By Margaret V. Root Kustritz, DVM, PhD, DACT
Having a new pet is a joyous experience. However, before bringing home a new pet, many decisions need to be made. First you need to decide if a pet is right for you, and then which pet to choose. A great deal of responsibility comes with being a pet guardian. Are you prepared to raise a puppy or kitten? Would you be better suited to adopt an adult pet?
Practical Considerations Must Come First
Is anyone in your house allergic to animals? Cat allergies are more common than are allergies to dogs, and most people are allergic to the animal's dander, not its hair. Medical treatment is available for people with allergies to animals, ranging from intermittent use of antihistamines to allergy shots. People with moderate to severe pet allergies probably should not have a dog or cat and may want to consider reptiles, fish or birds.
- Dogs require daily exercise, either walking on a leash, running in an area approved for dogs off-leash, or in a fenced yard.
- The area where the dog passes stool should be cleaned up at least weekly, more often if you have more than one dog or a large dog.
- Most dogs require some brushing and occasional baths -- longhaired breeds may require daily brushing and professional grooming every 2 to 3 months.
- Dogs may be fed ad-lib, in which case food is always available, but more commonly are fed a meal once or twice daily. Fresh water must be available at all times.
- Dogs must be house-trained to be good pets. Most dogs also benefit from training, which allows the owner to keep the dog in control when it is off the leash or enthusiastically greeting visitors. Training of puppies is especially valuable in large-breed dogs that may quickly become too big for the owners to handle easily. Contact your local PETCO for information about its Canine Education classes.
- Puppies receive a series of vaccinations from 8 weeks to 5 months of age and can be spayed or neutered safely any time after 7 weeks of age.
- Cats should be kept indoors for their safety and do not tolerate forced exercise.
- Cat boxes must be provided for animals that spend any amount of time inside - the appropriate number of boxes varies with the temperament and state of health of the cats. With young, healthy easy-going cats, one large box for a few cats could actually work. On the other hand, with elderly, sickly or finicky cats, more than one box per cat may be necessary. Many types of litter are available and cats do show preferences. The cat box should be cleaned of urine, feces and soiled litter as often as necessary, preferably daily.
- Most cats will groom themselves readily but enjoy an occasional brushing. Long-haired cats and obese cats must be brushed regularly to ensure that mats do not form in their coat and to prevent the cat from eating excessive amounts of hair, which may form hairballs in their stomach.
- Cats tend to eat small amounts of food multiple times over the day and so can be provided with a set amount of food each morning. Fresh water must be available at all times.
Once you decide that you want a dog or a cat, where do you turn for more information on choosing the right pet for you? It is in your best interest and the animal's to do research first so that you get a pet with which you will be happy.
This article reprinted compliments of Hill's Pet Nutrition, Inc. To learn more about new pets, visit the Science Diet web site.