To take the CE quiz, click here.
This quiz is open until December 2024.
Louise S. Dunn
Louise S. Dunn, a former practice manager, is a speaker, writer and founder of Snowgoose Veterinary Management Consulting, which provides technical assistance to practice teams to meet their strategic plans. She attended Hartford College for Women, Trinity College and AAHA’s Veterinary Management Institute at Purdue University. She is Fear Free certified.Read Articles Written by Louise S. Dunn
Boarding pets at your veterinary practice. Do you roll your eyes at the idea? Do you give the service a thumbs-up? Do you have a gut reaction reminiscent of a bad experience? Opinions about boarding pets at a veterinary clinic are strong. Team members either love it or hate it. Some practices offer to board, and others won’t touch it with a 1-foot pole (let alone a 10-footer).
So, what’s the deal with boarding? Why such strong reactions? To decide whether taking on overnight guests (and all the obligatory responsibilities) is right for your practice, you need to consider the pros and cons expressed by your colleagues. Then, you must dig a little deeper to find the pearls of wisdom that illuminate when the service works and when it doesn’t. In other words, learn from the successes and failures of others and apply that knowledge to your decision.
What’s Your “Why?”
First, let’s start with why you would consider offering boarding services at your veterinary practice. It’s all about the pets, right? You want to ensure your patients are cared for properly when their humans are on vacation, right? OK, let’s be honest; that isn’t the only reason.
There is also the idea that boarding pets can produce revenue without the input of the medical team. (After all, the medical team is maxed out, so why not let other team members grow some revenue?) A boarded pet might need a veterinary service or product. Or perhaps, taking on boarders can turn storage space or unused runs and cages into cash-producing real estate, especially if your revenue per square foot can use help.
Without a doubt, boarding pets requires space and management. Therefore, your “why” is key to moving forward and implementing the service.
Knowing the “why” will guide you in assessing what is needed to provide boarding and what you expect in return. For example, if your “why” is based on caring for pets with special medical needs, your setup, marketing, fees and revenue goals will be different than those of someone whose “why” is to fill a basement area collecting dust and junk. You don’t want to go through all the expense of setting up boarding and then be shocked by the numbers at the end of the year when you examine your revenue, costs and other key performance indicators.
Knowing your “why” also lets you glean vital tips and hints from your veterinary colleagues. You have heard all the stories, complaints and bragging, but do any correlate with your actions? For example, a colleague who boards only patients with medical needs has different pearls of wisdom than a colleague who advertises boarding to the general pet-owning population. Having a clear sense of why you are offering boarding enables you to move forward with how you will differentiate yourself from the competition and what services to include in your “Stay here!” packages.
Differentiating your boarding facility from the competition will require you to know the following:
- Who’s also in the boarding business.
- The local demographics.
- What your clients and other residents look for when caring for the family pet.
The takeaway? Do your market research. According to a recent IBISWorld Industry Research Report, pet boarding and grooming is a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States. Additionally, the American Pet Products Association stated that while 68% of dog owners take their pets to a veterinarian for a routine physical, only 4% work with their veterinarian to accommodate day care needs. So, do your homework before entering the boarding services industry.
Once you know your market, begin the strategic process of developing your niche and learning about the services, equipment and oversight that come with boarding. According to three colleagues who operate boarding or grooming services, the necessities are kennels and cages, a washer, a dryer, a dishwasher, a bathing space, and an outdoor area for walking dogs.
Here’s what they added:
- Emily Roberson, DVM, the owner of Animal Hospital of East Davie in Advance, North Carolina, said don’t underestimate the need for a top-notch bathing and grooming area. That’s because pets sometimes have intestinal issues (diarrhea) while boarding. (Her team members know that all too well.)
- Kathryn Primm, DVM, CVPM, of Applebrook Animal Hospital in Ooltewah, Tennessee, said the pets that her practice boards benefit from Fear Free elements such as music, aromatherapy and natural light.
- Denise Roche, DVM, of Deerfield Veterinary Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, which provides spa services but no overnight boarding, recommends installing cameras so clients can view their pets. And since many pet owners are tech-savvy millennials, keep current on this group’s trending service demands.
Dr. Roche also noted that boarding a pet at the same place where it receives medical care offers peace of mind to clients. This is especially true when a dog or cat has special medical needs and with puppies and kittens, which are often turned away from nonveterinary boarding businesses due to incomplete vaccine series, she said.
