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Planning your vacation around your pet

Whether you vacation with or without your pet, make sure it stays safe and happy

Posted: June 28, 2008 2:41 a.m.
Updated: August 29, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Ginger, a Golden Retriever, watches as manager Alex Morin works in the kennel room at Calgrove Kennel.

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Cat Ford, 17, is going to Lake Havasu for the Fourth of July weekend, and she's taking her two pit bulls and dachshund with her.

"I (will) need a lot of bones - a lot of bones, a lot of food, a lot of water and a lot of toys," said Ford, who works at Valencia's Pet Depot. She explained that her dogs are too rambunctious to leave at a kennel or with a pet-sitter.

On the other hand, Eve Chellis, of Valencia, will leave her two dogs and bird, Ella, Coco and Blinky, at home with a pet-sitter while she and her family go to Utah next month.

Ford and Chellis aren't the only ones making pre-travel pet plans this summer. Sixty-three percent of households in the United States own pets, according to the 2007-2008 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association.

That means a lot of Americans will have an extra factor to consider when planning trips to Vegas or camping excursions by the lake. They will have to decide between leaving their pets at home and taking them along.

"Every case is a little bit different," said John Burkhartsmeyer, a veterinarian at Santa Clarita Animal Hosptial. "Some pets travel well. Other pets are probably better off at home with a pet-sitter coming in and watching them. Other dogs kind of seem to enjoy going to a boarding facility and actually enjoy the experience. Others hate it. So, I don't think there's one right thing for everybody."

Whatever the vacationers choose, animal specialists suggest planning ahead and making sure precautions are made to keep animals safe.

Burkhartsmeyer, Nabih Mansour, a veterinarian at Evergreen Animal Center in Newhall, and other pet-care professionals offer tips for each option.


Home sweet home
While traveling may be suitable for some pets, animal specialists say the safest and most convenient options are to leave animals at home with a pet-sitter, or place them in boarding facilities.

"(It's) great if somebody can stay at your house, but if not, I think that if they can come morning and evening, that's usually adequate, unless the pet has special medical needs," Burkhartsmeyer said.

The basics of proper home pet-care include giving the animals food, water, medications if needed and play time.

Gwen Casey, owner of Santa Clarita Pet Nanny, a pet-sitting business, said there are three basic things pet owners should look for in a good professional pet-sitter. The first is to make sure the pet-sitter is insured by a reputable pet-sitting organization such as Pet Sitters International or Pet Sitters Associates. The second is to check references. The third is to set up a consultation visit to test out compatibility between the animal and the caretaker.

Casey, who has been a professional pet-sitter for eight years and has run Pet Nanny for three, says there are various reasons some pet owners prefer to leave the animals at home.

"It's much less stressful on the pet, especially small dogs and cats," Casey said. "They get very, very stressed out being taken out of their environment and being caged, especially if the client's going to be gone for an extended length of time."

She also said some pet owners prefer home care over kennels because boarded animals can come back with "kennel cough" and can be subjected to other illnesses and dog fights.

Perri Shmikler, a Saugus resident who said she prefers to use Pet Nanny over kennels, said important things to tell a pet-sitter before leaving on vacation include "how much to feed, where everything is, if there are particular things your pets like or don't like... (and) if there's anything that gets them excited."

While some owners prefer pet-sitters, others are comfortable with boarding. Mike Lovingood, who has owned Calgrove Kennels in Newhall for 42 years, gets regular customers at his facility. With indoor air-conditioning and heating, outdoor mist-machines and outdoor play areas that look more like children's playgrounds, Lovingood said he tries to make the pets and their owners as comfortable as possible.

"For many of these people, these pets are like their children," Lovingood said. "We want to make them feel that their dog's in a good place."

However, Lovingood's specialized pet care does come with a higher price - $50 a night as compared to the $15 to $30 per night many other local kennels and boarding facilities in the area charge.

Lovingood said an important part of choosing a kennel is making a visit to check out the cleanliness and atmosphere before leaving a pet there. Burkhartsmeyer agrees.

"Ask some questions and look around," he said. "See if it's the kind of place (where) you think your pet will be happy. Because these places book up in the summertime, if you wait until the last minute, you're going to have pretty limited options."


