Choosing a Boarding Facility

By: Heather McCauley, DVM

TVMA Member
Rockwall, TX

Published October 2016

Worried about leaving your four-legged “kids” with strangers? Boarding your pets can be a smooth and pleasant experience if you prepare. A good first step in choosing a boarding facility is asking your veterinarian, friends and family for recommendations. Once you have a list of candidates, the following steps can help you narrow down the list to a facility that will be the best fit for you and your pet.

Begin by asking a few questions in a phone call, including:

  • Can you drop in for a tour anytime? If so, the facility is confident in their routine cleanliness. (Short periods of restricted access due to feeding times or soapy floors are reasonable.)
  • Are food, bedding or toys from home allowed? Expect that toys or bedding may be lost or damaged in the wash.
  • Is there nighttime supervision? Fire alarms and sprinkler systems are required in some regions.
  • Does the boarding facility use their own veterinary clinic, or will they transport your pet to your own veterinarian in the event of an illness or injury? Contact your veterinarian prior to your trip to let them know where your pet will be. Some veterinarians and boarding facilities have forms you can fill out, but you can also write a form yourself stating who is authorized to bring your pet into the clinic and what kind of treatment you authorize if you cannot be reached.
  • If associated with a veterinary hospital, are contagious animals isolated? This includes dog walk areas, any common play yards, bathing areas and ventilation systems.
  • Is group boarding or group playtime offered? There are pros and cons. Dogs accustomed to social interactions may flourish, especially in a stable group whose participants are regulars. However, there is increased risk of disease transmission as well as injury from rough play or even dog fights, especially if the staff is inexperienced, a new dog is introduced, the participants have a large variation in size or food/toys are involved.
  • Are boarders checked for fleas and parasites on intake? Expect an extra charge if external or internal parasites are discovered.
  • Are there any special services offered like webcams, grooming, training or treats?
  • What documentation of vaccine status is required? Vaccines should be required for all pets. Cats should be vaccinated for rabies and upper respiratory diseases, and dogs should be vaccinated for rabies, distemper, parvovirus, hepatitis and bordetella. Depending on where you live and problems endemic in your area, other vaccines, such as canine influenza, may be necessary. Remember that getting a vaccine the day before going to a boarding facility will not protect your pet. If your pet does not routinely receive vaccines, try to get them vaccinated at least five days before their stay so they will have the complete benefit of the vaccines.
  • What happens if your pet becomes ill while boarding?

If you like the answers, proceed to a visit:

  • Take a deep breath as you enter. Does it smell clean without strong cover-up scents? Good housekeeping and adequate ventilation is important not just for aesthetics but for safety and disease prevention.
  • All animals should be identified by individual cage cards or waterproof identification bands. Misidentified or non-identified animals can result in serious mix-ups with medication or treatments.
  • Water/food bowls and litter boxes should be cleaned and disinfected daily at minimum.
  • Are animal spaces in good repair? Look for rusted metal, sharp edges, gaps in walls, gratings, cage doors or run gates for nosy noses, toenails or paws to get caught in.
  • Real mattresses, overstuffed chairs and other luxurious appointments add pampering, but these items are also difficult to thoroughly sanitize between guests. Surfaces that can be disinfected also have great appeal, especially if you can provide your own bedding to add comfort.
  • How often are dogs walked? Are measures taken to prevent escapes? Multiple closed doors blocking the outside world and appropriate collar/leash systems can help. An attached yard that avoids the need to cross an open space or parking lot is a big plus. In urban areas, this may not be feasible, so staff must be well-trained in controlling their charges.
  • Are there quieter rooms for small or timid pets? Are cats housed with dogs? Some animals prefer a cozier place where there is less commotion, while others enjoy a bustle of activity.

Regardless of the best efforts of the staff, some pets have difficulties with the boarding experience. In some cases, frequent short boarding visits can help the pet grow comfortable and familiar with their “home away from home,” while in other cases, a pet sitter may be the answer.

Heather McCauley, DVM, is a graduate of University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine who lives near Rockwall, Texas. Dr. McCauley practices as a relief veterinarian serving the eastern Dallas metroplex to Tyler areas for McCauley Veterinary Services.