If you have a geriatric or senior dog, boarding when you travel may require special considerations. Dogs are creatures of habit and routine, and do best when they can maintain a consistent daily pattern. Seniors may be more set in their ways, and any disruption to their schedule may cause additional stress to an aging body. Following is a discussion of some of the issues and concerns that may arise when boarding your geriatric pet, along with some tips as to how to help alleviate them.

At what age, exactly, is a dog considered a “senior” or “geriatric” pet? The actual age varies depending on breed (with larger breeds aging more quickly than smaller dogs), but generally any dog over the age of 7 – 9 years will be noted as a senior pet. Older dogs will typically require more veterinary care and may have more pre-existing medical conditions than younger pets, including heart conditions, diabetes, kidney and liver disfunction, low thyroid and arthritis and joint problems. Some conditions may be underlying and not previously diagnosed…and the stress due to change in environment and schedule during a boarding stay may cause the body to react. Only then does the pet begin to show symptoms.

If you do need to make arrangements for your senior pet when you travel, you should first make an assessment as to his overall health and temperament. It may be a good idea to take your senior dog for a veterinary health check just prior to boarding to make sure that all is well (or at least stable) with his health. If your pet is relatively healthy, happy and active, if he has boarded previously and if he has an outgoing personality and relatively laid-back reaction to new things, then boarding may pose no problems. If, on the other hand, he has a number of medical conditions, gets very stressed in new situations or is not an experienced boarder, you may want to consider alternatives such as a home pet-sitting service. If you do need to board him outside the home, your veterinarian may be a better choice for pets with serious or uncontrolled medical conditions, as they will be better able to spot impending crises quickly.

If, however, your pet is relatively mobile, happy and healthy, you may choose to board him at a local pet resort. In choosing this option, it is always wise to tour the facility and ask a lot of questions as far as care of senior citizens. Do they offer plenty of opportunity for your senior to get out and walk around to keep his joints mobile? Are they able to offer orthopedic or other soft bedding for arthritic limbs (or can you bring this from home)? Can they work with you to provide any special dietary needs? Are they able to administer any medications according to directions and how do they monitor that they are being given correctly? Will they take their time and assist pets with hearing and/or vision deficits? Do they have quiet areas for lodging away from the general commotion? What steps will they take to make your dog more comfortable if he appears overly anxious or stressed? What are their procedures in case there is a medical emergency?

It is critically important to your pet’s well-being that you advise pet care staff of any health problems or concerns. Be honest, as pet resorts are there to provide the best care possible for your senior pet, but may not be able to do so if they are not aware of pre-existing conditions. Remember, they don’t know your dog as well as you do, and subtle differences in behavior or habits that may be indicative of a developing problem may go unnoticed since they are not as versed in reading your dog. Be sure that you leave a phone number where you can be contacted in case of an emergency, and preferably a number for someone local as well who will be able to make health-care decisions for your pet if you can’t be reached. Many pet care facilities will ask you to complete a veterinary emergency form, so that they are familiar with your wishes if there is an emergency and they are unable to contact you. Also make sure that you authorize your veterinarian to provide information to pet care staff if the facility has questions…vets respect patient privacy in a similar fashion to people doctors, and unless you have given your approval, they may not be able to provide needed information to pet care staff if they have questions.

There are a variety of alternatives in caring for your geriatric pets while you travel. Make an informed decision based on his overall health, temperament and needs, and it can be a relatively stress-free experience for you and your senior dog.

Joy Lee is co-owner and general manager of Rover Oaks Pet Resort in Katy, Texas. She is also passionate about animal rescue, and has authored a book, “Rover’s Rescues…True Stories of Shelter Dogs and Second Chances”, for which a portion of each book sale will be donated to Citizens for Animal Protection in Houston. Visit her website, http://www.joyleebooks.com/, for more information.

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