Considerations and preparation to ensure your dog or cat is safe, happy and healthy whilst you are away
Every summer pet owners have to make some tough decisions. Do they take their beloved pets on holiday or leave them behind. Often the decision to leave pets behind is relatively straightforward, most people would not take their cats on holiday and few people would take their dogs on long haul flights. However, if you are traveling within the UK or Europe, particularly if your journeys are going to be in your own car, your decision to holiday with you pet or to leave it behind requires careful consideration.
Leaving your pet behind
If you choose to leave your pet behind while you holiday, you have a duty to provide for its care while you are away. You may choose to leave your pet within your home with a family member who is not going on holiday. Or you may leave your pet in your home and arrange for a relative, friend or neighbour to visit your pet three or four times a day. Alternatively, your pet could move to the home of a relative, friend or neighbour while you are away. These casual arrangements usually pass without incident but occasionally things can go wrong.
Family members, friends, relatives or neighbours looking after your pet in your home while you are away must be committed to provide the care that your pet needs. They will have to visit it a minimum of three times daily and spend some time within the home to provide some company. You will have to leave feeding, exercise and any medication instructions for them to follow and you need to leave your vet’s contact details in case of illness.
Pets don’t always take to being left behind
When owners are away some cats may take up residence with benevolent neighbours and some dogs may guard their homes, challenging visitors who are charged with caring for them. Some pets loose their appetite in the absence of their owners but caregivers must try to avoid tempting them with rich treats that could up-set their stomachs.
If pets are to be cared for outside of their home and in the homes of friends, relatives or neighbours, the carers must make sure that their homes and gardens are secure so that it is impossible for the pets to escape. If your dog is familiar with containment systems using electronic collars, these systems could provide a boundary around carer’s homes. Carers must also check the environment of their home and garden to ensure that there are no risks to the pets from poisoning or physical harm such as exposed cables that could be chewed.
Check the pet’s health isn’t suffering
A simple means of assessing how an animal is coping with the absence of their owner is to weigh them regularly. Weight loss is an indication to carers that they should arrange to have the pet examined by their vet. It may be a good idea to visit your vet before you leave so that your pet can have its weight recorded and you can record your travel plans. It is a huge responsibility looking after someone else’s pet, and in my experience if something is going to go wrong, it will usually go wrong when the owners were on holiday.
Emotionally sensitive pets or pets who are very nervous of strangers will not cope well if their owners leave them in the care of others. If a pet’s health is very poor, then any change in routine such as owners going away could precipitate a crisis. In these situations owners need to weigh up the risks of leaving their pets in the care of others. Ideally you want to change the pet’s routine as little as possible so they should stay at home with someone who will maintain a similar behaviour and routine as the owner!
Professional care options
Many people choose to have their pets looked after by professional carers. There are a number of available options:
- Boarding kennels or catteries
Professional pet-sitters can move into your home to take care of your pets. If pets are lodged in boarding kennels or catteries, they will need to comply with entry criteria, which will include evidence of up to date vaccinations. As with any care arrangements you must provide information regarding dietary requirements or the diet itself for your pet. If your pet is on medication you must provide a sufficient amount for the duration of your stay. Make sure that you provide your vet’s contact details and your contact details in case of emergency. You should leave a note giving permission to the carers to authorize veterinary treatment in your absence. It is worth asking about opportunities for exercise and, if it’s permitted, to bring in familiar bedding and boredom-busting toys to occupy them and to provide the pet with familiar comforts. Good boarding kennels and catteries should be licensed and are usually booked a long way in advance, particularly during school holidays, so early booking is essential to avoid disappointment.
It’s a good idea to get references for pet-sitters and ideally they should be members of recognized organizations such as The National Association of Registered Pet-sitters on 0845 230 8544 www.dogsit.com
Similarly it is a good idea to visit boarding kennels and catteries before you make a booking:
- The kennel or cattery staff should be welcoming and should ask for proof that your pet is vaccinated
- They should be willing to show you where your pet would be staying. The kennel or cattery should look and smell clean and in the case of kennels, not too noisy
- They should be light and airy, while not being draughty or too cold. The buildings should be secure and in good repair, with surfaces that are easy to keep clean
- Good design and construction with non-slip floors means that there should be no need for paper or wood shavings on the floors
- There should be an area for bedding and also an area to exercise; ideally there should be some stimulation in the form of a view or quiet music
- Overcrowding should be avoided because mixing dogs from different homes could encourage the spread of disease and could result in fights
- Boarding kennels and catteries should be licensed and ideally are members of organisations such as the British Kennel & Cattery Association (BKCA).
On return from holiday many owners are tempted to give their dog a treat of a long walk. After a period of inactivity in kennels this can result in strains and sprains. It is best to build exercise up again slowly over a week, rather than risk hurting your dog with an inappropriate walk.
- Weigh your pet at your vet before their stay. Ask the vet to record the weight and the details of your pets care arrangements while you are away
- Leave detailed care instructions for medication, diet and exercise
- Leave emergency contact details for you or a trusted nominee in your absence
- Book early for boarding kennels and catteries and make sure you pet’s vaccination cover is appropriate
- Discourage anyone from feeding you pet treats if it has a poor appetite while you are away, if in doubt the carer should take your pet to the vet
- If it can go wrong it will go wrong while you are away particularly with infirm or ill animals
- Don’t over-exercise dogs when you collect them from kennels, and be patient if they have forgotten their house training.
David Chamberlain BVetMed., MRCVS.
Veterinary Consultant to PetSafe®