Looking After Your Cat or Dog While on Holiday: Boarding Options and Advice

As much as we’d love to take our furry friends away with us on holiday, sometimes this just isn’t practical. While some dogs will thrive on walking holidays and camping trips in the UK, others find the new experiences and change of routine stressful, and this is almost always the case for cats too. If you’re going on holiday abroad, there are even more obstacles to contend with, so sometimes it’s best to leave your cat or dog at a cattery, dog boarding kennel, or with a pet sitter. But how do you choose one?

For peace of mind while you’re on holiday this summer, we’ve explained all your options and put together some top tips and advice for choosing the best care for your cat or dog.

Friend or Family House Sitter

This option is by far the best for most cats and dogs, and very low cost too.

If you have a retired family member or a good friend who works from home for example, asking them to stay in your home with your pet will ensure your furry friend’s routine and environment stay exactly the same, and they’ll be with someone they know and trust. You’ve also got the added benefit of someone looking after your home while you’re away on holiday.

Of course, this option does rely on you knowing somebody that this would be practical for. Not everyone will be able to leave their own home for an extended period owing to their own responsibilities.

Some dogs, and possibly a few cats, may be happy to go and stay with your friend or family member at their house. This might mean that friends with children for example are more able to help out, and your pet will still be with someone they know and that you trust.

Having a friend or neighbour look after your pet is by far the cheapest option too – just be sure to bring them back something nice from your trip as a thank you! If they have their own pets, promising to return the favour at some point will also be appreciated.

Professional Pet Sitter

If you don’t have a friend or family member who can help, the next best thing is to book in with a professional pet sitter. This can be fairly expensive, but particularly for nervous cats and dogs, it’s often worth the money to know that your pet is happy and comfortable in their own environment while you’re on holiday.

Pet sitters will usually stay at your house the whole time you’re away, but many will also offer a pop-in service if that’s suitable for your pet.

You can find a cat or dog sitter near you through the National Association of Registered Pet Sitters.

Visits from a Friend or Neighbour

This option can work well for cats who are quite happy to spend some time alone, but won’t usually be suitable for dogs.

Many cats will be glad to stay in their own home for the duration of your holiday, and will be quite content left to their own devices. This is often preferable to catteries which can cause a lot of stress for many cats.

If you have a good friend or responsible neighbour who is as fond of your cat as you are, you could ask them to pop round a couple of times a day to tend to your cat. As long as your friend feeds them at the usual time, clears out the litter box (if they have one), and gives them a bit of love and attention while they’re there, this option can be a great choice for many cats, especially those who don’t do well when their routine or environment is changed.

In-Home Pet Boarding

The next best thing to your cat or dog being in their own home is being cared for in someone else’s home. In-home pet boarding is a popular option for many dog owners.

Licensed home boarding businesses will usually look after a few dogs at one time in their own home, which is often great news for sociable pups. They will also have their own room where they can be kept separate from other dogs if needed.

Other benefits of home boarding include being more affordable than dog sitters, and not needing to have someone live in your home if this makes you uncomfortable.

In-home cat boarders are also available, but usually only one cat would board at a time as spending time with new cats can be very stressful.

Cats would also need to be kept inside to avoid them wandering around an unfamiliar area and getting lost, so this may be a consideration if you have an outdoor cat who you think would need continued outdoor access while you’re on holiday.

Dog Kennels and Catteries

The above options are usually preferable, but sometimes you might need to book a traditional pet boarding facility. These are dog kennels and catteries, where your cat or dog will be kept in their own pen.

Dogs will be taken out for a walk at least once a day and will have the opportunity for playtime. Cats prefer not to mix with other cats as this can be very stressful, so good catteries will ensure that cats from different households are never able to touch each other. Ideally, the kennel walls will not be see-through so that cats can’t see each other either. Often cat kennels will have small outdoor spaces for them to enjoy too

In October 2018, there was a change in the law that meant those running a licensed dog boarding kennel or home boarding business had to meet a new set of regulations. These standards ensure dogs receive the enrichment and company they need while boarding.

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Cat or Dog Boarder Checklist

Always visit a boarding facility before choosing it. Here’s a check list of some of the things you should look for in a dog boarder or cattery:

Kennel size – Their pen or kennel should be spacious enough for your cat or dog to sit, stand, lie down and stretch out fully, walk and turn around, and dogs should have space to wag their tail.

