Pet Columns, Office of Public Engagement, College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Choosing a Kennel Doesn't Have to Be a Headache


Pet Column for the week of March 4, 2002


Office of Public Engagement
2001 S. Lincoln Ave.
Urbana, Illinois 61802
Phone: 217/333-2907
Jennifer Stone
Information Specialist

So, you are planning to take that vacation that you have wanted to take for so long! You have airline tickets, hotel reservations, and your itinerary is planned down to the minute. But wait! Have you thought about what you are going to do with the dog while you are gone?! You can't leave him at home alone for two weeks! Well, fear not! There are good boarding facilities out there. You just have to know what questions to ask to find a good one.

Boarding facilities are inspected 3 to 4 times a year by inspectors from the State of Illinois. They check for general cleanliness, and health of the animals housed at the facility. The boarding facilities are required to have this license displayed prominently, so when you are visiting a kennel, make sure you look for it.

Dr. Christine Merle, a veterinarian formerly with the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine says, "Boarding facilities may not ask for proof of vaccination for any disease other than rabies, but it is best if you find a facility that requires the standard vaccination protocol." For the sake of your pet's health, you should choose a kennel that requires each dog to have a rabies, distemper (which includes a vaccine for parvo and several other diseases), and a bordetella vaccination (kennel cough). Cats should be required to have a rabies and a feline distemper vaccination. Dr. Merle says, "It may also be wise to have your cat vaccinated for feline leukemia especially if the boarding facility handles a large number of feline boarders."

One important thing to remember is that vaccinations should be given at least two weeks in advance in order to be more effective in preventing disease. It takes the immune system more than a few days to mount an adequate antibody response against a disease. Some facilities require vaccinations but allow owners to get them when the pet is dropped off for boarding. It is important to remember that this practice may not provide adequate protection against some very serious illnesses.

In choosing a boarding facility, it is important to plan ahead and make reservations early since many kennels get full, especially around holidays. Regardless of when you make your reservation, you should plan to visit the facility beforehand. While you are there, look around and make sure that the place looks clean. Ask about cleaning procedures and make sure that the cages are disinfected every day. Make sure that outdoor runs have surfaces such as concrete which allow for disinfection ease.

If the kennel is outdoors, there should be adequate shelter from the elements. If it is an indoor kennel, you should ask if the dogs will be taken outside, if you are leaving the animal there for an extended period of time, you may want to ask whether the pet will get any exercise while it is boarding. If you are planning to board a cat, it may be wise to make sure that cats and dogs are kenneled separately. Easily stressed cats can be made even more upset by barking dogs

Some kennels go so far as to have playtime and interaction with other dogs. Dr. Merle says, "Sometimes people see cages as too restrictive for their pets, but there can be problems with open interaction such as aggression between dogs and injury during rough play." If you decide to choose a kennel that allows open interaction between dogs, make sure that it is well supervised by a trained kennel employee.

In addition to inspecting the facilities, you will want to inquire about what kind of food your pet will be fed while it is boarding. "Changing a pet's diet suddenly can sometimes lead to diarrhea and vomiting", says Dr. Merle, "You may want to bring your own food even if the kennel is feeding a high quality food."

If you have a pet with special medical needs such as medications, injections or physical therapy requirements, make sure that the kennel can provide these. You should also let the kennel know if your pet has any unusual personality quirks, such as aggression toward men or snapping when its feet are touched. If you have a pet with medical needs that require special attention, you may want to find a veterinarian that also provides medical boarding.

Finally, you should let your veterinarian know where the animal is going to be boarded and you should let the kennel know where to take your pet in the event of an emergency. Leaving an emergency number where you can be reached during your vacation is important as well," says Dr. Merle.

With a little planning and preliminary research, your vacation can go off without a hitch and your pets will be well cared for while you are away. If you have any questions, please contact your local veterinarian.