BASIC PET CARE GUIDELINES

Owning a domestic animal as a pet is a long-term commitment, with the bond between owner and pet as reward for that commitment. However, a certain amount of effort is also required to ensure your pet is as happy, safe, and healthy as possible.

Coming Home

If at all possible, bringing a new pet into your home should be a well thought out process and one that allows you to properly prepare your home for the new arrival. However, there are times we just fall head over heels for an animal and make an immediate decision. Regardless, you’ll want to accommodate your pet in the best possible way.

You’ll need to consider the pet’s sleeping arrangements. Do you have a crate or way to secure the pet while you’re gone from home? Purchase a crate, cushion, bed, cage, tank and/or other sleeping products. Caution: While you won’t want your pet becoming bored while you’re away, be very cautious about what you leave in their crate with them. Dogs, rabbits and other small rodents love to rip stuffed toys to shreds. The stuffing, squeakers, and other components can be ingested, causing health concerns. Also resist leaving rawhide chews or bones in your dog’s crate, they could become lodged in your dog’s throat. If you must leave a toy/activity for them, select one of the non-destructible chews into which you can place a snack. Dogs love these, as they stay busy trying to get the snack.

All pets need supplies. What do you need for your pet? Besides a basic place to sleep, does your pet need bedding such as a cushion, shavings, or a hammock? What about special lighting or heat lamps? If you’re bringing a fish home, how big of a tank does he need and what set up is best?

Food, leashes, collars, training pads, litter, litter box, food and water bowls, brushes or other grooming supplies, as well as toys and treats are some of the basic items you’ll want to purchase.

Check Up

Once you’ve selected a pet, you’ll want to take him to your local vet for a check-up. (Obviously, a gold fish or rodent would be exempt from this visit!) During your visit, discuss what immunizations and other medications such as heartworm and flea preventative are necessary. If you have adopted or purchased your new pet, his previous caregiver may have already started him on his shots.

Your vet will most likely inquire about your preference for spaying/neutering the pet when they reach the appropriate age. If you are uncertain of your decision, ask the vet to explain the pros and cons.

ID/Tags/Licenses

Most municipalities require cats and dogs to have rabies shots and tags indicating they are current. In addition, many municipalities also require registration for your cat or dog. Be sure to know your local ordinances and adhere to them.

Regardless how diligent you are with your pet, there may come a time he becomes lost. At the very least, make sure he has a collar tag with contact information so you may be reunited. It is strongly recommended that you take two additional steps:  Have your pet “chipped” with an internal identification device and also register with Companion Animal Recovery Service (akccar.org), the nation’s largest database for recovering lost pets.

House training

If you have selected a cat as a pet, determine where you want his litter box(es) to be placed. It is a good idea to have a litter box set up prior to bringing kitty home. As soon as you walk in the house, place kitty in the box. It is easier for him to explore from his box than to explore his way to the box! In the beginning, you may want to place extra newspaper or training pads in the area around the box as kittens sometimes don’t have the best aim.

When bringing a dog into your home, first let the dog explore the outdoor area where you intend him to do his business. His natural instincts will kick in and he will mark the spot. Be sure to offer lots of praise! When finished, bring him into your home, but keep a very close eye on him. If you notice he appears to be searching for a place to go, or simply squats and lets loose, firmly say “no”, while moving him to your outdoor spot. Again, allow him to sniff and (hopefully) finish his business, and receive your admiration! Puppies should be taken out every two hours for the first few days. If your puppy is doing ok and not having accidents with two-hour increments, increase the span by a few minutes each day. Eventually, your dog will be able to hold it for several hours.

It is important to establish a routine, especially for the very young and the mature pet. Know that if you are gone an extended length of time, accidents may occur. It is best to plan ahead by laying down paper or pads, at least you have a chance of a self-contained accident!

Behavior

While many animals can be trained in specific ways, this area is primarily for dog owners.

Your dog is now part of your pack and it is important to establish from the beginning that you and other humans in the household are pack leaders! Clearly identify appropriate and inappropriate behaviors and establish a consistent set of rewards and corrections. If you share your home with others, make sure each and every person understands and maintains the same standards—this creates structure and consistency for your dog, which in turn builds the bond between you and helps your pet feel secure.

