How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 26

by Gayla on June 14, 2013

Veterinarians are typically seen as the “gentle doctor,” providing much needed care for society’s companion animals. Although clinical medicine is an important aspect of the veterinary field, it is also important for veterinarians to educate pet owners on proper care of animals. Using advice provided by veterinarians, you will be able to take better care of your animal and become a better pet owner.

For animals, veterinary treatment has a direct link to overall well-being. A large number of pet owners consider their pets as part of the family and treat them as their children. To take the best care of your “furry child” possible, it is important to bring them in for regular check ups to monitor for any changes in their health. In fact, a key aspect in being a better pet owner is bringing your pet in to see the vet at least once or twice a year. Unfortunately, due to the costs of veterinary care, many pet owners only bring their pets into the vet when they are obviously sick. The downside to this approach is that many health related issues are less obvious and require a veterinarians expertise to diagnose. To solve this problem, many veterinary clinics now provide “wellness plans” for patients, which help to maintain regular check ups and to offset the high costs of animal care. Wellness plans include all aspects of clinical care that are required to keep your pet in optimum health, including vaccines, dental cleaning, blood work, radiographs, yearly heartworm tests, de-worming, and urinalysis, among other things. Another option is pet insurance. By paying a monthly fee, you can ensure that your pet has the medical coverage they need, and it can be especially helpful in emergency situations. As a pet owner, you should strongly consider signing your pet up for a wellness plan or acquiring pet insurance!

To be a good pet owner, you should be aware of the vaccines your pet requires to stay healthy and keep them up to date on these vaccines. Pets require vaccines not only as puppies and kittens, but also need vaccines as adults. Vaccines play a critical role in maintaining your pet’s health. When your pet is given a vaccine, the immune system responds by mounting a protective response, which allows their body’s specialized immune cells and molecules to protect from disease and infection caused by specific viruses, bacteria, and other parasites and microorganisms. By giving vaccines to your pets, you help prepare their body’s immune system against invasion by a specific organism. When your pet is subsequently exposed to that particular organism, the immune system is already prepared and will either prevent infection or reduce the severity of disease that the organism would normally cause. Most states require by law that the rabies vaccine be given every 1-3 years to both dogs and cats as a preventative health measure. The rabies vaccine is also important from a public health standpoint: it plays a key role in rabies control in the domestic animal population and helps prevent the spread of rabies to humans. The bordetella vaccine is important to give to dogs every six months to one year, especially if you are planning on boarding your pet. Other vaccines that dogs should be given include the distemper virus vaccine, the leptospirosis vaccine, the parvovirus vaccine (especially in young dogs), and the lyme vaccine in certain areas of the country. Cats also require vaccines, especially if your cat spends any time outdoors. Vaccines that you should consider administering to your cat include: the feline panleukopenia virus vaccine, the feline calicivirus/herpesvirus vaccine, and the feline leukemia virus vaccine. Although less commonly given vaccines, as an owner you can consult with your veterinarian about giving your cat the chlamydia, feline infectious peritonitis, and ringworm vaccines. If you have any questions about the vaccines your pet needs, be sure to ask your veterinarian!

As a pet owner, it is also important to keep track of your animal’s health at home. Owners should note any discharge (nasal, vaginal, rectal, etc) or any unusual odors. Check your pets ears and mouth for any “gunk” build up. One of the most common diseases in pets today is dental disease. With an overabundance of tartar and calculus build up, your pet may develop cavities and have oral pain with difficulty chewing, which will require a dental cleaning and possible tooth extraction. At home, you can brush your pet’s teeth daily or provide dental chews to help prevent this disease! Another common disease is otitis externa, or in simpler terms, inflammation of the external ear canal. If not taken care of, infections of the external ear canal can spread to the middle and inner ear and affect your animals hearing and be a major source of pain. By catching the disease early, you can seek out the veterinarian and administer the proper medication and care. To continue, you should also observe your pets for any itching and be sure to notice the areas that they are itching. This is especially important if you suspect allergies, fleas, or other skin issues. Also, take note of any change of behavior. Aggressiveness, depression, overexcitement, and listlessness can all be signs of particular diseases. To continue, as your animal’s age, be sure to palpate their whole body while you’re petting them and take note of any bumps or masses or anything that looks unusual. To continue, you should be aware of how much your animals eat and drink and keep track of if the quantities increase or decrease. Finally, note any changes in bodily excretions such as increased urination, diarrhea, or blood in the excretions. By doing this at home, you’re taking steps to achieving the best possible health for your pet!

