How To Choose the Right Kennel for Your Pet

How To Choose the Right Kennel for Your Pet

Ensure the kennel you choose for your pet is the right one by checking out our guide.


Finding the perfect home away from home for your pet when you travel is important both for your pet and for you. Your dog or cat needs a safe, clean, comfortable environment while you're away, and you need the peace of mind that comes with knowing your pet is well cared for. Use this guide to help you make the right decisions so you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

You need to plan in advance to kennel your pet, particularly if you're going to board at a smaller facility during peak vacation times. "You definitely need to book well in advance," says Gary Wettengel, who has owned and operated Breezy Acres Kennel for 36 years. "Especially before the holidays, most kennels book up fast."

Get Recommendations

First, call your veterinarian for kennel recommendations, which will serve as the long list of options you'll begin with. Then, decide what kind of boarding facility you want for your pet. Some offer basic care such as indoor/outdoor runs for shelter and exercise, feeding, and medical attention if necessary. More high-end kennels will provide the frills — pet "suites" with fancy bedding and toys, grooming services, flea dips, and daily walks.

Take a Tour

Schedule an appointment to tour the kennel's facilities. "If you can't take a tour of where your pet's going to stay, don't leave him there," Wettengel says. Note that you'll probably want a midweek appointment — kennels usually are very busy on weekends with incoming and outgoing boarders.

As you walk around, make notes about your general impressions: Give it the sniff test — does the kennel generally smell fresh, or of disinfectant? Is the facility clean, well-heated (or air-conditioned), well-lit and well-ventilated? Does the staff seem friendly and knowledgeable? Are there clean bowls of fresh water in the runs? How roomy are the runs, indoors and out? Is the fencing secure? Do the animals boarding there seem healthy and content? Don't forget to check the kitchen where the pets' meals are prepared — it should be clean, and include a refrigerator for some foods and medications.

Remember to be realistic about your expectations, Wettengel says. "You're always going to get some odor with a kennel, particularly if it's raining and the dogs have been outside. Also, expect a lot of noise,” he says. "Expect a lot of barking. When new people come through, it stirs the dogs up. But it's generally quiet when we're just working around the kennel."

If your impressions are positive, sit down with a staff member to get more details. Here's what you'll want to ask:

  • Is there a staff member on site 24 hours a day?
  • What are the feeding and exercise schedules?
  • Do they supply food, or do you provide your own?
  • What are the daily rates? (For dogs, generally the smaller the animal, the lower the cost.)
  • Will they administer medications (if necessary), and if so, is there an additional fee?
  • What vaccinations do they require incoming boarders to have? (Rabies is a must.)
  • What is the kennel's protocol in case of medical emergency?

If the answers are satisfactory and you think you'd like to board your dog or cat with that kennel, then it's your turn to be forthcoming. The kennel will be better able to care for your pet if you fill them in on his temperament, his habits and likes and dislikes: Does Fluffy hate to have her ears scratched? Does Fido strain on his leash when he's being walked? Does your pet suffer from separation anxiety when you're away, and if so, how does it manifest? Loss of appetite? Wariness of strangers?

Good kennel employees know that, like people, pets can have quirks, too. If the staff is prepared ahead of time, they can adjust how they handle your pet accordingly for a better experience for everyone.

Get Your Pet Ready

Because good kennels require that boarders be vaccinated, check with your vet now to see whether or not your pet is current on her shots (most are required annually). Vaccinations shouldn't wait until the last minute, either — needle inoculations can take up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness. Be sure to get paperwork confirming your pet's health records for the kennel.

As your departure date gets closer, make a list of everything you'll want to take to keep your pet healthy, happy and comforted in her home away from home. Here's a start:

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  • Food (dry, wet or both)
  • Medication(s)
  • Medication dosage schedule(s) (to be checked off by the caregiver)
  • Special toys
  • Bedding
  • A memento, such as a towel or blanket, with your scent on it
  • Leash (if necessary)
  • Treats
  • Emergency contact information, your contact information and contact information for your vet
  • Shot records

Even if the kennel will supply food, consider taking dog or cat food to keep your pet on the same diet. The stress of being in a new environment together with a new diet could cause your pet to have diarrhea, upset stomach or to stop eating.

If, after all your research, you would really rather not kennel your pet, why not hire an in-home sitter? It is comforting to know your pet is in her own environment while you travel, but there are some important things to consider before making that decision. Visit the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters® website for more information.

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