How to Dig Up a Good Kennel
Last updated in November 2018
There’s a spring in your step, a grin on your face, and thoughts of dreamy European hotels running through your brain (can you afford a room with a view of the Eiffel Tower?). But Fido, dry-nosed and with his tail between his haunches, doesn’t seem at all excited about your upcoming vacation.
If you can’t take your furry best friend on vacation with you, there are several options, from hiring a pet sitter to asking a pal to let Rover come over for a few days. But sometimes you may have to book your pet into a kennel (aka pet hotel) to keep its tail wagging. Our Ratings Tables provide ratings of local spots.
Check What Their Customers Say
Our Ratings Tables report customer reviews of area kennels. We surveyed Checkbook and Consumer Reports subscribers, plus other randomly selected individuals, and ask them to rate kennels they had used (we’re still trying to figure out a way to survey pets). The Ratings Tables indicate the percent of each kennel’s surveyed customers who rated it “superior” (as opposed to “adequate” or “inferior”) on several questions. Though the surveys asked consumers to rate kennels for their care of dogs, owners of cats and other pets may also find the data useful. As you can see, there is substantial variation in the customer survey ratings. Click here for further discussion of our customer survey and other research methods.
Although pet owners can’t know what a kennel is really like when they’re are not around, many pet owners inspect the kennels they use—everyone should—and most are aware of the condition of their dogs before and after boarding.
Check Complaint Records
Our Ratings Tables also show counts of complaints we gathered from the Consumer Protection Division of the Washington Office of the Attorney General for a recent two-year period. Click here for more information on complaint counts.
Check with Your Vet
Your pet's veterinarian might also help you identify the best spots. Below, we report results from our surveys of area vets.
Check Facilities and Policies
In addition to the customer reports on our Ratings Tables, check various other elements related to kennel quality. Make sure to personally inspect any facility you are considering, and ask questions. Most of the following points relate to finding a kennel for a dog, but some apply to other pets. For kennels listed on our Ratings Tables, we have checked some of these points for you (you can click on the names of individual businesses to see details we collected); you’ll have to verify others on your own, and for still others you’ll have to take the kennel’s word.
- Can visitors inspect the kennel at any time during business hours? You’ll learn more about what a kennel is really like if you can inspect it unannounced, rather than after staff have had a chance to prepare. It’s also reassuring to know that a kennel is always ready for other visitors who may drop by while your pet is staying there. Some kennels insist that letting strangers walk through the entire facility needlessly agitates the dogs, but we believe that’s a price worth paying for openness. A second-best solution: allowing visitors to view boarding areas from behind glass. Whatever the policy, you can learn a lot by arriving a little earlier than expected to pick up your pet (but don’t show up outside normal checkout hours or arrive early for a pet you are having groomed).
- Are kennel staff willing and able to answer all of your questions about policies or your pet’s stay?
- Are there webcams? Some kennels now have them, which allow owners to monitor their pets.
- Will your dog have its own run? Most kennels give each dog an indoor stall or pen connected directly to its own outdoor run (at some kennels the entire run is indoors). Alternatives are free-standing dog houses, each with its own run. Either arrangement ensures that your dog gets a chance to exercise with little or no effort from kennel staff. Less desirable are common runs. Kennels without separate runs for each animal—mostly hospitals and clinics—usually rate considerably lower than facilities with separate runs.
- Are the runs and stalls large enough? Runs should be long enough for a dog to break into a short gallop and wide enough for the dog to wag its tail without hitting the sides. Four feet by 10 feet is probably adequate for a medium-size dog, but a large dog may need a longer run. Stalls should be large enough for a dog to move around comfortably. Cats, which exercise isometrically (by stretching), don’t need runs. A 2x3x3-foot cage is sufficient, although a bigger space is preferable.
- Does each dog have a dry, comfortable bedding area? With a resting board in a run, dogs don’t have to lie on concrete when it’s wet or hot (in unshaded runs). A sleeping box with bedding will enhance a dog’s comfort and help it stay warm.
- Does every cat cage have a perch for the cat to sit on? While cats are generally easier to accommodate than dogs, this feature is a must.
- Does the kennel provide a play area for cats? This feature is a plus for active cats that would enjoy additional space.
- Do dog runs provide sun, shade, and protection from rain? Sunlight is a natural disinfectant that seems to improve some dogs’ health and temperament, but on hot or rainy days shelter is essential. Some kennels have removable covers for their runs; others are constructed so that part of each run is sheltered.
- Is there a solid barrier between each cage? Concrete or other solid barriers 18 inches or so high between the stalls give dogs a little privacy and prevent them from urinating into each other’s cages.
- Does the kennel maintain appropriate temperatures? Good heating and cooling systems are important for your pet’s comfort. In particular, short-nosed dogs must be kept cool so they don’t suffer heatstroke, and short-haired pups must be kept warm.
- Does the kennel have good ventilation? Canine cough and other illnesses are spread by airborne viruses. A kennel’s ventilation system should provide an air exchange every five minutes or so. Ventilation is especially important for cats, which are susceptible to serious respiratory diseases.
