Trip Alert: When You Need to Leave Your Pet Behind, Consider the Best Options

By Jessica Lauren Melman, VMD

Many people are forced to leave their pets behind at home when they need to travel, whether it is for work or pleasure. It isn’t always easy to pack up and say good-bye to our beloved furry friends. They can have separation anxiety like my dog Quincy, or it may be difficult to find the right pet care for them. As the warm weather and travel season approaches, the idea of finding pet care when traveling is at the forefront of many of our minds.

The Northeast was recently struck with yet another big winter storm. I was supposed to travel to Tennessee to volunteer for a dog and cat spay/neuter event, called “The Big Fix.” My plans changed rapidly as multiple flights were cancelled in a row, and therefore, my plans to have Quincy cared for had to change with the moment as well.

First, a friend of mine was watching him. However, when the storm hit it was nearly impossible to get him to my friend’s house the night before my trip. My neighbor, who has always been a great backup, was away. I found myself on the phone with his dog walker and frantically sending text messages to his dog sitter in case my next flight wasn’t cancelled and my trip would be possible. There was also the thought of boarding him at his day care facility, but he is never very happy when he is dropped off or picked up. This episode made me think about how many options there are for pet care.

Boarding facilities or kennels are a good option. There are pet hotels that provide private rooms with webcams so you can watch your pet sleep and play. Quincy’s day care/boarding facility even offers manicures and pedicures, otherwise known as a nail trim, and will brush his teeth for an extra fee. Today, boarding facilities can be just as nice as some 5-star hotels.

It is usually best to leave cats at home. Cats are creatures of habit and generally don’t like to change environments. I recommend having someone stay in your home or come to feed your cat and clean the litter. It is very important that someone watches over your cat at least once daily, especially if you have a male cat as they can have life threatening urinary blockages.

If you choose to board your pet, make sure they are up to date on vaccines and healthy prior to boarding. A good boarding facility will require that your pet is up to date on vaccines and will ask for immunization records. All dogs should have a rabies vaccine, a distemper/parvovirus vaccine and a kennel cough vaccine. Depending on the area of the country you live in, other vaccines such as a lyme disease vaccine and leptospirosis vaccine may be needed. All cats should have a rabies vaccine and feline distemper vaccine. A health certificate from your veterinarian may be required as well.

If possible, visiting and touring the boarding facility prior to making a reservation and boarding your pet is recommended. Get a feeling. Are the pets happy? Is it clean? Is it excessively noisy? Where do the pets sleep? Does the staff appear professional and knowledgeable? Will your pet be comfortable there?

Additionally, boarding or even being away from your pets can be stressful to them. Stress can cause stomach upset and appetite changes. Bring your pet’s food to the boarding facility, as an abrupt change in diet can cause stomach upset as well.

Separation anxiety can also be real a problem for some pets. Avoid emotion when picking up and dropping off your pet at boarding facilities, or leaving them behind at home! No drama! No “I hate to leave you!” or “Mommy and Daddy will miss you.” This will only cause them more anxiety as they pick up on your emotion. While it sounds harsh, you are actually being caring by picking and dropping them off with the emotion of a UPS package. Hugs, kisses and rubs can come once your several minutes away from the boarding facility after picking them up.

Friendly neighbors, acquaintances and even doormen can also watch your pooch or kitty when going away. It isn’t abnormal to see a New York City doorman walking a tenant’s dog. My doorman has come to the rescue many times when I have been stuck at work! Professional dog walkers and dog/cat sitters are also good alternatives. The options seem endless.

Pet care is a very personal decision and should be tailored to your pet’s disposition. It is comforting to know that there are so many options for our four-legged babies while we travel.

About the author

Jessica Lauren Melman, VMD, is a third generation veterinarian, as her late grandfather was a veterinarian and her father is also a veterinarian. She received her Bachelors of Science degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and then matriculated to the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary School. She graduated from veterinary school in 2003, and concurrently, received a business certificate from the Wharton Small Business Development Center. Following her graduation, Jessica completed an internship in Small Animal Medicine and Surgery at Manhattan Veterinary Group and has been a small animal general practitioner in Manhattan since completing her internship. In addition to practicing as a vet, she is currently working for DermaPet as the Director of Veterinary and Technical Services. Her veterinary interests include dermatology, emergency medicine, internal medicine, surgery, oncology and veterinary pharmaceuticals. Outside of work, she enjoys running, cooking, writing, traveling and spending time with Quincy, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. She has recently appeared on ABC News’s Good Morning America as a veterinary consultant. In addition, Jessica will be a guest speaker at Pet Fashion Week in Sao Paulo, Brazil this spring.


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