When you travel without your pets, part of planning your trip is figuring out where your four-legged companions will stay while you’re away. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of pet boarding and pet sitting when deciding the best option for your dog or cat.
The goal, of course, is to make sure your beloved beasties are well cared for and as comfortable as possible while you’re gone—which will help you worry less while you’re away. Every pet is different, including pets who share the same home. If you have multiple pets, you might even find that one will do better with pet boarding and that pet sitting is the best solution for the other.
Each animal handles the stress of their pet parent leaving for a few days in their own way, and that’s OK. We’ve mapped out some pros and cons to pet boarding and pet sitting so you can check this off your vacation to-do list with confidence.
So, what is dog boarding, exactly? Basically, it’s taking your dog or cat to a facility away from home for an overnight stay or longer. These lodging facilities often are called pet hotels, pet boarding facilities or boarding kennels and can range from traditional boarding kennels to veterinary facilities to pet resorts.
Boarding isn’t for every pet, so take a look at the pros and cons to see if this option might be best for your dogs or cats.
The Pros of Boarding Pets
At a glance:
- Attention and socialization with pets and people
- Opportunities to exercise
- A professional, supervised environment
- Routine feeding and exercising
- Monitoring of food and medications
- No strangers coming to your home
That may all sound ideal, but as a concerned pet parent you may also wonder: What is dog boarding like for pets? The answer depends both on the facility you choose and on your own pup’s personality and adaptability.
Attention and Socialization With Pets and People
If you have a social pet who likes to be around other animals and people, boarding might be an excellent choice. Several categories of dogs do well in a boarding environment, says Yody Blass, M.A., certified in animal behavior from National Association of Animal Behaviorists, and owner and director of Companion Animal Behavior in Northern Virginia.
“Especially dogs who have separation anxiety and wouldn’t do well left alone; and more sociable dogs needing more contact with humans and other dogs,” she says. “[Facilities that] offer daycare options may have more cage-free time during the day, which is great for younger dogs who might need more exercise and socialization.”
For cats, who don’t typically require as much attention, Blass recommends a facility that specializes in just cats or offers a separate area just for cats to reduce the stress of dogs barking.
Opportunities to Exercise
Some facilities are free-range and offer open spaces for friendly pets to play together. Others provide single-room options for dogs or cats who need more privacy and quiet until they are more comfortable with the environment.
“We take the dogs out four times a day,” says Monica Silva, DVM, owner of Country Inn Pet Resort in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. “They have fun and really enjoy themselves. They go out in the fields, to the pool and, most importantly, they exercise.”
A Professional, Supervised Environment
At a reputable facility, Blass says, the staff are qualified, may be certified in training or behavior specialties, and generally are equipped to handle the unique needs and personalities of each boarding pet.
“Most facilities temperament test to make sure dogs are friendly and play well,” Blass says. “It’s not perfect, and accidents can happen, but well-run operations know how to avoid this.”
Monitoring of Food and Medications
Some locations even offer care directly from certified veterinarians.
“This is especially helpful if your dog or cat has chronic medical issues which require medications and monitoring,” says Amy Pike, DVM, DACVB, IAABC-CABC, chief of medicine at Animal Behavior Wellness Center in Fairfax, Virginia.
This not only benefits your pet, but it can put you at ease knowing that your fur baby is in the hands of medical professionals while you’re away.
“We just had a dog here, and we were required to pull blood every day for glucose,” Dr. Silva says. “In a situation like this, we’d board the dog at the animal hospital.”
The routine structure a pet boarding facility offers can be great for dogs and cats. Most locations maintain the same routine every day to keep boarders on a schedule.
“Our protocols include the same time for feeding, taking the dogs out, cleaning, separating doggy daycare groups, and more,” Dr. Silva says.
Some even have cameras that owners can watch, Dr. Pike adds.
No Strangers Coming to Your Home
If you’re going to take your pet to a boarding facility, that means no strangers need to come to your home to watch your pet while you’re gone. For those who value their privacy, this would be a perk.
Pet Boarding Cons
At a glance:
Can be expensive
Stressful for some animals
Chance of injury from self-trauma or altercations with other boarders
Risk of illness from exposure to other pets, unfamiliar food, etc.