To continue, countless owners are unaware of when they are harming their animal’s health, resulting in pets that are overfed or under cared for. To be a better pet owner, you should try to prevent obesity, which is a major issue in pet health today. To help avoid obesity, pets should be fed high quality, easily digestible food and it is especially important to not feed over your pet’s daily calorie requirement. Most pet food brands have a label on the bag detailing how much food your pet should be fed per day based on their body weight. If your pet is still having issues with weight gain, your veterinarian will be happy to calculate the kilocalorie requirement for you! To continue, as a pet owner, you should avoid feeding your pet table scraps; but if you insist on feeding your pet human food, you should avoid fatty food and any food that may be toxic or harmful to your animal. Another important way to prevent obesity is exercise. Exercise not only helps to keep your pet trim and slim, but is important for the mental stimulation of your pet. Daily leash walks are a great bonding experience that can keep both you and your pet healthier!

In addition, various problems in animal health are a direct result of lack of owner education, which could be easily prevented. Your vet is there for you and is an excellent resource for the proper care of your animal! Be sure to listen to their recommendations because they have your animal’s best interests in mind. Spaying and neutering your animals helps to improve your animal’s health! By spaying your animals before they reach six months of age, you can exponentially decrease their chances for developing mammary cancer later in life and also prevent other conditions. For example, during my employment as a veterinary assistant, a three year old female boxer was brought in, with complaints from the owner of bloody urine. The dog also had a swollen vulva, and copious amounts of vaginal discharge. After conducting an ultrasound, the veterinarian diagnosed the boxer with pyometra, or an infected uterus, a condition that can be easily avoided by spaying your dog. In continuation, by neutering your pets you help prevent testicular cancer and help avoid some common behavior problems. Intact animals are a liability. If your animals are still intact, not only are they more likely to have health problems down the road, they are also more likely to try to escape your back yard in the pursuit of mating activity. By spaying and neutering your pets, you help them to live a longer, healthier, happier life and help to prevent overpopulation. Another example of an easily preventable disease is heartworm disease. Both dogs and cats can be infected with heartworms! Heartworm disease can lead to death in severe cases and it is very prevalent in certain areas of the country where mosquito populations are high. However, heartworm disease can be easily prevented by administering a monthly treatment! There is now even an injection (Proheart) that you can give every six months as a heartworm preventative if you tend to forget to give the treatments every month. Be a capable and conscientious pet owner and give your pet the necessary preventative care so they can be as healthy as possible!

For future pet owners looking to add a new member to your family, it is important to do your research before making the commitment. If you are looking for a specific breed, be sure to educate yourself on the breeds exercise requirements, behavior, and common health issues. Be aware that if you choose a high activity breed, you should have a lot of space for them to run around or take them on long daily walks to meet that requirement. Also be aware that some breeds of dogs don’t do as well in apartment setting and may require more space. If you would like to adopt from a shelter, spend as much time with the animal as you can and consult the shelter staff to ensure the animal will be a good fit for you and your family. One of the main reasons for people to give up their pet is because it doesn’t fit well with what they wanted in a pet. Don’t adopt a very active animal if you wanted more of a couch potato! Owning a pet is not all fun and games. It is a huge responsibility and you must be sure that you are prepared for it mentally and financially before you take an animals life into your hands!

Finally, my last recommendation is to be a good pet owner is to be a responsible owner. Your pet should have access to fresh water at all times. Do not withhold water! To continue, if you are planning on leaving your pet outside for extended periods, do no chain it up. Horrible accidents can occur, including your pet tangling the chain around something and subsequently putting him or herself out of reach of the water bowl, which could result in fatal dehydration. Animals have even been documented as accidentally hanging themselves due to being chained outside. It is also important to keep harmful objects out of your pets reach. Do no allow them to have access to the garage where they can get into antifreeze or rat poison. Do not feed them harmful substances such as grapes, chocolate, and onions. Consult with your veterinarian to learn of more common things that can be toxic and harmful to your animal.

In conclusion, your pet will depend on you to give it the best life possible. It is the owner’s responsibility to ensure that they are thoroughly educated on how to care for their animals so that they can be the best possible pet owner, and veterinarians are a very useful resource!

C. Azevedo

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