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The Daily Vet by petMD

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You need to go out-of town for business, vacation, wedding or family reunion. Is your biggest concern the travel plans or what to do with the dog and cat? Will she do better in a run next to other animals and daily playtime? What about at night when no one is around? Or is he too fearful and socially unpredictable in a foreign environment and would be better off at home? Boarding or pet sitting, which is the least stressful for all concerned?

Pet Boarding

Traditionally, boarding has been the most popular solution for pet owners needing to leave their pets. Fortunately, cold concrete and steel runs or steel or plastic cages with no common social space and a rather depressing environment are no longer the norm. Pet hotels with all sorts of amenities are now more common.

Fido can now luxuriate on a doggie cot in a plexi-glass elevated run and watch DogTV. He can enjoy the pool at day camp or have one-on-one play dates or even get a massage during the day. Mimi can enjoy laser or catnip bubble playtime and then retire to her suite with multilevel plush perches complete with a closed circuit fish tank screen and bird chirps providing a peaceful background. Shuttle service to and from the boarding facility can make boarding arrangements even easier.

An even newer boarding concept has individuals entertaining dogs in their homes instead of at a boarding facility. Often those offering this option have dogs of their own so it adds a canine social element while providing a more “homey” boarding environment. Such arrangements for cats are more problematic and less available.

Pricing for these boarding alternatives vary tremendously depending on the amenities and level of service chosen. These add-ons can really run up the fees. The more personal attention given to your pet tends to reduce the stress of a new environment and strange human companions, so this added expense becomes compelling.

Many pet owners prefer boarding at a veterinary facility so that their pets have access to veterinary care. Although this seems like a great idea, most veterinary boarding facilities are the old fashioned, cold, sterile type. Because medical and surgical cases are a higher priority in veterinary hospitals, boarders are likely to be short changed on attention and care. Having worked in over 20 different veterinary hospitals in my career, I can honestly say that the boarding care I have witnessed at veterinary hospitals is typically inferior to non-veterinary facilities.

Stress is indeed the biggest problem with boarding of any sort. Pets, especially cats, are uncomfortable outside of their normal environment. Often this stress results in vomiting and diarrhea, often bloody, for the majority or entirety of the stay. Fear and timidity may reduce appetites and often pets will lose weight when boarded. And of course there is always the risk of injury due to self-trauma or altercations with other boarders during social time.

Pet Sitting 

Pet sitting is generally of two types: Pet sitters that come to the house at specified times to feed, allow bodily elimination, and exercise the pet are the most common. Other pet sitters will not only care for the pets but can live at the pet owner’s house so pets have constant companions, or at least night companions.

Pricing for these services are also variable but tend to be priced at basic boarding levels with few pet sitters charging for amenities. Because the pets are in their own comfortable space many of these amenities are unnecessary for stress relief. Feeding a live-in sitter can add to the total bill, but is generally cheaper than add-ons at boarding facilities.

Pets can also show signs of stress when their owners are away but it tends to be less severe when they are in the familiar surroundings of their own homes. In 30 years I have yet to treat stress induced bloody colitis in a pet that has been cared for by a sitter.

Having sitters also has the advantage of protecting the pet owner’s home. Newspaper and mail collection by the pet sitters eliminate "away from home" signals to possible “bad guys.” Live-in sitters create near normal household activity that also discourages potential robberies.

Live-in sitters can also take phone messages and care for indoor and outdoor plants without adding significantly to costs. Live-in sitters are more likely to recognize potential health problems sooner and can arrange for the pets to be seen by a veterinarian. My experience is that pets with live-in sitters tend to be less subject to separation stress.

So, Which is Better - Boarding or Sitting?

To me the obvious choice is live-in pet sitting. It is as close to a normal environment for the pets as possible and is also great insurance against crime. It is my personal choice for my pets.

What is your choice?

Dr. Ken Tudor

Image: Thinkstock

Comments  3

Leave Comment
  • Live-In Sitter
    10/24/2013 07:21pm

    This post was just in time because a good friend asked me this very question recently.

    It would be super to find a live-in sitter for kitties, but unfortunately finding someone one could trust in your home is a challenge. Friends and family that would be trusted all have pets of their own and couldn't spend the night.

    I know of a service with an exceptional reputation, but they only do "visits" and don't spend the night.

    Does anyone have any thoughts on this?

  • 10/24/2013 07:45pm

    Ask the staff at your veterinary hospital if any of them live-in pet sit or know staff that does. Some of these kids would appreciate the extra money and getting out of their parent's house and living independently. I have had other older, single staff that also enjoyed this great side-line while still being able to work normal hours.
    Dr. T

  • The boarding option
    10/25/2013 11:02pm

    For a number of reasons, my husband and I board our dog when we travel. Often, we board him for short periods of time when he is traveling with us. You could have a blog just on what to look for when boarding your pet away from home. It is harder to check out the facilities ahead of time when you are on the road. We've had great luck with some wonderful places, and had to change plans when we could not possibly leave our dog in the place that was so lovely on the Internet and so frightful in person.
    A particularly memorable kennel is the one in Yosemite Valley. Fortunately, we only needed to kennel our dog for a few hours while we explored the valley, because I would not have left my dog there overnight.
    The kennel is out behind the horse stables at the edge of an old apple orchard. It's small and constructed of chain link fence. It did not seem particularly secure, but maybe it is. The nice young lady that lead us there didn't look a day over 14. She cheerfully pointed out the bear cub a few yards away eating apples that had fallen from a tree. She shooed it away, but it came back soon enough. I could only wonder where mama bear was and whether she would prefer fresh dog meat over rotten apples.

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