Requires transporting your pets
Can Be Expensive
Boarding pets can sometimes cost more than hiring a pet sitter. The expense varies depending on the facility’s location and offerings. The average cost of boarding a dog in the U.S. is $30-$50 per night, with upscale pet hotels, which offer perks like swimming pools and webcams, averaging about $75-$95 per night, according to the home services website HomeGuide.
Stressful for Some Animals
For some pets, staying at a boarding facility can heighten their stress and increase their anxiety. While some pets with separation anxiety can benefit from the structure and socialization of boarding, others experience heightened stress when removed from their usual environment, especially animals who are not used to going to facilities like these, and those who don’t do well with other animals, Dr. Pike says.
“Many cats and dogs feel extremely anxious outside of the comfort of their own home,” she says.
Blass agrees, adding that for most cats, it’s more stressful to go away than to stay home. The stress reaction in dogs and cats can come out in physical responses like aggression, or inflammatory reactions like diarrhea or cystitus, which is a bladder infection, she says.
Chance of Injury From Self-Trauma or Altercations
“Some dogs are reactive to the sight of other pets nearby or if another dog walks by the kennel, which is understandable,” says Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, DACVB, a practicing pet behaviorist who offers house calls in Southern California. “They just don’t handle it well.”
Some pooches get aggressive in cages, Dr. Schwartz adds. When someone reaches in the cage to take the pet out for a walk, fear-based aggression takes over.
Risk of Catching an Illness
In addition to stress, animals are more at risk of catching an illness in a boarding kennel than at home.
“There is the possibility of infectious diseases,” Blass says. “Most facilities require [dog] vaccines, such as Bordetella and canine influenza, but that doesn’t prevent pets from coming back with kennel cough or upper respiratory infections. It’s the same with cats.”
Requires Transporting Your Pets
Most pet boarding facilities do not pick up or drop off pets. That means you’ll be transporting your fur companions to and from the location before and after your trip, so add that task to your to-do list.
Some pet boarding facilities allow parents to bring their pets’ favorite toys, foods and treats. Many pets find comfort when left with familiar items and smells, so if your pup loves to snuggle with their Multipet Lamb Chop dog toy or snack on Triumph Grain-Free Salmon & Sweet Potato jerky, bring them along and explain the items’ significance to the staff. If the boarding facility allows it, you could even bring your dog’s own bed, like the Frisco Rectangular Bolster Bed, to make the place feel more like home.
You can make your home into a personal pet hotel by choosing to go the route of a pet sitter. In-home dog sitting and cat sitting may be as simple as having a neighbor, friend or family member drop by your home while you are away. Or you might choose to hire a professional pet sitter to come to your home or to care for your pet at their home.
In-home dog sitting and cat sitting is not an option for every pet or household. Consider these pros and cons as you make your decision.
Pet Sitting Pros
At a glance:
Often less expensive
Less stressful for pets to remain in familiar surroundings and routines
Your home is monitored and looks liked in
No need to transport pets
Costs for pet sitting vary depending on who you choose and if they stay the night, but they generally are less than facilities for boarding pets. The national average is $20-$30 per day, according to HomeGuide.
Less Stressful for Some Pets
If you have a pet who does better staying at home and easily welcomes people in, dog or cat sitting is a great choice.
“If you have a good pet sitter, I definitely recommend pet sitting for cats since they love to stay home,” Dr. Silva says. “Most cats don’t like to board and would rather be at home. We recommend pet sitters for dogs who are extremely stressed when they board.”
Dr. Schwartz also recommends leaving pets at home if possible and having a sitter come in a few times a day.
“If your dog has a doggy friend, they can visit or stay with that friend, if both animals tolerate it,” she says. “Cats typically do better at home because they have the lay of the land and know their surroundings.”
In addition to familiar surroundings, at-home care can allow pets to remain on their same schedule.
“I do recommend people keep the same schedule their pets are used to,” Blass says. “For example, if they’re used to eating two times a day, have the sitter feed them twice a day. It’s important to do the necessities and keep up a routine with play and interaction as well.”
Your Home Is Monitored and Looks Lived In
An added benefit of having a pet sitter is the luxury of having someone care for your home as well.
“If the pet sitter is staying overnight, you have the additional advantage of having someone there to watch your home and property,” Dr. Pike says.
They can water plants, bring in the newspaper or mail and just keep the place looking lived in while you’re away. This especially works well with geriatric pets or those with health concerns, Blass says.
