Preparing Your Dog or Cat for Holiday Boarding

Holiday Vacations: Preparing your pet for boarding

Holiday season is as busy for professional pet boarding facilities as it is for Christmas elves and Thanksgiving chefs. Start early if you plan to board your dog or cat while you leave town for the holidays. That means inspecting your options, checking references and making sure pet vaccinations are up to date.

Do Your Research

The best pet boarding facilities tend to fill up early when the holidays roll around. Start well ahead of time by asking friends for recommendations or visiting nearby facilities. Visit during business hours; a good kennel will happily provide tours without any advanced notice. Trust your gut and use your senses: Does the kennel look and smell clean and tidy? Is the temperature moderate? Is the sound deafening or moderated? Is there separation — visual and audible — between dogs and cats?

Some states require regular inspections of boarding kennels. Ask to see inspection certifications. Some may be accredited by organizations such as the International Boarding & Pet Services Association. Ask for references and check them. The local Better Business Bureau may also have information about the kennel.

Make sure the kennel has plenty of room for pooches to play — and even break into a run. Confirm whether dogs engage in group play — and whether it’s supervised. Ask about separate space or exercise schedules for special-needs pets, including those that have special activity requirements or have health issues.

For cats, make sure there’s plenty of space between food and their litter. Ask how often boxes are cleaned. Make sure primary enclosures are roomy enough for cats to stretch and exercise.

What Does the Kennel Require?

Don’t be shy: Ask about what the kennel requires of its boarders (and their owners). You also need to be candid about whether your dog or cat has special medical, dietary or behavioral needs. Better to know whether the kennel can accommodate you now, than when you’re ready to leave on your trip.

A reputable kennel will require a written record of immunizations. Make sure your pets’ shots are up to date at least two weeks before boarding begins. Dogs should have shots for rabies, distemper, hepatitis, , parainfluenza, parvovirus(DHPP) and bordetella (kennel cough). Cats should have shots for rabies, panleukopenia or distemper, feline rhinotracheitis, calici virus and pneumonitis(FVRCP).

Your kennel will want thorough contact information for you and a local backup. You’ll want to know if the boarding facility restricts what you can bring, including toys, bedding or special food. Is your pet on medication? Make sure the facility can administer the drugs and that the medication is stored in its original prescription container.

Other Considerations

  • Have you boarded your animal before? Your Big Holiday Trip might not be the best time for a tryout. Consider boarding your dog or cat for a half-day or a weekend, well in advance of your holiday trip, to get him or her familiar with the routine.
  • Look for solid dividers between animals’ primary sleeping quarters.
  • If fleas and ticks are a problem in your area (yes, even during Christmastime!), be sure to find out how your facility deals with the parasites.
  • Look for security. You’ll want the staff trained — and the kennel equipped — to keep pets safely where they belong.
  • Find out ahead of time how the facility handles medical emergencies.
  • Include familiar toys. Consider leaving favorites behind, just to make sure they’re not lost.
  • Reputable kennels make rates available in the front office. Make sure you’re clear about what you’re paying for, how late fees are structured and whether you can extend the stay if necessary.

Finally, when you’re ready to leave your pet behind, just leave. Don’t belabor the farewell. Pets can sense your anxiety. If you’ve done your homework, you don’t have any reason to be anxious. Let this be a vacation for your pet, too.


  • Do your homework. Check references; make personal visits. Trust your gut. 
  • Make sure vaccinations are up to date. 
  • Ask about restrictions on what toys, bedding or food you can bring.