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Any dog owner knows that leaving your best friend behind while you travel can be difficult — for both you and your dog. But when you’re trying to find the right place for an elderly dog, there are many additional factors to consider.
There are lots of potential challenges that can come with age: mobility problems, anxiety, loss of sight and hearing and other health problems. You’ll need to think carefully — and be realistic— about how he’s doing when making plans for him.
We talked with Dr. Grace Anne Mengel, who works in the primary care service at the University of Pennsylvania’s Ryan Veterinary Hospital, about what traveling owners should think about when considering care for an older dog.
Senior dogs can stay in kennels, of course, but there are several things to contemplate before choosing to board your furry friend:
If you’re trying a new facility, it’s a good idea to do a short practice run, maybe leaving your dog there for a day or half a day if they offer day care, so she can get used to the place and people while you’re nearby and available to come pick her up if needed, Dr. Mengel says.
As your dog ages, you might think about asking a family member or friend to take care of her instead of bringing her to a boarding facility. “It’s really nice when you have other family members who the dog knows, because that can be really helpful when you travel, if the dog can either stay with them or they can stay with the dog,” Dr. Mengel says.
Of course, there’s no place like home. But if your pooch is familiar with your friend or family member’s home, and they’re OK with hosting her, that can be a good option, too, she says.
You can hire someone to stay at your home 24/7 while you’re gone or set it up so the pet sitter comes in multiple times a day to feed your dog, give her attention and get her outside.
Depending on the dog, you might want to try this option out on a short-term basis first to see how it goes — maybe for one night while you’re not far away. Take some time to get your dog used to this person, if it’s someone new to her.
Many areas have pet-sitting services, and you might think about asking your vet if there’s someone they recommend.
If you can’t have someone care for your pet at home and she struggles with getting around on her own or has other medical issues, check with your vet to see if they offer on-site boarding—even if it's not something they advertise.
“If it really is a dog with mobility issues, some veterinary clinics will offer medical boarding for patients, whereas they don’t do normal boarding for healthy animals,” Dr. Mengel says. “I prefer it be someplace where somebody’s there overnight rather than leaving a dog overnight with no people there — same with boarding kennels.”
Not all facilities have staff that are trained to help assist dogs — especially large dogs — with standing or walking, but some medical boarding facilities have veterinary technicians who can help your dog with this.
It’s not always realistic to take your pet with you or to avoid travel, but that’s the tactic some owners take. Just be sure you're keeping your dog's health and safety at the front of your mind, because if your dog has numerous medical issues, taking your pooch someplace far from the vet who knows her might not be the smartest move.
“I have one client who just takes her elderly dog with her wherever she goes, so if she goes on vacation she takes the elderly dog, because the dog gets stressed [otherwise],” Dr. Mengel says.
She says you can also talk with your own vet about whether there are any medications that would help to reduce your dog’s stress.
No matter who is caring for your senior pet, they should have the contact information for your regular vet as well as any veterinary specialists you see regularly. You may also want to have an emergency contact who knows what you want for your dog and can make a difficult decision if you can’t be reached — especially if you’re traveling overseas or someplace where it’s hard to get in touch with you.
“While it’s hard to discuss that, if it is really an older dog who already has preexisting health conditions, it’s good if there are people who you trust who can be in the loop because, God forbid a decision needs to be made while you’re away, they know your wishes,” Dr. Mengel says. “You don’t want people to have to be frantically making phone calls” if your dog is suffering.
In the end, it all comes down to trusting your gut... and maybe also your vet and emergency contacts.
“It is very much an individual dog scenario, and that’s where it’s good if people are in tune to their dog and kind of use their instinct a little bit as to what would make the dog most comfortable,” Dr. Mengel says.
And, of course, if you have any doubt or questions, talk to your vet.