By Caren Oppenheim
For many families, the holiday season is a whirlwind of travel. But what about your pet? Ideally, animals should stay where they're most comfortable, says Louise Murray, DVM, author of Vet Confidential: An Insider's Guide to Protecting Your Pet's Health (Random House) and Director of Medicine at the ASPCA. Unless you plan on being away for several weeks, it's best to leave your cat or dog behind.
Animals, especially cats, are creatures of habit and don't adjust well to unfamiliar environments or conditions. "A cat who is stressed about being in a new place might stop eating," says Murray. Consider hiring a pet sitter -- prices start at $15 a day -- to check on your animal while you're gone. Cats should be looked in on at least once a day and dogs should be walked three times a day and fed twice. Some pet sitters will even stay at your house and provide overnight care, and may offer to pick up mail and water plants.
To find a qualified pet sitter, ask your veterinarian for recommendations, says Murray. See if any of the office's licensed vet technicians -- who have extensive healthcare knowledge and a guaranteed love of pets -- offer sitting services. Just like a job interview, ask candidates about their experience and always get references, says Terry Chance, marketing director of Pet Sitters International. Most important, invite a potential sitter over for a meet-and-greet so you can see how she interacts with your pet.
If you're uncomfortable having a stranger in your house, look for a reputable pet-care facility. (Facilities start at $25 a day; petcareservices.org is a good resource.) Visit the site to make sure it's clean, spacious, and safe. Ask if it's equipped with first-aid kits and fire extinguishers and look for gates or fences around open areas where pets play. If your animal is old or has health problems, look into alternative options such as boarding him at a veterinarian's office. "It may not be as fun as a traditional kennel with other pets around," says Murray, "but for some animals, it makes more sense. And at least you know your pet will be watched carefully."