How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 25

There are so many websites, TV shows and books out there giving advice on becoming the best pet owner possible. The only problem is they’re all written by humans, for humans! Well I’m here today to give the pet’s perspective. My name is Joker, I’m a Jack Russell Terrier and my mom is a veterinary student. She’s spent a long time learning about how to take care of animals, and I want to pass on some of those gems of knowledge with a four legged twist. You see, I’ve spent hours sniffing around the house and pretending to mind my own business, but in reality I listen in on my mom’s conversations and read her computer screen when she’s studying for exams. So I guess you can say I know my stuff. At least I can give you 11 years’ worth of experienced advice and you can take it from there.

The first thing we want people to know is how important it is to do your research BEFORE you bring a new companion home. Talk to other owners, call your friendly local vet (especially if you want something exotic), or at the very least get high quality textbooks on the species or breeds you’re interested in. That way, you’ll know what you might be getting yourself into with your new furry friend. Who would have known that Chinchillas can only have dirt baths and Guinea Pigs really, really need vitamin C? Some parrots can easily outlive their owners and some snakes get REALLY big. I remember, when I was a little tiny puppy, listening to my mom and her parents talk all about Jack Russell Terriers and how energetic they were. Let me tell you, they knew their stuff! They knew my activity level, the amount of attention I might need, and the best way to train me. They also knew that I would dig a 3 foot hole in the ground in the blink of an eye just to catch a squirrel, and that most of the time I would do what they asked only if it’s what I wanted to do too.

Since this narrative is coming from a vet student’s dog, I think I’ll talk about visiting your trusty veterinarian next. There are so many things to say so I’ll try to cover as much as my doggie brain can remember!

When you go to see your vet, for a checkup or otherwise, remember that your pet’s care is a partnership. It’s ok to tell them if you can’t spend a whole lot right that second because it won’t change what you talk about. They are still going to give Buster a thorough examination and take the time to talk to you about all the things you could do. They will still offer you every single test and every single treatment, because it’s their responsibility as a health care professional, so keep that in mind! It’s ok to tell them no, but they don’t ever want to hold back recommendations or options because at the end of the day the ultimate decisions are yours and they want you to be as informed as possible.

When my mom was still young and took me to my vet, she always brought a list with her so she wouldn’t forget to ask a question she had thought about at home. She thinks lists are amazing and loves when other pet owners do the same thing. It’s always ok to have questions so please don’t hesitate to ask- your vet wants you to be comfortable with everything they’re telling you. Plus, think of all the questions they probably asked when they were in school (hint: it was a whole lot!). You know what else you can do? Bring things with you! For example, rip the information section off the back of Fido’s food, grab the bottles of doggie vitamins or toothpaste or treats, and throw them all in a bag. That way if you have questions about something your vet will know exactly what you’re talking about and can give you the best recommendations he or she possibly can.

Now for the biggie, the beast, the repository of all things factual and fictional – THE INTERNET! Now the internet is wonderful. It’s the magical place where my dental chews come from. It’s also kind of like a magnet because some days it seems like my mom just can’t walk away from the pretty glowing screen. One click and all of the sudden millions of tiny tidbits of information, opinions, products, inspiration, and scary stories are at your fingertips. You humans talk about how the internet is good and bad at the same time. You can connect with fellow pet lovers, share stories of love and grief, and buy us those ridiculous Halloween costumes that make us look like various foods. But just like everything else you can look up online, remember that information about your animals can be unfiltered, unedited, and sometimes downright dangerous. If you Google something interesting or concerning don’t hesitate to talk with your vet about it. They won’t be mad; they’ll just want you to have the best information possible. Sometimes that might mean telling you something completely different, but sometimes you might be on exactly the right track. So go ahead, research online. But consider the education and experience your vet has had.

I know money comes up all the time, but it’s important! So I’ll talk about it. When it comes to high quality care for your pets, the investment is worth it. Sometimes I just think of all the days my mom came home after a long day of learning and then shared everything with me, including what she was feeling when she rubbed my belly in a silly way and what she was hearing when she put the stethoscope on my chest. So when you get the bill for Fido’s yearly checkup, just remember: vets have spent more money on their education than I could ever bury in the backyard, and they charge you for time, research, continuing education, and quality support staff. Another good thing to do, if you can, is to have an emergency fund set aside just in case something crazy happens. None of you pet moms and dads will ever be ready for one of us to run out in front of a car or eat your favorite pair of underwear, but hey, you never know, right? Then when it comes time to go to the emergency room you can breathe a little easier knowing at least a good part of your pet’s care is already covered.

More than likely your vet is a pet owner just like you too, and they want the best for your pet. They get just as excited when your, um, “fluffy” cat loses a pound and just as sad frustrated when that ear infection won’t go away. Even though they might not want to admit it, they have cried as their own pets and yours walked across the rainbow bridge to wait for their humans to join them.

So what’s the best advice I can give you to be a better pet owner? Love your furry, fanged, and feathered friends. Talk to us- we might not speak very well or answer your questions but the tone of your voice is all we need. Don’t get too upset when we eat the (delicious!) $4 coffee shop muffin you let out of your sight for a few seconds, and forgive us if nature calls when you’re at work and we just can’t quite make it until you get home to go potty, even though we all try really hard to hold it. Trust your gut when you think something is a little off and remember we need to see the doctor for regular checkups just like you do. Finally, remember that we trust you completely and love you without question. Now, where exactly in my mom’s flower bed did I bury that bone last week…

L. Magestro

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