Choosing pet care that’s right for you and your pet
We want to be there whenever our pets need us, but that isn’t always possible.
Vacations, work obligations and other life events can take us places our pets can’t, so it’s important to always have a backup pet care plan.
From hiring a pet sitter to using a kennel to enlisting a trusted friend or neighbor, there are so many options available right now that making a choice can be overwhelming, especially when there are so many things to consider like cost.
To help you decide, we’ve compiled important information about several popular pet care options. Pick which works for you so you’re ready the next time you need it.
Hire a dog walker or pet sitter
It’s easy to understand why having someone come in the middle of the day to walk the dog or feed the cat, give them water and keep them company is the obvious first choice for many pet owners. The only variable here is the person caring for them, and many pets and their owners can appreciate that.
“In general, dogs and cats thrive on predictability and routine,” says Pia Silvani, director at the ASPCA Behavioral Rehabilitation Center. “The more consistent you can be with your care providers and daily schedule the better your dogs and cats will feel.”
This option is good for: Pets on a regular schedule that you’d rather not deviate from or parents who would prefer not to transport their pet to a facility.
Things to consider: If you are asking someone to come to your home, you have to trust your pet and home with a stranger. Do your research before giving someone the keys. It’s a good idea to check for pet sitting certifications, get referrals, do a background check, and check the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS) or Pet Sitters International (PSI) to see if they are in good standing, Silvani suggests.
Things to avoid: If consistency is something your pet requires, try to find someone good and stick with them. “Dogs with underlying behavior issues (such as anxiety or fear) will do much better with known caregivers than a rotating schedule of strangers,” Silvani adds. “In addition, you as the pet owner will know what to expect from the care provider as well.”
Potential cost: Prices for this service will vary depending on where you live, but generally you can pay someone to walk your dog for anywhere between $10 and $25 a day. Most dog walkers charge an increased fee to come more than once a day. Pet caregivers who come to your home to care for your cats may also charge by the hour or by the job depending on the type of care needed (feeding, brushing, administering medication, and extended play with your cat, etc.) Additionally, most pet caregivers will charge more if you have multiple pets they need to care for.
Take your pet to doggy or kitty day care
You may choose to take your pet to a day care facility — which, like the version for children, is a place where your pet (mostly dogs, but sometimes cats) can safely play all day.
“Dog day care providers can help you meet your dog’s needs for attention, activity and supervision,” says Silvani. “They provide a great antidote for bored, lonely or high-energy dogs with busy guardians who work away from home all day and don’t want to leave their dogs alone. Day care isn’t for everybody — or every dog — but if yours enjoys playing and socializing with other dogs, it can be a great option for your home-alone pal.”
Some day care centers cater to cats and other small animals, and offer overnight boarding as well. Just be sure you're satisfied with the safety and security, as well as the feeding and exercise regime available to the various pets.
This option is good for: Healthy, spayed or neutered and well-socialized dogs who really enjoy people and other dogs and seek interaction with them at every opportunity are the perfect fit for day care, says Silvani. “Young dogs often adjust to the day care environment better than older ones,” she adds. “If your dog is a regular at dog parks, and she plays a lot and enjoys herself there, then day cares are probably ideal for her.”
Things to consider: Not all day cares are created equal. If you’re considering taking your pet to a day care, says Silvani, make sure the staff there is knowledgeable and professional, and that the facility is compliant with Occupation Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines and regulations. Ask what the day care’s protocol is in the event of emergency illness or injury and about their vaccination policies and flea-prevention plan.
Things to avoid: Day cares that are overcrowded — “A good rule of thumb for the optimal size of a dog day care facility is 100 square feet per large dog, and 50 to 60 square feet per small or medium dog,” says Silvani — or day cares that prohibit dog guardians from visiting their dog at any time, are not recommended. “Dogs should never be left unattended,” she adds. “If a second person is not available at all times for back-up, the day care should have arrangements for another employee to arrive quickly if an emergency requires the regular attendant to leave.”
Potential cost: Most day care centers run between $15 and $35 a day (again depending on where you live) and allow you to drop off your dog any time between 6 and 10 a.m. and pick him up in the evening. Many doggy day care centers als offer overnight and weekend sitting for when you go out of town on vacation, which can be convenient since your dog is already comfortable with the place and the people.
Take your pet to a licensed in-home pet sitter
You can connect with licensed in-home pet sitters through various websites and many of them offer services that can help your pet feel at home even though they’re in the company of someone else in another home.
“It provides a family-like companionship while you’re away,” says Jessica Abernathy, president of NAPPS. “Often, the pet sitter and their family is viewed as an extended family for your pet. In addition to this companionship, in-home boarding reduces the time that your pet is alone or isolated like they would be if boarded in a kennel or if you hire a traditional home-visit pet sitter.”
