Any dog owner knows that leaving your best friend behind while you travel can be difficult — for both you and your dog. But when you’re trying to find the right place for an elderly dog, there are many additional factors to consider.
There are lots of potential challenges that can come with age: mobility problems, anxiety, loss of sight and hearing and other health problems. You’ll need to think carefully — and be realistic— about how he’s doing when making plans for him.
We talked with Dr. Grace Anne Mengel, who works in the primary care service at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital, about what traveling owners should think about when considering care for an older dog.
Boarding at Traditional Kennels
Senior dogs can stay in kennels, of course, but there are several things to contemplate before choosing to board your furry friend:
- Potential for stress: “As they get older they do get more stressed about being in a kennel environment, and then you do worry about things like bloat, which can be life-threatening,” Dr. Mengel says. Think about whether your dog has been stressed from being in new or different environments or even just being away from you.
Vaccine policy: You should inquire about the facility’s vaccine requirements, and then talk to your vet to make sure your dog is up to date on all needed vaccines. Some might be required by the kennel, like rabies, while others might not be, like the flu — and that means your dog has the potential to be exposed to something against which she’s not already vaccinated. Your vet can advise you as to whether you should consider a vaccine your dog hasn’t already had. “Similar to people, it’s the younger and older who are going be more susceptible to infection than the middle-aged in general,” although the risk is still there for any age dog, she says.
- Flooring: “Those arthritic dogs, if they’re laying around all the time, they’re going to get stiff and surface is a big deal,” Dr. Mengel says. She suggests asking whether the facility has “surfaces that are non-slip so that they don’t slide around on the floor when they’re trying to walk.”
Exercise needs: Ask about whether the kennel offers playgroups that are created based on age or temperament. Or, if your senior dog doesn’t play with other pups, see what other opportunities she’ll have for exercise. “An older dog may not want to play with all the young, bouncy dogs,” Dr. Mengel says. But she should still get a walk to stretch her legs or the chance to spend time outdoors.
- Comforts from home: You can also check to see whether the facility will allow you to bring your dog’s own bed so she has something familiar and comfortable with her. If not, you might ask about what kind of bedding or soft surface will be available, particularly for dogs who are arthritic.
If you’re trying a new facility, it’s a good idea to do a short practice run, maybe leaving your dog there for a day or half a day if they offer day care, so she can get used to the place and people while you’re nearby and available to come pick her up if needed, Dr. Mengel says.
Staying With Family or Friends
As your dog ages, you might think about asking a family member or friend to take care of her instead of bringing her to a boarding facility. “It’s really nice when you have other family members who the dog knows, because that can be really helpful when you travel, if the dog can either stay with them or they can stay with the dog,” Dr. Mengel says.
Of course, there’s no place like home. But if your pooch is familiar with your friend or family member’s home, and they’re OK with hosting her, that can be a good option, too, she says.
Hiring a Pet Sitter
You can hire someone to stay at your home 24/7 while you’re gone or set it up so the pet sitter comes in multiple times a day to feed your dog, give her attention and get her outside.
Depending on the dog, you might want to try this option out on a short-term basis first to see how it goes — maybe for one night while you’re not far away. Take some time to get your dog used to this person, if it’s someone new to her.
Many areas have pet-sitting services, and you might think about asking your vet if there’s someone they recommend.