By Dr. Bruce Little
Every spring brings with it, National Pet Week, a tribute to the pets that share our daily lives. The week of
May 1-7 has been designated as National Pet Week this year. The theme for the event is “A Lifetime of Love”, and is meant to reach out to pet owners and veterinarians alike to spread the concepts of responsible pet ownership and the need for preventive veterinary care for our four-legged family members. National Pet Week was originated in 1981 by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) and the Auxiliary to the AVMA for the purpose of fostering responsible pet ownership and recognizing the human-animal bond. Since that time, National Pet Week has flourished into an event that has brought veterinarians and pets to elementary schools, college campuses, nursing homes, hospitals and Veteran’s Administration facilities to bring joy, entertainment and knowledge to the participants who utilize those facilities. National Pet Week benefits many groups of people and organizations; however, the primary recipient of the results are the pets themselves, be they dogs, cats, horses, birds, gerbils, fish, or any other animal that serves to make the lives of family members more gratifying.
The format this year is to specify a topic for each of the seven days of National Pet Week as follows:
May 1 – CHOOSE WELL. COMMIT FOR LIFE.
Family pets can be procured from several sources including purchasing a pet from a pet store or a private breeder, or one can adopt a pet from an animal shelter, pet adoption center or breed rescue organization. Before buying or adopting a pet from any source, the family must determine what type of pet would best suit the family life style and living environment into which the new addition to the family will be brought. Most all puppies are cuddly and cute while young; however, all puppies that are properly nurtured grow into adult dogs. The size, breed, age, disposition, need for space and other criteria must be weighed judiciously before taking a pet home. The primary reason many pets are given up to shelters and rescue operations are unfulfilled expectations. It is very important to make informed decisions by including all of the family in the choice of pets and choose diligently to commit for life.
May 2 – SOCIALIZE NOW! NEW DOESN’T HAVE TO BE SCARY.
Members of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB), a board certification designation for post-graduate veterinarians, advises almost universally that puppies should start their behavior lessens at about eight (8) weeks of age. The first order of socialization is to introduce the puppy to people outside the immediate family members who feed and care for the puppy. It is equally beneficial for the puppy to be introduced to other animals such as dogs, cats, birds or any other animal that might be present in the new puppy’s environment. Many trainers prefer to utilize group training sessions where puppies are literally forced to meet and accept others into their world without exhibiting fear or anxiety. Recent studies have shown that punishment-based training methods, also called aversive training, may do more harm than good because they may cause increased fear and anxiety. Punishment training techniques may include a spank on the butt or a loud, harsh voice command. However, if that smack to the body or harsh word came more than a few seconds after the unwanted act, the pet will not associate the punishment with the action. Positive training rewards the pet with a treat, such as a tasty kibble, when they perform the actions as desired. In my experience, all members of the ACVB prefer positive training techniques versus punishment training techniques. And the myth that “old dogs cannot learn new tricks” is in fact just that, a myth. With proper training and persistence, all dogs at any age can have their manners upgraded to some extent.
May 3 – EXERCISE BODY, EXERCISE MIND.
In the 1990’s the AVMA and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) created a program in partnership that stated, “Walk your dog, it will be good for both of you”. Along with their masters, most pets are considered overweight or obese. In fact, according to 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 desired weight. It is generally considered that an animal that is 15% or more over its optimum weight is considered to be obese. Approximately 27.4% of cats and 16.7% of dogs are designated as obese. 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 if not corrected, and recently various forms of cancer have been linked to obesity in pets. It has been determined that obesity reduces life expectancy in our pets up to 15% of their normal lifespan. And it doesn’t have to be that way. The office of U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy and his office have been promoting walking and developing walking communities for maintaining good health. The call to action by the Surgeon General mentions walking the dog as one reason people are walking more. Walking the dog or allowing the dog into an outside enclosure to romp and play benefits its health immensely. Building climbing towers and making cats work for their food with a food bowl that makes them find the food in hidden places makes them eat slower and use more calories to eat a meal. And, as we all know, a healthy body makes for a healthy mind. Make exercise and weight loss a mind game and it will improve both mind and body.
