Holiday care for pets – what are the options?
If you’re going away on a much-awaited holiday, you want to know that your pets are being well looked after so you don’t spend your vacation worrying about them. So, what are the options? From buddying up with pet-owning friends to share holiday care duties, to a traditional boarding kennels or cattery, or even hiring a pet sitter to look after your four-legged friends in the comfort of their own home – how do you decide what’s best for your pets?
Before you weigh up the pros and cons of potential pet care options, follow these essential DOs and DON’Ts:
- DO go by recommendations from other pet-owning friends or your vet
- DON’T pick a kennels, a cattery or a pet sitter at random from the internet
- DO visit or meet them before you book your pet in
- DO make sure your pets are microchipped and have all the correct vaccinations and parasite protection
- DON’T leave booking until the last minute. The best establishments and sitters quickly run out of places
- DO think carefully about what will suit your pet best. A healthy, confident dog will likely cope fine in a well-run boarding kennels, whereas an elderly or anxious pet may prefer to stay in familiar surroundings, so a pet sitting service may be more suitable
- DO arrange for short ‘test-run’ visits prior to a longer stay so that you pet is familiar with the place and people who will be looking after them. They will be much more likely to go off happily with these friendly carers who they’ve already spent time with and settle in quicker
Kennels, catteries and pet hotels
In traditional boarding kennels or catteries, pets are kept in a kennel, which should have a heated indoor area and accessible outdoor run. Some establishments will advertise themselves as 'pet hotels' and may offer more luxurious extras such as an individual room for your pet or comfier bedding.
The important thing is to visit potential places in person before you book your pet in. Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “Don’t rely on websites and ask friends or your vet for recommendations. Make sure to check the business you are using is licensed by the local council too and in England check the ‘star rating’ on the local authority's Animal Welfare Licence – we recommend looking for a five-star rating.”
Liza Smith, who runs The Pet Studio dog kennels in Congresbury, near Bristol, understands how important it is for her human customers to know that their canine guests will feel happy and content while they’re away. She says: “We work hard to ensure that visiting us feels like a holiday rather than a prison sentence! We exercise and socialise our guests three times a day in our own field – which means loads of fun and games with the other dogs (for nervous dogs we can walk them alone if preferred) and plenty of exercise and fuss. Throughout the day our guests receive plenty of human attention, games and love, just as they would at home. At bedtime, they are settled down with a yummy treat and a cuddle.”
When choosing a cattery, as well as ensuring it’s a place that your feline friend will be well cared for by fellow cat lovers, there are some practical things to look out for too. Cats Protection recommends checking that cats can't escape – double doors or a 'safety corridor' prevent escape artists from doing a disappearing act – as well as ensuring that your cat will be kept separately from other feline guests and there’s space between the pens so cats can't go nose-to-nose with each other.
Finding a suitable holiday home for small furries such as rabbits and guinea pigs may take a little more research – your vet may be able to offer some suggestions. Some local rescues offer holiday boarding, such as Rabbit Residence Rescue, based near Royston, Hertfordshire, which has a range of holiday accommodation options suitable for outdoor and indoor rabbits, buns with mobility issues and guinea pigs too.
Home from home boarding
'Home from home' boarding, provides your pet with the opportunity to stay in a home, rather than a kennel, where they’ll be treated like part of the family. This can be a good solution for pets who need a little extra care or who find staying in a kennel environment stressful. Franchises such as Wagging Tails offer home from home boarding for dogs in several locations across the UK.
Rhian Sexton, who runs the Cardiff branch, says: “All of our carers are experienced past dog owners who either no longer have dogs of their own or have one dog who enjoys the company of visiting dogs and have all been vetted, interviewed and assessed. I would happily board my Labradoodle Daisy with each of them. I match each owner's dogs with the most suitable dog carer and insist on a 'sniffing out meeting' taking place at the carers home before the board. I always aim to place dogs back with the same carer for subsequent holidays as the dogs and carers build a strong bond.”
