The decision to add a new furry family member should be a time of joy for the household, especially if your family has prepared properly for the event. The more research and planning you do beforehand has a direct effect on the success of the adoption process and eventually how happy and healthy your dog or cat will be in their new home. Below, in “The Caring Vet Column,” Dr. Jeff Werber answers some basic questions to make the transition smooth and rewarding for all concerned.
What do people need to know before they get a puppy or kitten and how should they prepare their home?
First, it is important to decide on the type of pet you want, one that suits your lifestyle. Most dogs that end up in shelters do so as a result of behavior/lifestyle issues. Set yourself up for success. Do you have an active lifestyle and want a companion for your activities? Do you like to hang around the house and have limited outside activity? Do you live in a large home with a yard, or are you in a small apartment? You don’t want an active or herding dog cooped up in a small apartment all day; they’ll go stir crazy and often develop behavior problems. Often larger dogs, such as German Shepherds or Greyhound rescues, are happy to stay at home lounging. Smaller dogs tend to bark more and may cause problems if you live in a small apartment house with neighbors on all sides. If you have small children, some breeds, such as Boxers, have a great track record.
If you’re away a lot and need a pet that can be slightly self-sufficient, you might consider a cat (or two, so that they have company and socialization). Cats are easy going and don’t generally require as much attention as does a dog. They can be left for a couple of days at a time if you provide sufficient food and water. For multiple cat households, males tend to be more social in larger groups. In considering a cat or kitten, think about how much time you’ll actually spend grooming to help you determine if you want a short haired or longer haired cat. The hair length (or lack thereof as in a sphinx, for example) does not affect allergies. If allergies are an issue, there are some breeds of dogs that are more hypoallergenic than others, such as Poodles and Poodle crosses, Bichon Frises, Soft-Coated Wheaton Terriers, and Malteses.
Preparing your home for a new puppy or kitten is not so different from preparing it for a new baby. I like to use Murphy’s Law as my guide: If there’s any way they can get into something, they will! Be prepared to close up or cover sockets, keep wires hidden or inaccessible, as well as any shoes you hope to wear again. Given a choice between your old, coming-apart slippers, and your brand new Nikes, they’re going for the Nikes.
To prepare for a puppy you’ll need to identify an area in which the puppy can be confined, be it a crate, a playpen, a laundry room, or in a bedroom. Confinement is not a punishment but a tool that will help teach your pup to redirect undesirable behaviors and to provide a safe environment when needed. New Kittens need a “safe” room as well, equipped with a litter box, food/water, a scratching post, and some kitty toys to keep them occupied.
It is critical to remember that the behaviors we find most objectionable in puppies are normal, natural and essential behaviors. Puppies need to chew, dig and eliminate. The key is not to fixate on bad behaviors, because they’re not essentially bad, but to redirect them to appropriate outlets for the natural behavior. This means providing a variety of chew toys and activities to work off energy. This means expect bathroom mistakes. While housebreaking, keep the puppy on linoleum, tile or hardwood, to reduce the consequences of a mishap. Keep puppy pads or newspaper available between walks. Be aware of when your dog has eaten and may need to eliminate, so you can walk him or her at the right time. Spend time bonding with your pup. Their desire to please you is the greatest motivation of all. The more time you spend, the closer the bond, the more they’ll want to get it right.
What are some average costs associated with getting a puppy/kitten?
If you adopt a puppy or kitten from a shelter, it should cost between $40 – $100. If you go to a breed rescue, where the vaccines have already been administered, and the dog’s nature and temperament are more established, it could cost $300-$400.
The average cost for the three necessary vaccinations (DA2P/Parvo, Bordetella) is about $120; a Rabies vaccination will run about $25, and spay/neuter another $250 to $350 or so. There are low cost spay neuter clinics in many cities that may be more affordable. Food and standard veterinary care should run about $1000-$1200 per year.
How often does a dog or cat need to go to the vet when they are young?
Puppies/kittens should be seen every month for shots and vaccinations until they are 5 months old. Between 6 months and one year they will need to be spayed/neutered. Once the pet is an adult and healthy, she/he should be seen once per year until they are about 7, at which time they should be seen twice per year.
What is the average lifespan of a dog and cat?
As a general rule (to which there are always exceptions) the larger the breed, the shorter the lifespan. A giant Mastiff or Great Dane, for example, is old at 8 years. To reach the age of 11 is amazing for such a breed. The large breeds, such as Retrievers and Shepherds are old at 10 and lucky if they see 13, 14. The medium size breeds such as spaniels and terriers can live to be as old as 13-15, and the smaller breeds can live up to 17, 18 years. Cats start getting old at 13, 14 and can live 19, 20 years.
How important is socialization and when should a pet owner start the process?
Socialization is extremely important! Especially since most animals are relinquished by owners for behavior issues, including aggression. Key socialization takes place at between 8 and 18 to 20 weeks of age. This is why behaviorists like to get pets to families later in a puppy’s development, giving it a longer time, 10 weeks as opposed to 8, with mom. This helps teach the pup socialization skills that better prepare it for a household. There is, however, an issue of disease contraction when a puppy is young.
