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Natural Awakenings National

While You're Away: Choosing a Kennel or Pet-Sitter

Apr 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By Shawn Messonnier

Thanks to the Internet, it takes only a few minutes to find the most desirable five-star hotel anywhere in the world. However, when it comes to looking for the best place to care for a pet for a night or longer, there are no shortcuts. Unless someone you trust supplies a personal recommendation, you’ll have to make multiple phone calls and put in some legwork.

A good place to start is the Yellow Pages. While animal lovers used to have limited care options, these days, kennels, catteries and pet hotels are available, as well as people who will care for your pet in their home and pet-sitters who will visit your home.

A pet-sitter should be anyone’s first choice, particularly for pets that are easily traumatized by boarding in unfamiliar territory. Reliable sitters can take the anxiety out of leaving a pet behind because animals, like people, are much happier and more comfortable with the sights, sounds and smells of their own environment. Animals naturally function better when they can keep their regular routine.

More serious sitters are licensed, bonded, insured and listed on the Internet by zip code, on sites such as, sponsored by the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. is another clearinghouse.

Require personal references for any sitter that you think you might employ and don’t be afraid to ask pertinent questions, such as how many times a day will they visit, when and for how long? Services typically include feeding, playtime, exercise and administering medication when necessary. Ask them what they would do if they were unable to give necessary medication to an aggressive or uncooperative pet. Give them the name, telephone number, address and directions to the family veterinarian, in case of an emergency, and leave a signed letter outlining your wishes if the pet is seriously ill or injured. Include details of how much you are prepared to pay for treatment.

If you prefer to place a pet in a boarding facility, visit it beforehand to check out its cleanliness and safety standards. Ask about their vaccination policy, possible mandatory flea bath (chemical versus nontoxic), practices involved in medicating a pet or attending to their medical needs, and where the animal would be taken in an emergency. Ensure that they are fully insured against any negligence by their staff and ask about an owner’s liability and responsibility in situations where a pet may inflict harm on another animal or human. Request the name of the veterinarian used by the facility and ask if the family vet can be a substitute.

Many kennels insist on up-to-date vaccinations prior to boarding, even though pets no longer require annual immunizations. Check if the kennel will accept pets accompanied by a letter from a veterinarian showing the results of a blood titer test, which measures the antibody level against the disease for which the pet has been immunized.

When it’s time to re-collect a beloved pet, keep in mind that boarding generally causes stress and symptoms like diarrhea, which may last for a few days past a joyous reunion and return home.

Whichever option you choose, it’s best to be able to travel content in the knowledge that your pet is happy, safe and in good hands.

Shawn Messonnier is a doctor of veterinary medicine who provides natural and holistic pet care. He is the author of The Natural Health Bible for Dogs & Cats and host of Dr. Shawn-the Natural Vet on Martha Stewart Radio, Sirius Channel 112. Reach him at 972-867-8800 or through

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