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Pet Boarding vs. Pet Sitting: Which Is Best for Your Cat or Dog?

Deciding how to care for your pets while you're away can be a challenge, especially for new pet parents. Let’s explore the differences between pet boarding and pet sitting and how to decide which is best for you and your soulful sidekick.

Dog Boarding

Content reviewed by Preston Turano, D.V.M.

Pet boarding vs. pet sitting: What’s the difference?

What is pet boarding?

Pet boarding involves leaving your beloved companion in a facility specifically designed for pet care. Your pet will stay there while you're away, receiving care and attention from trained staff. Boarding facilities are equipped to handle the needs of all types of dogs and cats.

Pet boarding offers several advantages:

  • Socialization opportunities

  • Structured routines that help pets adapt

  • Professional staff trained to handle emergencies

Types of boarding

What are your options for boarding? Let's take a quick look:

  • Traditional kennels: The most common type of boarding facility, kennels offer a structured environment with set feeding and exercise times. Pets are housed in individual kennels or cages.

  • Luxury boarding resorts: Looking for a more high-end experience? These accommodations often resemble upscale hotels with private suites with amenities like spa treatments and gourmet meals.

  • In-home boarding: If you prefer a home-away-from-home experience or your pet doesn't do well in kennels, staying in a caregiver's home may feel comfier.

What is pet sitting?

Pet sitting brings care to your pet's home environment. The pet sitter will come to your house to care for your pet, providing them with food, exercise, and companionship. This option is ideal for pets who thrive in familiar surroundings. Here's why:

  • One-on-one attention for your pet

  • Reduced stress for pets who don't like new environments

  • Convenience from not needing to transport your pet

Types of pet sitting

Here are different types of pet sitting services to consider:

  • Standard in-home pet sitting: A pet sitter visits your home on a predetermined schedule to provide essential care, including feeding, playtime, and bathroom breaks.

  • Overnight pet sitting: For pets who require constant companionship or have anxiety issues, 24/7 care may be ideal. Plus, there's added security in having someone at your home while you're away.

  • Drop-in visits: If your pet doesn't need constant care, check-ins can be a budget-friendly option for shorter trips. With this arrangement, your pet sitter comes for short daily visits.

  • Live-in pet sitting: If your pet has special needs or you have multiple pets, round-the-clock care and companionship may be ideal.

  • Pet sitting with grooming: Some pet sitters offer services and basic care, including brushing, bathing, and nail trimming.

Factors to consider when making your decision:

  • Your pet's comfort and personality: Consider your pet's temperament. Some pets are more adaptable and social, making them suitable for boarding. Others may be more comfortable in their own home with a pet sitter.

  • Convenience for you: Pet sitting can be more convenient if you have a busy life, as it eliminates the need for arranging pick-ups and drop-offs at a boarding facility.

  • Safety and quality of care: Consider the pet sitter's qualifications, insurance, and reviews. Do they have proper safety measures in place?

  • Special needs and medical concerns: Before boarding, discuss your pet's unique needs and ensure they are equipped to handle them. Have an anxious pup? Check out our guide for finding a dog sitter with a reactive dog.

How to find the right pet sitter or boarding facility

Putting in the work to find the perfect pet sitter or boarding facility pays off — for your cat or dog’s well-being and your peace of mind. Here's how to find the best option:

For pet sitters

  • References and recommendations: Do any trusted friends, family, or fellow pet owners have recommendations?

  • Online platforms: Check reviews and ratings on reputable websites and apps dedicated to pet services.

  • Professional associations: Consider sitters who are members of organizations like Pet Sitters International (PSI) or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS).

  • Interview potential sitters: Ask them about their experience, training, and emergency protocols to assess their qualifications and compatibility with your pet.

  • Insurance and bonding: Does the pet sitter have liability insurance? Are they bonded for added security?

  • Contract: Establish a clear contract outlining services, fees, and responsibilities. Remember to clarify any special instructions or pet care requirements.

For boarding facilities

  • Visit in advance: Schedule visits to potential boarding facilities to inspect the cleanliness, safety, and overall environment. Do they have noise control in place? Is staff on the premises overnight in case of emergencies like a fire or if a pet needs medical attention?

  • Reviews and references: Get feedback from other pet owners who have used their services, including recent online reviews.

  • Staff qualifications: Ask about the staff's pet care and emergency response training.

