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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:
- The 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 the 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 daycare, 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.
If you can’t have someone care for your pet at home and she struggles with getting around on her own or has other medical issues, checks with your vet to see if they offer on-site boarding—even if it’s not something they advertise.
“If it really is a dog with mobility issues, some veterinary clinics will offer medical boarding for patients, whereas they don’t do normal boarding for healthy animals,” Dr. Mengel says. “I prefer it be someplace where somebody’s there overnight rather than leaving a dog overnight with no people there — same with boarding kennels.”
Not all facilities have staff that is trained to help assist dogs — especially large dogs — with standing or walking, but some medical boarding facilities have veterinary technicians who can help your dog with this.
Take Your Dog Along
It’s not always realistic to take your pet with you or to avoid travel, but that’s the tactic some owners take. Just be sure you’re keeping your dog’s health and safety at the front of your mind, because if your dog has numerous medical issues, taking your pooch someplace far from the vet who knows her might not be the smartest move.
“I have one client who just takes her elderly dog with her wherever she goes, so if she goes on vacation she takes the elderly dog because the dog gets stressed [otherwise],” Dr. Mengel says.
She says you can also talk with your own vet about whether there are any medications that would help to reduce your dog’s stress.
Plan Ahead for Emergencies
No matter who is caring for your senior pet, they should have the contact information for your regular vet as well as any veterinary specialists you see regularly. You may also want to have an emergency contact who knows what you want for your dog and can make a difficult decision if you can’t be reached — especially if you’re traveling overseas or someplace where it’s hard to get in touch with you.
“While it’s hard to discuss that, if it is really an older dog who already has pre-existing health conditions, it’s good if there are people who you trust who can be in the loop because, God forbid a decision needs to be made while you’re away, they know your wishes,” Dr. Mengel says. “You don’t want people to have to be frantically making phone calls” if your dog is suffering.
In the end, it all comes down to trusting your gut… and maybe also your vet and emergency contacts.
“It is very much an individual dog scenario, and that’s where it’s good if people are in tune to their dog and kind of use their instinct a little bit as to what would make the dog most comfortable,” Dr. Mengel says.
And, of course, if you have any doubt or questions, talk to your vet.