Tuesday, November 23, 2010
First of all, let me just say that what follows is not an “official” list of things pet owners need to know. I’m not a veterinarian or animal behaviorist, but I am an animal lover and lifelong pet owner, and these are my personal suggestions. Knowledge is power, and so is awareness. Both can help us take better care of our beloved pets.
Exercise is vital to a pet’s wellbeing. A body needs to move in order to stay physically fit and mentally healthy. Regular exercise burns calories, stimulates a pet’s immune system, and increases muscle mass and cardiovascular strength. Many aggression and behavioral problems in dogs can be attributed to lack of exercise. Dogs need to run and play, which helps to burn off excess energy and keep boredom at bay. Even cats are more prone to mischief if no one takes the time to play with them. Sure, some cats can be pretty lazy and may need encouragement to chase that feather toy or mouse – but they’ll live longer and happier lives, so it’s worth the effort to engage them in play.
Know what to do in case of an emergency. We should know what to do if our pet gets hit by a car, sprains or breaks their leg, cuts themselves, has a seizure, is choking, stops breathing, gets heat stroke or hypothermia, or ingests something poisonous, to name just a few. Basic pet first-aid courses are offered in just about every major city, and can literally save your pet’s life.
Training is not optional. Aggressive or unruly dogs that don’t listen to you or follow your basic commands are no fun to be around. No, they don’t need to go to obedience school for years or master every trick known to man, but a well trained dog makes life easier, and ensures that they won’t be a nuisance to your neighbors or at the dog park. Cats need training too – believe it or not, even people who adore felines don’t want to eat at a table that your cat has just been lounging on. Cats don’t belong on kitchen counters either! If you need some help training them so stay off of these “no-kitty” zones, check out this article.
Many common plants are toxic to pets. We may love the way a particular plant beautifies our home or garden, but if it’s toxic to our pets, it doesn’t belong anywhere they have access to. It might surprise you that the list of plants which are potentially toxic to pets is quite long – more than 700 plants have been identified as producing toxins that could cause harmful effects in animals, ranging from mild nausea to death. The “most poisonous” list includes lilies, azalea, cyclamen, oleander, tulips, castor bean and sago palm. Read Plants Pets Should Not Eat for more information.
Our attitudes and emotions affect our pets. Animals are adept at picking up on their owner’s mood, be it happy, sad, worried or relaxed. They know when we hurt, and they try to make it better. When we’re in good spirits, our pets are too. Because how we feel can greatly impact our pets both positively and negatively, it behooves us to choose calmness over chaos when they are around us. It may not always be easy, but we owe it to these sentient beings to try. Click here for a related article on pets and emotions.
Lock up medicines, household cleaners and automotive fluids. Responsible parents go to great lengths to keep these items safely out of reach of their children. Responsible pet owners need to do the same for their four-legged “babies.” Ingesting pain relievers, drugs, vitamins and chemical-based cleaners can lead to rapid onset of illness and even death. Be sure to keep these numbers handy in case of accidental ingestion: ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center, (888) 426-4435; Animal Poison Hotline, (888) 232-8870.
Yearly wellness exams are essential. After you, your vet is the most important person in your pet’s life. Your cat or dog might appear to be perfectly healthy, but the only way to know for sure is to have them checked by a vet. Untreated dental disease can do more than give your pet bad breath; it can damage their kidneys, heart and liver. Some early signs of illness are very subtle, and many pets (especially cats) are masters at hiding illness. There is simply no substitute for a vet’s trained hands and eyes. Catching problems early will not only save you money but may also save your pet’s life.
Love works miracles. Love has the power to heal physical and emotional wounds like nothing else. The love you give to your pets is always returned, magnified to the nth degree. Dr. Karen Halligan, in her book What Every Pet Owner Should Know, writes “Loving a dog or cat is truly one of life’s most rewarding experiences. Animals can melt our hearts.” It’s true. An animal’s unconditional love can soften even the most hardened human heart.
Anatole France, novelist, satirist, playwright and poet, said it best: “Until one has loved an animal, part of one’s soul remains unawakened.”
Read more articles by Julia Williams