  • Safety measures: Ensure the facility follows safety protocols, including vaccination requirements and health checks for all pets.

  • Medical care: Is there veterinary care and access to medical facilities available in case of emergencies? Make sure you are comfortable with the veterinary facility they are using and understand what their fees and policies are in the event of an emergency for which you are not available.

  • Pet comfort: Ask about your pet's accommodations, including the space, size, and exercise options.

  • Trial stay: Consider a short trial stay to observe how your pet adjusts to the facility before an extended stay.

Where to find pet sitters and boarding facilities

When searching for pet sitters and boarding facilities, you have several options:

  • Online pet service platforms: Websites and apps like Rover and Wag! connect pet parents with local sitters and boarding facilities, where you can browse profiles, read reviews, and compare services.

  • Local veterinary clinics: Your veterinarian may have recommendations for trusted pet sitters or boarding facilities in your area. Many vet clinics also offer boarding services, though they’re often for pets under medical care or observation.

  • Pet-related associations: Explore resources and directories from reputable associations like Pet Sitters International (PSI) or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters (NAPPS).

  • Word of mouth: Personal referrals and recommendations from friends, family, or fellow pet parents can lead you to trustworthy pet care providers.

  • Local pet stores and groomers: Check your pet supply stores or grooming salons. They may have bulletin boards with flyers from pet sitters and boarding facilities.

  • Social media and community groups: Check social media platforms and community groups for recommendations and discussions about pet care services in your area. Remember to verify the credentials of those recommended.

How can I best prepare my boarding facility or pet sitter for my cat or dog’s stay?

Here's what you should know before leaving your pet with a boarding facility or pet sitter:

  • Provide detailed instructions: Create a comprehensive list of your pet's routines, preferences, and any special needs for their caregiver's reference.

  • Emergency contact information: Share your contact details, as well as the contact information for your veterinarian. Provide details for the nearest emergency practice for after hour concerns. Include the ASPCA Animal Poison Control number in case of accidental ingestion: (888) 426-4435. Consider leaving a credit card in case of emergencies.

  • Health records and medications: Ensure your pet's vaccinations are up-to-date and provide clear instructions and medications if your pet requires them. Provide specific instructions in case of emergency. Include a copy of your pet's health records.

  • Dietary requirements: Specify your pet's dietary needs, including feeding schedules and portion sizes. Just in case, provide extras of their necessary food, treats, and other items.

  • Comfort items: When boarding, pack familiar toys, blankets, or bedding to provide comfort and reduce anxiety for your pet.

  • Behavioral insights: Share information about your pet's behavior, such as their likes, dislikes, fears, and known triggers, to help caregivers understand and accommodate your pet's personality.

  • Daily exercise and playtime: Outline your pet's exercise and playtime requirements. Highlight any favorite activities or games your pet enjoys.

  • Emergency plan: Discuss an emergency plan with your caregiver, including specific instructions for what to do in case of medical issues or other unexpected situations. Let your veterinary practice know that you will be gone, and provide the name of the pet sitter.

  • Trial stay: If possible, arrange a short trial stay with a new pet sitter or boarding facility. This allows your pet to get comfortable with them and the arrangement.

  • Regular communication: Maintain open communication with your pet sitter or the boarding facility throughout your pet's stay. Regular updates, check-ins, and an occasional cute pic can provide reassurance.

  • Pet insurance coverage: Review your pet insurance policy to understand coverage for pet care services, including emergencies.

Boarding your pet or finding a pet sitter during the holidays

Holiday pet care arrangements can be more challenging due to increased demand. Secure your spot early to avoid stressful planning situations later, and make backup plans for anything unexpected, from snowstorms to delayed flights.

A good sit for a good stay

You know your pet more than anyone does. If they’re a homebody, older, or tend to be anxious, they may do well with a pet sitter. On the other hand, a highly social animal with tons of energy may benefit greatly from hanging out at a busy boarding facility for a few days.

The key to any of these arrangements is preparation and careful consideration. Do your due diligence, plan ahead, and provide your pet's caregiver with everything they'll need for a great experience.

Dylan M. Austin is Independence Pet Group’s highly caffeinated Sr. Content Writer, supporting Figo Pet Insurance, Pets Plus Us, and PetPartners. Based in Seattle, he's usually hanging out with his Chihuahua Terrier mix, Will, and tending to an increasingly excessive houseplant collection.

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