Staying Home in Style: Pet Sitters and Pet Boarding

Should you decide that taking your pet with you on a trip isn't a good idea, there are options for keeping them at home.

Pet Sitters

A pet sitter comes to your home while you're away and gives your animal basic care: food, water, clean-up and attention. Ideally (assuming your pet interacts with the person), a pet sitter can also spend some time with the animal, providing exercise and play, and noticing if the animal needs veterinary care. Pet sitters may also bring in mail and newspapers and water the plants. Other at-home services may be available such as walking, training, grooming, or extended play time.

A good pet sitter:

  • is insured and bonded
  • knows where to go for emergency veterinary help 24 hours
  • has a back-up plan or person if s/he can't make the rounds
  • issues a written contract detailing services and costs
  • provides references

To find a pet sitter, ask your veterinarian or dog trainer, co-workers and neighbors. The SF/SPCA maintains a dog walker's and pet sitter's referral list for California.

It's best to meet the prospective pet sitter face-to-face (and let your pet do the same) weeks ahead. Should your dog growl when a potential pet sitter approaches, all parties may prefer that you hire someone else. Assuming a smooth introduction, try out the arrangement for a day or two, perhaps during a weekend getaway, and if your pet adjusts well, you can take a longer trip next time.

When you find a good pet sitter, make things easy on everyone:

  • keep your pet's veterinary care current
  • provide the sitter with all the info s/he needs:
    • contact information for you and your pet's doctor
    • home safety features such as the circuit breaker and alarm system
    • feeding instructions
    • early booking, especially for holiday periods
    • detailed info about your pet, from medical needs to favorite toys or activities
  • give the sitter all the supplies s/he needs:
    • medications
    • extra food in case you don't come home in time
  • prepare yourself
    • entrust a friend or neighbor as backup (give that person a house key and your pet sitter's number, and give the pet sitter the backup person's number)
    • bring the pet sitter's phone number with you

Pet Boarding

Most cats are very territorial and are easily stressed if moved to a strange environment, so boarding is not a good option for them. For felines, a pet sitter is usually preferable. (But your cat may be different, and may feel at home at a commercial kennel.)

Dogs, on the other hand, are very social animals, so being home alone without human companionship for 24 hours can be very upsetting for them, even if you have more than one dog. Lodging your pet at a reputable boarding kennel is probably the answer.

To find a good boarding kennel, ask your vet, family or friends for recommendations. Much choice is available, from basic room and board to veritable doggy playlands. Clients of The SF/SPCA Animal Hospital can board their pets here (learn more by calling 415-554-3030). Whichever options interest you, call around and ask if you can visit. Then go look at the facilities, ask questions and make sure your dog or cat is going to receive sufficient care and attention. The staff at a boarding facility should be welcoming and knowledgeable. Any reluctance to let you see behind the scenes should be a warning sign. The whole facility should be clean, well-ventilated, at a comfortable temperature, and not overcrowded.

The dogs' individual quarters should be roomy, and should be cleaned frequently. And there should be a large, secure, spotless playing area made of gravel or concrete. A responsible kennel will also require proof of certain vaccinations.

Make sure the facility has a veterinarian on call 24/7 and provide the boarding kennel with:

  • the telephone number of your regular vet
  • any important medical information about your pet
  • supplies of any medication he may be taking
  • telephone numbers where (a) you can be reached and (b) for a local backup caregiver

Many dogs, once they get to know a place and its staff, enjoy their away-from-home stays. When you find a good candidate kennel, try it first for, say, a weekend to find out if your dog does well there.

The SF/SPCA offers boarding for cats and dogs that are clients of their veterinary hospital. To learn more about our facility and the amenities that we have to offer, you can schedule a tour, or call us anytime with questions at 415.554.3030.