Just about everyone loves a puppy or kitten. They are so adorable, how can you not want to just curl up and snuggle and keep them all? There are few things that as a veterinarian, I hope that you will consider prior to bringing a furry family member into your home.
1. “This was a free cat. You want me to spend what???!?!?!”
There is no such thing as a free lunch! This applies to cats and dogs as well. Yes, there may not be a purchase price, but there is food, vaccinations, veterinary visits, spaying or neutering, illnesses that happen and medication or testing that is needed. Leashes, collars, litter boxes, kitty litter, the list goes on and on. Just because the animal was free, does not mean that there will not be costs associated with it. I request that you think about if you can afford to have a pet or multiple pets. Everyone’s circumstances are different, as veterinarians understand this. What I do not understand is why when you can barely put food on your table, you pick up another pet or 6. I have had people come to me with a seriously ill animal that they “rescued” from a situation that the client believed was abusive or neglectful. What the person does not realize is that if you are not financially prepared to deal with the health or behavioral issues of the animal, then it is once again in a neglectful situation. I am not sharing this to shame anyone or make someone feel bad. I am sharing this to have you honestly answer the question “Do I have the ability to care for the needs of this animal?” If not, then you either should not take the animal in the first place or have a place that is capable of caring for it lined up prior to removing it from the situation it is currently in.
2. “He was too much work, so we got rid of him.”
When you take a pet into your home, consider your lifestyle. If you do not like hair on your furniture or clothes, then a Golden Retriever may not be the right fit. If you live in a small home, remember that the Newfoundland puppy may be 150 pounds in a year. If you work 10-14 hours a day, perhaps a Border Collie is not the right fit for your family. The fact that a golden retriever sheds, a Newfoundland is a very large dog, or that Border Collies tend to be very active would not be a surprise to you if you have ever met one or have done some research.
3. “She won’t stop peeing and pooping in the house.”
Animals can come with behavior problems, they can also develop them over time. The most common behavior problems I am asked about include chewing, nipping, inappropriate elimination, barking, and jumping. A puppy will chew as it is teething, so making sure that you have adequate toys on hand and appropriate reprimands/distractions for inappropriate chewing go hand in hand. An adult dog may destroy your home if it is suffering from separation anxiety. Nipping can be from excessive energy without boundaries. Inappropriate elimination may be from inadequate potty training or from a medical problem. Barking and jumping can both be calls for attention or an attempt to control a situation. No matter what the problem is, people often wait months or even years before speaking with their veterinarian. We are here to help. Although all veterinarians deal with some behavior, not all veterinarians are comfortable with “behavior gone bad.” Speaking with the vet may make your life a lot easier though. Your veterinarian may refer you to a trainer or to a veterinary behavior specialist. One of the easiest ways to prevent most of the behavior problems we see though is to take your new dog to training classes and making sure that they are well socialized. The younger they are, the more likely the “problems” can be fixed readily with boundaries and training. The older they are, the more difficult socialization may be. Do not believe the old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” When given the right motivation, a dog of any age can learn new behaviors – both good and bad!
Let’s not forget about cats! They can be trained, too. My little guy, Boots, does great with routines. In the morning, I let him out of his kennel (he sleeps in a rabbit hutch in the living room), then I brush his hair and teeth, do his oral hygiene rinse, and then he brings me his food ball so that I can give him his breakfast. Food balls are great, they require the pet to bat it around so that food falls out in small amounts (1-2 pieces at a time) to encourage exercise, mental stimulation, and slower food intake. Boots is also very good at training us. He plays fetch with a string that he found. He brings it to my husband and drops it at his feet, then paws at his foot until Andy plays with him. This all being said, I am still waiting for a way to keep all cats off of the counters. If anyone finds something that works all the time, let me know! (And not having a cat is not what I am looking for!)
4. “Why doesn’t he just calm down?”
Know why you want to get an animal. Do you want a working dog to herd sheep on your farm? A calm companion for your bedridden spouse? A best friend for your active child? A tank of fish as a focal point in your home? A friend to come home to after a long and stressful day at work? Each of these questions has a different answer and there is not only one answer to give for each one either. Let’s face it, fish can’t herd sheep and a Border Collie would be a bad choice to just sit and be a conversation piece in your living room. Neither one is built for that. So research what you need and want. Border Collies are great, but if they do not have a job, you may not like the one they pick out. They are not the ideal pet (as a breed) to just sit with a bed ridden person, they are very active and require a lot of exercise. Yes, they love their people, but an life in bed all day long is going to cause a Border Collie to have mental health problems. Ask a veterinarian about what type of pet would fit your lifestyle, you may be surprised by what we have to say!
5. “My rabbit (dog, cat, etc.) doesn’t need to go to the veterinarian. She’s healthy.”
I can’t tell you how many times, I have had someone come in with an animal that has said, “No, there are no problems with Fluffy. We never went to the vet because she is healthy” just to find out that there is something wrong. It may be something as simple as an ear infection or fleas, but it can also be something more severe like dental disease, a heart murmur, or kidney disease. Animal do not tend to show pain and discomfort like people do. They don’t complain about their stomach hurting or a tooth ache. They act as if nothing is wrong until they can no longer hide it and they stop eating, grooming, and playing or start vomiting, scratching or chewing off all of their hair, or scooting their back end across the floor. Some people notice their pet being a little bit more lethargic and less active, others attribute it to age or heat. The thing is, veterinarians are trained to see the signs that you may miss. We want you to be able to tell us that Spot is eating a half cup less of food or Fido is only able to walk 2 blocks instead of a mile. We look at the whole picture to find the problem. Sometimes, this requires blood tests or radiographs (x-rays) because they can’t say “my foot hurts” or “I have a stomach ache” – at least not in the way we think people do. A limp on a back leg could be a muscle strain, an ACL tear, or Lyme disease. I even had a patient that had a mild limp and turns out she had a broken foot. Other than the limp and a swollen toe, there were no signs that anything was wrong. It is generally recommended that most animals be seen at least once a year. Some animals like rabbits and guinea pigs may need to be seen 3-4 times a year (or more) to have their teeth checked. Older cats and dogs are often recommended to be seen twice a year. Animals with chronic diseases may need to be seen 3-4 times a year or more for monitoring of their condition and for other changes that come with age.
It all boils down to please really think about what you are doing prior to bringing a new animal home. Can you budget to provide for it? Do you have enough savings if there is an emergency right away (we saw what happened with Chilay in my previous post “New Beginnings”)? Have you researched the breed or requirements of the animal – special housing, temperament, health risks, an so forth? Do you really have the time or energy not just for daily care, but for training and veterinary visits? Is a young or older pet better for your circumstances? Do you have a plan for what to do with your pet when you go on vacation? If you have children, are you prepared for discussing death with them? Do you want a cat that loves to cuddle or one that is very aloof?
I would love for everyone to be able to have a pet that is their friend and secret keeper. The health benefits are amazing (if you aren’t allergic!) and when it is snuggle time, joy sings in your soul!
Here’s a picture of my little guy, Boots, to brighten your day!
God bless you all!