The Golden Rules of Pet Ownership

If you already have the pleasure of sharing your life with a companion animal then you probably know the golden rules of pet ownership. Owning a pet has countless benefits but also comes with responsibility. The relationship should be beneficial for both human and animal and result in a life long bond. Sadly however, Ireland’s pounds and animal rescue centres are full of stray, abandoned and mistreated animals. If you are considering adding a new “family member”, you should be aware of how much is actually involved.

First Steps
Avoid impulsive decisions when selecting a pet – to care for a pet requires a continuous commitment – it will change your every day life. So do the research! Speak to the experts like your local Vet or animal rescue organizations, they can advise you on which pet would be the best fit for your family or lifestyle. When choosing a dog breed make sure that its size and characteristics are suitable for you. For example, Husky type dogs have become a popular choice over the last few years, especially around Christmas time, but owners generally don’t realise just how much exercise, training and stimulation this breed requires. Don’t forget they were breed to drag heavy loads, long distances through the Artic regions, so a leisurely run in the Park may not cut it.

Word of warning! Get the proper papers. Most people know about and insist on Kennel Club papers, but if you’re told a pet has been vaccinated and wormed, insist on the vaccination book too. It should have pet’s details, vaccination list, the Vet’s legal stamp, date and signature; otherwise take it that its not been done! Parvo is a common, horribly painful cause of death in young pets, it is like Ebola in humans, you do not want to take such a risk after probably paying a lot of cash for a puppy, so bring them to a Vet ASAP for a full Health Check either way.

Remember – puppies don’t come trained. It takes time, patience and often money to ensure your dog becomes a well-socialised, well-balanced companion.

Golden Rule 1: Vaccinations
There are a number of diseases that can affect cats and dogs, having sudden and often fatal consequences. Thankfully there are readily available vaccinations to prevent your pet becoming ill. With an initial two injections at the start of life (from around 8-10 weeks of age), annual booster shots throughout their life, you can be sure that your dog or cat is protected.

Now for the ‘Ology’ part. Puppies are vaccinated against Distemper, Hepatitis, Adenovirus 1 & 2, Parvovirus and Leptospirosis 1, 2, 3 & 4. Kittens are vaccinated against Rhinotracheitis (Cat Flu), Calicivirosis, Panleucopaenia virus and Leukeamia virus.

If you’re thinking vaccinations aren’t completely necessary consider the health implications, not just for pets but also for you and your family. A dog infected with Leptospirosis may show no signs or symptoms but the disease can be passed onto humans. In humans it varies from a mild flu-like sickness to the very serious Weil’s Disease causing jaundice, kidney failure and a mortality rate of 5-10%. That’s just one of the diseases that can be passed on. I think everyone agrees, it is much easier and safer to regularly vaccinate your pets! Your Vet will give you a Vaccination Book recording all details and this is essential if you need to travel, kennel your pet while on holidays or if you are giving your pet to a new owner. If you’re travelling abroad then a Pet Passport is required, again only a Vet can issue these.

Golden Rule 2: Anti-parasites
Humans and pets can also be affected by the same parasites. Regular worming is essential, particularly for young animals. Not convinced? These worms can be passed onto children. Dog excrement can carry Toxocara canis, a common roundworm in dogs. If children are infected it can cause Toxocariasis, a potentially damaging illness. Toxoplasmosis can be transmitted to humans from cat excrement. Once a month worming treatment until 6 months old, then every three months for the remainder of their lives – at about €1 per week would you really want to take the chance?

While fleas generally won’t result in anything more serious than itchy lumps, they can act as hosts for tapeworms. Ticks can transmit diseases such as Lyme’s Disease and mites can cause Sarcoptic Mange, or Scabies, in humans. Regular flea and tick treatment for your animal costs around €7 per month and ensure that your pet, yourself and your family are protected from little nasties.

Golden Rule 3: Regular Health Checks
This is because pets (usually) don’t speak, so they may have an issue but can’t tell you about! Their ears, teeth, skin or eyes need health checks and we recommend them at least twice or three times a year.

Golden Rule 4: Nutrition
You would be surprised to learn the amount of pet food on sale that is an absolute waste of money! Just like human fast food, it can be filling but very unhealthy if it becomes the staple diet and in so many cases it has.

Good nutrition may seem expensive, but the pet needs smaller quantities and needs ‘to go’ less, so you can see the benefits and not surprisingly it actually costs less in the long run. Bad food leads to obesity, diabetes, bad teeth and other issues just like humans, so big medical bills can be avoided with good nutrition. Your Vet will advise you on this.

Golden Rule 5: Exercise
Pets need lots of stimulating play, walking and running to keep them in good shape. Make sure you plan the time for this everyday, not once a week! The great benefit of this for humans is it makes you get out too, so healthy pets usually have healthy owners!

Golden Rule 6: Neutering
Most vets advise neutering your pet from an early age. Aside from the problem of overpopulation, neutering has important health benefits. It prevents many forms of cancer and reduces the risk of many others. It also stops your male from wandering away from home in pursuit of females in heat and will prevent your female from being relentlessly pursued twice a year! Neutering is a simple procedure Vets routinely conduct under anaesthesia and pets recover quickly.

Golden Rule 7: Microchipping
With the passing of the Animal Health and Welfare Act, 2013 plans are underway to introduce compulsary microchipping for all dogs by 2016. Dog owners have been availing of the microchipping procedure for two decades and it has gained popularity recently as the benefits became more widely broadcast. Recognised as the most effective way of permanently identifying an animal, microchipping involves a tiny electronic device being implanted under an animal’s skin. Each chip has a unique ID number that can be read by a special scanner. The implanting procedure is simple and causes no more pain or discomfort than a standard vaccination. It’s a one off procedure, with the chip lasting for the rest of your pet’s life. With impending mandatory microchipping on the way, why wait.

A microchip is not a GPS tracking device, apart from the number it contains no other information. Implanting the chip is only the first step – it needs to be registered (e.g., if not, it’s absolutely useless. Microchipping is a great way to identify your pet should they go missing but it only works if your details are up to date, so if anything changes contact the relevant register and your Vet.

If a stray animal is found and scanned by, for example a Vet, they can contact the Register and track down the – as long as the correct details have been registered.
If you still think your dog doesn’t need to be microchipped maybe this will change your mind: 3,516 stray dogs were put down in Irish pounds in 2013 because the owners could not be found. No one plans to lose a pet but it happens daily. It is estimated that less than half of dogs that go missing are reunited with their owners with less than 2% of cats being reclaimed. Microchipping is not the sole cure for the stray epidemic but it will greatly contribute to reducing the numbers.

The Law and your pets
Owners are legally required to take responsibility for their pets including keeping them under control, yearly licensing (€20 per dog per year) and disposing of excrement in a suitable manner. If you don’t clean up, you are liable to a fine of €150. Under the Control of Dogs Act, 1986 dogs must be identifiable, wearing a collar bearing the name and address of the owner when out in public. The Control of Dogs Regulations 1998 imposes additional regulations on eleven types of dogs – you need to know these restrictions if you are thinking of obtaining one of these breeds.

So to recap:
Regular vaccinations, anti-parasite treatments, regular health checks, appropriate nutrition, exercise, early neutering or spaying, microchipping, socializing, training and a lot of love!

Responsible pet ownership, just like having kids, demands a huge investment of time and money but its also very rewarding.