As much as we’d love for our dogs to join us on vacation or a family gathering, it’s not always possible. Boarding a dog at a facility is often more affordable than getting a house sitter. On average, dog boarding costs $40 per night, with a lower rate for multiple nights. Compare that to a drop-in dog sitter, who may charge around $25 per 30-minute visit and upward of $75 per night for in-home pet sitting.
Though it’s the cheapest option by far (other than having a family member look after your fur baby), dog boarding is not without some risks. Many facilities offer a getaway for your pet, where they can play with other dogs, get exercise, and have downtime in their own personal space. But the very nature of this setup means your four-legged friend will face certain risks, such as getting sick or injured during their stay or experiencing stress and anxiety in new surroundings.
When you leave your dog at a boarding facility, you are putting their life in someone else’s hands. This is why it’s so important to do your research, find the right facility for your individual dog, and be well-prepared for their stay. This involves getting recommendations, reading reviews, arranging a site visit, and making sure your dog is up-to-date on vaccines and accustomed to being away from home.
Keep reading to learn about common dog boarding risks and steps you can take to ensure your pet has a safe and enjoyable stay.
Boarding Your Dog: 6 Risks to Consider
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Dogs seem resilient, but they are susceptible to contagious diseases like kennel cough and parasitic infections that spread in group settings like boarding facilities. “Anywhere dogs from multiple households co-mingle, there are some associated health risks,” warns Amanda Farah, national behavior and training coordinator at Best Friends Animal Society, based in Utah.
“Fleas, ticks, parasitic worms, or protozoa [single-celled parasites] like Giardia often spread in groups of dogs.” Giardia is an intestinal parasite that causes diarrhea and could be fatal to puppies. Respiratory illnesses like kennel cough and canine influenza (dog flu) can also spread when dogs are in close contact.
The good news is it’s common practice for boarding places to require proof of vaccination for dogs staying in their facilities. These vaccines include DHPP (which protects against viral illnesses like distemper and parvo), rabies, Bordetella (protects against the most common cause of kennel cough), leptospirosis, and sometimes dog flu. While requiring vaccines doesn’t completely eliminate the risk of infectious disease, they can dramatically reduce that risk.
Some boarding kennels require proof that dogs are receiving heartworm prevention. While heartworm disease is relatively unlikely to spread in a boarding kennel, heartworm preventatives also prevent many common intestinal worms. Ensuring that all dogs in their care receive heartworm prevention reduces intestinal worm contamination in the kennel environment. Even if your boarding kennel doesn’t require heartworm prevention, ensuring that your dog is up-to-date can reduce your dog’s risk of acquiring intestinal worms. NexGard PLUS is a monthly beef-flavored soft chew that prevents heartworm disease and treats and controls roundworms and hookworms—two of the most common intestinal parasites in dogs. It also provides flea and tick protection for dogs for a full month.
See important safety information for NexGard PLUS below.
When choosing a boarding service, make sure they require proof of vaccination and heartworm prevention. This will ensure the animals your pet comes into contact with are protected against these harmful infectious diseases.
Fleas and ticks
Fleas and ticks aren’t just a nuisance, they can cause discomfort and lead to health problems. Fleas can pass from one pup to another, and when left unchecked, a flea infestation could cause skin irritation and hot spots. Dogs can also contract tapeworm from ingesting an infected flea, which could result in weight loss and diarrhea.
Whether in the backyard or on a hike, ticks seem to be everywhere, and they love latching onto a dog’s fur and skin. Some ticks can carry dangerous diseases, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Even if your boarding facility takes precautions to keep the environment clean and free of pests, there’s no way of knowing if the other companion animals have fleas or ticks. It’s easier to protect against fleas and ticks than to get rid of them. Make sure your dog is protected against these pests by using regular flea and tick prevention, such as orals, topicals, or flea collars. In many boarding kennels, flea and tick prevention is required for all boarding pets. NexGard PLUS soft chews treat and prevent flea infestations, kill adult fleas fast, and treat and control four common tick species for one month.
See important safety information for NexGard PLUS below.
Separation anxiety and stress
“Pets can have added separation anxiety and stress due to changes in their environment at home, but even more when they are exposed to new places, new smells, protocols, and pheromones,” says Krista Miller, DVM at Fuzzy Healthcare. This stress could lead to a decrease in appetite and/or water consumption, diarrhea, and even fear-related aggression, Dr. Miller warns.
Hiring a dog trainer for a few sessions could help alleviate your dog’s separation anxiety. In some cases, however, your pet may benefit from a prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Talk to your veterinarian if you are concerned that your pet may experience stress or separation anxiety while boarding.
