Pet Boarding & Daycare

The Holistic Kennel

The Holistic Kennel

By Dr. Lisa Aumiller

“My friend and I are opening a “natural care” kennel for pets. We are very excited about the concept and wanted to get your advice on the idea.  We saw you speak at the Pet Boarding and Daycare Expo in Hershey and really enjoyed your perspective. Thanks for your input!” –Sally S.

Dear Sally,

The idea of a “holistic kennel” is fabulous. I commend you for taking a brave step and trying something totally different. For the readers, the term holistic means that there is an understanding that parts of the whole are interconnected. Medically, we use the word to mean characterized by the treatment of the whole pet, taking into account mental, dietary and social factors, rather than just the symptoms of a disease. Many people use the term holistic to mean “natural” which isn’t exactly what it means. For the sake of the article, I am going to assume you also want a natural component to your kennel.

The idea to build a kennel plan thinking of the pet as a whole is a very good idea. It is easy to build a kennel plan focusing on a money making business plan. It is much harder to build a kennel plan focusing on the complete care of the pet and in the pet’s best interest.

I do believe this concept will be very lucrative. There is a subset of the population who want their pets treated in a holistic manner. I currently work with a few holistic kennels so I will share some of the top 10 things I think should be considered while you build your business plan.

10. Define what holistic means for your kennel and make it very clear so that people cannot misinterpret how you are using the word. Make sure your mission statement is direct and advertise clearly so that you don’t upset “natural clients” who are interpreting the term as they see it. I think this is an important and easy step.

9. A thorough entrance exam is a must. A meet and greet interview, in my mind, makes a lot of sense, as well as spending an appropriate amount of time learning the individual needs of the pet. But on daily intakes, make sure one of your top staff members greets the clients and their pets and gives them a head to tail exam, looking for any red flags. A good exam will catch signs of an upper respiratory, ear infections, parasites, skin problems, just to name a few. This not only protects you but it also will show the pet parent that you are truly invested in their pet’s overall well–being.

8. Exercise, Diet, Sleep, Love. Make sure you are giving appropriate attention to each of these categories, as I feel they are vital to a holistic plan. These are important needs for a human’s overall health and equally important to a pet. Define your plan down to the subtle points. For example, pets have a natural light and dark cycle which is necessary to have healthy sleep patterns. You want to plan for this. Do not keep the lights on 24/7 and cause disruption to this pattern which will induce stress. If you have overnight kennel workers blasting a radio while they clean, this is also disruptive to the pets’ sleep. I would build a plan considering the importance of these four essentials and how you will incorporate them into the pet’s stay.

7. Vaccinations. Most clients who hear the term holistic are going to assume it means minimal vaccinations. You will want to have a policy in place about accepting titers in lieu of vaccinations for DHPP and rabies. Also, you may accept medical exemptions to vaccines (this is offered to pets with chronic health problems in some states). Dr. Jean Dodd, a prominent veterinary immunologist, recommends titers every 3 years. I personally would still have the owner do them every year since they are going into a boarding situation. I have seen titers change year to year so I believe an annual proof of titer would be good for your kennel.

You will need to decide if you will require the kennel cough or flu vaccines. If you are choosing not to, then make sure you have a good health check on your way in, as already suggested. Also make sure you have several zones for your kennel’s air flow so that, if there is an outbreak of any kind, you can quickly contain it.

6. Stress free. Consider other options for a stress–free stay. These can include noise therapy, aroma therapy, massage, cage set up to minimize visualization of other pets, etc. How will you reduce the pet’s stress in your holistic kennel?

5. Holistic care options. You may want to speak with your kennel veterinarian. I think it would be very cool to offer natural remedies for certain concerns. Eg; anxiety, stomach upset, aches and pains, etc. There are some really good safe treatments that may help pets stay more comfortable.

4. An on–call veterinarian. Make sure you have a vet who is on call or that can visit your guests. I think many clients will feel secure knowing that you have a vet who can come on site and check any concerns.

3. Parasite free environment. Please make biannual fecals mandatory. You can even collect them and have them tested at the owner’s expense. Many kennels do not require this and will get parasite outbreaks like giardia, hookworms, whipworms, etc. Let clients know that you care about their pets’ well–being by protecting their environment.

