Ruff Decisions: Options for Pet Care While You Travel
Last updated in November 2018
Before settling on a kennel, consider other alternatives.
Take Them Along
Traveling with your pet has several advantages. You’ll share the experience with him, know he will receive loving care, spare him (and yourself) the stress of separation, and avoid the expense and inconvenience of arranging for a sitter or a kennel.
But taking your pet might not be possible. You might be jetting off for work; your vacation digs may not allow pets; or your means of transportation could make bringing a pet impossible or prohibitively expensive. What’s more, having a pet along may be thoroughly inconvenient. What do you do with your Corgi/Yorkie/mutt when you go out to dinner, to a museum, or to a ballgame, much less to a business meeting?
And there are risks. Pets may be terrified or injured if they are treated roughly by airline baggage handlers. Some have been left for many hours in airline handling areas or shipped to the wrong destinations. Dogs have died of heatstroke in airplane baggage compartments.
Other problems are possible, even likely, depending on your pet. If it comes along for the ride and isn’t accustomed to car travel, it may become anxious and endanger humans by disturbing the driver. Your pet could also become sick, at least mildly, when it changes water supplies. Most important, if you don’t keep your dog on a leash at all times, it may wander off, become disoriented, and be lost for good. Finally, you can’t leave your pet alone in a car, even briefly.
If you want to take a dog along, check out the list of hotels and motels that accommodate pups from the American Automobile Association.
Friends, Neighbors, and Pet Sitters
Another option is to leave your pet with a friend, neighbor, or pet sitter. Having your fur baby stay with a pal or neighbor means you know the individuals who will care for him, your pet won’t be alone overnight, and you’ll avoid some inconvenience and expense. But you can’t know how skillful and careful your friend or neighbor will be. Not only will you burden a friend with the responsibility, but your pet may get lost or injured trying to return to your home; the pet may suffer stress caused by separation from you and its usual environment; and may become anxious and harm the friend’s belongings, pets, or family members.
Having a pet sitter come to your home to check on, feed, exercise, clean up after, and relate to your pet has significant advantages. Your pet stays in familiar surroundings, eats its usual food, and continues familiar routines (although the timing is likely to be different from when you’re home). Your pet won’t be exposed to illnesses or parasites it could pick up in a kennel, and it avoids the stress of staying in an environment with other animals. In addition, the sitter can provide services such as picking up newspapers and mail, watering plants, and making your house look occupied. And, of course, you won’t need to burden a friend or neighbor with the responsibility.
But pet sitters, too, come with important disadvantages. Whether the sitter is from a commercial pet-sitting service (click for advice and ratings) or a youngster from the neighborhood, you can’t be sure of the skill, knowledge, or diligence he or she brings to the job. You have to hope the sitter shows up when promised, even if weather or personal problems make this difficult. Unless you arrange for the sitter to stay at your place overnight, your pet will still be alone for long hours. Your pet might slip away to look for you or damage your home in reaction to being abandoned. If you use a commercial pet-sitting service, you give a stranger access to your home. And the cost of care—especially if rendered by a commercial service—can be quite high.
One newer option, especially if you live in nice digs or a neighborhood popular with tourists: websites that link house/pet sitters with owners looking for live-in Fido or Fluffy care while they go on vacation. The idea is that you have access to experienced pet sitters who love to travel. They get to stay in your place for free in exchange for feeding, watering, and walking the dog, donkey, or whatever—plus they watch your house. And you can also apply to stay in a Swiss chalet to care for a couple of chickens. Sitters are rated, much like Airbnb hosts and guests. Two major sites: TrustedHousesitters.com ($119 yearly membership to book sitters; $149 annually to book sitters and apply to pet sit in other places); and HouseCarers.com, which lets you list your house for free.
Kennels also have pluses and minuses.
Assuming everything goes right, your pet will be taken care of, never left alone, and you won’t have to worry about last-minute foul-ups. Serious health problems will be spotted and referred to a veterinarian. And you don’t have to impose on anyone.
But using a kennel can be expensive and, if it’s far from your home, inconvenient. Also, a stay in a kennel—if your pet isn’t used to it—exposes it to the stress of separation from you and its familiar environment. Stress makes pets especially susceptible to disease, and proximity to other animals increases exposure to some kinds of health problems. Many kennels largely avoid these problems by employing caring, attentive staff and maintaining comfortable, clean, and stress-free facilities. But based on the astonishing number of serious complaints we receive from consumers, you need to exercise caution when selecting a kennel. Here’s our guide to finding a top-quality kennel at a reasonable price.