Pets vacation, too
Another option for pet owners is to take the cat or dog along, even to a hotel. One of the top pet trends of 2007-2008, according to the National Pet Owners Survey, is pet-friendly hotels. Web sites such as PetsWelcome.com and BringYourPet.com list hotels and other lodgings across the country where animals can stay, either for free or prices as low as $10 per night.

Some hotels even offer special gifts and services for pets, such as check-in packages and dog masseuses on staff, according to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association's Web site. However, experts do suggest calling beforehand to double-check.

Doree Morse, of Valencia, said she does not take her Shih Tzu Dulce to hotels, but she does take the dog camping.

"We call ahead and make sure the dogs can stay at the campsite," Morse said.

She also takes precautions to ensure her dog is safe in its new surroundings. "We make sure that we have her leash and we have a cage, a big fenced-in area, so that when we're at the campsite, we can put her inside of that. We also make sure that she has the flea-guard on her."

According to Dr. Mansour at Evergreen Animal Center, taking animals on outdoor trips requires extra planning and safety measures.

"They have mostly to vaccinate the animals against some diseases ... some ticks can transmit lyme disease," he said.

The important vaccines for dogs that Mansour recommends before such trips are for distemper, parvovirus, rabies and bordetella (also known as kennel cough). He also recommends a rattlesnake vaccine for camping trips, and the leptospirosis vaccine for animals visiting ponds and lakes.

Leptospirosis is a disease that affects the kidneys, liver and other organs, and it can be transmitted through urine-contaminated water.

Parasites can also be a problem for cats.

"Cats are common for flea problems and can catch tapeworm from fleas," he said. He added that cats can also be vaccinated for rabies and other illnesses, such as feline leukemia virus.

Monsour's animal hospital and boarding facility, Evergreen Animal Center, offers various vaccines for cats and dogs ranging from $7 to $21 dollars. He said dog owners may also want to use medications such as Revolution, Frontline Plus and Heartgard, which prevent fleas, ticks and heartworm. They are available in stores and at veterinarian offices, usually ranging from $30-$85.

While Manour says it depends on the animal, his recommendation for the safest pet care is to board the animals with medical professionals, who he says are most qualified to respond to any health problems or emergencies the animals might have.

His hospital currently boards 20-30 cats and dogs. However, the facility is being remodeled to add what he calls a "pet hotel," which by August should house up to about 150 animals and should include luxuries such as a pet pool, a pet bakery and televisions, DVD players and web cams in the pets' rooms.


Transporting your pets
Something to keep in mind, according to Monsour, is the ride to and from the vacation spot.

"It's better to put the animal in the car like a half hour before the trip, and the client has to be with the animal before the trip, just to get (it) used to the car," Mansour said.

He suggested giving the animal food and water at least four hours before the trip so it does not become sick in the car. He also said owners can give nervous pets over-the-counter medication that calms them.

Don Pascone, owner of Valencia's Pet Depot on McBean Parkway, sells animal tranquilizer pills and an herbal spray called Quiet Moments at his store.

Pascone sells other pet travel products as well, particularly travel food and water containers, animal car seats, foldable metal fences and animal crates. He recommends that owners use crates, especially when the pets are used to them.

"People that have always crate-trained a dog, that crate becomes their (pet's) home, their safety net," he said. "I always advise to take that crate with them."

Pascone also sells dog harnesses that work much like dog seat belts. These range from $19 to $35.

"A lot of people don't think that they (will) have to slam on their brakes," he said. "What's going to happen with the little dog, the little 4-, 8-, 12-pound dog? It's going to go flying all over the car. (It) can break a neck."

And a few common sense tips? Both Burkhartsmeyer and Mansour say owners should always watch out for the heat - keep dogs' coats short during summer, keep pets in air-conditioned cars and don't let them walk on ground that is too hot.

"Almost every summer, I'll get somebody who'll let a pet out of the car out in the hot desert and burn all the pads of their feet on the asphalt," Burkhartsmeyer said. "(The owners) just kind of need to use a little bit of common sense. If it's 110 degrees outside, that asphalt might not burn your feet through your shoes, but it sure will burn a pet's feet. So, you need to find a shady spot to let them out or wait until it cools off a little bit."

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