Personal space – Pets should have access to their own sleeping area at all times, which is separate from other pets, unless you have multiple dogs (or cats) and you have requested they share.

Exercise regime – Dogs should have at least one walk a day, and higher standard dog boarders will offer two 20+ minute walks a day.

Love and attention – Dogs in particular need regular social contact, so check the staff will spend time with your dog each day, and how long for.

Monitoring – Cat and dog boarders are required to monitor and keep a record of your pet’s stay. Check that they have a suitable system in place for this, and enough staff to do it properly.

Vaccinations, flea and worming treatments – Check that the boarding facility requires proof of vaccination and that the cats and dogs staying there are up-to-date with flea and worming treatments.

Toys – Pets should have something to keep them stimulated and prevent boredom throughout their stay.

Licence – Check that the boarder’s licence is valid and up-to-date (see below).

Insurance cover – This is important in case your pet needs emergency care.

Medical care – If your cat or dog has any medical issues or special requirements (such as insulin injections for example), make sure they are able to accommodate this.

Clean, comfortable and secure environment – Check the kennels or pens are clean, dry, draught-free, provide shade cover, and can’t be escaped from. You should also look at the animals currently in their care when you visit to see if they look happy and healthy.

Questions and answers – Not only should a good cat or dog boarding facility be happy to answer all your questions, but they should also be asking you lots of questions too. For example, they should want to know about your pet’s diet, health, and anything they should be aware of.

Top Tips for Leaving Your Cat or Dog While You’re on Holiday

It’s really important to choose the right care for your cat or dog while you’re away so that you can enjoy your holiday with peace of mind. Here is some advice for how to choose the right boarding option for your pet.

Consider your cat or dog’s personality. Some pets will be quite happy in a good boarding kennel or cattery, but others will find this very stressful and will need to stay at home. You know your pet best, so make their wellbeing the priority when exploring your options.

Ask friends and family for recommendations. Reviews are also helpful, but first-hand opinions about boarders from people you trust will make it easier for you to leave them there. You could also ask your vet for recommendations.

Start investigating your options with plenty of time before your holiday. Finding the right pet sitter, home-boarder, cattery or kennel can take a long time as you want to make sure you’re completely happy with the place you choose. Once you’ve decided, book as soon as possible as good boarding places often get fully booked during busy times.

Go and see them for yourself. To help you make an informed decision about where to leave your pet, make sure you visit the boarding premises, don’t just rely on websites. The same goes for home-boarders and pet sitters – meeting them and visiting the house your pet will be staying in is important to make sure you feel confident leaving them there. It’s also important for your pet themselves to meet the person who will be looking after them. All reputable sitters should offer ‘meet and greets’ as part of their service.

Check the licence. Boarding establishments must display their licence, and you can check the information on it by contacting the Licensing Authority and asking them to confirm it (see below).

Make sure your pet’s vaccinations and flea and worming treatments are up to date before you leave. Spending time around lots of other animals can lead to the spread of parasites and diseases if you don’t take the appropriate measures.

Write down instructions for how to care for your pet. Include everything about their normal routine such as meal times, when they usually get up and go to sleep, walks, any medications they need to take, and anything else that will help your pet stick to their normal routine. You should also give them emergency contact details for you, as well as the name and number of your vet. If you’ll be leaving more than one cat or dog with a sitter, it’s also worth writing down how to identify who is who!

How to Check if Someone Has a Dog Boarding Licence

The Licensing Authority will usually be the local council. You can find contact details on the local council’s website.

Some local licensing authorities will share information on Licences Animal Boarding Establishments through a Public Register on their website. Other times, you’ll need to request this information by phone, email or a Freedom of Information Act Request.

In England, you can also check the ‘star rating’ on the licence. The highest rating is five-stars, and it’s best to go with businesses who have this.

Wrapping Up

Going away on holiday without your furry family member can be worrying, and you want to be sure you’ve left them in safe hands. If you can’t leave them in the care of someone you know and trust, always do your research when considering boarding options, ask for recommendations from family, friends and your vet, and leave plenty of time to find the perfect fit. For some dog owners, if it’s practical and wouldn’t cause stress for your pet, you could always consider a dog-friendly holiday and take them with you – that way you can enjoy some quality time and make memories together!

Animed Veterinary Nurse, Beth Walker