1. Live-in sitter
The scoop: Have a friend or family member provide care for your pets in your home.
Good for: All animals.
Pros: This is the recommended choice of The Humane Society of Canada because it reduces stress for your pet. Bonus: Friends or family can do double duty and collect your mail, water the plants and just generally keep an eye on your home.
Cons: It's a big time commitment to ask of someone.
Price: Varies. Arrange to swap services so no money exchanges hands or negotiate the fee up front before you leave so there are no hard feelings.
Ask yourself: Are your pets familiar with this person? (Ideally, they are.) How do your animals react around her? Is the sitter able to take your pet to the vet if needed? Do you trust the person to be in your home?
Advice: Have the sitter visit your home before you go, especially if your animal isn't familiar with her. Go over feeding and care instructions before you leave and put them in writing as a reference, along with your vet's number and where you can be reached.
2. Live-out arrangements
The scoop: Fido stays at your mother's or girlfriend's home while you're away.
Good for: Most small caged animals, except birds, dogs or cats as these animals get stressed-out easily.
Pros: Your pet gets one-on-one attention from a familiar person.
Cons: There is the potential for your animal to do damage in someone else's home, so unless the sitter's house is pet-proofed -- and she is prepared to put up with a few "accidents" -- you may want to consider another option.
Price: Arrange to swap services or negotiate the rate up front.
Ask yourself: Is the sitter familiar with your pet? Is she physically able to care for it? (Leaving your rambunctious golden retriever with your elderly mother isn't a great idea.) Does the sitter know what's required to care for the animal and is she willing to meet his needs? Can she take the animal to the vet if needed? Is she trustworthy and reliable? (You don't want your flighty sister heading off to the beach for the day while poor old Rover sweats it out in her apartment.)
Advice: Arrange for an overnight stay before you go to see how your pet -- and the sitter -- cope.
Would kitty be better in a kennel? Find out on page 2.
3. Pet-sitting services
The scoop: Professional pet-sitting services offer a variety of options. Some come and stay overnight with your animal; others will simply visit two to three times a day.
Good for: All pets, especially older animals who might not take well to kennel boarding or going to someone else's house.
Pros: Your pet stays in his own environment, reducing stress. Some services also collect mail, water plants and rotate blinds to give your home a lived-in look while you're away.
Cons: Pet sitting is an unregulated business, so there are no guidelines that sitters have to follow. You're asking a stranger to come into your home and be alone with your pet and belongings.
Price: $10 to $38 per visit. Visits range from 30 minutes to an hour. Some sitters charge extra for administering medications. Expect to pay $40 to $75 for an overnight stay.Ask yourself: Is the sitter bonded and insured? What's the emergency plan in case the sitter isn't able to make it to your home? Does the sitter have a set of your keys? Does the sitter have an animal first-aid kit? What do your instincts tell you about the sitter? Does the sitter seem genuinely interested in animals?
Advice: Get references. Before you go on vacation, arrange for a test visit to see how your pet and the individual interact. It's best to try a second visit when you aren't there to make sure your pooch doesn't play strange or get aggressive. Get a phone number where the pet sitter can be reached. If the sitter tells you she will come visit your dog at the same time every day, you can call home at that time, talk to her and see how your pet is doing. Bonus: The All Canadian Pet Services Network (acpsn.com) is an organization of pet sitters and dog walkers. If you're looking for a sitter this might be a good place to start. You can search by province or complete a form that will be forwarded to all member pet sitters in your area.
The scoop: Most commonly used for dogs, kennels house your pet in a cage or pen and take them out for exercise.
Good for: Most cats and dogs; not suited for animals who are easily prone to stress and older pets.
Pros: In a word, convenience. You're not imposing on friends or family.
Cons: You are putting your pet in an unfamiliar environment with unknown people and animals. Again, this is an unregulated business, so there are no standards for owners to adhere to. Most will do a good job with your pets, but some might not. Do your research. Price is another drawback. Upscale kennels can cost as much as $50 a day if you have more than one dog.
Price: $12 to $32 a day for one dog; $5 to $16 per day for one cat. There's often an extra charge for giving medications.
Ask yourself: How often will your dog get outdoor exercise? Does the kennel use your lead or provide its own? Does the kennel have an emergency plan to evacuate the animals in case of fire? What happens to your dog if he gets sick or injured? What's the policy for dealing with aggressive dogs? What vaccinations are required? (Reputable kennels will insist your dog be vaccinated against rabies, distemper and kennel cough.) How are the kennels cleaned between visits? Do the staff seem caring? Where will your animal be spending most of his time? How do the other animals react when you are checking out the place? Are dog beds placed up off the floor so water and waste material won't get on the animal? Can your dog jump over or dig under the fences? (Fenced areas for dogs should be at least 2.4 metres high.)
Advice: Visit several kennels well in advance of your departure. Good ones book up quickly. Go with your gut. You should be able to tell pretty quickly whether or not a particular kennel is right for your pet.
The scoop: Boarding your pet with your vet. Used mostly for cats, pets stay in caged kennels at an animal clinic.
Good for: Cats, birds, small dogs, and older animals who need medication or who have medical conditions.
Pros: Kitty is in a good environment if she gets sick or needs medication.
Cons: Not all vets offer boarding. Staff at busy veterinarian practices won't have a lot of time to spend with your pet. It's an unfamiliar place for your cat, which could increase stress. Animal clinics tend to be noisy as well, so if your pet doesn't cope well with stress, it may be best to find another option.
Price: $8 to $29 per cage. If you have two cats who get along, they can usually share one cage.
Ask yourself: How often will my pet be fed and her cage changed? Is there an extra charge for administering her medication?
Advice: Ask to see the area where your pet will be staying and to meet staff members who will care for your animal.