By Dr. Bruce Little
One has to go all the way back to my generation growing up in the 1950’s to recall the words to the song made popular by singer Patti Page titled, “How much is that doggy in the window?” A very uplifting song that made you want to go out immediately and purchase a puppy or a kitty for your child, spouse, significant other or sometimes grandparents. But don’t do it! It is not recommended to spontaneously purchase a puppy from the breeder or the pet store, or to adopt a dog from an animal shelter, breed rescue or animal control facility until the entire family has put a lot of thought into the matter. Be patient as you may not see the perfect pet the first time you look. Create a list of the size and type of pet you want to spend the next twelve to fifteen years with as a family member. Owning a pet is a privilege, but the benefits of pet ownership come with responsibilities. Don’t purchase a live animal of any kind without analyzing the situation closely regarding the time commitment, costs for preventive healthcare and food, energy required especially if you choose a puppy, living environment and willingness to provide responsible management of the dog. It takes commitment to choose a pet that is suited to your home and lifestyle. Keep only the type and number of pets for which you can provide appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and companionship daily. You must properly socialize and train your pet and provide appropriate exercise and mental stimulation. Pet ownership requires a substantial investment in time and money to provide preventive health care, such as vaccinations, parasite control and grooming. You must budget for potential emergencies that will probably come at some point in time. Obey all local ordinances including licensing, leash control and noise control. Be sure to have your dog or cat implanted with an identifying microchip, a collar with your name and contact information visible on the collar, and/or an identifying tattoo. Keep the contact information updated on the microchip registry supplied by the company that keeps the database which is usually the company that makes the microchip. Have your dog or cat spayed or neutered as only those animals intended for reproduction need to remain sexually intact. Prepare an emergency preparation kit in advance in case disaster in the form of a tornado, wildfire, earthquake, hurricane or other force of nature or human accident comes to your area. You should make arrangements to place your pet with another family member or rescue organization if you find you can no longer provide care for your pet. Do not abandon your pet to become a feral dog or cat, or worse yet, get hit by a motor vehicle and injured or killed. Consult with your veterinarian regarding the health and well-being of your pet and rely on the veterinarian and her staff to guide you on responsible pet ownership. It will make life much easier for you and your family including the pets.
It is not wise to give pets as holiday gifts. It is best to have the gift recipient visit with the pet and bond with it rather than offering a sudden, surprising gift. It is best to wait until after a holiday period to place the new pet in the household. Friends and family are constantly coming and going with gifts, food, plants, various drinks, and pets of their own into your house. There is an abundance of activity and very little oversight of the newly arrived pet for protection from all the possibilities that may befall it. There is just too much activity for a new animal to comprehend. And that starts them off on the wrong foot by creating opportunities to ingest something toxic or potentially dangerous for them to have. If you insist on giving a pet for Christmas or Hanukah take a picture of the pet and place it in a wrapped box to open on the day that your family traditionally does that. Go through the entire process of the purchase or adoption, but leave the pet where it is adapted to the daily routine until after the holidays. Once the house has returned to normal take the recipient to pick up the pet and bring it home where it can get your undivided attention for the most important bonding process to take place.
Preplanning for a new pet in the family takes considerable thought and consideration. Too many families spontaneously purchase a pet only to find they should have put more thought into the process. The size of the dog usually determines the type and cost of pet food. Just because you live in an apartment doesn’t mean you are barred from dog ownership. Some breeds can thrive in apartment living provided they are taken out for walks regularly. Surprisingly, Great Danes do very well in an apartment with small living quarters. They spend much of their time lounging and can flourish without much space. So, the size of the living space does not necessarily dictate the size of the dog. Grooming and bathing can be challenging for many breeds of dogs who have thick coats and need continual attention. Advances in veterinary medicine have been great for the well-being of our pets; however, enhanced diagnostic and treatment methods come with a sometimes much higher cost to the pet owner. Digital x-ray, ultrasound, CT scans, laser therapy, hip and knee replacements contribute to the health and well-being of our pets, but these technological advances come with increased costs for veterinary services. In a recent study by the Healthy Paws Foundation it was determined that 26% of re-homed pets were due to families not being able to afford veterinary care that was needed. Healthy Paws Pet Insurance Company reports a dog with intervertebral disc disease that cost $44,296 and a cat that was treated for liver cancer that ran up a $14,000 bill. Most families cannot readily afford such expenses that usually come without warning and destroy the family budget, if in fact, they can come up with the money at all.
For more than a decade there has been added attention to the fact that, along with their masters, most pets are considered overweight or obese. In fact, per a 2014 study done by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) 57.6% of cats are overweight or obese, while dogs are close behind with 52.6% of them weighing more than the optimal weight for their breed and age. It is generally considered that an animal that is 15% or more over its optimum weight is obese. Approximately 27.4% of cats and 16.7% of dogs are designated as obese. To regard this epidemic of obesity a normal occurrence is a monumental disservice to the animals that have become a part of our families. Overweight pets are predisposed to many health concerns such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint injury and osteoarthritis, heart and respiratory diseases that leads to decreased life expectancy and recently various forms of cancer have been linked to obesity in pets. Hip replacement and cruciate ligament surgeries cost additional money that can be prevented with proper weight control for your pet. It has been determined that obesity reduces life expectancy in our pets up to 15% of their normal lifespan. It takes discipline and commitment to properly feed and exercise a dog or cat to lose weight. Develop a plan and stick to it and the reward will be a more active, more loveable, and longer living pet with less trips to the veterinarian to treat conditions that develop due to excess weight. And remember to walk your dog, it will do you both good!
Pet health insurance, like human health insurance, is designed to spread the risk of having to pay sometimes unexpected large amounts of money for accidents and illness over a broad number of policy holders. As the cost of healthcare service increases, pet owners can place a reasonable amount of premium cost into their monthly budgets and be prepared for events that can and do happen. In an emergency, health care costs may become prohibitive for some pet owners, all too frequently ending in the pet owner’s decision to euthanize the pet rather than treat it. Having a pet insurance policy helps pet owners make tough decisions during these stressful times. No matter how financially or mentally prepared we think we might be, these situations are always unexpected, emotionally stressful, and financially draining. Making the decision to end the life of your pet because you cannot afford needed veterinary care is a difficult decision to place on a family.
As one can see, veterinary care over the years has drastically improved helping our pets live longer, healthier lives. However, we must be prepared for the occasional event that may require sophisticated diagnostic equipment and treatment protocols that have escalated immensely in costs. Prepare for the unknown and enjoy your pet to its fullest.