Teach your dog basic commands such as sit, stay, lay, come and off, as well as proper leashing. Investing in a basic obedience class is money well spent!

Feeding and Care

It’s important to acknowledge your pet’s primary needs are your responsibility! Make sure to feed your pet the highest-quality food you can afford; provide plenty of clean, fresh water; exercise and/or play with him regularly; groom and/or bath him; and provide him with routine and emergency medical care. Keep him safe from cars, predators, and safety hazards. Above all else, treat your pet with love and kindness…he will certainly do the same!

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Is pet ownership right for you and your family?

Owning a pet is one of life’s greatest joys. Unfortunately, the possibility for great suffering—both on the part of the owner and the pet—also exist.

Pet ownership is a huge responsibility. On some levels, it can rival the responsibility of child rearing, both in commitment and expense. Shelters are full of animals that were once cute and cuddly and adored by their family, only to be given up because they were more trouble than expected.

By taking time to really consider all the factors, you can avoid adding to the homeless pet population. In fact, if you’re considering a pet, I certainly hope your first thought is to rescue one from a shelter!

Let’s begin with some basic questions.

Firstly, what is your prime motivation for wanting a pet? Do you want companionship, to teach your children responsibility, for show or breeding, as a guardian, to offer shelter to an animal in need? Be honest and clear with your answer, as it is important to determining what sort of pet is most suitable.

Who makes up your family unit?

If you have small children, their safety is imperative. If selecting a dog, choose breeds known for their patience and kind disposition toward children. Having to constantly monitor a questionable dog around children will be burdensome and stressful for all involved.

Will your family structure change during the lifetime of the pet, i.e. will children be born, or will an elderly caregiver become unable to care for a pet? Keep this in mind when selecting a pet. Dogs and cats can live up to 25 years; smaller animals and fish have shorter life spans. While it is hard to lose a beloved pet, it is equally as tragic for a pet to lose a long-time companion. For this reason, keep a pet’s expected life span in mind when making your selection.

What is your family’s lifestyle? Consider where you live—an apartment or condo is suitable for a cat, small dog, or other small animal such as a guinea pig, hamster, small bird or fish, but isn’t conducive to raising a large, rambunctious dog. If you opt for a dog, do you have space for the dog to run and get exercise? A fenced yard is great for keeping a dog confined, but don’t assume he is obtaining the necessary exercise on his own-he needs you to participate! Fetching a ball or Frisbee, going for walks or runs, or spending time at a dog park or doggy daycare to play with other dogs is what he needs.

Be clear up front, even if you have young children who will one day be able to help tend to pet duties, who is ultimately responsible for the day-to-day care of your pet? Who will ensure he has fresh food and water? Who will clean up after him? Who is responsible for exercise, healthcare and buying supplies? If you have older children who promise to help, you must make sure they uphold their end of the bargain or you will be stuck with the work while the kids are having fun!

Do you travel often? Will you have a pet that can travel or are you willing to absorb the cost of kenneling a cat or dog or having in-home care for them? Know that some animals, like cats, do better being left alone for extended periods of time than do others, such as dogs.

Do you have the financial resources to be a good pet custodian?

Just as pets are surrendered to shelters for reasons like behavior or the death of an owner, just as many are surrendered because their owners simply cannot afford to keep them.

Gerbils, rabbits, goldfish, and small birds are far less costly to take care of than cats, dogs or horses. However, even small animals require an initial outlay of money to purchase food, bedding, and a living environment.  Dogs and cats must also have immunizations and often also licenses at the beginning of their lives, and each and every year forward. In addition, they need annual checkups, basic medications such as flea/tick and heartworm preventatives, collars, leashes, snacks, and bedding. Extras include bedding, cute accessories, having their teeth cleaned, training, kenneling, and expenses incurred when they become ill.

Pet ownership can be costly, but the rewards of having a loving and loyal companion are priceless.

Do you want a baby or full-grown pet?