May 4 – LOVE YOUR PET? SEE YOUR VETERINARIAN!.
Recent studies reveal the number of visits to their veterinarians by the 164 million household pets in the United States is declining by a significant amount, while the incidence of preventable diseases such as arthritis, obesity, dental disease, heart failure, diabetes and allergic dermatitis are growing at an unprecedented rate. In fact, 4 out of 5 cats over three years of age have dental problems. Yet, only about 38% of cats have seen a veterinarian in the past five years. One out of every three dogs has an internal parasite infestation that has been undiagnosed, and may cause other health problems such as suppressed immune systems, diarrhea, heart problems and/or anemia. And, it is estimated that 25% of dogs in households have never been to a veterinarian. All these conditions are preventable if monitored accurately. My suggestion is to schedule a visit to your veterinarian annually for a checkup and a proper therapeutic regimen as needed to correct these problems. All pets should see their veterinarian at least once per year. If it becomes financially impossible for the pet family to do this, I suggest talking to your veterinarian about the possibility of methods of financing such as pet health insurance, Care Credit or other avenue for funding animal hospital visits.
May 5 – PET POPULATION CONTROL: KNOW YOUR ROLE.
Despite the hard work of shelters and rescue facilities all across the country, it is estimated that millions of dogs and cats enter America’s shelters each year, and more than half of them will never leave alive. While great progress has been made in adopting out many of these pets, accurate and comprehensive nation-wide data does not exist on how many of them are taken to new homes and how many have to be euthanized. National statistics on euthanasia of dogs and cats are difficult to pinpoint because animal care and control agencies are not required to keep statistics on the number of animals taken in, adopted, euthanized or reclaimed; however, suffice it to say that millions of dogs and cats are euthanized annually in the 4,000 or so animal shelters, adoption centers and rescue organizations across America. Many of these animals are there because they have a health issue and euthanasia is performed as a humane gesture, many are there because they are untrainable or too aggressive to be included in a family setting and most are there because families were not ready to accept the duties of responsible pet ownership. Be sure you want a pet added to the family before adopting, then choose the appropriate pet for your family living situation and enjoy the many benefits of pet ownership. It should be a long-lasting and beautiful relationship for the entire family, including the newly added pet.
May 6 – EMERGENCIES HAPPEN. BE PREPARED .
Hurricanes, tornados, earthquakes, flooding, fires, severe weather conditions such as blizzards, man-made disasters such as chemical spills or nuclear spills, terrorism or bio-terrorism are constant reminders that none of us live in a protected zone from emergency and disaster preparedness needs. Do not wait until it is too late. Create an emergency plan and disaster kit with the items you might need to survive several days without electricity, water or food. Preparing ahead of time and acting quickly are the best ways to keep you and your family, including your pets, out of danger. Talk to your veterinarian about what you should include in a disaster plan. Remember, the most logical evacuation route may be overloaded with cars, people and emergency vehicles who have the same plan. Create a Plan B and Plan C for alternate routes and methods of evacuation. Identify alternate sources of food and water. In case you are not at home when the emergency strikes, place stickers on the front and back doors of the house to notify neighbors, fire fighters, police, military units and other rescue personnel of animals on your property. Disasters can strike at any time and at any place. Written instructions, both for emergency first responders and family members may save time and lives. Lives, money and anxiety can be spared with proper emergency and disaster planning. And that makes for a better life for all family members, including the animals in our lives.
May 7 and FOREVER – GIVE THEM A LIFETIME OF LOVE .
As stated above, there are approximately 164 million pets that reside in our homes in the United States. Unfortunately, too many millions of these pets end up in animal shelters where more than half of them are determined unadoptable or they just do not attract the attention from the public for adoption and are euthanized. The primary reason for this shameful disposition of family pets is due to the lack of responsible pet ownership. Too many people refuse to be responsible caretakers of these animals and either drop them off at an animal shelter or turn them loose to be captured by animal control officers. We have a legal and moral obligation to care for the health and well-being of the pets we keep in our households. If we give them FOREVER LOVE, they will give us UNCONDITIONAL LOVE in return. And that, is what makes the human-animal bond so precious!
AVMA National Pet Week – www.avma.org/petweek