(CNN) -- Worried about how Fido will fare while you're away? Do some research to minimize the stress of leaving your pet in someone else's care.
Start well in advance of your trip to find quality care for your pet.Many travelers look to friends and neighbors for pet care, and although this arrangement may be working, experts caution against relying too heavily on them.
Sometimes friends get wrapped up in other things and may not routinely visit your precious companion.
"If they are just looking in on the pet on a fly-by-night basis, they may not necessarily remember all the time," said Kelly Connolly, an issues specialist at the Humane Society of the United States.
"It just tends to work a little better if you can go into it and look at pet-sitting as more of a business contract than just a favor."
Finding a sitter
Ask friends, neighbors and veterinarians for recommendations on professional animal caregivers well in advance of your trip, Connolly recommends.
If you can't find a pet sitter that way, you might check with your local humane society or a dog trainer. Connolly also suggests using online pet-sitter locater tools provided by Pet Sitters International or the National Association of Professional Pet Sitters.
"Pet owners should look for pet sitters that can provide references and take the time to check those references and make sure that this is someone that they want to provide a key to their home for," said John Long, a spokesman for Pet Sitters International.
Long also encourages owners to look for pet sitters that are bonded and insured. It's a good idea to ask about that in an initial phone interview.
Also, make sure the sitter is comfortable with administering medication or tending to other special needs your animals might have, and tell the sitter about all the pets he or she would be expected to look after.
"A lot of people will have other animals, and you need to know people's experience and comfort level with that, because not everyone will be comfortable feeding or harvesting slugs from the garden for the turtle," said Dr. Dianne Dunning, associate professor at the North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine, whose family counts a frog, a turtle and a gecko among its menagerie.
Once you've contacted a pet sitter who seems to match up with your pet's particular needs, invite that person to your home for an interview.
This gives the potential sitter a chance to interact with your pet, and it gives you the opportunity to gauge how comfortable you and your animal feel with that person.
The home visit also gives pet owners a chance to familiarize the sitter with the house, the location of supplies, and areas the pet frequents or is not allowed to roam. Find out how often the sitter would visit, whether he or she would stay in your home and what backup plans are in place in the event that the sitter is not able to care for your pet.
Many pet owners prefer to leave their pets at home -- rather than taking them to boarding facilities -- to avoid travel trauma, the stress of a new environment and exposure to illnesses carried by other animals.
"It can be more stressful than keeping your pet in your own house, mostly because the pet will be staying in an unfamiliar environment, and he will be proximal to other pets," Connolly said.
But home care may not always be the best option.
"If your pet has some sort of medical problem or if they're older or more frail, you may want to consider boarding them at a veterinarian's office or a kennel just because they're more likely to have 24-hour care and have medical care available to them," Connolly said.
Some kennels now offer special exercise and weight-loss programs, and socialization can be stimulating for some animals, Dr. Dunning said.If you board your pet, check the kennel's insurance, licensing and bonding, Dunning suggests. Choosing a good kennel is very similar to choosing a good pet sitter: Get references, visit in person and make sure you're comfortable with the staff and the facility.
By Marnie Hunter
Happy Pet Travels!