Home for the Holidays

Yellow Labrador older dog.

Traveling over the holiday season is a tradition that many families uphold. Whether you’re going to visit out-of-town family members or embarking on your annual Colorado ski trip, escaping from the hustle and bustle of everyday life can be quite the holiday treat. For your furry family members, however, this is not the case. Being left alone at home while the people you love are away can be an unsettling experience, so here are some tips for keeping your pets comfortable and happy while you’re gone.

There are many viable options to consider if your pet is not accompanying you on vacation. Hiring a pet sitter, boarding your pet at your veterinary clinic or doggy care facility, or even asking your animal-loving neighbors if Spot could stay with them for the week are all good possibilities. It is your animal’s personality and preferences that determine which of these options will work best. “Some pets do better at home, like cats or dogs who are easily stressed, but some pets can be destructive when left alone for too long,” said Dr. Stacy Eckman, lecturer at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Both pet sitters and boarding facilities offer many benefits, depending on the pet.”

For the pet that would be more comfortable in his or her own home, pet sitters can be a wonderful choice. “Pet sitters can come often and check on not only your pets, but also your home,” said Eckman. “By staying at home, your pets are in familiar surroundings with plenty of space to move around.” However, if your animal is not tolerant of new people coming into your home, it may be difficult for the pet sitter to come and care for your pet. For instances such as this, a boarding facility would be the better option.

However, there are always risks to consider when sending your pet off to be boarded. “In most boarding facilities your pet is in a kennel, and although some facilities offer ‘suites’ for your pets, these are still much more confined areas than many pets are used to,” said Eckman. “And while many facilities require immunization against many of the more common disorders, your pet can still be exposed and susceptible, even if they are properly immunized.”

Once you’ve weighed the risks and benefits to decide which option would work best for your pet, it is time to evaluate which sitter or boarding facility is the perfect match. When choosing a sitter, ask for references from fellow pet-owning friends and follow up with the owners on how their pets were when they returned from their trip. Researching a boarding facility before your trip is a good idea as well. “Visit the boarding facilities ahead of time and ask yourself, ‘What do they smell like? How is the noise level?’” said Eckman.

Prior to leaving your house with the sitter, there are some preparations you should make to ensure a comfortable and safe experience for both the sitter and pet. “Unplug all unnecessary electronics, especially those your pet can pull the cords on, and close off any rooms the pets should not be in while you’re away,” said Eckman. “Having the pet sitter come and spend a little time with your pet before the trip can also be helpful.”

If you’re leaving your pets at a boarding facility, there are ways you can ensure their comfort during their time away from you. “Some boarding facilities offer day visits to allow your pet to visit once or twice before a trip, which can help them acclimate to the environment before a longer trip,” said Eckman.  “Taking a special toy or blanket with your pet may make them a little more comfortable outside the home.”

Whether you choose to put your pet up in a boarding facility or have a pet sitter come to your home, just remember that for your pets, being left alone while their family is away can be a stressful situation. Make sure to give them plenty of love and affection before your departure and upon your arrival. Remember that while you may enjoy a vacation away from home, for your pets, there is no place like home with their family for the holidays.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Editor’s note: In observance of the holidays, Pet Talk will be on hiatus until Jan. 9, 2014. Wishing everyone all the joy of the season!

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