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What to Expect When Boarding Your Dog
Dogs are pack animals and creatures of habit and do best when they have a regular daily routine. Like us, they all have their individual personalities, and some are much more adaptable and relaxed than others, so they respond better to changes in their daily lives. Housekeeping with your dogs can be stressful for them just because it presents a different environment and schedule. Many will adjust beautifully after just a few hours or days, while others may experience stress-related problems. Below are some normal reactions your pets may experience when boarding, along with some tips to make it easier for them.
Stress can manifest itself in many ways in dogs. For one thing, they tend to breathe more, which can make them more thirsty. Don’t be surprised if your canine companion drinks a lot of water immediately after returning from boarding. You should not take this as a sign that the boarding facility did not provide water; simply understand that they need to replenish the fluids they have lost through panting (which is a dog’s way of sweating).
Another common manifestation of stress is vomiting and diarrhea. In particular, diarrhea is often observed in pets. This can be due to several factors, including a change in food from what they are used to eating at home to the brand that is offered at the boarding facility. Many pet centers and kennels will allow you to bring your own food from home for your pets and may recommend this to minimize the risk of diarrhea due to a change in diet. If your furry child has any food sensitivities, be sure to mention this to the staff when booking or checking in and ask if you can bring your pet’s own food or if the facility offers some bland food for sensitive stomachs. Another major cause of diarrhea is related to the pet’s stress response to being away from home, and there is little that can be done to prevent this other than working with the staff to make Fido’s stay as comfortable as possible.
Another common stress-related problem in pets can be a poor appetite. It is quite common for dogs not to eat well for the first 24 or 48 hours after arrival. Especially if you already have a picky eater, your pet may eat even less than they normally would at home. Good pet sitters will try different tricks to try to encourage eating and should contact you for any tips on getting Fido to eat if he hasn’t done so in the first day or two.
Your pet may come home from boarding and sleep more than normal for a few days. While good pet accommodations try to minimize fuss, any stay at a dog hotel will be more disruptive to the animal’s sleep cycle than its normal routine. It’s busier, different pets can be excited and loud at different times, and the cleaning and potty schedule may not match what he’s used to at home. If your pet is not back to normal within a few days, a visit to the vet may be in order to make sure there is nothing else going on.
As with humans, stress can also weaken the immune system in dogs and make them more susceptible to various diseases. In particular, kennel cough is a relatively common respiratory disease that can result from boarding. Although a quality facility will require a vaccination called bordetella to minimize the risk of contracting kennel cough, it is an airborne disease similar to the human cold or flu and is contagious before pets show any real symptoms. Vaccination may not prevent all strains of the disease, although it should help minimize severity. However, different strains, along with reduced immunity due to stress, can cause your pet to show signs of coughing and a runny nose within a week to ten days after returning from boarding. All that a good boarding facility can do is follow strict cleaning and disinfection procedures, immediately isolate and seek veterinary care for any animals showing symptoms on boarding, and refuse boarding to any animals showing signs of contagious disease. Staff cannot detect disease in asymptomatic dogs, nor can they isolate germs (which can come from blocks or miles away!). Just like children at school or daycare, anytime you have several dogs in close proximity, the risk of infection increases.
So what steps can you take to minimize the stress on your dog when visiting a local pet hotel? First, make sure you are happy with the facility and staff and that they seem competent and caring. If possible (and especially if your dog doesn’t walk often), you can schedule a trial day or two before leaving your fur baby for an extended stay. Many facilities offer day boarding services where you can drop off your pets in the morning and pick them up in the evening. This will help them adjust to the staff and accommodations, and short stays will help them understand that you will be back for them. Ask if you can bring favorite toys, blankets or sheets from home to make them more comfortable. If your pet enjoys the company of other dogs and is sociable, you may want to explore the dog grooming options at your particular facility. Dogs who regularly participate in pet hotel play seem to associate the facilities with fun and joy and adapt much more easily to onboard stays. Plus, scheduling activities (whether it’s doggie daycare, one-on-one playtime with staff, or other facility-specific offerings) helps keep them busy and less prone to stress-related illnesses. Discuss the different boarding options (standard kennel runs, crates, luxury private rooms in suites) with facility staff to help you choose accommodations that will best suit your pet’s temperament.
A high-quality pet center will work with you and your pets to make their stay as stress-free as possible. They should contact you if any health problems or long-term stress-related problems develop during your best friend(s) stay at the hotel, and they should seek medical treatment with you (and possibly a veterinarian) if indicated. Many dogs learn to love the staff and facilities if they visit often enough, and you may find that they are more excited than anxious when they find out where they are going because they know they will have fun!
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