- Will your cat be separated from dogs? Dog kennels can be extremely noisy, and may traumatize a cat unaccustomed to the constant barking.
- Is the kennel adequately lighted? Your pet should get artificial or natural light for at least 10 to 12 hours per day.
- Is the kennel’s fencing adequate? The fencing around individual runs and around the entire kennel area should be solid enough and high enough to prevent dogs from escaping and getting into each other’s runs, and to prevent strays from intruding. Chain-link fences with two-inch or smaller squares are ideal. If runs are not covered, or if a section at the top of each fence is not slanted in, some dogs will be able to jump or climb over them. The bottom of the fence should extend to within about two inches of the ground. Unless the ground under the fence is concrete or another impenetrable substance, some dogs will try to escape by burrowing. If kennel staff is alert to the escape artists, all enclosures do not have to be equally secure.
- Does the kennel have a central-reporting fire alarm system? Are working smoke detectors installed throughout the facility?
Health Screening and Prevention
- Does the kennel require proof of vaccinations? Animals are much more likely to get sick in kennels than at home. First, they are exposed to illnesses carried by other animals in the kennel (a dog in a kennel is similar to a child in daycare). Second, the stress they experience while in a kennel makes them unusually susceptible to illness. A kennel that requires appropriate vaccinations forces you to take the proper steps to protect your pet and reduces the chances that other kennel residents are diseased. Dogs should have the following vaccinations: DHLPP (canine distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parainfluenza, and parvovirus), rabies, and bordetella (canine cough). Cats should have FVRCP (feline distemper and upper respiratory diseases) and rabies vaccinations. Your veterinarian may wish to vaccinate for other transmissible diseases (e.g., feline leukemia), so consult the vet prior to boarding.
- Are animals carefully examined at check-in? Kennel staff should examine each animal’s eyes, ears, mouth, genitals, anal area, skin, and coat to detect any disease or parasites.
- Does the kennel have an isolation room? Although a kennel should refer serious medical problems to a veterinary hospital, it should have an isolation room for sick animals. The isolation room should be completely separate from the area where the other animals are housed, and have solid walls and doors and a separate ventilation system.
- Is the kennel clean? Cleanliness is critical to your pet’s health. Carefully inspect the kennel’s floors, walls, and fences. Also, be sure that water and disinfectant have not formed puddles. Take a good look each time you drop off or pick up your pet.
- How does the kennel smell? Kennels should not smell foul. A whiff of disinfectant is fine, but a strong disinfectant smell might be masking other odors.
- Is bedding washed daily, or whenever it becomes soiled?
- Is the facility in good repair? Jagged pieces of fence and other flaws may be dangerous.
Care and Comfort
- What food options are available? Can you provide your own?
- How flexible is the kennel about its feeding schedule? Most kennels feed dogs only once a day, but some older dogs should be fed twice a day. If your dog is on a twice-a-day schedule, find out whether the kennel will accommodate it.
- Is clean water always available to each animal?
- Is some form of bedding provided to each dog?
- Can you bring your pet’s toys and bedding? Most kennels will allow this, but it does pose sanitation problems and requires extra effort on the kennel’s part. And because most kennels won’t guarantee that you’ll get back what you bring, don’t bring more than necessary.
- Will the kennel give your dog extra individualized exercise by special arrangement? Most offer this service, sometimes for an additional fee. If your dog has a separate indoor/outdoor run, it will probably get plenty of exercise without a special arrangement. But individualized exercise provides beneficial human contact.
- If the facility’s runs don’t have outdoor access, when are dogs let out to relieve themselves? Some kennels let dogs out first thing in the morning, a few times during the day, and then one last time before closing, which might be as early as 6 p.m. This means dogs can’t go outdoors for 12 hours or longer. If your dog requires more frequent outdoor access, particularly during evenings, ask if arrangements can be made—and at what times extra breaks can be scheduled.
- Will the kennel administer shots and pills? All of the kennels we surveyed will administer pills, though some charge extra for it. Many will administer shots. It is essential to continue many types of medications (such as heartworm preventatives) during boarding.
- Are staffers affectionate to the animals? Most kennel staffers like animals, but be sure that’s the case at your facility.
- Is the staff experienced and well-informed? Check how long the kennel has been in business under the same management. Note how staff responds to questions.
- What are the arrangements for veterinary care, if necessary? If you have a regular vet, check whether the kennel will use him or her. Expect to pay for transportation and vet fees.
- Is a staff member on the premises 24 hours a day? If not, how does the kennel ensure the welfare and comfort of pets through the night?
- Do the animals seem happy?
- Are grooming and other services available?
- Is the kennel a veterinary hospital (or clinic)? On average, non-hospitals rated higher than hospitals on almost every question. Several veterinarians have pointed out that healthy pets that board at animal hospitals or clinics are more prone to return home with a disease picked up from hospitalized pets. One vet asked, “Would you go to a hospital for a vacation?”