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It’s that time of year again when we all look forward to that holiday away from the hustle and bustle. But what about your pets? 

I usually get quite a few phone calls around this time of year from concerned pet owners, who want to know about the best option for their pet’s holiday care - kennels vs. house sitters for their dogs and/or is it safe to leave their cats at home alone? 

The short answer however is - it depends.  Many people prefer knowing that their pets are being cared for by professionals in a safe and secure environment, but at the same time, not all boarding kennels and catteries are necessarily great.  

SO - HOW TO TELL THE DIFFERENCE, AND WHICH WOULD MY PET PREFER? 

 

FOR CAT-PARENTS:

Cats can be quite sensitive creatures, and many do not like strangers living in their homes.  If your cat is not well socialized and not keen on having an unfamiliar person living there, it might be a good idea to put him in a cattery whilst on holiday. If your cat however doesn’t mind sharing his space, a house-sitter is not a bad idea. 

So here are some tips – 

WHEN CHOOSING A CATTERY:

  1. In the perfect cattery cats should have access outside to lounge in the sun, but also need a safe space with a shelter (for each cat) within their individual cattery units.
     
  2. They should have areas where they can’t see other cats and areas where they can (so they have a choice on whether they want to engage in social contact or not).
     
  3. Be sure to go and visit the facilities and look out for clean litter boxes, access to food and water, trained staff and neat, clean cattery units.
     
  4. Look at the cats who are there – do they look relaxed and happy OR do they look stressed and anxious? Do they approach the care staff or do they run and hide?
     
  5. Does the area smell strongly of cat urine? Remember, cats spray when they are emotionally aroused, so if it reeks of cat urine – it’s safe to say that some cats are not happy there.
     
  6. Ask about grooming and emergency procedures – do they have a vet on standby and do they have someone on the property 24/7 (even on a public holiday)? Who administrates medication to cats in the cattery, and is that person trained in basic handling techniques to make the process stress-free for your cat?
     
  7. In today’s age of modern technology, it’s an added bonus if the cattery has a webcam in each cattery run so you can log in any time to view your cat.  

WHEN CHOOSING A HOUSE SITTER:

  1. If your cat is social and not particularly worried by visitors, he will probably prefer staying home, in which case you want someone to live in instead.
     
  2. A visiting house sitter who comes in twice a day to feed your cat may result in a lonely cat who will probably go looking for company, so rather get someone who stays on the property and who sleeps there at night.
     
  3. When you do get a live-in house sitter, ask her to come around to meet and get to know your cat before the actual stay.
     
  4. Provide information about your cat’s personality – if your house sitter knows that your cat likes nibbling on bare toes, she’s less likely to get a fright when it happens.
     
  5. If your cat doesn’t like being picked up or is particularly routine orientated, make sure that your house sitter knows this, so she can stick to the routine as closely as possible and avoid unwanted handling interactions.  
     

FOR DOG-PARENTS:

I the property is secure (and your dog doesn’t have a history/habit of escaping), then they are unlikely to do so. 

If there’s any doubt though, make sure that your property is 100% safe before making your choice.  

WHEN CHOOSING A HOUSE SITTER:

  1. Be sure to invite her around a few times so your dogs get to know her.  Ask her to start staying with you at least one day before your departure so she can familiarise herself with your dog’s routine and make sure she understands that Fido is not to be walked in the park off-lead with her, even if Fido is perfect with his recall for you.
     
  2. Dogs do not generalise well, so don’t assume your dog will do with the house sitter what he does with you. Keep him on lead on walks, and make sure that the house sitter knows where she may or may not walk him.
     
  3. If he’s not good with other dogs, be sure to warn her. The more she knows about your dog (the good and the bad) the better she can care for him.
     
  4. Don’t hide behavioural issues – she’s going to find out anyway. If she is warned upfront that your dog dislikes strangers, she’s more likely to handle a potentially difficult situation appropriately. 
     
  5. Similarly, if your dog hates being alone, tell your house sitter. If you have two dogs and they fight over food, tell her, so she knows to feed them separately. 

WHEN CHOOSING A KENNEL:

  1. Visit the boarding kennels and check for cleanliness and access to safe playing areas.
      
  2. Check if they allow dogs to run around loose, and if so, is there a screening process to decide if the dogs are social – this is crucial especially if your dogs are going to be playing with other dogs during their visit.
     
  3. If your dogs are not social, it’s important for the kennel to still provide them with their own time out and about – not only social dogs deserve time out of the kennel!
     
  4. Make sure that all pets are up to date with vaccinations and parasite control, and ask if you can take your pet’s toys with him to keep him occupied in his kennel run.
     
  5. A blanket/pet bed might also help make him feel at home.  Of course 24/7 supervision is also a must, especially if the dogs are allowed to socialize with unfamiliar dogs.


WHEN CHOOSING TO TAKE YOUR DOG WITH YOU ON HOLIDAY:

If you’re fortunate enough to go somewhere that allows pets, be sure to have an identity tag attached to your dog’s collar, listing your phone number. 

Ideally you should have at least two numbers on the tag, in case one phone is off.  I quite like having a small pocket sewn into my dog’s collar where I have an “in case of emergency” list stored in a waterproof bag. 

This list mentions that we are on holiday and the address where we are staying, the vet closest to us in the holiday area, our contact information and the fact that the dog is microchipped.  I usually leave my dog’s name off though, as a security measure

CONCLUSION

Even though it’s always difficult, try to keep a happy face when saying goodbye.  Pets are very sensitive to our moods. If you’re crying like there’s no tomorrow when you drop Fido off at the kennels, you might just make him very worried.  

A quick cuddle and a super yummy chew toy should help make the parting process a little easier. 

If you’re at all worried about your pet’s health before you go away, it’s definitely a good idea to take them to your vet for a check-up before you leave for holiday.  

Of course, it’s also a given that your house sitter has your vet’s contact information and directions to the practice. Call your vet to let them know that there will be a house sitter caring for your dog/cat, and to please treat your pet in case of emergency

If your vet has permission to treat, he won’t waste time in an emergency trying to get hold of you while you are sunning yourself on the beach with your phone on silent. 

Karin Pienaar
Animal behaviour guru, Karin Pienaar, has been working in the field of animal behaviour and behaviour therapy in South Africa since 1997. She completed her Diploma in Animal Behaviour in the UK, through the Centre of Applied Pet Ethology (COAPE) and is a qualified Practitioner member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists & Trainers (CAPBT) in the UK and South Africa.
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