To Board, or Not to Board?

May 1, 2013

At my first job out of veterinary school, our hospital had a large boarding kennel where upwards of 100 dogs could stay with us at any given moment. The associate veterinarians at the practice were responsible for addressing any medical concerns about the boarders that were brought to us by the kennel staff. Stress colitis, or diarrhea, is a common complaint in boarded dogs, as is weight loss due to a reduced appetite. These are relatively minor concerns that can be easily addressed.

Frequently we were called to evaluate geriatric dogs, as these boarding tenants seemed to fare poorly while away from home. Since many senior dogs suffer from arthritis or other mobility issues, staying confined in a small cage for days or weeks on end can make it make it more difficult for them to stand and walk without assistance. Even though we would do our best to ensure our older canine friends had plenty of soft bedding, and several walks a day outside, a long boarding stay could still be debilitating. Since anxiety behaviors tend to worsen in our older dogs, geriatric dogs would often obsessively pant or vocalize during their stay, due to stress. Constant panting can lead to dehydration, so we would ensure these dogs had large quantities of fresh water. Too often, these dogs would lose weight just from stress alone.

I will never forget the 14 year old yellow lab who boarded with us, and within 24 hours of his arrival, was completely unable to walk. He refused to eat, and became rapidly dehydrated. When, alarmed, I called his owners to recommend hospitalization for intravenous fluids and other supportive care, his family informed me that “they thought he might die” at our kennel since he “was old, and sick at home.” None of this had been conveyed to us when the dog was dropped off for boarding. And, in fact, this poor, gentle dog did not survive his boarding stay.

The fact is, for those of us who own dogs, most of us will have to board them at some point. Fortunately, there are many wonderful, clean, friendly kennels out there today; there are a variety of boarding options available. The great majority of cats and dogs do very well while boarded. Many kennels offer playtimes, special treats and toys, and even swimming; boarding is like summer camp for some pets! However, extremely geriatric and debilitated pets simply do not do well while boarded, and I strongly recommend that my clients find in-home pet sitters to care for their elderly pets. We have many references for pet sitters who can keep Fluffy and Fido comfortable at home, administer medications if needed, and prevent the stress that can result from boarding.