When seeking a boarding facility that’s right for your pet’s health and habits, it’s key to find one that can accommodate their physical needs. Whether you have an elderly dog with arthritis or a young pup with a lot of energy, you’ll want to find out what types of activities your pup might participate in during their stay. Be sure to ask how often your dog will be walked, how long they will be let out to play with other dogs, and how long they will spend time alone in the kennel.
“If a dog who barely walks around the block on a daily basis is suddenly in a playgroup for several hours a day, we could see the same sorts of aches, pains, or injuries we might see in a sedentary person who woke up one day and decided to run a marathon,” says Farah. Similarly, if you have a dog that is used to running a few miles a day, it’d be frustrating for them to be left alone in a small kennel for a week without play.
Change in routine
Sudden changes in your dog’s regular routine can cause physical or mental distress, says Farah. Our pets know exactly when they get their breakfast, when walk time arrives, and when to go to bed. Staying at a kennel disrupts their regular daily schedule, which, in some cases, could cause your dog to experience stress and anxiety.
Farah recommends getting your pet used to the kennel by helping them learn to relax and be comfortable in a confined space. This involves crate training ahead of time and making sure the dog finds this to be a safe space. Additionally, she recommends sending your dog with their own bed and bowls (if allowed) to create a more comfortable and relaxing space. You may even want to leave a piece of your clothing and some of your pet’s favorite toys to remind them of home.
Dr. Miller recommends taking your dog to the facility beforehand to learn about the new surroundings. “This could be daycare, playdates, or the like to help them adjust to the sounds and smells in advance.” Positive associations, created by those involved with the care of your pet at the facility, will also help foster a welcoming environment for your dog.
The very nature of a boarding facility means interacting with unfamiliar people and dogs. No matter how diligent the staff are, there could be times where your dog might end up getting hurt during rough play or when around a larger breed dog. In some cases, neglect could also cause injury.
Dr. Miller suggests always asking questions about pet interactions and exposure. Will your dog be let out to play with other dogs? If so, are those dogs screened to reduce the risk of dog aggression? Additionally, if you find that your pet has been neglected or ill-treated, she recommends addressing that as soon as possible after your boarding experience. Contact your veterinarian for a physical examination, and they can help you determine whether your pet requires follow-up care.
How to Ensure a Safe Dog Boarding Experience
Below are some things to do to keep your dog safe and healthy at a boarding facility:
Stay up to date on vaccinations and parasite control. Make sure your pup is up to date on all the necessary vaccines and on monthly flea, tick, and heartworm prevention. “It may be tempting to try to find a facility that doesn’t require these things, but remember that if they aren’t required for your dog, any other dog there could be carrying diseases,” Farah warns. “It’s more expensive to treat any diseases than the vaccine and preventatives might be.”
Research and tour different facilities. Research and read reviews of the staff and the facilities before selecting the right one for your dog. You can also request a tour of the facility before booking your dog’s stay. “There is no better way to find a good boarding facility than firsthand accounts from people who’ve used them,” Farah says. She recommends asking on neighborhood social media sites or groups if you don’t know anyone personally. “Your vet, trainer, or groomer might also have recommendations.”
Make a checklist of questions to ask. When visiting the facility, ask a lot of questions, Farah recommends. Make sure you are fine with the responses to questions like:
- What will happen if my dog is too afraid to leave the kennel?
- What will you do if my dog isn’t eating?
- What is the facility’s protocol for emergencies?
- How much communication can I expect?
- How does the staff handle dogs who are behaving inappropriately?
Do a trial run. Prepare your dog for the visit ahead of time with crate training. Farah suggests trying a night or two at the selected boarding facility before a long or far away trip to ease your mind. This can also help identify any trouble areas so you can work on them before you go away.
Consider alternatives. Ask yourself if a boarding facility is even right for your pet. If the answer is no, seek out alternatives. If you have a social, confident dog, they are likely to do fine at a boarding facility, Farah says. On the other hand, an anxious, fearful, less social dog—perhaps one that’s in less-than-optimal health or older—could have trouble with staying at a dog boarding kennel, she says.
In these situations, Farah recommends asking a friend or neighbor to see if they are willing to care for your dog. “You can also find someone to stay in your home or someone who will board your dog in their home through one of the many sites dedicated to those services.” If you are looking for an in-house pet sitter, make sure they are bonded and carry insurance.
NexGard PLUS Important Safety Information
NexGard® PLUS (afoxolaner, moxidectin, and pyrantel chewable tablets) is safe for puppies at 8 weeks, weighing 4 pounds or more. The most frequently reported adverse reactions include diarrhea, vomiting, lethargy, and itching. Use with caution in dogs with a history of seizures or neurologic disorders. Dogs should be tested for existing heartworm infection prior to starting a preventive. For more information, click here for full prescribing information.