Lots of pets find going into kennels or catteries quite stressful, much preferring to stay in their own home where they feel safe and secure. Cats, being territorial creatures, are often better off if they can stay in a familiar environment, so a pet sitter could be a good choice.
Cats Protection advises: “All cats differ, but the home-bods or more nervous ones likely prefer to stay where they are less stressed – at home. In these circumstances, a reliable home sitter is probably the best option for your four-legged friend.”
Organisations such as Rover provide pet sitters who have been reviewed and approved for dogs, cats and small furries. You can browse profiles of nearby sitters and schedule a meet and greet before you sign up.
Buddy up with pet-owning friends
If you have a close dog-walking friend or family member and your canines are best pals, it’s worth asking if they’d consider looking after your dog at their home and you’ll return the favour while they’re on their holidays. If you have a cat who’d be much happier staying in their own home, a friendly, feline-loving neighbour may be happy to spend time each day playing games and giving them attention along with their food and fresh water.
The same arrangement could also work with small pets such as rabbits, guinea pigs and ferrets. For small furries with portable accommodation (such as hamsters) a nearby friend may be happy to care for your pets in their home. The main thing with an informal arrangement like this is to ensure your pets will be looked after by someone you know really well who you can trust implicitly to care for them properly. If either party has any reservations, it may be best to book your pet in with a professional organisation.
How to prepare your pet for their time away from you
- Medication: If your pet has to take regular medication, make sure you have enough to cover the time you’re away. Speak to the person who’s looking after your pet and leave written instructions for them to follow. They’ll need to know what medication to give and when (for example, morning, evening, before food, after food) and the best way to get your pet to take it. Make sure that the person looking after them is confident giving the medication and knows what to do if there are any problems or side effects seen.
- Contact details: Make sure the person looking after your pet has your vet’s contact details in case of emergencies. They’ll also need your contact details for while you’re away. Find out what their protocol is if they can’t reach you and need to take your pet to a vet and make sure this fits in with your wishes.
- Food and exercise: A sudden change in your pet’s diet can give them an upset stomach. Provide more than enough of your pet’s usual food to cover the time you’ll be away. Leave written instructions about how much food should be given and when, and how much exercise your pet usually gets.
- Toys, blankets and bedding: Favourite toys and blankets which smell of home can help your pet to settle into their temporary home. For rabbits and small animals, some used, unsoiled nesting material will help them feel comfortable in an unfamiliar place.
- The short goodbye: Try not to show negative emotions when leaving your pet – they can pick up on this and will also feel anxious. Avoid unnecessary eye contact and conversation and make goodbyes short, sweet and fuss-free.
- When you get home or collect your pet: Be calm. Reuniting with your pet should be a happy moment, but not too exuberant, to minimise stress. Some animals exhibit different behaviour after arriving home, such as unexplained marking of territory, being quieter than usual for a couple of days, or even ignoring you! Don’t make a fuss but allow your pet to re-adjust to their home environment in their own time, gently easing them back into their normal daily routine.
- NarpsUK (National Association of Pet Sitters & Dog Walkers) offers a range of services including home boarding and pet sitting
- Rover pet sitting service enables you to enter your postcode and find sitters near you – you can choose who best meets your pet’s needs and read reviews left by other pet owners too
- Wagging Tails offer home from home boarding for dogs in several locations
- Trusted House Sitters has a list of verified and reviewed rabbit sitters to love and care for your bunny or other small pets while you’re away
- Guinea Piggles has lots of useful information on what to look for when selecting boarding facilities for your guinea pigs
- You can also sign up to the Excel Bunny Base – a safe Facebook community for rabbit guardians that are looking for advice and friendly discussions from likeminded owners – and there are lots of cute bunny photos and videos! Also join us on Instagram.
- Or why not join the Excel Squeak Squad on Facebook? Find advice and enjoy friendly discussions with likeminded guinea pig owners. You can also join Berry & Bramble, our special G-force guinea pigs, on weekly missions and fun competitions.
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