Options for pet care while owners travel over the holidays

Taking your pet to a kennel, hiring a pet-sitter to look in on your pet at home or taking your pet with you: what's the best way to go when you hit the road for the holidays?

William Fortney, doctor of veterinary medicine at the Kansas State University Veterinary Teaching Hospital, said there are benefits and advantages to consider for each option.

The advantage of placing a pet in a kennel is that animals who need special attention will have professionals tending to their needs.

"In a kennel you have a trained person observing the dog or cat," Fortney said. "The animals are seen several times a day and are taken out to make sure they are eliminating and eating properly. If there were a problem, they could probably identify it. Also, if the pet needed medication they would be willing to give it at the right times."

Fortney said the advantage of having a neighbor "pet-sit" is the animal would not be stressed by leaving its home environment, and it would not come into contact with infectious diseases sometimes found in kennels.

"The disadvantage of having a neighbor watch them is they don't always watch them, and they're not very observant, as a general rule," he said. "They may look in the house and see the pet, say, 'it looks OK' and then leave. So you're not always sure how the animal is doing."

There are professional pet-sitters for hire, which present another option. He said this provides the benefit of leaving the pet at home while having the animal tended to by a professional. He said veterinarians often know how to contact the sitters or they may be listed in the yellow pages.

"Most professional pet-sitters are insured and bonded so if anything is stolen or anything happens, they will be responsible," Fortney said. "They're held accountable to a higher standard than the neighborhood kid. They're earning a living doing this, at least part time, which tells you they like animals, and, if they're going to be successful, they need to know what they're doing."

If the owner chooses to put their dog in a kennel, Fortney said good kennels will insist and require proof of vaccination for certain diseases for your animal. This means they are concerned about dogs bringing in disease.

Fortney added that an outbreak of disease in a kennel does not necessarily mean the kennel is not sanitary. He said if you put a large number of animals together and one has an illness, it can spread, much like illnesses spread among children in day care. He said the concern for vaccinations means they are trying to limit this occurrence.

If a neighbor is selected to pet-sit, Fortney said it is not a bad idea to pick a young person. He said it is a good way for young people to learn responsibility. He said a good way to be assured your pet is watched properly is to inform an adult in the youth's household. Make sure the adult knows the instructions and what needs to be done, so there is some kind of supervision.

Some people may consider taking their animal with them on vacation. Fortney said there are many things that should be considered before an animal is taken along on vacation. Fortney said the attitude of the pet should also be a consideration. There is a lot of stress associated with traveling for some pets, while others really enjoy traveling.

"What do you do with the animal if the car breaks down?" he said. "What do you do if you want to stop but it's too cold or too hot to leave the animal in the car? Or what if the dog gets sick and you are far from their veterinarian, what do you do? There's a lot more flexibility if you don't take your pet along."