- Matching your pet with the right type of care saves everyone a lot of stress and money.
- You have a much wider range of options for pet care than you might realize.
- Setting up a line item in your budget for pet care can help you proactively plan for these costs.
As much as we'd like, we're not always able to be there for our pets 24/7.
If you work away from home during the day, for example, you'll probably need to hire someone to give your dog a mid-day walk. And if you plan occasional trips that aren’t pet-friendly, it's good to know that your dog or cat will have a nice place to stay.
The world of pet care is vast and full of options at all different price points. There are informal arrangements, such as friends who trade walking or pet-sitting services. There are also fancy options like pet resorts that can set you back a thousand dollars or more for even a short trip. Here's how to settle on an option that works for both your pet and your wallet, too.
Inside this article
What are your pet's needs?
If your dog simply needs to be walked, this might be simple enough (and you can scroll down to learn more about dog-walking services). For longer-term pet care, such as boarding, your furry friend’s needs might be more complicated. And all too often, experts say, pet parents gravitate to certain options without looking at the whole picture.
"Some people think that their dog needs to be in groups of dogs while they're away," says Leigh Siegfried, owner and training director at Opportunity Barks, based in Portland, Ore. "Like, 'he needs friends.' It's a priority, perhaps, for young dogs and very social dogs, but not really a necessary part of care."
Instead, Siegfried recommends focusing on your pet's needs first.
"A dog that's behaviorally challenging is going to do best in its own home with a highly skilled caregiver, or in a facility with highly skilled caregivers," says Siegfried.
While many boarding facilities also have room for cats, most kitties get stressed out in a strange environment with lots of noise and barking around them. Every pet is different, so take some time to think about where your pet would be most comfortable in your absence.
Considering your pet's needs first is a nice thing to do, but there’s a financial twist as well. If your pet is placed in the wrong environment, for example, they could get stressed and develop gastrointestinal problems that require expensive veterinary care or develop bad behavioral problems that require pricey intervention from specialty trainers.
Options for pet care services
When it comes to choosing pet care, there are lots of different options to choose from—but also a lot of variability in quality. Unlike human daycare, for example, there aren't any real regulations governing things like the animal-to-staff ratio at pet care facilities.
"If it's one person caring for like 10 to 15 dogs, a very capable skilled person can totally do that. And if the environment is not structured, it could be a little chaotic," says Siegfried. In other words: It's on you to understand the quality of service that a pet care provider offers.
It's a good idea to read as many reviews as you can, if available. Look at the photos closely: Is the environment safe, and do the pets look happy and well-cared for? If possible, always try to do a meet-and-greet first with your pet and the carer—in the environment they'll share while you're gone—to make sure it's a good fit.
Should you choose someone who's licensed, bonded and insured?
It's common to see more professional pet care businesses advertising that they're licensed, bonded and insured. That might lead you to wonder if these certifications are totally necessary. Does that mean you shouldn't go with the neighbor kid down the street?
Not necessarily, says Siegfried, but it is important to consider what it means and your own comfort level: "That says to me that there's a level of professionalism where they recognize that there are things that could potentially go wrong, and they're willing to take some responsibility for that."
If you worry about your pack of Siberian huskies destroying the carer's home, for example, it could be worth seeking it out. But if you're not too concerned about things going wrong with your barn cat while you're gone, on the other hand, it might not be as necessary.
However, Siegfried recommended working with an insured provider in certain situations.
"If you're dealing with a large business with a number of walkers,” she says “all of them should be bonded because you're potentially talking about multiple care providers coming into your home."
What are my pet care options?
Gone are the days when most people simply drop their pet off at whatever boarding kennel is closest. Thanks to people's love of pets and the expansion of the internet, here is a wider menu of options available to you for either boarding or for dog walking services at different price levels.
Your local community
Lots of people find informal pet sitters and walkers through the grapevine. Try looking on local community pages like Nextdoor, Facebook or Craigslist. Ask your local friends and neighbors if they know anyone or if they'd be willing to help out themselves.
Cost: Free or relatively inexpensive
Apps and websites
Most people are familiar with side gig websites like Rover, Care.com, and Wag! Since it's a relatively easy and popular way for people to earn extra cash without any formal training, you'll need to be very clear about the service you're getting. If your dog does best without any other dogs around, you don't want to put them in a home with a sitter who's juggling caring for multiple other dogs and children, for example.
Cost: Relatively inexpensive to moderately expensive
If you have a home or apartment that you're comfortable sharing while you're gone, TrustedHousesitters can be a good option. It matches pet owners that need in-home pet care while they're away with pet lovers who are traveling and looking for free accommodations. Pet sitters must undergo a background check and apply to your listing, allowing you to interview and choose the right pet sitter for you while you're gone.
Cost: $129 - $259 per year
Professional pet care businesses and facilities
Just like with pet insurance, there are a wide range of options and service types available. You can find professionals who will come and stay in your home with your pets while you're gone, or even bring them into their own homes. Facilities might range from kennels that keep dogs separated at all times in chain-link runs, to group boarding situations where dogs get to play together during the day and sleep in crates at night.
Cost: Moderately inexpensive to most expensive
Paying for pet care services
Once you've dialed down the care option that's right for your pet, it's time to factor it into your budget. This is the easy part.
Figure out how often you'll need pet care services in a given year. If it's a dog walker, for example, you might need services five days a week, for 52 weeks per year. That's 260 walks. If you only travel occasionally, on the other hand, you might only need to plan for a week's worth of boarding care.
Multiply the number of times you'll need pet care in a year by the estimated price per service. For example, if each dog walk costs $10 and you pay for 260 dog walks per year, that's $2,600 you'll need to account for in your budget each year. If boarding costs $50 per night and you estimate you'll be gone for one week per year, that's $350 you'll need to plan for.
Figuring out a plan for pet care ensures that when the time comes, your pet will be taken care of well and in a way that fits your budget.