Many pet owners know that traveling out of town often means a bite out of their wallet because Fido or Fluffy has to be boarded at a kennel, which can get pricey for extended stays.
Of the $55.7 billion Americans spent on their pets in 2013, boarding and grooming accounted for nearly $5 billion, according to the American Pet Products Association.
The main thing to know about boarding kennels is that they can vary dramatically in price and quality.
It's not always an example of "you get what you pay for."
So the wise choice for your beloved pet isn't necessarily pricey boarding, which the American Kennel Club has described as "bed-and-biscuit" resorts with grooming and aromatherapy.
"There's really no relation between price and quality when it comes to kennels," said Robert Krughoff, founder of rating service Consumers' Checkbook, which rates kennels in several markets around the country.
The cost of boarding a medium-size dog with basic care ranged from about $125 to nearly $400 per week when Consumers' Checkbook conducted its undercover price checks. And many of the lower-priced kennels provided top-quality service, according to pet-owner reviews.
With smart research, you're likely to be able to find a kennel that's both reasonably priced and high-quality. Here's advice on getting good value when you board your pet.
Herd the candidates. You can ask local friends and relatives for kennel recommendations. But realize that's a small sample size. Your vet might have a more informed recommendation. For a broader overview, consider using Consumers' Checkbook (Checkbook.org) if it's available in your area, or Angie's List, AngiesList.com. Both require subscriptions. Yelp.com has free consumer reviews, but you'll have to take comments with a grain of salt, as with many free review sites.
Be your own watchdog. Check the Better Business Bureau for complaints at BBB.org, but also consider touring the kennels in person.
Use your hound senses. Check for excessive odors. "A well-run kennel should not stink of doggy odors," the American Kennel Club says. Note the overall condition and safety of the kennel and cages, along with the friendliness of staff members and how they interact with boarded pets. The kennel should require proof of immunization, and ask about policies regarding flea and tick control. "All responsible kennel owners and operators will ask you about your dog's vaccinations and will require proof of certain shots," the AKC says.
Operating hours. Kennel hours, particularly on weekends, are a common complaint. If the kennel is closed on Sundays, for example, you would have to pay for a Sunday-night stay even though you are back in town on Sunday morning. "Sometimes, you can be kind of surprised at that," Krughoff said.
Ask about extras. Find out the basics — if the kennel requires you to bring food or whether it will provide food, for example. And ask about extra services. Many kennels will charge more for administering medications to an animal — maybe $4 per day — or, in the case of dogs, providing extra exercise, which can cost an extra $8 or more per day.
Get it in writing. Get a written contract, Angie's List advises. The contract should state the price and who is responsible for vet bills if your pet is injured or becomes ill.
Try it out. It's a good idea to accustom your pet to longer kennel stays by first boarding the pet during a short trip, such as a weekend getaway, the Humane Society suggests. That allows you to work out problems before boarding your pet for an extended period.
Kennel alternatives. Pet-sitting can be a good choice, especially if you can swap pet-sitting services with a fellow pet owner for free. A staff member at your veterinarian's office might be willing to stay at your house and care for the pet, as well as pick up mail and water plants.
Before boarding your pet at a kennel, The Humane Society suggests being able to answer these questions:
■Does the facility look and smell clean?
■Is there sufficient ventilation and light?
■Is the temperature comfortable?
■Does the staff seem knowledgeable and caring?
■Are pets required to be current on vaccinations, including the vaccine for canine kennel cough (Bordetella)?
■Does each dog have his own adequately sized indoor-outdoor run or an indoor run and a schedule for exercise?
■Are outdoor runs and exercise areas protected from wind, rain and snow?
■Are resting boards and bedding provided to allow dogs to rest off the concrete floor?
■Are cats housed away from dogs?
■Is there enough space for cats to move around comfortably?
■Is there enough space between the litter box and food bowls?
■How often are pets fed?
■Can the owner bring a pet's special food?
■What veterinary services are available?
■Are other services available such as grooming, training or bathing?
■How are rates calculated?