Regardless which you decide on, especially if considering a cat or dog, you will have some training to do. A young animal is generally easier to start off with good habits, while an older pet may have some bad habits or have to work through some past mistreatment. A young animal will have excess energy and that often means wanting to play during sleep hours or needing constant attention. They will also need to learn bathroom habits. They are likely to have a couple accidents before they get it right, and puppies have small bladders and you may find yourself walking in the wee hours of the night.

Ask about a young animals parent’s and their demeanor; find out as much as you can about an older animal’s history. While bad habits can generally be overcome with owner training, aggression is not to be taken lightly and professional training or a new owner may become necessary.

Training.

Training a cat or dog in basic behaviors is fairly easy, if you are clear on the behaviors you expect from them! For the benefit of the pet and owners, make sure everyone is clear on what is and isn’t allowed before a conflict arises! It’s no good to teach a dog or cat to stay off the furniture if you turn your back and other family members invite him up. The same goes for begging at your mealtime. If your dog is expected to sleep in his crate, then start him off in the crate…don’t feel sorry for him and let him sleep in your bed the first few nights then complain when he whines in his crate.

Take time when selecting a pet.

It is so easy to succumb to puppy-dog-eyes at a pet store or adoption event, and while this works out for some people, if you’ve never owned a pet and are making an impulsive decision, please take a time out and think it over! If you are solely responsible, take a good look at your lifestyle and consider how it will change—both in the negative and positive aspects. If you have a family, sit down with them, go over the pros and cons of pet ownership, get feedback, voice and listen to concerns. Then make a decision that everyone can live with. Remember, it’s not only your family who will be changed; the pet you bring into your life will also be impacted. Do what’s right for all concerned. Test the waters of pet-ownership and the commitment required by bringing a low maintenance pet into the fold. Goldfish, Beta fish, a crab, or even lizards are pretty easy to care for. While you can’t cuddle them, you’ll be surprised at the bond that will be formed with them!

First pet tips:

  • Test the waters of pet-ownership and the commitment required by bringing a low maintenance pet into the fold. Goldfish, Beta fish, a crab, or even a lizard are pretty easy to care for. While you can’t cuddle them, you’ll be surprised at the bond that will be formed with them!
  • Research! Once you’ve settled on what type of pet, you may need to decide on what breed. Learn about lifespan, typical personality traits, illnesses or health issues they may be prone to, activity level, and easy of keeping.

Love, care, and respect.

When you bring an animal into your family, you are making a contract with that animal to love, care for and to treat that animal with respect. Make sure everyone in your family agrees to this beforehand. Your pet is at your mercy to have his needs met. He cannot care for himself, find his own food or water, obtain medical care when needed, and can rarely entertain himself for more than a few moments.

Giving of yourself to a pet is one of life’s greatest gifts and you will receive great gifts in kind!

 

Common Household Items Pose a Threat to Pets

The simplest approach to protecting your pet from poisoning is to behave as if you had a small child in your home. Pets, like small children, are curious and impulsive. You wouldn’t leave insecticides, rodent poison, lawn chemicals or auto fluids exposed where a child could get into them…don’t leave them exposed if you have a pet!

While mouse/rat poisons and insecticides are the most common cause of pet poisoning, there are many other substances that can be toxic, or even lethal, to your pet.

Foods to avoid

While feeding a cat or dog a “fresh diet” often consists of items we consume, i.e. beef, chicken, potatoes, vegetables, etc., care should be taken to avoid feeding directly from your diet. Dogs and cats cannot handle grease, fat, salt, or too many spices.

Additionally, avoid the following foods, as they are toxic to pets and can cause issues such as renal failure, pancreatitis, diabetes and more.

  • Grapes or raisins
  • Onions
  • Chocolate
  • Macadamia nuts
  • Avocado
  • Garlic
  • Gum, candy, ice cream, breath mints or other treats containing the artificial sweetener Xylitol
  • Yeast dough
  • Coffee, coffee grounds, tea and alcohol
  • Chicken and other splintering bones

Also, be sure to keep trash out of your pet’s reach. Bones, sharp can edges, jars, and rotting food all possess inherent dangers.

Medications

While a variety of human medications can be administered to pets, under vet supervision, accidental ingestion can make pets very ill. Again, consider your pets as you would consider small children, and keep medications tightly closed and stored in a secure area away from curious pets.

