How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 27

Companions, couch potatoes, feet-warmers, entertainment, best friends: no matter what you call them, they’re our pets. They’re quirky, cute, and individual; and they deserve a long healthy life. This is a ten step guide to become a better pet-owner. It will improve the life of you and your pet, whether you own an energetic Golden, a timid tom, or a little hedgie.

Step 1: Give your pet daily attention.

Whether your pet is as social as a Golden Retriever or as standoffish as a barn cat, they still need daily attention. I’m not just talking about the basics of feeding and grooming either. Give your pet an actual time slot in your day. This time is important for you to give your pet a quick assessment: Are there any lumps, bumps, or cuts? Are his eyes still bright? Is there anything abnormal? This time is also important for you to maintain your bond with your pet. For some pets, this may be laying on his back for a deep belly scratch; for others, a romp around the apartment chasing a laser pointer may be in order. Pets come with chores, but making time every day to enjoy your pet keeps your pet from become one as well.

Step 2: Visit your veterinarian every year.

Your veterinarian is an important member of your pet’s health team. They have training to spot diseases that may have developed over time and escaped your eye. As with people, many diseases are easier to treat when they are caught early. Early diagnosis also ensures that your pet doesn’t continue to suffer from the disease. Annual check-ups are a great place to bring questions about appropriate treats, food, and toys. They can also be scheduled so vaccinations can be given at the same time. These vaccinations help to keep you, your pet, and those around you healthy. (Many city ordinances also require rabies vaccines for dogs and cats. Your veterinarian can also help ensure that your pet is meeting your city’s standards.)

Step 3: Build a budget (and set aside money) for your pet.

Pets are wonderful companions. Unfortunately, they can also be expensive ones. Develop an annual budget for your pet. Include food, pet-sitting, an annual vet visit, toys, an emergency vet visit, and any other expenses your pet may have. It’s better to overestimate these costs. It may surprise you how expensive your pet actually is. This awareness can help you prepare for the future and set aside money, just in case disaster strikes. Your pet shouldn’t have to suffer without proper veterinary care.

Step 4: Create an emergency plan.

Nature is full of surprises: blizzards, tornadoes, hurricanes. You may be prepared to spend the night without power or running water, but is your pet? Become a better pet owner by putting together an all-weather emergency kit with food, water, hand warmers, first-aid supplies, and blankets. Keep the kit near your pet’s travel crate for quick and easy access. If you travel with your pet, it’s also a good idea to keep an emergency kit for you and your pet in the car. Check the kit’s supplies as part of the annual schedule. In addition to planning for nature’s surprises, try to expect the unexpected with your own life. If you experience a medical emergency, is there someone who can take care of your pet until you are able to?

Step 5: Keep a pet journal.

Ideally, a pet journal should start with the day you bring your companion home for the first time; however, it’s never too late to start! A pet journal can be filled with pictures, stories, and serve as a place of reminiscence. A pet journal is also the place to record your pet’s personality, little quirks, daily habits, and medical history. This information is very useful to pet-sitters who may not know your pet as well as you do. It may also help you and your veterinarian diagnose a problem in the future.

Step 6: Find a “pet buddy”.

Our pets can challenge us, sometimes more than we’d like to admit. Many of us will turn to internet blogs for inspiration. Some of us will ask our vet. What each of us needs is a “pet buddy”: another owner (preferably with more experience) with a similar pet. We need a sounding board for ideas, house-breaking tips, and someone to share our stories with. Some pets need company of their own kind, too. Play dates help your pet practice appropriate social skills.

Step 7: Update your pet’s ID.

Some of our pets have a poor sense of direction and can stray out of earshot. Some of our pets are born runners and bolt at the sight of an open field (or squirrel). Some of our pets are explorers and follow where ever their noses take them. Whatever the case may be, getting our furry friends back could be difficult if we don’t provide those around us with a current photo. Descriptions are always helpful, but a picture is worth a thousand words. Take an annual photo of your pet and keep it in your pet’s journal. These pictures will also help you determine if your pet has gained or lost a body condition score. Consider placing a microchip in your pet. It’s a quick and painless process that offers foolproof identification of your pet. Also, remember to abide by your city’s pet ordinances for licensing and vaccinations.

Step 8: Mental stimulation

One reason why many animals exhibit destructive behavior is that they become bored. A vast majority of our pets are home alone during the day while we’re off at work. Consider offering your pet a food puzzle while you’re away. The food puzzles must be “solved” or opened in a certain way for the food to be released. Maybe a pet-daycare is a better option. At pet-daycares, your pet has the chance to interact with more animals and make friends. Try weekend training workshops. These workshops help you learn more about training and help your pet bond with you.

Step 9: Breed specifics

Some pet breeds are predisposed to certain illnesses. It’s important that we know what illnesses our pet could potentially endure so we can keep an eye out for them. Early diagnosis is key is treating diseases. Veterinarians really rely on pet owners to notice abnormal behavior as early as possible. Your veterinarian can only help you after you notice and bring your pet in for a visit.

Step 10: Plan ahead for vacations.

A good vacation can revitalize in ways even afternoon naps can’t. Don’t forget about your pet when it comes to vacation season. If you’re planning on taking your pet on the road trip, make sure your pet is used to riding in the car. Take frequent breaks so your pet can stretch its legs and use the bathroom. If you’re flying, it may be a good idea to check with your veterinarian about using a sedative. If your pet isn’t going on vacation with you, try looking up a local Pre-Vet, Vet, Animal, or 4H Club for a pet-sitter.

If you have already utilized these ten steps, give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back. For the rest of us who have room for improvement, keep striving to be a better pet owner. They have no choice but to put their lives in our hands. Let’s make sure it’s a long, healthy, and happy one.

H. Sobczynski

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