Vacation coming up? Pros and cons of various options for pet care

When leaving town for vacation, pet owners have numbers of options for what to do with dogs, cats and other critters — and a D.C.-based consumer group has perspective on options to consider.

“It’s almost as if there’s drawbacks to every option in terms of pet care while you travel,” said Kevin Brasler, executive editor at, which recently examined the various options.

Vetted house sitters can be expensive, and some people may be reluctant to invite friends or family to stay in their homes or to burden them with the responsibility.

Pet sitters who come visit have pros and cons.

“Pet sitters will come by two, three times a day. But otherwise your pet is alone,” Brasler said.

“The advantage of a pet sitter, especially if you have more than one dog or pet, is that they charge usually by visit whereas kennels charge per animal. And so if you have two or three pets, you often can spend a lot less by hiring a sitter than sticking your pets in a kennel,” he said.

What about kennels for boarding?

“Kennel stays can be really expensive now,” Brasler said. “Prices we found among area kennels range from about $200 to more than $500. And that’s just for the basic boarding. Once you add in extras — and most kennels have extras to give medication or for extra playtime or sometimes even to feed the dog its own food, you can run up another $10 to $20 a day on extras.”

Whether you’re considering a pet sitter or a kennel, Brasler recommends doing a trial run to test out the situation.

“Some dogs especially just don’t do well at kennels; they just can’t adjust,” Brasler said. “Have the pet sitter come by a few times, see how they behave, see if they stay in communication with you” about your pet.

Be sure to ask about emergencies.

“Whether it’s a kennel or a pet sitter, it’s important to ask, ‘What will they do if there’s a medical emergency?”

For example, will they take the pet to the vet? Will the vet come to the kennel? How do they arrange for care?

Brasler said many kennels have video cameras set up with live streams people can monitor online. To monitor comings and goings of pet sitters at home, he recommends having something such as a Ring video doorbell.

Common complaints about pet sitters is them visiting fewer times per day than agreed upon, and not having arrangements for care in the event they become sick or unavailable. A lot of pet sitters are one-person operations.

“Ask, ‘What will their backup be?’ It’s best to work with someone who can arrange for some kind of backup if they can’t do the work themselves,” Brasler said.

A common complaint people have about kennels is being surprised to learn they’re not allowed to retrieve pets on Sundays.

“They come back …  and they discover they’re not allowed to come pick up their pets until Monday and so they have to pay for a few extra nights of boarding,” Brasler said. “So, ask in advance: ‘What are your pickup and drop-off arrangements?’ A lot of kennels will deliver and pick up pets that may be really convenient because some of these kennels are located in really far-flung places.”

Through a special arrangement with Washington Consumers’ Checkbook, readers can see Checkbook ratings for 55 area kennels and evaluations on myriad types of businesses for a limited time.

Consumers’ Checkbook/Center for the Study of Services is an independent nonprofit consumer organization founded in 1974. It has for more than 40 years been an innovator in providing information to help consumers make smarter choices.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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