Before purchasing, adopting, or receiving a "freebie" pet, stop and think about your lifestyle and how dedicated you are to owning a four-legged friend. Do you travel often due to work, or find yourself away from home for several weeks at a time? Pets require lots of time, energy and love, not to mention the expenses that arise from food and veterinary care. But with some effort and research, owning a pet can bring much joy to your home.
With any new animal, a trip to the veterinarian should be top prority. Most young animals and stray adults need to be dewormed for intestinal parasites. Don’t rely on whether you see any worms. Most won’t be seen unless the pet has a very large parasite overload.
Vaccines are a must, especially for young animals. Dogs should receive a DHLP-P vaccine, which is short for "distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, parvo virus and corona virus". Parvo and carona viruses cause severe vomiting and bloddy diarrhea, which can quickly kill a younger dog. Cats should receive a FVRCP vaccine, which will help against feline distemper. Feline distemper is characterized by runny or crusty eyes, noses, and constant sneezing.
Rabies vaccines are required by North Carolina law for any dog or cat over the age of 16 weeks or 4 months. Regardless of whether your animal is strictly inside, penned, or tied outside, this is the law. This actually serves two purposes. All domesticated animals need to be protected from rabies, and it is not uncommon for raccoons and even bobcats to wander into a yard and fight the resident pet over who gets to eat from the food bowl. Bats are also carriers of rabies, and people commonly find them in their homes. There goes the safety net for inside pets! The second purpose for vaccinating for rabies is a tag is received with each vaccine. These tags are to be worn by the animal at all times. The tags are visible proof that the animal has an owner, and the tag number can easily be traced back to that owner.
Pets should be groomed on a regular basis. Short hair breeds of dogs and cats should be brushed once or twice a week, and long hair breeds once a day. This removes dead and shedding hair, feels great to the pet, and also allows for owners to be aware of any onset of problems, such as flea or tick infestations or tumor growth.
Occasionally, dogs and cats need their nails trimmed. Dewclaws on dogs, and toenails on older cats can sometimes grow in a circular shape and grow back into the paw pad, causing pain and infection. Get your pet used to having their feet handled and this job will be easier for them and you. Nails can be trimmmed with special animal nail trimmers. For pets with white toenails, the nail vein appears as a pink spot within the nail. Cut the nail below the pink. For pets with black toenails, trimming just under the curve of the nail will do the trick. If you are unsure of the procedure, take a trip to the groomer or you local vet.
Check your pet’s ears on a regular basis. Is the inside of the ear full of black wax, or is it clean in appearance? Is there any redness, swelling, discharge, or foul odor? If so, your pet could have problems with ear mites, a bacterial infection, or a yeast infection. Your veterinarian can determine the cause and offer a solution.
Almost all animal professionals will stress the importance of spaying or neutering your pet. The main reason for this is pet overpopulation. There just are not enough homes to go around! Altering you animal will also diminish the urge to roam because of a drop in hormones, and also reduce the chance of mammary tumors in females and prostate enlargement in males.
Take time to train your dog, not only for their safety, but for yours too. (We all know cats are masters at ignoring directions!) Basic commands such as ‘sit,stay,come’ are not only useful in everyday life, but also reinforce who’s in charge of whom. Neighbors will also appreciate a well-behaved dog next door. As long as they don’t have to worry about "Fido" getting in their trash, biting their child, or having an all night sing along, they should be fairly happy.
Feed your pet a good quality pet food. Dry food is great for most dogs and cats, and canned food can be used as a special treat. Avoid giving table food because it reinforces begging and can actually be harmful. Certain ingredients in chocolate aren’t digested well in dogs and can cause sickness and occasionally death. Fatty foods are also a no-no, as they can cause a painful and fatal condition called pancreatitis. Be sure not to feed your pet into obesity. A pet at a healthy weight should not have any ribs showing, but the ribs should be able to be felt without too much trouble.
And last but not least, love your pet. Take time with them each day. Enjoy taking your dog for a walk or play a game of fetch. Hold a marathon petting session with your cat, or let her chase a piece of yarn with a toy attached to it that you dangle in front of her. Pets crave attention too, and they don’t care what you look like when you get up in the morning! Be patient, be loving, and be a responsible owner. Take care of your pet.