This season, families across the country will hit the road to visit loved ones. Since four-legged friends can’t always tag along, you need to plan ahead. We’ve examined three options for when you leave town without your pet in tow.Boarding Facility
Cost: $15-$65 a day
Benefits: Trained professionals look after your pet 24 hours a day. Some facilities make animals feel extra welcome by offering social playtime, grooming services, or luxury beds. Check out the American Boarding Kennels Association to find a kennel near you (abka.com).
Watch out for: “Some pets don’t board well,” says Jim Krack, executive director of ABKA. An older pet that has never been to a kennel before or an aggressive animal that doesn’t get along with others shouldn’t stay at a boarding facility.
Know before you go: “Good kennel operators will keep stress levels down and comfort levels up,” says Krack. “The facility should also look clean and orderly.” Be sure your pet’s immunizations are up-to-date or he won’t be admitted. And indicate whether you will be reachable in case of emergency, or if the kennel should call someone else.
What to ask: If your pet requires medication, is someone on staff qualified to administer it? Inquire about the type of food they provide; some kennels have many brands, while others want you to bring your own. And check that their disaster preparedness plan is current.
FC Tip: Kennels and pet-sitters are busiest during the holidays, so be sure to book early.Professional Pet-Sitter
Cost: $15-$22 per pet, per visit
Benefits: “Allowing your pet to stay in familiar surroundings will help keep him calm,” says Candance Labane-Godfrey, a board member for the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters. Sitters may also water plants or pick up mail.
Watch out for: It can be costly to maintain the schedule of a pet that goes on three walks a day. And skip the sitter if your pet requires constant supervision.
Know before you go: Hire a professional who is bonded and insured (petsitters.org). Take her on an in-house run-through of her responsibilities. Sign a contract and a Vet Notification Form, so she can make medical decisions.
What to ask: Check her references, says Labane-Godfrey. Make sure that the same person cares for your pet each day so your animal learns to trust her. Sitters should also keep a record of your pet’s diet, attitude, and activities.A Pet-Loving Friend
Benefits: A pal who’s fond of your pet may not mind checking on him. “If your animal feels comfortable around someone, use her as a resource,” says animal behaviorist Peter Borchelt, PhD.
Watch out for: Because your friend is not a professional pet-sitter, she’ll need detailed instructions about pet care, especially feeding and walking routines.
Know before you go: Invite her to spend time with your pet before you leave. Encourage her to do a test run.
What to ask: How much time can she spend at your house? It’s best that she comes by more often than just mealtimes. And be up front about money: Some people will help out as a favor, while others want compensation, says Borchelt.