Over the last one hundred or so years there has been a shift in the general paradigm of how animals are viewed as part of the modern American family with an even more drastic shift seen in the last twenty years. Animals have gone from being an integral part of a working family’s daily life to now being owned simply to have a companion and friend. They have gone from being outside animals that get table scraps and the occasional pat on the head for a job well done to indoor couch cushions that are fed gourmet food and sleep on the master’s bed at night. Or for those with an equine persuasion, from beasts of burden to over conditioned lawn ornaments. With pets now being viewed as part of the immediate family for many people there comes a change in what it means to be a better pet parent. The way we as a society should now approach medical care, nutrition, and overall health of our furry companions has changed and we as responsible pet owners should change our standards of care with it.
Fifty years ago the idea of monthly heartworm preventative was not even a remote consideration. The notion of yearly check-ups for pets was rarely considered. Vaccinations were not even an option for many of the diseases we see today. As medical technology and our understanding of the diseases and aging processes in our animal companions have progressed, so has the definition of animal health and wellness. The standard of care today is very different from what it was even twenty years ago. Most veterinarians are recommending annual to bi-annual wellness check-ups with all the core vaccines to ensure our furry companions are protected against diseases such as rabies, distemper, and parvovirus. For senior pets, annual blood work to assess how the aging process is affecting the body’s organ systems is become more commonplace. With the trickle down of many human diagnostic techniques such as MRI and CT scanning to veterinary medicine and the availability of veterinary specific drugs to treat diseases such as cancer and heart failure we are seeing a much greater average lifespan of our companions. With these advances comes the ability to be a better pet owner by ensuring your pet’s health is well maintained. The responsibilities of a pet owner have also changed with these medical advances. In order to be a better pet owner we should ensure we follow the standards of care that have been established by organizations such as the American Veterinary Medical Association. Services such as yearly check-ups, core vaccinations, heartworm testing, and prompt medical treatment for diseases or infirmity should now be considered essential to being a better pet owner in today’s world.
As American portion sizes have expanded so has our perception of how much food our pets should eat. Also to be considered is that as our furry companions have become integral parts of our families we have started to anthropomorphize their longing looks as we eat our dinners at the table and slip them scraps to assuage our assumed guilt. Together these actions tend to provide our pets with many more calories than they actually need. Obesity is one of the fastest growing diseases in companion animals. It is also worth noting that it is becoming a larger issue on the equine side as well. Evidence of this can be seen in the increase in weight control and weight loss diets now available. How do we as pet owners address this growing concern? Consultation with a veterinarian can provide a calorie estimate and a nutrition plan to bring Fluffy or Fido back to a healthy weight. Cutting table scraps or substituting for healthier alternatives such as a low calorie dog treat can go a long way as well. Nutrition plays a key role in our pet’s health and longevity and it is a very easily fixable issue. Being a better pet owner in this case means ignoring the pleading looks from our pets and understanding that as much as they want us to believe that they haven’t eaten in three months they really are getting enough to eat and that slice of cheese they so desperately crave can actually do more harm than good in the long run.
Heartworm preventative and flea control are often times considered optional or are simply forgotten on an all too frequent basis by many pet owners. Non-core services such as Bordetella or Feline Leukemia Virus vaccines are routinely declined at yearly exams. Elective surgeries such as dental cleanings are not done even when recommended by a veterinarian. While these are rarely ignored or rejected due to malice, it is important to understand the increasing standard of care dictates that we as pet owners should strive for the best health prevention and treatment for our pets. Owning a pet means taking the responsibility for his or her well-being on your shoulders and ensuring they are provided with all the necessary core and recommended veterinary care. This responsibility also implies that we have a duty to our pets not to have certain non-medically necessary procedures done that are for a purely cosmetic reason. Surgical procedures such as ear cropping, tail docking, and declawing are routinely performed in the United States and have little to no medical necessity. These surgeries are often done to meet a nebulous and vain concept of a breed standard or for simple convenience to the owner’s furniture without exploring other options. Many of these procedures are in fact even banned in certain countries around the world and go against the recommendations of the AVMA with the exception of declawing as a last resort. Cosmetic procedures such as these force our pets to undergo unnecessary anesthetic and surgical risks, are quite often painful, and greatly increase the risk of infections and complications for procedures that take a long time to heal, such as ear cropping. To be a better pet owner means going the extra mile for our furry companions by providing them with the best health care possible and to not subject them to cosmetic and unnecessary surgical procedures that provide no medical benefit.
In my time as a veterinary technician and now as a student I have heard a similar complaint many different times and in many different and creative ways: the cost of veterinary care. I actually agree with clients in that I think it is unfortunate at the high and rising costs of medical care for our pets. However, I always try to convey the notion that the costs are not nearly as high as you will see in human medicine, that the prices usually reflect the expensive nature of drugs and equipment needed to provide the best quality of medicine, and that veterinarians do not do this job for the money. We enter this career because we genuinely care about animals and want to care for them. This isn’t about money for most of us and we would gladly treat the sick for little or no money if someone would pay our burgeoning education debt overhead costs. The truth of the matter is that the onus of financial responsibility also falls on the owners. As a pet owner we sign up to provide medical care and to provide for our furry friends. We have the responsibility to ensure we are financially able to care for a pet before making the decision to own one. In my eyes owning a pet is no different from having a child in that once you make the choice to have one you must ensure you are able to guarantee its well-being and health throughout its life. Proper planning will allow us as pet parents to provide the best medical, nutritional, and overall health care possible and ensure that we are the best owners we can be. Besides, looking down at that furry face that loves you with no reservations, how can we not want to be the best for them?