Pet Health: Responsible Pet Ownership

Please don't give someone a puppy, kitten, or any other gift pet if they're not prepared for the duties of responsible pet ownership.
By Andrea Looney, D.V.M.
December/January 1993
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Is the recipient of your gift ready for responsible pet ownership?

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During this joyous time of placing wrapped gifts under perfectly trimmed trees, I've got a favor to ask of all of you. Please think things through before giving someone else an adorable puppy or kitty — or even a goldfish for that matter. Accommodate prospective owners by making sure they are interested in a live gift. (In other words, please don't give a friend a kitten just because you think it's so darn cute.)

Then consider whether or not the someone special who'll be receiving this gift is aware of all the responsibilities of pet ownership. Young kids usually see their gift as a tail-wagging pal, not a dog that aches to be let out at 5 A.M. every morning. Unfortunately, the holiday season is one of the busiest times of the year for humane societies and animal shelters across the country. Too many furry presents don't work out and get returned. If you're absolutely sure your gift will be cared for, supply the new owner with a good behavior manual or gift certificate to a training league or session. Start off the new year right with proper foods and toys and possibly even a complimentary trip to the veterinarian.

Winter, in general, poses special risks to our domestic friends. Give you and your pet a safer, healthier season by following a few simple tips. Keep indoor pets in dry, draft-free areas; older animals should have their beds elevated off the ground or floor. Provide outdoor animals with a dry, insulated pet house or shelter out of the wind. Staying warm also demands plenty of extra calories, so feed your pet accordingly — especially those housed entirely outdoors. Even the best-coated, healthiest animals will have trouble coping with below- or near-zero temperatures for longer than a couple of days. Consider bringing these animals inside, especially when the sun goes down or severe wind chill periods occur.

As for ice, salt, and caked mud, remove them from your pet's paws and coat at regular intervals. If you suspect frostbite, re-warm the affected areas gently by wrapping them in lukewarm (not hot!) water compresses. Frostbitten skin may turn white or gray once rewarmed. In no instances should the frozen skin be rubbed, which could cause irreparable damage to the skin.

Many of us enjoy hibernating under the covers for long winter naps. Cats and kittens are no different, only they opt for warm car engines and radiators instead of beds. So knock on the hood or give a quick honk to your horn and wait a few minutes before starting your car.

Beware of antifreeze — pets love the smell and taste of it, but even a teaspoon is enough to cause irreversible kidney damage. Clean up spills at once and tightly close containers and store them where pets cannot get to them. With a little common sense and precautionary care, you and your pet will have a stress-free holiday season. Happy New Year to both of you.

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