Dr. Primm attributed some of her practice’s new clients to the fact that she offers boarding.
Behind the Scenes
Suffice it to say, being aware of the good, bad, ugly and uplifting are all part of the business of boarding, and it helps to approach the service with a firm grasp of the reality mixed with the optimism of helping pets.
According to Dr. Roberson, two of the biggest challenges of providing pet boarding are staffing and the management of client demands. She aims to have one team member for every 12 boarded pets, which allows her North Carolina hospital to maintain a schedule of four or more times a day for outdoor pet exercise and playtime. Adequate staffing also is needed to satisfy special requests concerning diets, food preparation and feeding routines.
An unwelcome headache, Dr. Roche said, involves the extra logistics of scheduling team members for weekend shifts while trying to balance the coverage during the week.
Another issue, Dr. Primm said, occurs when team members aren’t familiar with a boarded pet. Working at a Fear Free Certified Practice, Dr. Primm’s team knows how to reduce patients’ fear, anxiety and stress, but the effort becomes difficult when the staff doesn’t know a pet and its stress triggers.
Regarding the bottom line, don’t assume that your boarding services will be a wild success just because your hospital is doing well overall. Some practice owners admit that boarding isn’t a profit center for them. Others advise offering baths, grooming and day care to help cover the overhead.
You Can Be Selective
One final consideration is to forgo general boarding services and instead lodge only special-needs pets. Dr. Roche recommends a hospitalization service and charging clients enough to pay
for veterinary technicians and assistants to oversee their pets’ stay. This approach meets the needs of clients who want peace of mind while boarding a pet and satisfies the goal of the veterinary team to provide the best care possible to patients.
Boarding doesn’t have to be all or nothing. You can serve only older animals, pets with medical needs or your clients’ pets. Pet owners see added value in knowing a veterinarian is accessible. Boarding is a way to get clients in the door so your team can provide veterinary services and products. Excellent client service adds to your financial bottom line.
The boarding debate is personal. It depends on the circumstances — from your clinic’s location and business goals to your team culture and clientele. Don’t take lightly the decision to offer boarding. Go back to why you want to provide it (or why you got into it in the first place) and formulate a plan that considers the negatives and positives. Consider whether services beyond veterinary medicine diffuse your resources and risk destabilizing your profitability. Think about whether expanding into supplementary services is a natural and beneficial progression of your business.
Either way, strive to provide excellent client service, ensure your practice’s success and keep the pets’ best interests in mind.
PRICING THE SERVICE
AAHA Press’s most recent Veterinary Fee Reference recommends conducting a competitive analysis of what other providers charge for pet boarding. “Higher than average prices can be acceptable to pet owners,” according to the guide, “but your practice will need to offer more value and be able to clearly demonstrate that value to the pet owners who call to inquire about your services.”
The Veterinary Fee Reference found these average daily prices among surveyed practices:
- Cat: $21.07
- Dog less than 30 pounds in a small cage: $23.91
- Dog less than 30 pounds in a small run: $26.13
- Dog 30 to 60 pounds in a medium run: $27.29
- Dog 61 to 90 pounds in a large run: $29.18
- Dog more than 90 pounds in a large run: $30.89
This article has been submitted for RACE approval of 0.5 hours of continuing education credit and will be opened for enrollment when approval is granted. To receive credit, complete the quiz here. VetFolio registration is required and free. Tests are valid for two years from the date of approval.
Providing care to veterinary patients can extend beyond medical care to include boarding or day care services. The key is to make sure it is the perfect fit for your hospital.
1. Boarding and day care are natural extensions of veterinary care.
2. A reason to offer boarding or daycare services is/are:
- Satisfy client demands
- Offer services to an underserved group of pets
- Create another revenue stream
- All are potential reasons
3. Colleagues who offered and later discontinued boarding services would not be able to provide advice, tips or hints to anyone wishing to start or improve their hospital’s boarding services.
4. To assess interest in boarding or day care at your hospital, all the following are helpful except:
- Client survey
- Team survey
- Chart audit for specific services related to boarding
- All of the above can be used to assess interest in boarding or daycare services
5. Programs like Fear Free and Cat Friendly are applicable only to the medical services at a veterinary hospital and are not useful for boarding services.
6. Common problem(s) with running pet boarding at a veterinary hospital is/are:
- Client demand
- Neither. It is all about your state regulations.
- Both staffing and client demands are common problems.