What to do when your pet can't come too
With summer season well underway, many pet owners will be taking holidays around New Zealand. It may not always be possible to bring your furry friend with you and SPCA is reminding pet owners to make sure you've made appropriate arrangements for your pets’ care before going heading away, instead of leaving them at home alone.
More than the basic necessities
SPCA Scientific Officer Dr Alison Vaughan says it’s neither safe nor responsible to leave your pet on their own for an extended period, as they can easily become distressed or anxious.
“Taking care of a pet isn’t just about making sure they have the basic necessities of food, water and shelter, it’s also vital that their mental welfare is met, and this simply cannot be done if they are left on their own all day and night,” says Dr Vaughan. “Dogs and cats, in particular, can experience distress and anxiety if their families leave them alone for long periods of time.”
Each Christmas and New Year period, SPCA receives dozens of calls about pets that have been left at home while their owners head away for days or weeks at a time. While many of these animals do have someone coming to feed them, it’s important to remember your pet needs more than just food and water to meet their welfare needs while you’re gone and arrangements need to be made in advance.
If your pets can’t go with you, it’s important to weigh up the pros and cons when deciding where they will stay, and with whom. Whether you choose a pet sitter, kennel, cattery, or dog day care for day trips away, you will need to assess each option before you hit the road. Here are our top tips for preparing for your pet’s arrangements while you’re on holiday, what you should look for and what questions you should ask.
Pet sitters are ideal for people who want to keep their pet at home while they are away and for species that are easily stressed by a change in environment, such as cats, and for animals who don’t have many options for external boarding, such as birds, rabbits, fish, or guinea pigs. If your pet can’t come with you when you go on holiday, a pet sitter is a good choice because your pet will be in their own environment and be cared for individually. Pet sitters also provide customised care for them, which reduces separation anxiety and stress for all.
For cat owners, a pet sitter is a good option because the cats can stay in their own home environment and stress from change of routine and environment is minimised.
To find a good pet-sitter, start by asking your friends and family to see if they have any recommendations. Your vet may also know some reliable sitters, or you can find a professional pet sitter from a company – these can be easily found online. Ask for and check multiple references before booking. Having a police background check is standard practice for many professional pet sitters.
When you find the perfect sitter for your pet, have them come to your house so you can introduce your pet to them, and show them around your home, explaining where things are and how your pet’s routine works.
Before you go on holiday, be sure to provide your pet sitter with the following:
- Your phone number.
- Accommodation details.
- Your vet’s contact number.
- Notes on your pet’s routine, health, medication, food, and any behaviour details (e.g. if they have separation anxiety).
- Family or friends’ contact details in case you can’t be reached.
- Details about what to do in case on an emergency related to the house (e.g. a plumber/electrician)
If you choose to keep your dog at a kennel while you’re away, it is imperative that your dog is safe, well cared for, and is going to enjoy themselves. A good kennel owner or manager will be more than happy to give you a tour of the facilities if you arrange to pip in and be taken around. Be conscious that some kennels have “mat times” or “quiet times”, so go outside these times. If they won’t show you the facility – don’t leave your dog there.
Ask and check the following:
- If dogs have a behaviour assessment before they join the facility. It is not enough to simply assess a dog for aggression, a good facility will assess dogs for other things such as separation anxiety and confidence levels.
- View the accommodation available for your dog/s at the kennels and make sure that you are happy that it will provide for their needs.
- Check out the exercise areas at the kennel facility, and see that they are safe and appropriate for your dog. Ask whether you can bring your dog’s own toys and bedding/blankets, as this can be comforting to them in your absence.
- Dogs with particular health needs will need extra attention, so ask if staff can administer medication, and if this carries an extra cost.
- What protocol do they have in case your pet has a medical emergency? The facility should have an agreement with a nearby veterinary facility, and the ability to take your pet there if something happens. Discuss what protocol should be set up in case your pet is not eating normally or just seems “off”.
A reputable kennel will let you know if they think a kennel is not the best option for your dog based on their behaviour. It is important to disclose if your dog does not get along well with all other dogs. Some kennels offer private play areas and most kennels will try to match your dog to a with a friend they’ll feel comfortable with. Ensure that the facility is set up to be able to care for your dog’s health needs appropriately.
Remember that your dog will need to be up to date with vaccinations before going to a kennel, see below for a list of these.
