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8 Tips for Finding Pet Care Before You Go on Vacation

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Bringing the family pet on vacation may seem appealing, but it can inflate costs dramatically. Airlines and other transit providers charge up to $200 one way for traveling with animals, while fees at hotels that allow animals can hit $100 a day. Once at the destination, you may be limited in choice of attractions, forcing you to make decisions based on restrictions rather than interests. Moreover, travel can be nerve-wracking for pets, and there's always the risk of the animal getting sick or wandering away. In other words, make alternate plans for your pet.

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Although it's cheaper to travel without your pet, leaving a cat or dog home alone is not an option. The absence of human company can cause stress and anxiety for animals. They can't regulate their food or water intake or help themselves in an emergency. And they might destroy furniture or objects out of frustration or panic. If you prefer to keep your pet in a familiar environment (that would be your home), enlist a trustworthy person or team of people to care for the animal while you're away.

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Find an animal lover who boards pets in their home as a profession. Make arrangements through a reputable matching service, interview the sitter, and check online reviews. Dogvacay is among the largest networks of pet watchers, with more than 20,000 "sitters" throughout North America; rates generally run between $20 and $60 a night. Rover.com is another pet-sitting service and can be contracted independently or through Petco. The National Association of Professional Pet Sitters maintains a list of pet sitters, as well. Don't forget your own network; ask friends and family for referrals and be sure to check for reviews at sites like Yelp.

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An inexpensive option that lets your pet stay in his own comfort zone is to hire someone to move in for the duration or visit several times a day to manage feeding, watering, walking, and companionship. The person might be a professional pet sitter or a relative or friend. A career pet watcher will probably charge $10 to $30 to stop by two or three times a day and up to $40 to spend the night. Engaging someone you know personally may be cheaper; or, you could exchange a favor and not spend any money at all. And while you may feel more secure with a familiar person in your home, professionals are probably better in emergencies; some even hold pet-sitter insurance. And with a contractual agreement, you have guaranteed reliability and accountability.

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Kennels and catteries are staffed buildings for sheltering pets while owners are away. Kennels, many of which also house cats, are not cheap; figure about $40 a day for reputable care, although some start as low as $10 a day. BoardingKennels.org, which advises, helps build, and helps pet owners find kennels, cautions that the very cheapest shelters may have low standards. So do your research, both online and on-site. Look for cleanliness, temperature and noise control, safety measures, staffing levels, and in-house veterinarians. Also check on feeding and watering routines, separation between dogs and cats and between same-species pets of different sizes and temperaments. And ask what the fees cover. For help formulating questions, check online for sample questionnaires; some are dog-specific and others are designed for cats.

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Many veterinary offices and animal hospitals offer boarding as a regular service. Our research found that dog boarding generally runs from $20 to $30 a night and cat boarding costs from $15 to $20 a night. Boarding with vets means the animals' health and safety are closely monitored by medical professionals, making this a good option for pets with specific medical needs. On the other hand, some clinics keep pets caged most of the time, which may not be your preferred mode of care; ask about how the animals spend their days. Also note that particularly sensitive pets may be traumatized by proximity to sick animals, and there is some, albeit small, risk of infection from patients.

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Do you and your pet adore the grooming salon and staff? It's possible that the groomer offers reasonably priced boarding on the premises. Grooming professionals are often gregarious animal lovers, and if your pet is already comfortable in the store, and you're comfortable leaving him there for periods of time, this is an option to consider. The first day and night generally costs $15 to $30, with rates sometimes falling for additional nights and additional pets. Like kennels and catteries, the boarding facilities at grooming shops vary widely, so ask specific questions about daily routines and emergency procedures, medical services, safety, and staffing.

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If you already rely on a dog walker, here's a professional who may be up for some extra employment. The walker knows your dog's habits and might be willing to keep the pup at his or her home or add lots more time for feeding, watering, and love to the established routine. Offer to pay more than the usual rate -- about twice as much seems right, but it really depends on current arrangements and how much extra work you're requesting. If you don't have a walker, ask friends and acquaintances for recommendations or check bulletin boards at coffee shops and pet-care stores.

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Whichever vacation pet-care arrangement you choose, prepare the caregiver thoroughly. Provide your itinerary and contact information, and that of the regular vet or one closest to where the pet will be staying. Patricia McConnell, author of The Other End of the Leash, even suggests leaving a copy of your will with directives about what should happen to your animals in the event of a tragedy. Beyond that, it's essential to leave detailed notes about feeding instructions, daily and nightly habits, temperament, and, of course, special needs and health concerns. All in all, plan ahead in order to save money and avoid stress -- for you and your animal companion.