Before booking a stay at a kennel, consider other options: taking your pet along, leaving your pet with a friend, having a friend pet-sit, or hiring a pet sitter. Each of these options comes with important pros and cons.

If you decide a kennel is the best option, our report on ratings by other pet owners will help you find one that provides top-notch care. (We’re still working on methods to survey pets.) Several of the kennels evaluated received “superior” ratings overall from almost all of their surveyed customers. But some kennels didn’t exactly wow clients with stellar service.

There are also big price differences. To board a medium-size dog for one week, for example, some kennels charge less than $200, while others charge more than $450. That’s just for the basic boarding. At some kennels, the extras can add up fast: Administering a pill might cost $2 or more per day; arranging for extra attention or exercise could run $10 a day. Also, some kennels’ extremely limited drop-off and pick-up periods make it difficult to avoid paying for an extra day.

It can all take a substantial bite out of your vacation budget. Fortunately, some of the higher-rated kennels charge below-average prices.

  • Carefully check out any kennel you are considering.
  • Be wary of kennels that won’t let you inspect their facilities unannounced during their operating hours.
  • Check whether dogs have both indoor and outdoor runs—large enough and with protection from sun, rain, cold, and heat.
  • Make sure animals are protected from one another and that there is proper fencing to keep your pet in and other animals out.
  • Make sure the kennel has proper health protections—that it is clean and not excessively smelly, that all admitted pets must have proof of proper vaccinations, and that pets are carefully examined for signs of disease or parasites at check-in.
  • Size up staff members. Do they answer your questions? Do they show affection for the animals? Are they available 24 hours per day?
  • Determine when the kennel is open for drop-off and pick-up. A common complaint is that facilities don’t have convenient hours for drop-off or pick-up, particularly on weekends.