February is National Responsible Pet Owners Month. Pets are a joy to own, but they are also a commitment. Dogs and cats can live 10-20 years, and some pets such as birds can live even longer. They depend upon us fully to care for them, but in return they give us unconditional love.
So what are some ways to be a responsible pet owner?
- Spay or neuter your pet. Unfortunately in the U.S., there is an overpopulation of companion animals, with many dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets, and other pets living in shelters and rescues. Spaying and neutering helps prevent further overpopulation, and has some health benefits as well.
- Get pets from reputable sources. On a similar note, when looking to add to your family, consider rescues and shelters. There are many pure bred rescues if you want a pure bred, and mixed breed animals often have the benefit of fewer health issues.
- Go to the vet annually. While your pet may not require yearly vaccinations, the physical examination is the most important part of your visit. Pets are very good at hiding pain and problems, and going to the vet regularly may help catch issues earlier, when they are easier to prevent or treat.
- Microchip or otherwise identify your pet. Tags with phone numbers are important, and having a microchip with current information can help reunite with your pet should you get separated. Make sure to keep microchip information current if you move or get a new phone number.
- Go to training. Training your dog helps strengthen your bond, and can help prevent or reduce behavior issues. Things like agility can also give you both something active to do together.
- Provide good nutrition. Your pet needs a well balanced, nutritious diet to have a long, healthy life. At the same time, don’t overfeed. Obesity is a major issue affecting our pets and can cause multiple health issues. Talk with your veterinarian about recommended foods and amounts.
- Provide regular grooming. Almost all dogs need their nails trimmed periodically, and most dogs need a bath every once in awhile. Some pets require regular brushing to keeps tangles at bay, and some dogs need professional grooming to maintain a health coat and skin.
- Hygiene is important as well. Ears should be cleaned periodically. Anal glands may need to be emptied on a regular basis. Teeth should be brushed, ideally daily, with a pet tooth paste. Regular veterinary dental care may be required as well.
- Be prepared for emergencies. Have a basic first aid kit handy; there are even some made specifically for pets. Know that certain human medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), and naproxen (Aleve) are toxic to pets. Have emergency veterinarian contact information handy. Keep a file of copies of bloodwork and other important health information handy in case you need to see a veterinarian other than your regular vet.
- Have pet insurance or a savings account for your pets’ health. There are multiple options for pet health insurance that may be able to alleviate the cost burden and financial part of making decisions in an emergency. Having a regular savings account for your pet’s yearly care, with a buffer for emergency situations is another way to handle this.
- Provide mental and physical stimulation. Exercise is important for our pets, helping control weight, as well as giving a release for pent up energy that could otherwise feed unwanted behavior. Mental stimulation such as scent training, puzzle toys, and foraging for food/treats is also important for that same reason.
- Travel safely. Pets should be confined when in a vehicle for their own and your safety. There are multiple seat belt and harnesses available, as well as carriers, confinement nets, or crates.
- Pet proof your house. Wires and cords make tempting play toys to puppies and kittens. Plants may pose a toxic threat. Yards may have unforeseen escape routes or dangers. Imagine yourself at their level and educate yourself about potential toxins to keep out of their reach.
- Clean up after your pets. Dogs can spread disease to other pets and humans via their feces, so if they have a bowel movement in public, be sure to clean it up. This is also just the nice, neighborly thing to do!
- Teach children to respect animals. Discuss with children how to ask before going up to strange animals. Teach them to understand basic dog and cat body language cues, and teach them how to approach and pet animals appropriately. Supervise children and pets when they are together. Lead by example.
Overall, there are many things that play a role into being a responsible pet owner. These are just a few examples of things that contribute to having a healthy, happy pet for many years!