Household and Personal Products

Cleaning and bathing products, with their appealing smells, often attract the attention of pets. When using cleaning products, even when they are approved for use in households with pets, it’s always a good idea to keep pets out of the area until the product has dried and/or the scents have faded.

The following can cause stomach upset, vomiting, diarrhea and general digestive upset and should be kept from your pets:

  • Bath beads, oils, soaps, salts, and bath melts
  • Shampoo and crème rinse
  • Toothpaste
  • Body lotion and sun block

Through skin exposure, inhalation or ingestion, the following products can cause burns, digestive upset, drooling, skin irritation or burns, respiratory complications, or even seizures.

  • Bleach, toilet bowl cleaner, general disinfectants
  • Air fresheners, potpourri and liquid scents
  • Moth balls
  • Aerosol cleaning agents, such as oven cleaner

Yard & Garage Hazards

There are numerous hazards to be found in yard, gardening, automotive, and general “project” materials. Even if your pet doesn’t directly ingest any of the following materials, remember they can still be poisoned through skin absorption, or while cleaning themselves. To be safe, keep pets away from these products, as well as any surface that may have been contaminated by them, i.e. lawns, driveways, decks, etc.

  • Antifreeze that contains ethylene glycol. Animals are attracted to its sweet taste. Better safe than sorry—use animal safe antifreeze in your vehicles.
  • Lawn and garden chemicals, including fertilizer, pesticides, fungicides and plant foods.
  • Paints, stains, solvents, and house and deck cleaners can cause breathing problems, chemical burns, or digestive tract problems. If you use these products, keep your pet out of the area until you’ve completed clean up and the product is dry and doesn’t emit noxious fumes.
  • De-icing salt. Salt accumulates on pets’ paws and can cause irritation or burns and can be poisonous if licked off. Either protect your pet’s paws with boots or wash and dry paws after being exposed to salt.
  • Insect and pest control products. All pesticides, traps and poisons pose lethal danger to your pets. If you must use any of these products, exercise caution! Use pet-friendly pesticides and make sure they are dry before allowing pets in the area; use the appropriate flea & tick control products for your type of pet and his size; do not allow your pet to consume wild rodents, as you don’t know what they may have ingested and your pet could be at risk for secondary poisoning. If you have a roaming animal, be aware that neighbors may have toxic products or dangerous traps where your pet could be endangered.

Miscellaneous Dangers

Again, just like children, pets are curious and spontaneous! Be diligent in making sure your home is pet-safe. Even the most innocuous items, like those listed below, can pose a severe danger to your pets.

  • Pet foods and treats can pose a health danger to your pets. Be certain to buy only top quality foods and treats made in the USA. Many rawhide and treat products are ripe with salmonella bacteria.
  • Bread ties, yarn, rubber bands, shoelaces, dental floss, and thread all pose a choking and/or intestinal blockage hazard.
  • Buttons, eyes or small parts off toys, coins, pen or small bottle tops, fishing lures, and myriad other small items are eye-catching, especially to cats, and can become lodged in a pet’s throat or intestines, causing blockage.
  • Electrical cords. Why oh why do pets love to chew electrical cords? Watch your pets, especially cats and puppies, to make sure they are not at risk of burns or electrocution by chewing on electrical cords. Keep cords hidden, covered with cord covers, or implement the use of retractable cords.
  • Holiday decorations hold special appeal for pets and pets should be supervised when around items they could ingest. As odd as it sounds, cats have even been known to chew on Christmas tree lights! This is an extremely dangerous situation, as they are at risk of ingesting glass and also exposed to the potential of electrocution.
  • Household plants. From time-to-time an animal may ingest a small amount of grass to soothe their stomach. If grass is not available, and sometime simply out of curiosity, your pet may turn to munching on your houseplants. PLEASE be aware, there are over 700 plants identified to be poisonous to pets! Most of the plants in your home are unsafe and must be kept out of reach. The Humane Society has a comprehensive list of toxic plants that can be viewed through this link: http://www.humanesociety.org/assets/pdfs/pets/poisonous_plants.pdf

