How to Plan Your Pet’s Care While You’re on Vacation

Many of us feel a little guilty when we leave our pets for just a few hours during the day. And having to leave them behind when we travel is a whole other level of trepidation. Fortunately, some careful planning should help both of you enjoy or at least tolerate your time apart. Here are six tips to plan your pet’s care for while you’re on vacation.

1. Leave ample time to plan

Just as you would book your hotel and air reservations well in advance, leave ample time to arrange your pet’s care, too. If you don’t already have a routine for them while you’re out of town, it might take several weeks or even months to organize a plan you feel good about.

Talk with your veterinarian about your travel plans, and ask what they would recommend for your pet. A wellness checkup might be in order for some animals, especially if you’ll be boarding them. Plus, ask friends and family who have pets for trusted care recommendations. You might have to spend some time doing pet sitter interviews or visiting boarding facilities, but it’s important for your pet’s health and well-being not to rush that process.

2. Decide between a pet sitter and boarding facility

A dog arrives at a pet boarding facility.

Credit: SolStock/Getty Images

You essentially have two main options for your pet’s care while you’re out of town: pet sitting and boarding. Some pet sitters will come to your home at designated times throughout the day, while others will actually house-sit for you while you’re away. Prices for these services are generally comparable to basic boarding, according to PetMD, but a live-in sitter will increase the bill. Still, if you can find a sitter you trust, this is the ideal option for pets who prefer to maintain their routines in familiar surroundings. Plus, the animals typically receive more attentive, personal care.

Boarding has come a long way from cold, sterile kennels and cages. Now, pet hotels (as they’re often called) offer numerous “amenities” pools, massages, etc. to their animal guests to make the time spent away from home pass more comfortably. But depending on the level of service you choose, the price can vary dramatically.

Furthermore, many people prefer to board their animals at a sitter’s house instead of a facility ideally for more hands-on care. “Stress is indeed the biggest problem with boarding of any sort,” PetMD says. So if you go the boarding route, make sure your pet will get ample personal attention to prevent problems from developing.

3. Know red flags when you see them

As you work through your boarding facility and sitter recommendations to find the right fit, it’s important to be able to spot red flags. A boarding facility should have no problem giving you a tour, so you can see everywhere your pet will be. PetMD recommends showing up unannounced to know what the facility is really like. Take note of unpleasant smells, inadequate space for animals and play groups that unsafely throw together animals of all sizes and abilities. Also, ask for the facility’s emergency plans, and find out the staff’s training. If anything seems off to you, it’s probably not the right place for your pet.

Likewise, finding a trusted pet sitter isn’t always easy. Acquire recommendations from your vet, local humane society, dog trainers, friends and family. But make time to interview all the candidates yourself, too. Quality pet sitters should have insurance to cover accidents, animal care training and references, according to Petfinder. They should offer you a contract with their services and fees and have a back-up plan in case an emergency prevents them from caring for your pet. If the preliminary qualifications check out, see how they interact with your pet. Again, if you’re uncomfortable about anything, move on.

4. Clearly communicate care preferences

Two women discuss a cat.

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So you’ve picked your facility or sitter. Now, it’s time to spell out every detail of your care preferences for your animal. Put it all clearly in writing, so there aren’t any questions (and you have recourse if your requests aren’t met). Include your contact information, health details, medications, vaccination status and microchip information, the American Veterinary Medical Association recommends. Plus, offer detailed descriptions of the animal’s daily routine, diet, personality, likes/dislikes and anything else you find relevant.

As part of these care preferences, authorize someone to speak on your behalf if your pet needs emergency medical care and you can’t be reached. Be sure you trust that person to make decisions, and inform them of your wishes. Plan for every possible scenario, so you can go on your vacation with peace of mind.

5. Have answers to important questions

The American Veterinary Medical Association recommends having answers to these five important questions as you plan for your pet’s care while you’re away.

  • Does your pet have any medical issues that might require emergency care while you’re away? If you’re already aware of a condition, consider the potential scenarios that could arise. Determine the extent and cost of care you’re comfortable with.
  • What medical procedures wouldn’t you authorize? Make sure anyone speaking on your behalf knows them.
  • Do you have financial limits to your pet’s treatment? This isn’t always easy to discuss, but anyone authorizing care for you has to know a realistic figure.
  • How will you pay for emergency treatments? Will the person authorizing their care pay, and you’ll reimburse them? Or will you provide them with a form of payment in advance?
  • If your pet dies, what do you wish to be done with its remains? This is the absolute worst-case scenario, but if you can’t be reached make sure the people in charge know how to proceed.

Hopefully you’ll never encounter any situations where your answers to these questions have to be put into action. Plus, it’s ideal for you to be as reachable as possible throughout your trip, so no one has to make serious decisions on your behalf. But just as you would expect your facility or sitter to have an emergency plan, this is a critical part of yours.

6. Overpack for your pet

A dog is buried in dog toys.

Credit: JoopS/Getty Images

It seems like we all buy too much stuff to spoil our pets. But when it comes to planning their packing list, it’s better to go overboard than be a minimalist. You don’t want to leave anything to chance, especially if you’re delayed returning home. “Make sure there’s an ample supply of your animal’s food, medications and supplements to cover the time you’re away plus a few extra days, just in case,” the AVMA suggests. This is true, regardless of whether your animal is boarded or at home with a sitter.

Plus, if your pet is staying at a facility or someone else’s house, don’t hesitate to pack a ridiculous amount of toys, their favorite bedding, treats and anything else that could bring them comfort. The abundance of homey reminders might just be what gets them through the trip happy and healthy.

Main image credit: humonia/Getty Images


Thomas M
Thomas M3 months ago

Thank you for sharing

Daniel N
Past Member 3 months ago


Joan E
Joan E3 months ago

Cute photo of the packed pet. Our cat always does that, too.

Amparo Fabiana C
Amparo Fabiana C3 months ago

Sitter coming for feeding is the best for cats.

danii p
danii p3 months ago

thanks for sharing

danii p
danii p3 months ago

thanks for sharing

danii p
danii p3 months ago

thanks for sharing

Emma L
Ellie L3 months ago

thank you

Caitlin L
Past Member 3 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

Mia B
Melisa B3 months ago

Thank you