Before you board your pet, know these safety tips

Sep 14, 2015 at 9:30 a.m. ET

Our pets are our babies and just like our human babies, it isn't always convenient to take them with us. When you're going out of town, choosing the right boarder for your pets is just as important as finding the right babysitter for your kiddos. Before you decide on a boarder, ask yourself these important questions.

1. Is the facility clean and well-maintained?

Obviously, you'll want to visit the facility and see the place your pet will be, including the kennels themselves, the play area, the first aid area and other areas of the facility. If you visit and they don't want to show you something, that may be a red flag.

When you visit, ask yourself: Does it look and smell clean? How's the light and ventilation? What about the temperature? Is everything in good repair?

2. Are all pets required to have proper vaccinations and show record of them?

Depending on your pet's species, it should for sure be required to have its core vaccines, and many facilities will (and should) require other vaccines. For example, dogs should be required to have a Bordetella vaccination even though it's not a core vaccine. Ask your vet what he or she thinks about what vaccines your animal should need.

3. Does the staff seem pet-friendly and knowledgeable?

Believe it or not, some people who work in kennels may not like their jobs (or even certain animals). Make sure you can see several staff members interact with your or another animal. Do they seem to genuinely enjoy their work? The animals? Ask all the questions you want — anything that makes you feel comfortable that they know what they're talking about.

Are the animals wearing collars? Yes, that's something to look for — it's a strangulation hazard when a small group of people are taking care of a large number of animals. They also shouldn't be letting pets play with chew toys unattended, so ask that, too.

4. What veterinary care options are there?

Is there a vet on staff? What type of care can they provide? Are general workers trained in at least a little animal first aid? What happens if your pet has an emergency while there? Obviously, an on-staff vet is the preference, but it's unlikely he or she will be there 24-7. But you want to know what care will be available.

5. How do they separate animals?

You want to know what the mechanics are, but you also want to make sure they separate dogs and cats efficiently and whether they separate them out by size when necessary.

Even if your animal isn't aggressive, you should ask what's done with aggressive animals or if they even take them. An animal can be perfectly docile in most situations, but when it gets left alone with strangers and tons of other animals, a new side may come out (even if it's just because it's nervous). What happens if they notice that? You want to hear them say "quarantine" or "separate." Even if after you leave your animal gets separated, that's better than the alternative, which may be losing your beloved pet if something really bad happens.

6. Are the facilities adequate in size and features?

Is the kennel your pet will be in each night big enough for its breed? What about the runs? Is there plenty of room even if there are several animals? How many do they allow in at once? What about the common areas? Are they large enough for all the animals they might be boarding? Are they air conditioned? Protected from rain and snow? Will your dog be sleeping on a concrete floor, or do they have mats or bedding? If you have cats, do they have climbing space? Is there plenty of room between the food/water bowls and where they go to the bathroom? Do they clean up pet messes fairly quickly?

Also pay attention to how the other pets there look. Are they relaxed looking (for the most part), or do they seem anxious — pacing or barking continuously?

7. How often are pets fed?

If your animal is used to a particular feeding schedule, it can adjust a little, but if your pet is used to being fed smaller amounts three times a day and it'll only be fed a lot at once (or vice versa), that might be too big of an adjustment.

8. Are the animals exercised regularly? How?

You certainly don't want to think about your fur baby stuck in a cage the entire time you're gone. But make sure you approve of how it's exercised and where (outside in 100 degree F heat for an hour isn't acceptable for many breeds). But if your pet has health or aggression issues, you may also want to make sure it's not too much for them. You'll also want to ensure animals are kept separated during playtime by species and by size.

9. Can I make special arrangements for my animal?

If your animal has special concerns, you want to make sure those can be properly addressed. Perhaps your pet has a disability or needs a specific medicine at certain times during the day; maybe it's food aggressive and needs to be fed away from others; maybe it just reacts badly to having its food changed and you want to make sure your pet gets its regular brand. Make sure they can accommodate.

You also might ask about private boarding, which may allow your animal more privacy if it tends to get nervous around too many other animals. This will even allow you to board two attached animals together in most cases.

10. How do I check in on my pet?

Inevitably, you'll be curious about what's going on, maybe even nervous. Maybe you just want to make sure everything's going OK. Some boarders offer nanny cam services where you can log into a website and see exactly what your animal is up to. Whether you're comfortable with this is your call.

11. Are grooming/bathing and training services available? If so, what kind?

Maybe you'd like them to go ahead and do a full groom or just a bath the day before you get back, so you come home to a clean animal and have one less thing on your post-vacay to-do list. Maybe you'd like them to do some follow-up training or continue the training you already started. Either way, ask what they offer and how. Are the animals well-attended during grooming? Do they engage in humane training tactics?

12. How are the rates calculated?

Is there a flat day rate? What time does your pet need to be picked up to avoid being charged for another day? Are there add-on services (like grooming, bathing, private kennels, training, etc.) that could affect how much you pay? What happens if your animal needs veterinary attention while it's staying there?

13. Should I consider a pet sitter instead?

If your pet has severe separation anxiety, a pet sitter may be a better option, and depending on the circumstances, may cost about the same. The benefit is that your pet will be in its own home, reducing anxiety.

Additionally, if your animal has aggression issues of any kind (even if it's only related to one thing, like food), that may be a good option. Some places do offer private kenneling, which if they're willing to take aggressive animals is an alternative, but do look into other options if that's the case. You may be better off with a pet sitter who's used to more boisterous pets.

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