No Need for Transport
Of course, if you have someone coming to your home, you don’t have to transport your pet anywhere. That eliminated the stress associated with pet travel and keeps one more items off your to-do list.
Pet Sitting Cons
At a glance:
Inviting a stranger into your home
Difficulty booking during busy seasons
- Pets might not respond well to strangers in their territory
Loneliness if pets are left alone too long
Inviting a Stranger Into Your Home
Pet sitting only works if you trust the person at your home.
“Not only will they be taking care of your babies, they will have keys and codes to your home,” Dr. Pike says.
It’s crucial to do your homework, such as asking for references, Blass says. You can also look for sitters who are members of a professional organization, like the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters or Pet Sitters International. Some might have Better Business Bureau ratings as well.
Difficulty Booking During Busy Seasons
If your trip will take place during a popular travel season, booking a pet sitter can be more challenging. So, plan ahead.
“Trying to find someone who is available during the time you wish to leave, especially during holidays and summer when everyone wishes to travel, can be difficult,” Dr. Pike says.
Do your research ahead of time to find the perfect match for your pet, and to be certain they’re available at the time you need.
Pets Might Not Respond Well to Strangers
While in-home dog sitting and cat sitting can reduce a pet’s stress, it only works if your four-legged companion is OK with someone coming into their territory. If the dog is not good with strangers, Dr. Pike says, this behavior may be worse in the home versus at boarding.
“Dogs and cats who do not do well with strangers in the home could present a potential risk for aggressive behavior towards the pet sitter,” Dr. Pike warns. There are ways to slowly introduce them, like having the “pet sitter come over ahead of time and spend time with your pet in order to ease the stress of having a new person in the home while you are gone.”
Another challenge can arise if a professional pet sitting company assigns different people to visit your home on different days, Dr. Schwartz says. Pets who are not friendly with strangers and make good watchdogs are more prone to territorial aggression, she adds.
“When alone, they are a sentry and can be more aggressive then,” she says. “Most cats know their territory and will run under the bed, but if the sitter reaches in, the cat lashes out to protect itself and its territory.”
Loneliness If Pets Are Left Alone Too Long
Dogs and cats can get lonely when home alone for hours at a time, especially if they’re used to people being around, Dr. Schwartz says.
“I don’t think it’s all that wise to have a single pet, especially a dog, left alone with only a dog walker coming by,” she explains. “To leave a dog generally home alone 8 hours, some don’t tolerate that schedule.”
Blass adds that you might even question whether the sitters came when they said they would and stayed as long as you’d arranged.
“Some people are using in-home cameras, and pet sitters are using mobile apps to track walks, when they arrived and are leaving, etc.,” Blass says. “This is helpful for tech-savvy parents who want to know more.”
Accidental escape is another major concern with pet sitting. All it takes is a door left open or a hole in the fence.
“Regardless, if the pet sitter comes to you or your animal goes there, make sure there’s a collar with ID, microchip, etc.,” Blass says, “so if she gets out she would hopefully be returned quickly.”
Choosing Between Pet Boarding and Pet Sitting
Whichever method of care you choose, be sure to do your due diligence for the best outcome. You want your mind at ease and your pets in the best care possible.
Dr. Schwartz recommends paying a surprise visit to any pet boarding facilities you are considering.
“Get a short list from your vet or a few vets in your area and visit those facilities to ask for tour,” she says. “If they say you must schedule the tour for a later date, cross them off their list. If they’re rude or the place smells, keep looking.”
With pet sitters, Dr. Schwartz says to interview candidates and pick the one your pets like best.
“You have to like them too, of course, but your pets must like them more,” she says. “Schedule two to three visits before you leave so your pets can be comfortable with them.”
To help relieve your dog or cat’s anxiety there are a variety of products available. Blass has clients who use Purina Pro Plan Veterinary Diets Calming Care Probiotic Dog Supplement, which contains ingredients she says will help relax dogs. She also uses diffusers and pheromone products, such as Comfort Zone 2X Peromone Formula Calming Diffuser, with many of her clients.
In addition to pheromone collars, diffusers and sprays, Dr. Pike says she likes calming chews. Two soft-chew options are VetriScience Composure Behavioral Health Bite-Sized Dog Chews and Nutramax Solliquin Calming Small-Medium Dogs & Large Cat Soft Chews. It’s recommended to start these kinds of products a few days before your departure and continue until you return.