Pet vacations

We are going on a road trip this summer. Our family cat will stay home, but we're debating whether to take our dog. Any tips?

Your dog may love to ride in the car, but that doesn’t necessarily mean she should vacation with you. Is your dog calm and adaptable? Or is she rambunctious, needing lots of attention and exercise? Will she be welcomed everywhere you stay, be it hotels, campgrounds or with family or friends?

Consider how you plan to spend your holiday: will there be many activities that your dog can’t share? Some national parks won’t allow pets or have strict rules about where they can roam, and many tourist sites are not dog-friendly. Remember that leaving your pet in the car is no solution. A parked car overheats very quickly and a dog can die of heatstroke in just a few hours.You won’t have a very relaxing holiday if you’re constantly worrying about where you can safely leave your pet.

If you do decide to take your dog, try to maintain some of her routine–take along her bed, and feed and walk her at her regular times. Also, be sure to bring her current vaccination papers. You’ll need them to cross the border or if she gets sick.

A trip to doggie camp

If taking your dog is not a viable option, you may want to consider a good boarding facility for her. Dogs are very social by nature; a well-run boarding kennel should provide good interaction with both people and other dogs, which can help to reduce the stress she may feel over being separated from you. Ask your vet for a recommendation, then visit a few facilities and speak to the caretakers. Are they knowledgeable and experienced? Ask if you can bring familiar objects such as your dog’s bed, toys and favourite food when she comes to stay. Also, check out the vaccination policy (current vaccinations should be mandatory) and the contingency plan if a dog becomes ill.

Ensure that the facility is clean and that all the dogs have fresh water. Look at the other dogs when you visit. Are they eager to interact with staff? Do the staff speak to them by name? A securely fenced area provides excellent opportunities for small groups of dogs to play and exercise together, though they need individual kennels to rest by themselves, too. Also, dogs should be walked two or three times a day.

Do a trial run

If you decide to board your dog, leave her for a short stay on one or two occasions before you go away for an extended period. Take along her bed, toys and food. This will help her to get used to the people and the environment and to know that you are coming back. If your dog suffers from severe separation anxiety or has any other problems, you will know about it while you are still close by.

Cats are homebodies

Unlike dogs, a cat will likely be happiest in his own home. If you choose this option, you will need to arrange for someone to come in every day to make sure your cat is OK, provide company, food and water and keep the litter from getting out of hand.

Boarding facilities for cats are another possibility, though many cats find boarding stressful because of the unfamiliar odours and routines, and the other animals. If you choose to board your cat, check out the facility. See that the staff is gentle and friendly, and make sure cats are housed out of sound and sight of any dogs. Pack your cat’s familiar food and a blanket with odours of home (so don’t wash it beforehand). The cages should have somewhere for your pet to perch. Another option is to bring in a sturdy box for him to sit on. Cut a hole in one side and put it upside down in the cage so he can either hide inside or rest on top to see around him. The facility should have a current vaccination policy for all cats and access to veterinary care if a cat becomes ill.

Dr. Alice Crook co-ordinates the Sir James Dunn Animal Welfare Centre at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of Prince Edward Island. She also chairs the Animal Welfare Committee of the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association.

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