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Providing the Perfect Home For Your 4 Legged Family Member

By Sherry Weaver, D.V.M.

1. Do your research, and pick the right pet for your lifestyle. The history of different types of dogs and cats will give you better insight as to what that breed will need. Some are high-energy, some independent. Sometimes, people who work long hours will choose a high energy breed, such as a border collie or an Australian shepherd. These dogs are wonderful but may develop behavior problems if not given enough of an outlet for their energy level. Cats or small dogs may be a better option for busy people.

2. Feed them quality food. Theres an overwhelming variety of food choices on the market. The most important factor to consider is which companies use research-based ingredients to formulate their food. On the average, more expensive foods use better ingredients, which provides better nutrition, and companies that spend less on advertising can spend more providing healthy food.

3. Consider the preventative health care needs of your pet. If I were to choose one thing to do annually for my patients, it would be to get an exam and bloodwork. The annual checkup is a chance to find things that arent causing a problem yet, and prevent them from ever becoming a problem. So many medical problems, if caught early, can be addressed relatively inexpensively, preventing pain and illness, as well as more expensive bills later. Other health care needs include:

*Heartworm prevention - Of all of the preventative medications that a dog can take, heartworm prevention is the most important. In this area, over half of the dogs who dont get prevention will get heartworm disease, which can be fatal.

*Vaccines - Vaccines are very important for puppies and kittens to develop healthy immune systems. In adulthood, vaccines help keep your pet safe from illness.

*Dental care - If all owners would brush their dogs teeth 3 times a week, they could live as much as 2 years longer. Unfortunately, most of us do not succeed in accomplishing this, so the next best thing is regular dental cleanings. Since dogs cannot readily cooperate by opening their mouths on command, dental cleanings must be performed under anesthesia in order to thoroughly evaluate their teeth.

4. All dogs need exercise. Unfortunately, most dogs have infinitely more energy than their owners, and all that extra energy can be easily turned toward chewing and destroying furniture and other valuables. Try to find a game that encourages the dog to use more energy than you do, such as fetch, or teach your dog to use the treadmill. For some individuals, doggie day care provides this. Cats will exercise with something as simple as a paper bag or a laser light.

5. Enrichment - pets need to be mentally challenged. Thinking toys offer more than play, they are a chance for pets to use their natural behaviors to problem solve. Imagine being home all day with no TV or books, and that is how your pet can feel every day. Solving puzzles will keep your pet mentally stimulated, which will prevent them from finding less appropriate ways to entertain themselves.

6. Dogs need social interaction, (cats less so, but they often enjoy a companion). If youre not home all day, another dog may fill that roll. But you should only get a second dog if youre sure you can give it the same care as your first one. If 2 dogs arent right for you, try doggie day care or play dates with your neighbors.

7. Pet insurance is a great idea. No matter how good of a parent you are, accidents happen. Be prepared for the unforeseen by either getting pet insurance or setting aside a savings account. A serious injury requiring a specialty center can cost as much as $10,000, although most emergencies treated at your local veterinarian are closer to $1000-3000. Research your options to make sure youre able to provide this care if its needed.

Pet ownership can be one of the most rewarding parts of life when planned appropriately.