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Healthy Paws: Should They Stay Or Should They Go…to the Kennel?

Healthy Paws

Editor’s Note: Healthy Paws is a column sponsored and written by the owners of Clarendon Animal Care, a full-service, general practice veterinary clinic. The clinic is located 3000 10th Street N., Suite B. and can be reached at 703-997-9776.

Boarding & Alternatives

The winter holiday season is amongst the busiest times of year for boarding facilities and dog-sitters, so it’s a great time to address boarding/pet-sitting and how to make these experiences as safe, happy, and stress-free for both you and your pets.

Should I board or have someone come to pet-sit?

The answer to this really depends on your individual pet’s personality.  Social, active, or younger dogs may do better in a boarding situation where they will get to interact and play with other dogs. However, older, more reserved, shy, or easily stressed dogs may do better staying in their home environment and having someone come in to care for them (or even stay with them at the house).

Cats tend to do best staying in their home environment, or boarding somewhere with a dedicated space for cats. Barking dogs and lots of commotion can understandably be very stressful for them.

How do I decide where to board my pet(s)?

A recommendation from a trusted source is a great place to start. If time permits, you may want to schedule a visit to the facility to check it out ahead of time and address any questions in person.

What should I look for in a pet-sitter?  

Again, a recommendation from a friend, veterinarian, or other trusted source is a good starting point. However, we do recommend checking references, as you are entrusting someone to come into your home. If you are working with a company you are unfamiliar with, we recommend checking references and going with a company that is licensed, bonded, and insured.

Are there alternatives to boarding or having someone come to the house?

With a bit of research, you may be able to find someone that will take your pet into their home while you are away. This is a good option for pets that do not do well in a boarding facility or when someone coming to the house is not an option.

How early do I need to make a reservation?

This depends on the time of year. If you are looking to reserve a spot for your pet for the winter holiday season you need to do so now as this is the busiest time of year.

What should I bring with my pet to the boarding facility?

We recommend talking to the boarding facility directly to find out if you are able to bring your pet’s own bed, toys, etc. We do recommend bringing their own food, as sudden diet changes are one of the reasons that diarrhea is more common in boarding or recently boarded dogs.

If your pet is on medication, make sure the boarding facility/pet sitter is comfortable giving medications and is aware of the underlying conditions for which your pet has been placed on medications. Make sure they know what complications or problems might arise from your pets underlying condition as well as the medications they are on.

What are the potential health risks with boarding?

Diarrhea is one of the most common symptoms we see in dogs that are boarding or have recently boarded. While it would seem logical that this is because of increased exposure to viruses and bacteria, it more often is due to a “nervous belly,” causing an upset in the normal bacterial flora in the GI tract and leading to “stress colitis.” For dogs that we know have a history of diarrhea or soft stool while boarding, starting a probiotic a day or two beforehand and continuing during the time away from home may help control symptoms. Bringing his or her own food can also help decrease the likelihood of GI upset.

Tracheobronchitis (aka “Kennel Cough”) is perhaps the most well-known health condition associated with boarding. The symptoms of kennel cough — a harsh, dry, upper airway cough — can be caused by many different viruses and bacteria, not just Bordetella bronchiseptica, the main bacteria protected against by the “kennel cough vaccine.” (Some kennel cough vaccines also include Parainfluenza and Adenovirus Type 2).

This is most likely why we still see cases of kennel cough in dogs that are vaccinated appropriately — there are lots of players involved! If you know your pet is particularly susceptible to kennel cough, a pet-sitter may be a good option for them instead of the kennel.

With just a bit or preparation on your part, your pets can have a happy and healthy getaway or “staycation” while their family is away!

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of

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