Pet Watching: How to Spend Wisely on Pet Care Over the Holidays

Pet Watching: How to Spend Wisely on Pet Care Over the Holidays
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If old movies and our grandparents’ memories are to be believed, everyone would be snuggled up at home with their loved ones during the December holidays with chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But that was then and this is 2019.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has indicated that Americans travel on long-distance trips during the Christmas/New Year holiday period about 23 percent more than they do at any other time during the year. The American Automobile Association put the number at 112.5 million travelers in 2018. It begs asking. Do these folks have pets?

It’s a safe guess that many of them do, because about 85 million families share their homes with a furry, feathered or finned friend, according to the Insurance Information Institute, which quotes a 2019-2020 National Pet Owners Survey performed by the American Pet Products Association. More than 63 million of them had dogs and almost 43 million had cats. Yes, that adds up to more than 85 million, but many families have both.

Pet watch costs can be a significant add-on to holiday budgets, but they don’t necessarily have to break the bank.

A Kennel or Cattery

Kennels can accept just dogs, or both dogs and cats, while catteries accept only cats. In either case, Fido and Fluffy will get the basics here: a cage with bedding, meals, water, and a clean litter box. This will probably run from $15 to $20 per night for cats, and $20 to $45 a night for dogs, but some offer deals for multiple pets or extended stays.

Care.com puts it at $20 to $25 a night, but a 75-pound golden retriever will probably cost more.

Some kennels and catteries offer “luxury” accommodations, but they’ll cost at least $40 a night for cats, depending on geographic location, and they'll start at about $50 a night for dogs. Fluffy will have access to her own “condominium” – these facilities are sometimes called cat hotels – complete with windows, televisions and aquariums. Fido will get extra daily walks, spa treatments, televisions, gourmet food and 24-hour supervision.

Pets are going to need a reservation at this time of year, just as human members of the family do. And they must be up-to-date on all shots and vaccines, so a visit to the veterinarian should be added to the cost.

Pet-Sitting Services

Other options exist if kitty and doggy hotels and resorts just won’t squeeze into the financial picture. Pet-sitting services abound on the internet, and most veterinarians are glad to offer a reference or two as well. Care.com even lets people run background checks on anyone they’re thinking of entrusting with their pets and their homes.

Some sitters will visit pets a few times a day, while others might commit to staying overnight. Of course, you get what you pay for, but the price might include taking in mail and newspapers and watering plants as well. Cat sitters will generally charge anywhere from $15 to $40 a day, while dog sitters typically cost from $20 to $50 a day. Some sitters will charge hourly rates in the neighborhood of $10.

The cost isn’t really much different from that of an average kennel or cattery, but Fluffy and Fido will have the luxury of being in familiar surroundings, not cramped in an unfamiliar cage.

Family and Social Networks

Humans might also just want to check the contact lists in their phones for possibilities. A neighbor or relative might be willing to help out, if not for free than for nominal cost or in exchange for a little bartering.

Students who are home for the holidays might love to pick up a little extra cash for sleeping on someone’s sofa and walking and feeding their dog, especially if a fully-stocked refrigerator and unlimited internet are part of the deal.

Hit the Road Together

The feasibility of this option can depend a lot on the pet or pets in question, as well as the means of transportation. The U.S. Department of Transportation indicates that 91 percent of holiday travel is by personal vehicle, and this can make taking Fido and Fluffy along a lot more doable. Fluffy might not be a big fan of open-road travel, however, thanks to those sometimes-finicky feline genes.

Track down pet-friendly hotels or motels. Marriott offers more than 1,500 pet-friendly accommodations in the U.S., and Best Western boasts 1,600 if you include Canada and the Caribbean. But this option isn’t necessarily less expensive than a kennel or cattery, at least for families who intend to spend their entire holiday time away in accommodations other than the homes of family or friends.

Best Western charges a maximum of $30 a day, but this drops to $150 a week for travelers who are staying longer. Best Western usually charges a refundable deposit, too…just in case Fido decides to tear up the carpet or Fluffy thinks the upholstery works just fine in lieu of a scratching post. According to the Travel Channel, Motel 6 puts up pets for free.

Airline fares for non-human family members can run from $100 to $200 a head, and rules apply as to whether they can travel as carry-ons or if they must be banished to the cargo area. And both crates and carry-ons must usually be airline-approved.

Proof of current vaccinations is required by airlines, and it might even be required even when driving in order to get across state lines. The exact rules can vary by state.

No, it’s not simply a matter of packing up and taking off for the holidays for families with pets. Provisions must be made for Fido and Fluffy, too – and these provisions almost always cost money. Fortunately, holiday travelers have several options.