Socialization with dogs you don’t know and whose vaccine histories you don’t have, is not recommended. To protect your puppy and still provide him or her with the necessary socialization, I recommend you set up play dates, just as you would with a kid, with friends whose pets are well vaccinated and healthy. And not at a public park where there are lots of dogs you don’t know. This way your pup will get the socialization he needs with a much reduced risk of disease.
Why is it important to vaccinate dogs even if they are inside most of the time?
Vaccinations are responses to core deadly diseases that are endemic to certain areas. Often these diseases are airborne and can be spread without direct contact. Distemper, for example is airborne and also can be spread through contact with feces. Since it is an airborne virus, your inside dog can still contract it through an exchange of air (an open window). Parvo is spread through feces, but can be spread even by a non-infected dog who, because he has been vaccinated will not himself get the virus, but whose stool might still shed the virus which can then be picked up by your dog while on a walk.
Bordetella (kennel cough) is airborne. So even if your dog never goes out, it can still be contracted. Don’t be mislead by the moniker, kennel cough. It can be a threat in any public place where dogs gather, such as a park or groomer. If it’s not prevalent in your area, and you don’t take your dog to parks or to the groomer, you may not need to vaccinate against it.
Other diseases that can be vaccinated against or prevented may not be core, but might be prevalent in your area, such as Lyme disease, rattlesnake bites, or heartworm. Check with your veterinarian for advice.
For cats that are indoor-only cats, there is no need to vaccinate against leukemia or rabies, unless required to by law.
Should inside dogs use flea, tick and heartworm preventatives?
Yes, in endemic areas, heartworm prevention should be used, due to the possibility of a mosquito transmitted disease (as it could even come in contact through an open window). And for fleas as well, since even indoor dogs can become hosts for fleas that enter the house on your shoes. For ticks, it depends on whether your dog goes to wooded areas or where there are lots of bushes. If you never take your dog to a park, and never go hiking, then you may not need tick protection.
Any other information pet owners should know about necessary medications for their pets?
I am a big believer in supplementation to help strengthen systems and prevent illness. I recommend my clients use Pro Sense Multi-Vitamin, Pro Sense Glucosamine and antioxidant supplementation for older dogs and large breeds. And with harsh environment and potential for disease, puppies and adult dogs can likewise benefit from Pro Sense’s multivitamin, antioxidant, and omega 3 supplementation.
Sickness warning signs to talk to your vet about
What are some common symptoms of illness or distress that pet owners shouldn’t ignore?
Most common are diminished activity and/or lethargy, and gastrointestinal signs like loss of appetite, vomiting or diarrhea.
Also common are skin problems, like dry/dull coat, excessive scratching, red or inflamed skin, or a cat who stops grooming.
How long should a pet owner wait before calling the vet if they notice symptoms in their pet?
If vomiting persists for more than 12 hours, or your pet is extremely weak or lethargic, contact your veterinarian.
Diarrhea that is simply soft mushy stool with mucus or red blood, often indicates a large intestinal problem, which looks ugly but is not as serious. Before panicking, add fiber (bran, oatmeal, canned pumpkin or psyllium) to a bland diet and see if it improves within a day or so.
Diarrhea that is really watery, liquidy or projectile, usually indicates a small intestinal problem, which could be more serious. This should not wait more than one day before contacting your veterinarian.
In general, you should weigh all symptoms; if your dog vomits, and then wants to eat, and play, I’m not as concerned; if a dog vomits but won’t eat and is lethargic, then it is more important to get him or her in sooner.
Bloat is potentially fatal. If you notice that your dog’s belly (especially a large or giant breed) seems bloated, very full, almost pregnant-like, it is a potentially a medical emergency ESPECIALLY if it is associated with dry heaving. Get your pet to a veterinarian right away.
Similarly, if you have a cat who makes frequent attempts to urinate/defecate and cannot, for more than a few hours, this is a potential medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention. The cat’s bladder may be blocked by crystals or urethral plugs which can be fatal if not unblocked.
Also, if you notice your pet squinting, or pawing at his or her eyes, or experiencing excessive tearing, this could indicate an eye problem such as a corneal ulcer, an allergic or traumatic irritation, or even early glaucoma, and s/he should be seen by a veterinarian as soon as possible.
What are some less common warning signs of various conditions that pet owners should be aware of?
Limping: If your dog comes up lame suddenly, and is using the leg, but seems to favor it, let him or her rest for a day or two. It could be a soft tissue issue that will resolve. If, on the other hand, the pet is totally non weight bearing on that leg and won’t put it down, or cries in pain when touched, or appears not aligned, this is reason to take him or her right in to your veterinarian as it could be a broken bone.
If your pet has back pain, is stiff or hesitant to get up on furniture, cries when you pick him/her up, and seems drunk or wobbly on his/her back legs, it could indicate a back or disc problem that should be checked out by your veterinarian.
Just like with raising a child, a new pet is a lot of “on the job training.” As you play with, train, and bond with your new pet, you will get to know their “baseline” and you will develop a sense of when they are “off.” Veterinarians give great credibility to, and have the utmost respect for the pet parent who brings in their pet with the preliminary diagnosis of A.D.R., “ain’t doin’ right.” Partner with your veterinarian to insure your pet’s good health!
Top photo credit: Clipart.com.