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Responsible Pet Ownership by Paul van Dam

While writing this, the year is still a baby – had it been a puppy, it’s eyes would still be closed. I realise that, when you read this, the first month will be behind you – and probably part of the second month, too. New Year’s Day will be a (distant) memory and most New Year’s resolutions will probably be forgotten.

Below is a list of resolutions for pet owners. No, not New Year’s resolutions (that will be forgotten). Better to call them commitments – or even commandments! To me, these go a long way towards responsible pet ownership. Something to hand out to all pet owners, to paste on the door of the fridge, replacing the wonder-diet that was one of the now forgotten New Year’s resolutions.

  1. Before acquiring a pet, be aware that it requires commitment. You will have to spend time and money, share love, and plan your entire life around the wellbeing of your pet.
  2. Make your home pet-safe. This will depend on the type of pet you decide on.
    1. Keep toxic substances out-of-reach. Never feed your dog anything containing xylitol. No chocolates either. Do some research and list items that you keep at home that are toxic to your pets and make sure they are safely locked away. Remove plants that could be a problem. And, while you are at it, make sure that you clean up the garden of all palm tree and cycad seeds and similar nice small round toys that are swallowed hole and cause obstruction.
    2. Fences can be a major danger, especially to dogs. That palisade fence that you had installed, the one that has the shorter stakes lower down, included to prevent your pup from jumping through the gaps – beware! Dogs try to jump over these shorter stakes and impale themselves in the process.
    3. If you own a cat, check your washer and dryer before using them – he might be taking a nap inside!
  3. Schedule a routine annual health exam for your pet with your vet. Do it right now and diarise it – even if it still is months away.
    1. Have your pet microchipped – this makes it easier for someone to find you if he ever managed to escape or leave you yard during a storm.
    2. Invest in parasite (fleas, ticks, worms) control after consulting your vet and make sure to set reminders on your smart-phone so you will not forget to buy these on time.
    3. Make sure vaccinations, as per the recommendation of your veterinarian, are up-to-date.
    4. Talk to your vet about nutrition. Feed according to your dog’s age, breed and address any problems that can be improved through a change in diet. Enrol for the weight clinic if indicated – overweight dogs live shorter and have reduced quality of life.
    5. Talk about suitable, healthy titbits and snacks and invest in a regular supply. No table scraps, no bones after the Friday night braai.
  4. Ask your vet to show you how to do a simple informal health check at home. Do one on each pet regularly – at least fortnightly – checking for lumps, bumps, pain, rubbing his ears and checking inside ears and mouth, etc. Much of this can be done daily when you spend time with your pet cuddling up. Make sure you keep his teeth healthy, too – if necessary, brush them.
  5. Have your pet sterilised when still young. There are far too many unwanted puppies and kittens all over, and you do not want to add to these numbers. If you own a male – have him neutered. It will help keeping him at home and will prevent fights with your neighbours as he will not jump the fence when there is a bitch in season nearby.
  6. If you are a breeder – have your stock checked for possible inherited conditions. Do not breed with any animal that shows signs of such. Have your puppies checked by your vet and do not do the vaccinations yourself – a vaccination certificate that was not signed by a vet is worthless.
  7. Environmental enrichment is important. Buy your pet new toys on a regular basis. Even if he chews them up, replace them. If he is too destructive and your budget cannot cope, research other types of toys, such as puzzle toys or activity feeders that can withstand his chewing – or ones that are more affordable (and still safe). Swap toys around regularly – keep old one for later use – to keep his interest.
  8. Basic training is crucial.
    1. Practice “sit’, “heel”, “stay” whenever you can. Do it before you leave the house for a walk on-leash, or when you sit in your chair with a cup of coffee – to allow you to put the coffee down before she jumps on your lap.
    2. When going for walks – always on a leash. Practice heel and sit along the way.
    3. If you struggle, go for classes.
    4. Include informal visits to the vet. Discuss with you vet first. The idea is to take your pup there just to visit, even lift him unto the table, have practice staff fondle hm.
    5. Include some agility work – not only will this improve obedience, but it will also be fun bonding exercises for you and her.
    6. Call her when she is out and give a (healthy) treat if he responds well.
  9. Arrange regular grooming sessions (at home) and use these as training sessions too. Bathe, brush and clip his nails, use treats as rewards or give him his favourite toys to play with is she does well.
  10. Exercise! Go for regular walks with your dog and try to increase the frequency or distance every quarter. Walking is good for him (and you). If you own a cat, invest in interactive toys (these can be cheap!) to get him climbing and leaping.
  11. Set aside bonding time daily. Walking is good, but there has to be some time for play, chasing a ball, cuddling, hugging, rubbing. That extra scratch or rub will show him that you care, and he will respond accordingly. At the same time, it will give you an opportunity to make sure that he is healthy. Do not underestimate the positive effect it will have on you, too!
  12. Consider pet insurance. Talk to your vet about the problems that your pup could possibly encounter later in life. Specifically look into health problems related to breed. Insurance could be what enables you to pay for that major operation to improve a condition that otherwise could have ended his life.
  13. Be innovative!
    1. Go on an adventure, visit a place that you both have not been to before.
    2. Schedule a photo shoot that will provide you with memories to treasure for a lifetime.
    3. Make a bucket list – place yourself in his place and think about things that he might want to do and arrange for him to partake in these activities.

Sure, there will be more and other commitments that you can add to the list you give your clients. Important is that you do give them something, that you do assist them to plan a good life for their pets. Keep them updated on new products, new ways to keep their pets healthy.

A last thought. In my opinion, everyone should have a pet. It enriches a persons’ life, it gives them a companion, a little warm body to hold, to share happiness with. Not everyone can afford the many expenses linked to pet ownership – and we tend to respond with “If you cannot afford a pet, you should not keep one” – depriving someone of the love only a puppy can give. We, as vets should all donate some time or resources to the SAVA-CVC or other animal welfare organisations or take their hands and join them in campaigns to make it possible for all to keep a pet.

May you, through education and sharing, spend many happy hours with your clients and their pets!

Article by Paul van Dam, Courtesy of VetNews February 2019