Good catteries book up quickly, so give yourself plenty of time before your holiday to look into an appropriate cattery if you want to book your feline friend in while you’re away. You’ll be wanting to book a secure, self-contained space for your cat, ensuring that your cat would not have direct contact with other cats. Ideally, your cat would also be able to go outside in a safe contained area. A good cattery will ask lots of questions about your pet, and will insist that all cats coming into their centre have up to date vaccinations. See below for a list of these.
Drop in and check out the facilities and ask if you can have a tour and see how the cats are housed during the day. The living areas, play rooms, and sleeping areas should all be a comfortable temperature (neither hot nor cold), secure, clean, and dry, with plenty of fresh clean water available. Individual cat enclosures should have toys, a scratching post, something for the cat to hide in or under, a high area such as a shelf where the cat can rest, and a litter tray. If you will be boarding more than one cat, and the cats get on and would like to stay together, ensure the cattery will allow them to be housed together. Check below for vaccination recommendations for your cat.
Cats need their own space to sleep and rest, and like to have an area from which they can survey their environment while feeling secure. Therefore, they need a secure place to hide (for example, a comfortable box, tent or igloo) and a high perching area. It is also important that the cat’s enclosure/cage is not open (i.e. at least three walls are solid) and that enclosures/cages do not face each other, as this can be very unnerving for shy cats.
Dog day care
Many pet-owners work long hours and they choose to book their pooch into a dog day care facility. These facilities look after dogs of all shapes and sizes and should have a daily schedule of activities that will include activities such as playtime, rest time, learning, training, and socialising for your dog.
When looking after groups of dogs, a dog day care needs to have a high level of organisation. When deciding what dog day care you’d like to take your dog to, be sure to take a tour of the facilities with the owner or manager.
A dog day care should provide a clean, sanitary environment, with good ventilation (this could be achieved through open doors or a fresh-air exchange system). Fresh, clean water should be available in play areas.
All good dog day cares will require a behaviour assessment to determine if the dog day care environment is suitable for your dog. They should have an area that allows them to gradually introduce your dog to other dogs.
Take a look at how they are containing dogs - dog day cares that are caring for many dogs will typically split dogs into different playgroups based on factors such as size, temperament, or play style. It's not ideal to have high energy large dogs in the same area with low energy tiny dogs. Facilities should also have proper fencing that is strong enough to hold the weight of a dog and high enough to ensure sprightly dogs can’t leap over them. Gating should be secure, and some might have a double gating system that provides space for them to get used to the play area before joining other dogs outside.
Staff members should ideally hold an animal management certificate or a similar qualification. At least one staff member on-site should have a current pet first-aid certificate. This means staff will be educated on dog behaviour, dog body language, canine first aid, health, play style, and behaviour management. Also, be sure to ask the manager about the dog-to-human ratio, SPCA Certified and international standards advise the ratio should be no more than 15:1. Play groups should be supervised by at least 2 staff members, as this is the minimum required to safely break up a dog fight. When taking the dogs out of the facility, (for example, for a day trip) extra staff should be on hand.
A dog day care that has activities and training will keep your dog stimulated and interested. Some will provide activities and services such as swimming, field trips, overnights, bathing, walks, and classes. Like a human daycare, it is important that activities are balanced with periods of rest to make sure dogs are not over whelmed or over stimulated.
Alongside this, staff at the dog day care may reward your dog with treats. Be sure to ask about their policy around this, if your dog can display aggressive behaviours around food or is on a special diet.
Most of the considerations discussed under ‘Kennels’ also apply to dog day cares so have a read of that section too and check those things too.
Advice when dropping off and picking up your pet
Dropping them off:
When you arrive with your pet, remind the staff about any medical or behavior problems your pet has, such as a history of epilepsy or fear of thunder. After the check-in process, hand your pet to a staff member, say good-bye, and leave. Avoid long, emotional partings, which may upset your pet. Finally, have a good trip, knowing that your pet is in safe hands and will be happy to see you when you return.
When picking them up:
Picking up your pet can be an emotional reunion. Before heading home, ask the staff how things went.
Once you get home, spend some time relaxing with your pet before getting back into your routine. Hold off on feeding your pet for a few hours after arriving home since they may be overexcited to see you. When this happens, they tend to gulp food and water, which could trigger vomiting and/or diarrhea.
Remember before putting your pet in a cattery / kennel they will need to be up to date with the following recommended vaccinations. You can use this as a checklist with your vet beforehand.
Looking for more advice? Be sure to check out SPCA's Advice and Welfare section!