Tips on Choosing a Kennel or Boarding Facility


While it’s true that more people are taking their pets on vacation, this option isn’t always realistic.  Boarding facilities may be especially busy this year, so the first step is to research your preferred choice and reserve space in advance as Thanksgiving and even Christmas are too far off.

How do you decide on a facility? Obviously, you may know from your own experience. If not, start by reading reviews and/or asking friends who are as discerning as you about your four-legged family member.

Visit the facility and ask questions. And use your nose. Is the facility stinky with feces and urine not cleaned up – that’s a red flag for certain. And are you witnessing dogs having fun when interacting with one another, or is their body language demonstrating anxiety? That’s another red flag.

If there isn’t outdoor access for each dog by choice, are dogs taken outside for walks at least once (preferably twice) daily?

Also, try the place out for a practice run, leaving your dog for a one-nighter. It’s sometimes hard to discern, but is your dog tired from play or is your dog mentally exhausted from an overwhelmingly stressful experience? Being tired when returning home isn’t always a good sign.

Today’s boarding facilities typically allow dogs play time, but not all dogs want to play with strangers. Also, geriatric dogs may not only not want to play, but can be hurt by exuberant younger dogs.

Is the kennel you’re considering a member of the International Pet Boarding & Pet Services Association (IBPSA)? While there are certainly many top-notch facilities who aren’t members (and some who are members where you should probably not take your dog), membership to this organization and abiding by their standards is a plus.

Disinfectants and Fire Protection: Safety First

The dog boarding facility should use a hospital grade disinfectant to kill surface bacteria and viruses. Many facilities have a UV Air Sanitizer installed in their heating/cooling system to help control infectious disease transmission. However, mandating some vaccines is an even better idea.

While some magnificent facilities have no cameras, cameras do allow pet parents to watch dogs in real time. Of course, the downside is that you may spend more time watching the dog than bopping into the ocean on vacation.

Fire protection is important as each year there are several kennel fires in which fatalities occur. Obviously, dogs can’t dial 9-1-1. Illinois passed a law in 2019 mandating kennels have at least one of the following: an alarm system ringing directly to first responders, a sprinkler system, or a staff member on premises 24/7. Hopefully, additional states will enact similar legislation.

A dog tag isn’t enough – all dogs at kennels should be microchipped, and the pet parents’ contact information must be up to date with the chip provider.

While dogs should have an adequate chance to exercise and playtime, they should also not be playing all day.

When dropping off your pup, of course leave your dog’s usual food and any medications with specific instructions, as well as your veterinarian’s contact information and a copy of your dog’s vaccine history. Also, leave a worn t-shirt or another item of clothing with your scent.

Vaccines, Parasite Control

An IBPSA certification for Infectious Disease means the facility has taken courses and continues education regarding infectious disease, though there is no one universal standard. Here’s a round-up of what will be suggested or mandated vaccines:

Rabies: Dogs should all have rabies tags, and this vaccination is required by law for all dogs (and typically cats as well).

Canine infectious respiratory disease complex (CIRDC), often referred to as “kennel cough” or “canine cough,” is a highly contagious complex that is often caused by a wide range of pathogens. CIRDC can be difficult to diagnose. At least 11 different bacteria and viruses have been linked as causes of CIRDC. And there is no single ideal diagnostic test to detect all pathogens involved in CIRDC. However, there are vaccines, and most kennel facilities require protection.

Canine Influenza Virus or dog flu: CIRDC doesn’t kill dogs, and while albeit rare, dog flu can be fatal. Dog flu is exceedingly contagious, once inside a facility it can spread rapidly regardless of best efforts. There are currently only two known strains of dog flu in the U.S. (H3N2 and H3N8). Nobivac has a vaccine for each strain, but the best bet may be one vaccine (called bivalent) which covers both strains. If vaccinated and exposed to dog flu, signs of illness become less severe (if they exist at all) and death is exceedingly unlikely. Mandating flu vaccines isn’t only best protection for the dogs being boarded, but also for the facility.

Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza and Parvovirus (DHPP). Commonly called the distemper shot, this combination vaccine actually protects against the four diseases in its full name. This vaccine is typically a requirement for any dog boarded.

Leptospirosis: This an a bacterial infection which is spread in the urine of an infected dog (or potentially a mouse, rat or another critter “visiting” a kennel). If an infected dog urinates in a puddle, or anywhere indoors (has an accident) the disease can be spread. It just takes an unvaccinated dog to walk through that puddle or accident and groom, or drink directly from the puddle, for the disease can be transmitted. Leptospirosis is a zoonotic disease, meaning it can be transferred from animals to humans.  This could be particularly concerning for families with small children who put their hands in their mouth often after coming into contact with the family dog. Lepto may cause severe illness or even death – all avoidable with a vaccine.

Protection against heartworm (transmitted by mosquitoes), fleas, and ticks is highly suggested. The most effective protection against fleas and ticks are veterinary suggested products; your veterinarian knows best about your pet’s lifestyle and the disease risks in your area. Where Lyme disease is endemic – if there is an outdoor space for dogs – Nobivac Lyme may be recommended, as it protects dogs from Lyme disease by triggering borreliacidal antibodies that work to kill Lyme disease organisms—in the tick and in the dog.

 Do all of your research ahead of time and your dog might just have as good of a time as you do while you’re on vacation.