2. Real grass. I know artificial turf is neat and little pebbles are easy to clean, but the majority of pets pee and poop in real grass. I see a lot of pets who do not evacuate normally at kennels who do not provide grass as an option to be walked on or to have free roam on. Having an area of real grass is a necessity.

1. Every pet is different. I cannot stress that enough. If you are going to have a holistic kennel, I believe you need to make this your mantra and figure out how to cater to the individual. Make it as easy as you can for you and your staff to build a stay–care plan for each pet. What is the pet’s routine at home? Try to mimic that to avoid additional stress to the pet. Does the pet enjoy socialization with other dogs, quiet leash walks, or one–on–one play time with a care taker? Make an a la carte menu of items for the owner to choose from to make this the perfect stay for their pet’s personality and needs.

I hope this helps you and I wish you the best of luck. Please keep us posted on your progress.

Dr. Lisa Aumiller is a veterinarian that has been serving pets in NJ and PA for over 15 years. She is the founder and CEO of HousePaws Mobile Veterinary Service, the largest mobile veterinary service in North America.

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  1. Sue Quinn says:

    Where do I begin? I run a boarding kennel in Ontario, Canada and, although I agree with some of your recommendations above, some of them, in my opinion, are not beneficial to the dog staying at a facility of this kind. There is also so much extra work you are asking of the employees that should not be their responsibility but the responsibility of the client and their vet
    -i .e. taking samples of their stools??
    -a head-to-tail examine of each dog that enters the facility on a daily basis??
    -changing their food regimen when boarding is stressful enough for them?? – an a la carte menu for the clients to choose from??).
    -putting them in a closed in room where they can’t see or smell the dog next to them but are expected to listen to the strange noises coming from the wall next door???

    The kennel I run does temperament tests on all dogs to ensure they get along well with other dogs before they are allowed to partake in our services – (we offer training programs for dogs that do not pass our testing). All dogs of all ages and sizes are socialized together daily – they only sleep and eat in their kennels, otherwise they are together all day to socialize, have nap time, go out to our pee gravel area for their bathroom breaks as it is so much easier to clean up after, romp on the grass area together chasing balls and laying in the cool shade, a huge daycare area that is surrounded by plexi-glass to enhance the openness, with rubber flooring so they aren’t slipping and sliding as they chase and play either with each other or balls. Their kennels are also plexiglass with the wood frame a couple of inches off the floor so that they can see each other and smell each other. This makes them less stressed because they realize these are dogs they just spent the day playing with (instead of some strange noises through solid walls). We don’t use chain-link because they get their noses and tongues on chain-link which makes it impossible to clean and spreads diseases more easily. We can see the dirt on the plexiglass and clean it accordingly. We only use 98% organically derived cleaners for the “accidents” and for cleaning the windows which lessens the chances of any stomach upset or the passing of infections.

    Don’t change their food as this will surely give them stomach issues. Feed them whatever they get at home (whether that be kibble, canned, a mixture of the two, homemade, raw, etc.) on the schedule they are used to at home. Also have items such as their own beds, their own bowls, favourite toys and maybe even a piece of clothing with the client’s scent on it to put in their kennel so that it does feel more like home to them. Because they are playing most of the day with the other dogs, they sleep soundly throughout the night. All dogs are checked randomly for skin issues, lumps, sensitive paws, mats, eye issues, etc. When you get a regular clientele, you will notice yourself when something seems “off” or different (also if you find something in their feces that shouldn’t be there, etc.) so that you can advise the client accordingly.

    We also offer Japanese Reiki for dogs, Canine Massage Therapy, Tellington Touch, Behaviour Consultations, etc. for our clients.

    With respect to vaccinations, this is always a tough call. You must discuss whatever is safe and practical and vet-recommended for each specific dog, but you must think of the pack as a “whole” so that all dogs in the facility are protected as a whole without a weak link in the chain that could prove devastating. “Holistic” is alot of different alternatives but the safety of all dogs is a necessity and must come first overall – not basing it strictly as a money-making machine.

    Good luck with your venture. Best wishes for a prosperous 2018.

  2. susan squires says:

    Hello, Are there any holistic kennels in Maryland? Sincerely , Susan

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