesn’t eat? Cat owners know that when something stresses out their kitty, their appetite might be affected. If a cat goes too long without eating, they can become very sick. Make sure your boarding facility has a minimum time frame established before they will start alternative feeding measures. What are those measures? Usually introducing different flavors of food in different textures (canned if the cat eats dry and vise versa). Beyond that, they should consult with a veterinarian for direction.
- Can I have a tour? With few exceptions – the answer to this should always be yes. Good kennels are run in such a way that waste is cleaned up promptly and dogs are monitored throughout the day.
Hopefully, this will help you know what questions to ask so that you are as confident and comfortable as possible when leaving your pet for an extended stay. There are many more questions not on this list! If you think of any ‘musts,’ please let me know!
** All of this information is assuming that the basic needs have been met in accordance with the AVMA’s Companion Animal Care Guidelines.