What to do in case of emergency

Do not take a “wait and see” approach! Immediately call your vet or the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center at 888-426-4435. There may be a consultation fee to use this service—be prepared to provide credit card information–but getting immediate treatment advice may make the difference in saving your pet. When calling either your vet or the ASPCA, you will be asked to provide information regarding the age, weight, species and breed of your pet; what they were exposed to or ingested; the amount of exposure or ingestion; when it occurred; symptoms and other critical information. Remain calm, listen clearly and follow instructions precisely. If instructed to proceed to an emergency animal hospital, safely bring the poison (or more appropriately, the container) or plant along for identification purposes. If you’re unable to do so, try to snap a photo with a digital camera or phone.

Inclement Weather Boredom Busters for Dogs

Doople Pet Products, Gretta playing hide 'n seek

The “dog days of summer”, a snowstorm, rainy days, or even smog can prevent us from spending quality outdoor time with our dogs. When that happens, we can be faced with a bored pooch; bored pooches can become irritable, depressed or even destructive!

However, with some forethought and a little effort, your dog can be entertained! In fact, not only will he be entertained, you and he may find fun new activities to look forward to on indoor days.

Below you will find a few activities we engage in. Some were my idea; some were actually created by the dogs themselves!

Hide and Seek

Played like the childhood version, but with dogs instead of other people. I put my dog in a sit/stay, and then sneak away to hide. Once I am in place, I call her and the hunt is on! Start off with simple hiding places, like behind a door, and once your dog has the hang of it, move onto more difficult-to-find places like a closet.

An added “bonus” for one of my former dogs was playing BOO! I waited until she got close, then I jumped out from my hiding place yelling, “Boo!”  She then ran off, waiting for me to chase her.

Search & Rescue

We begin this game by playing with one of the dog’s favorite toys. I play catch with her for a few minutes, and then once I know she is really interested in playing with that particular toy, I hide it behind me, under a sofa cushion or blanket, on the other side of a table, etc. I show her my empty hands and tell her I don’t have her baby, she better find it and rescue it. She seeks it out and returns it to me to be hidden again.

This game also works with treats!

You Tube and Television

Like most parents, even doggy parents sometimes let television do the entertaining! My Border Collie got into the habit of hanging out with us while the tv is on, perking up when a dog or other animal is on the screen. However, she quickly loses interest. What does keep her interest is playing one of her favorite movies (Babe, Eight Below, Homeward Bound) or putting on You Tube videos of other Border Collies. Not only is it entertaining to her, we get great laughs watching her watching on-screen dogs!

 Doggy Café

My dog get freshly cooked meals on a daily basis, but treats are uncommon. On days when she seems bored or need a little pick up, I make fresh dog treats. I invite her into the kitchen and tell her I’m making cookies…she stays right by me, watching every move. Using ingredients such as egg substitute, cooked meats, applesauce, and fresh fruits and vegetables, means she can sample as I prepare. And yes, licking the bowl is allowed!

Let’s Go Shopping!

If we can’t get out for a walk or to the dog park, we can still go for an outing. Dogs love going to “The Puppy Store” to check out what’s new, and more importantly, who else is there or has been there!

Play Date

Take your dog to a dog-friend’s house or vice versa, or to an indoor play area. Dogs want and need socialization, and you’ll benefit from it, too! Even inviting friends without dogs over can be an exciting opportunity for a dog…someone new to teach their games to and new scents to discover!

Tag, You’re It!

Believe it or not, my dog loves a good game of chase. We switch up who is the chaser and by the end of our game we are all panting and ready for a nap! Our former dog, Gretta, was a pro at tag and loved hiding behind things, or under the curtains as in her photo above.

New Tricks

Teaching your dog a new trick will keep you both occupied and productive on indoor days. Be sure to offer positive praise and reward treats for faster learning!

Quiet Time

Snuggle up with your dog or spend some quality time grooming, giving a massage or even encourage them to do some doggy yoga. One of my dogs literally melts when I tell her it’s time for a doggy massage! She loves the muscle relaxation, but also that she gets my undivided attention.

As you see, there are plenty of activities you can do with your dog when your both stuck indoors!

Copyright C.H. Conley, 2012