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How to Choose the Right Pet Boarding Facility

small dog with sunglasses on

Trying to figure out what to do with your pet while you vacation this summer? If you can’t find a petsitter, or simply prefer more professional care while you’re away, boarding facilities can be a good option. When you choose the right boarding facility for your pet, they will receive daily exercise, feedings, and other care from trained staff.

Rates for boarding a small animal can range anywhere from $15 to $30 per night and higher depending on the location and any additional services. Be sure to ask for a price list, as some boarding facilities may charge extra for more personal care such as administering medication or walking on a leash.

Dr. Kimberly May, assistant director of professional and public affairs at the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), recommends visiting each boarding facility in advance of your trip to ask about:

  • Exercise times
  • Baths
  • Meals
  • Vaccination requirements
  • Sleeping accommodations
  • Entry requirements (age of pet, time in your home)

“Visit the kennel, ask about their policies, and find out how they take care of the animals,” May says. “And take a look at where the animals are kept.”

When you're trying to choose a good boarding facility for your pet, beware of common red flags.

“Obvious red flags would be filthy kennels or high noise levels—or people who seem aggressive or uncaring to the animals,” May advises.

Another warning sign is a boarding facility that is unwilling to give you a tour when you walk in, advise Al and Val Bowman, owners of Cinder Hills Boarding Facility in Flagstaff, Ariz.

“Tours that are required to be scheduled can be a red or a yellow flag. Why would a facility not be willing to give a tour on a walk-in basis? They just might be staging the tour to ensure you are only seeing the place at its best,” the Bowmans explain.

They suggest touring a boarding facility first thing in the morning. “It’s the best chance you as a consumer will have in seeing it at its worst,” the Bowmans advise.

Paperwork required by boarding facilities before boarding your pet usually includes:

  • Pet age and medical information
  • Owner contact information
  • Vaccination records
  • Emergency contacts
  • Feeding instructions
  • Medications
  • Boarding contract

Once you choose a boarding facility that is right for your pet, it’s a good idea to do a trial run prior to your trip. You’ll find out how well your pet is handling the new environment and be able to address any concerns before you leave.

Make your pet’s stay at a boarding facility more comfortable by bringing a familiar toy or two or another reminder of home.

“It can help if you take something from home that smells like you,” May advises.

The Bowmans recommend maintaining a positive attitude.

“Be excited for them. Talk positively and show your enthusiasm about them going on their very own vacation. A dog and cat will reflect your emotions,” the Bowmans say.

Boarding facilities offer varying options for checking on your pet while you are away, including real-time updates to the facility’s website, social media pages, emailed photos or even live webcams.

“There are some kennels that will basically give you 24-access to spy on your pet,” May says. “Those tend to be higher-priced pet resorts.”

Should You Fly with Your Pet?

If you can’t choose between a boarding facility for your pet or bringing them with you, know that Fido or Whiskers can join you on the plane (as long as they meet the airline’s weight and size restrictions).

Domestic airlines allow small, vaccinated dogs and cats to accompany their owners in carriers that fit comfortably under an airline seat. Most airlines charge around $125 each way for in-cabin pet fares.

Because airlines limit the number of pets that may travel in an airplane’s cabin, you will want to book a ticket for your pet well in advance of your departure date.

Some airlines also allow your pet to travel in a carrier in the cargo section of a plane. A typical rate for a pet traveling in cargo is $175 each way.

To help ease the stress of air travel for your pet, May recommends putting “a comfort of home” in the carrier, such as an old sweatshirt.

She also recommends giving your pet plenty of time to get comfortable with the carrier prior to the departure date.

“Get them used to the carrier,” May says. “Make sure they’re comfortable in it.”

Pet owners also need to be aware of a pet’s eating and elimination needs when traveling.

“Talk to your vet about the best timing for giving them food and water, before, during and after a flight,” May says. “Arrive at the airport early to allow your pet time to go to the restroom before the flight.”

Any reference to a specific company, commercial product, process or service does not constitute or imply an endorsement or recommendation by National Endowment for Financial Education.

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