Fancy Vets’ Offerings Go Far Beyond Health Care

Golden retriever puppy Orly stares attentively at the TV.
Does Orly need her own TV?

For pet owners, the healthcare options seem to be feast or famine, determined by where you live.

Missoula offers a large choice of vet clinics, including two emergency vets, and I have been fortunate to have excellent vet care, especially as I hear tales of long waits for even emergency services in other cities. But our clinics are still pretty basic. Modern imaging and other technology is available, yes, as is specialty care. But what I’ve seen, heard about, and now read about in other cities looks like fancier clinic surroundings than even Missoula’s human hospitals.

The Washington Post article linked above describes what are essentially luxury spas and resorts for pets which also offer state-of-the-art medical care.

Some of the changes described, such as the movement toward Fear Free veterinary care, are wonderful news for pets. The Fear Free initiative is a pet- (mainly dog- and cat-) focused movement to raise awareness of the ways that going to the vet or to training centers can be frightening or anxiety-inducing — and offering strategies and training for vet-clinic and training-center workers in ways to eliminate or alleviate stressors.

Other expansion areas fill needed gaps: Underwater treadmills and other rehab equipment is a boon to anyone whose dog has had a sports injury or other condition requiring, essentially, physical and occupational therapy. Cali’s therapeutic swimming was enormously helpful with her mobility and balance, for example.

The addition of five-star pet boarding resorts to many vet hospitals may well be a way to keep the dollars flowing in, and some of the offerings definitely seem more geared toward enticing the humans than pleasing the guests —flat-screen TVs in the doggy ‘bedrooms, for example — and some are simply over the top. Though I doubt that Orly would turn down a peanut-butter sundae at bedtime, I don’t think she needs that from her dog sitters.

If or when private doggy bedrooms with TVs get to Missoula, though, I am likely to give them a pass. For me, the bottom line is my dog’s comfort, and I prefer to have her stay home with a trustworthy sitter or spend time with someone she knows and loves. Either of those familiar options will be less stressful than even the most luxurious pet spa and resort.

How do you choose a boarding facility?

A white golden retriever, Jana, reclines on a sofa
Leave your dog in the lap of luxury when you travel

You’re going on a trip. Hooray!
Your dog isn’t. Now what?

First, consider your options.

You could have a sitter stay at your house. Advantages include less disruption of the dog’s routine — this was my go-to when Jana was elderly and anxious — and it’s convenient. No drop-off or pick-up. But you do need to prepare the house, maybe make up a guest bed, and be prepared for a relative stranger to live in your space. You have to really trust the person.

You could leave the dog at a sitter’s home. This is easy, and often less expensive than a boarding kennel. The dog is likely to get lots of attention (if you’ve chosen your sitter well). You also need to really trust the person.

Some sitters take only one or two dogs at a time, while others board multiple families’ dogs. Find out how many other dogs will be there, and decide whether that will work for your dog. Clarify what exercise and play opportunities the dog will have. Ask about sleeping arrangements, and ask how much time the dog(s) are left home without human supervision.

If these options don’t work for you, you might look at boarding kennels. These range from a few cages at the back of a vet hospital to luxurious pet ranches. The price and the amenities do not always correlate, so visit any place you are considering and ask a lot of questions. Basic, essential questions include:

  • How many dogs are boarded at a time, and how many staffers are on each shift?
  • Is someone on site overnight? If not, what time do they leave? What time do they come in? Does someone come in in the late evening to let the dogs out? Or do the dogs have access to a potty area? Your goal is to find out how many hours the dogs are in their kennels or crates. In some places, it’s 12+ hours!
  • Where do the dogs sleep?
  • What exercise and play opportunities are included? What costs extra?
  • How many hours a day is the dog kenneled / crated?
  • Where do the dogs sleep? Do they have blankets / beds or are they in bare runs?
  • Are they fed their own food or does the kennel feed everyone an in-house food (should be dog’s own diet)?
  • What vet do they call if there’s a problem (should be your own vet)?
  • How are dogs grouped for play? How are they supervised?
  • How do they handle special diets / medication and avoid mistakes?
  • Do they send you updates or photos?

Look at the kennels and play areas. Do they look secure? Kennels should have solid walls and, ideally, be separated. Long rows of mesh fences are a bad sign. Being kenneled right next to other dogs, with no way to “den” or get away from the other dogs’ gaze is very stressful for most dogs.

A kennel I used a long time ago had several small garden sheds set up for the dogs’ sleeping accommodations. Each had its own dog door to its own potty yard, available all night. The dogs were “tucked in” at night by a staffer, who stayed on site overnight. That’s a great setup.

Another kennel I used had regular wire-fenced kennels (not for my dog!) and a few separate rooms. With actual walls. Our dogs could share a room (with no non-family dogs), and have their own bedding. They were away from the chaos and stress of the kennel area. It was still stressful and not ideal, but it was an acceptable solution.

Finding the right place requires doing your homework. You might visit several kennels or interview a half-dozen sitters before choosing. Get recommendations from picky friends if you can. Once you’ve been to a kennel or sitter, pay close attention to your dog’s reaction. Is she dragging you out of there or happily interacting with the staffers while you settle your bill?

Oh, and have a great trip!