In my previous article I wrote about how to take your dog with you when you go on vacation. But what if that scenario just isn’t feasible? Maybe Aunt Martha’s face swells up when Fido comes near, or your friend’s dog Crusher doesn’t play well with others. What do you do with your dog (or cat) while you’re away? Finding an answer to that question can be tricky, as it depends on the needs of your pet and the type of care you want. It’s really too bad our pets never become self-sufficient enough to not only take care of themselves, but water the plants and check the mail every day! Until that time comes, below are a few options for your furry friend the next time you leave home.

1. Boarding Kennel

In this day and age, there are a wide variety of dog or cat kennel options available. They can range from your run-of-the-mill, cages lining the walls kind of kennel, to various upgraded kennel options, including your pet having an entire room to themselves with a sofa and a TV playing Homeward Bound. (I’m not kidding, there really is a place offering that level of service!) Many kennels only board dogs, but some will do cats as well, separately of course. Benefits of putting your pet in a kennel include the fact there is regular supervision and your pet’s needs are constantly being assessed…Do they have enough food and water, do they need some extra snuggles, or do they need to wiz on some bushes to indicate Fido was here? If your dog likes other dogs, he may love going to “camp” and meeting new friends. Some facilities offer playtime with other amicable dogs or pack walks, where many dogs go on walks together. I once worked at a place where they had kitty ‘playtime’ as well, which consisted of a staff member petting and throwing toys for just one cat at a time (since cats generally don’t like meeting new friends as much as dogs do). Many boarding kennels even have webcams, so you can tune in and see exactly what your fur baby is up to at any time of the day or night.

There are, however, a few drawbacks to boarding your pet in a kennel. They can be costly, with price tags from $15 to $50 per day, not including any extras you want, like additional playtime or an upgraded room/cage. Another drawback is that many pets become stressed in a new, loud environment with lots of unfamiliar smells (like Fluffy in Condo #8 who keeps missing the litter box). It’s not uncommon for a pet to start having diarrhea or to stop eating when they are boarded because of the stress. If you do choose to board your pet, be sure to pack their own food from home so they’re less likely to have an upset tummy. Also send some familiar toys or blankets to help them feel more at ease. If there are no webcams, ask the facility to send you updates with pictures, so you can see how your pet is doing while you’re away.

2. Professional Pet Sitting Service

Pet sitting companies have become all the rage in the last decade. With people working longer hours away from home, the mid-day dog walk has become popular and people feel better knowing their dog has gotten some attention and exercise when they’re gone during the day. Most of these companies will do long-term pet sitting as well, coming in as many times a day as you like (and pay for) to visit and take care of your cat or dog. This is a particularly great option for cats, since they really just want to be in their usual environment with their own stuff. It can also give you peace of mind knowing your pet is not stuck in a cage, but sitting on his chair in the sun like he does every day. (Hopefully Fluffy won’t throw any crazy parties!) Your dog can take his usual walking route with familiar smells and friends around him, and still bark his head off at the mailman through the window each afternoon! Many services even offer to have someone stay in your home so you can have somebody with your pet at all times, even overnight. Finding someone you trust is key, so be sure to read online reviews or get a personal recommendation from someone you know.

This option can be even more costly than kennel boarding since the service is coming to you and doing things (the way you want them done) specifically for your pet. It all depends on how often the professional pet sitter comes to your home, as each visit generally ranges from $15-$25 (which can quickly add up). Overnight sitters can be $40-$75 per night, which for many people seems exorbitant. If you chose this option, be sure to leave emergency numbers for the caretaker. Also leave a signed letter with permission for them to have your pet treated at the vet and any information for local emergency contacts you trust to make urgent decisions should you be unavailable.

3. Local Teen or a Family Friend

For the low maintenance dog or cat, asking a teenage neighbor to come take care of your pet is the easy answer. In the past, I was able to leave my cat at home for a week with a neighbor just checking in on him a few times to make sure he had food, clean water and was generally OK (laying on the bed, watching birds out the window and licking his bum). We’ve used local teenagers for our dog before as well. They come and walk him three times a day, throw the ball around and give him food and water, and that’s all he needs. This is a great job for adolescents! (My 14-year-old son has made shockingly large amounts of money pet sitting for neighbors. We just put a no cost ad on the neighborhood website so people know he’s available.) Some people leave very detailed instructions and are willing to pay extra to make sure things are done exactly as they wish. True story, one dog we recently took care of required you to sing to him while he ate! You can also swap pet sitting duties with a neighbor or family friend…you watch their dog for a week and later they watch yours. They can take your dog to their house or leave him at home, wherever he is most comfortable. We’ve also kept several different pooches in our home at the same time and our dog loves it. It’s like a week-long play date and all the dogs end up so happy and exhausted. This is clearly the least expensive option since you can offer what you’re willing to pay. Or if you swap, it’s free!

4. Veterinary Hospital

I’m including this option for pets who require medical supervision and care. If you have a pet with a disease or condition that requires medication and/or special care, boarding them at the animal hospital is often necessary. Some examples include dogs who have severe arthritis and need a sling or support to walk, or diabetic pets that need to eat a certain amount before receiving their insulin by injection. My cat Gulliver was recently diagnosed with asthma and needs to get a pill or an inhaler on a regular basis. Have you ever tried to pill a cat? You can’t just wrap it in cheese like you do for a dog; it’s a whole different kind of battle (one that generally leaves me sweaty and scratched)! We left him at the animal hospital for a week last summer so he could get his medication regularly under the supervision of a professional.

Personal anecdote: I thought the animal hospital would be the best option for him, but after two days I got an email saying he wasn’t eating or going to the bathroom since we’d left. Poor thing was stressed out of his mind even though he had a “kitty condo” with multiple levels and a window looking outside. Needless to say, we left him at home the next time with a professional pet sitter who could treat him there. So the take home message here is that you need to be able to recognize what works and what doesn’t for your pet and make adjustments accordingly.

Whatever option you choose, the most important thing is that you trust the individual(s) caring for your pet and feel confident they’ll get the best standard of care. Different pets need different levels of care, so be willing to be flexible (often with your purse/wallet) so Fido and Fluffy are safe and comfortable. Oh, and know that when you finally come home, you likely won’t get any sleep that first night. They’ll be stuck to you like glue and smothering you with love, which I think is the best part of coming home!