How do you pick the right sitter for your pet? To start, NAPPS says there are several certifications that a pet sitter can hold.
“Some of them are very specialized, which is great for pets with particular medical needs, and others are more general,” Abernathy says. “The standard NAPPS Certification is a broad-range and in-depth course covering all topics relevant to pet sitting, including pet care, health, nutrition and behavior for a variety of animals. It also includes business development and management, pet safety and a complete pet first aid course. NAPPS also provides specialized courses in care for specific pets, senior animals, toy dogs, and feline behavior.”
This option is good for: Pets that do better in a home setting versus a kennel or doggy day care.
Things to consider: The first thing to consider when choosing an in-home pet boarder, says Abernathy, is to ensure that the provider is appropriately licensed to do in-home boarding and carries the proper certifications and insurance. “Make sure the home is safe, clean, and has a fenced in yard,” she says. “If the sitter has other pets or children in the home, you should consider doing a meet-and-greet to familiarize your pet with them, especially if your pet is not used to having other animals or children around. We also recommend checking references and reviews of your potential pet sitter.”
Things to avoid: If a potential sitter has a schedule that deviates from your pet’s usual routine, it might not be a good fit. “Will they plan on being away from home for extended periods of time?” Abernathy says. “If so, your pet could become anxious being left alone in an unfamiliar environment.”
Potential cost: Prices for in-home pet sitting will vary but are typically in the $30 to $50 per night range. The number of pets being cared for and special services like giving medications will likely increase that price.
Take your pet to veterinarian boarding or a kennel
Kennels provide boarding services (and sometimes day care and grooming services) for the day or for extended periods of time. Many veterinarians will also provide the same service. Since a veterinarian's kennel houses both sick and healthy animals, make sure you check with the vet about how the boarding accommodations are handled.
Find out how much time, if any, your pet will be allowed out of his or her primary enclosure each day. Some kennels have indoor runs, some have outdoor runs, and some have no runs at all. Keep in mind that an austere kennel in a busy veterinary office can be a very stressful atmosphere. However, having an animal doctor on site has undeniable advantages.
This option is good for: Veterinary kennels are helpful for animals that may require veterinarian supervision. Standard kennels are typically quite affordable.
Things to consider: Both types of kennels can be loud, bustling places. “Visiting the kennel is critical since some kennels can be quite noisy (i.e. barking, vacuums, dogs playing),” says Silvani. Additionally, she says, some kennels may not have indoor/outdoor runs, so your pup could spend a lot of time in a kennel with only brief trips outside. Kennels are also places where animals can catch viruses and/or illnesses, so make sure there’s a vaccination policy in places (which includes dog flu vaccines, etc.) so that all pets are best protected during their stay.
Things to avoid: If anxiety is an issue for your pet, a kennel might not be the right fit. “If the pet is used to living in a quiet home, this can have an effect on the dog’s well-being during her stay,” she says.
Potential cost: Prices for kennels usually start at about $25 a night but that rate can change if you purchase add-ons. “Some kennels have a la carte offerings, which can be beneficial to the animal, but what appears to be a reasonably priced nightly rate can end up being quite expensive,” Silvani says.
Ask someone to pet sit in your home
Knowing that a trusted friend or neighbor is caring for your animal at your home — whether it be for just a day or a few days — can really put your mind at ease. “In-home pet care is wonderful since the pet is in her familiar environment,” Silvani says. Generally, this works well for cats who don’t have intense care needs or dogs who are safely left at home when you’re not there.
Still, it’s always good to think about how your pet will react to having someone not normally there inside your home. “It is not necessarily a good idea if your pet is not comfortable with new people entering the home, especially when you are not present,” Silvani advises.
This option is good for: Pet parents who’d rather have their pet cared for by someone in their own home — and would potentially like to save a little cash!
Things to consider: How well do you know the person sitting for you? It’s still important to choose wisely since you’re asking someone to come into your home. That means selecting a responsible, conscientious sitter who will do the job right. Some people do put up cameras or have asked neighbors to watch the home as an additional means of ensuring that your pets and home are safe, Silvani says.
Things to avoid: It’s not a great idea to use a new pet sitter without an introduction before you go away. “Trial runs are highly recommended to ensure that the pet will accept the pet sitter,” Silvani says. “You do not want to find out that the dog will not go outside to relieve herself after you have left the country on a vacation.”
Potential cost: You could save a little money on pet care if a friend or neighbor will care for your pet for free or at a low cost to you — and it’s always nice to thank a person working pro bono with a gift when you return!
Read next: What to look for in a pet sitter