How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 10

by Gajan Retnasaba on June 5, 2013

There are several steps that one can take to be a better pet owner. The initial considerations start with realizing that a 10-15 year commitment was just made to take care of the pet for its lifetime. This includes the animal’s healthcare, psychological, and nutritional needs. All of these things do cost money, but what the animal gives you in return is far greater!

Whether you pick out your new companion from a shelter, a breeder, friend, or just find it wandering, the basic principles for proper care are the same. It is ideal to properly pan for the animal you are getting, and this includes researching what species, breed, and sex, and behavior level are right for your lifestyle (and that of the foreseeable future). Properly assessing what animal will fit your lifestyle can greatly reduce complications later.

If you have the choice to pick out the animal, try to pick the one that looks the healthiest. It should have a nice clean hair coat free of debris or external parasites, clear and clean eyes and nose, and be of a good weight, with the appropriate amount of energy. An animal that is not in good condition may still make a great pet, but they may have life-long medical conditions, or it may just take more effort and money on your part to make them healthy again.

One of the first things to do when bringing your new pet home is to have it seen by a veterinarian to ensure that it is healthy, and to start its worming and vaccinations. It is also imperative to start socializing your new puppy or kitten as soon as you bring it home. Introduce the animal to household items, new people, other pets and animals, crates, and car rides in a positive manner. This can help alleviate behavioral problems later in life. Don’t forget that if there are multiple people in the household, everyone should agree on what the animal is allowed to do and how you are going to train them. Consistency is key. Puppy kindergarten is a great place to socialize your dog and start basic obedience training. Even arranging puppy play dates with a friend are a great idea, provided everyone is up to date on vaccines and properly wormed.

Basic obedience training will make your dog a well-mannered member of your household and society. Too many animals are turned over to the humane society or the animal shelter simply because their owners never took the time to train them what they did or did not want them to do. Again, remember that the animal you bring home today will hopefully be in your life for years to come. That cute little mastiff puppy you got today could easily outweigh you in two years’ time. It is best to learn to control them and ensure you are able to manage them from the time they are young and small, building good behavior from the start.

If you have a dog, they should have a safe place to stay during the time that you are away from home. Crate training is a great option to give the animal a place of its own and also ensures that the animal cannot get into anything while you are away. Initially, if the puppy is not being supervised closely, it is best that they are kept in their crate to prevent destructive behavior and soiling of the house. In the yard, the animal should be confined for its own safety as well. The best options are a secure chain-link fence or an electric fence that the animal has been properly trained on.

Ensure that you are feeding a nutritionally sound food for the correct life-stage of the animal. Treats are ok to give, just make sure not to give too many, and that they are appropriate for your dog/cat. Feeding measured amounts of food in meals at designated times helps speed the potty training process along faster, and also builds a reliable routine that your pet can follow. It also helps avoid obesity later in life that can cause serious health problems.

Whether you have a dog or a cat, exercise is important. For cats, this can be accomplished though cat trees or interactive toys. For dogs, many enjoy walks outdoors as well as interactive toys. If you as the owner are so inclined, competing in events such as agility, rally, and obedience are a great way to add exercise into the day for both you and your dog. An animal that is bored can quickly become destructive, so toys such as kongs, puzzle balls, chew toys, those that make noise, etc., can all contribute to the mental health of your pet.

Ideally before your pet reaches sexual maturity, it should be spayed or neutered if it is not going to be used for legitimate breeding purposes. The only circumstances that an animal should be purposefully bred is after going through proper health screenings for heritable and communicable diseases, as well as having a good disposition. Breeding dogs or cats takes a lot of effort and can be costly, and is best left to those that are willing to go through the proper channels. With that being said, it is in the general best interest of you and your dog or cat to be spayed or neutered. Spaying and neutering prevents unwanted pregnancies, behavioral problems such as wandering, marking or spraying, and aggression. It has also been proven to reduce the risk of cancer.

As your dog or cat matures, it is important that they have yearly physicals with the veterinarian to ensure they remain healthy. Vaccines can be boostered at this time. It is important that the pet be on proper heartworm and flea/tick prevention to protect them. Should the vet notice anything about your pet that needs further medical attention, it is best to find the potential problem early, as it makes treatment easier and often less expensive.

If you find that your pet is exceptionally lonely, or you are away from home for extended periods of time, consider getting another pet to keep the other company. Try to ensure that they have compatible personalities, and it is best if they can be introduced slowly and on neutral ground.  Or consider a pet-sitting service, or someone who can come to your house during the day to let the animal out, give it some attention, or take them for a walk.

One of the simplest pieces of advice to follow when getting a new pet is: If you have questions, just ask. Your veterinarian is a great resource! The veterinarian and clinic staff have been trained in animal care, behavior, and training. It is best to correct a problem before it starts or before it becomes a serious problem.

A healthy, parasite free pet has so many benefits to their human companions! Adding an animal to your life can be a truly amazing experience, and so much can be learned from our pets. Whether that pet came from the side of the road, or a top breeding kennel, the living animal deserves to be properly cared for. Their proper care can keep them in our lives for years to come, and give ample time to make great memories with their individual personalities and antics.

A. Vargo

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