independent

Monday 22 July 2019

The challenge of having a new pet in your life

Animal Doctor

It’s important to establish a good schedule for a new pet
It’s important to establish a good schedule for a new pet

Pete Wedderburn

Susie had done her research carefully when she chose her first dog. She had visited a well known dog rescue centre, and with the help of their team, she'd been matched to a five year old terrier called Rosie. Rosie was a nervous, quiet creature, but Susie knew that she was the one for her. There was an immediate emotional link, with Rosie huddling in towards her for comfort at once.

The rescue centre gave Susie as much help as they could: Rosie had been microchipped, spayed, vaccinated, and treated for fleas and worms. Susie was given a small sample of the food that Rosie was used to, and she was given a care sheet that outlined the routine that Rosie was used to. But as she drove away from the rescue centre, Susie realised that now she was on her own: Rosie and herself were starting a new life together, and it was up to her to make sure that it worked out well.

When you get a new pet, that's the ultimate truth: animals cannot be responsible for themselves. As their owner, or guardian, or companion, or however you like to see yourself, you are the one with the power, the authority, the knowledge and the ability to control what happens in your pet's life. If you get it wrong, your pet will suffer the consequences. But if you get it right, your pet will go on to have a healthy, enjoyable life.

So where do you start? Susie was fortunate: with the help of the rescue centre, she and Rosie had hit the ground running. All of the basic boxes had been ticked. If you get a pet from a different source (e.g. if you buy a puppy from an online private sale), you have more work to do on your own.

The most effective short cut is to take your new arrival to the vet: in any case, this is usually needed because puppies and kittens need to have vaccinations, with the last one usually being given at 10 - 12 weeks of age. This timing is useful: as well as giving the necessary vaccination, your vet is able to give you a run down of the basic important facts of what needs to be done.

Vaccinations, microchipping, nutrition, parasite control, spay and neutering, socialisation and training, pet insurance: these are the main areas that need to be discussed. Most new owners are only vaguely aware of the latest recommendations in each of these areas. Vets do this stuff every day, so they are fully up to date with the best advice, and they're happy to pass it on to you. Our clinic, like many, allows a double appointment for first pet visits, giving a full half hour to go through everything.

Even if you have taken on your pet from a well-informed rescue centre, it can be worth that first visit to the vet. Your new animal can then be registered officially, their body weight recorded, and a plan for long term flea, tick and worm control can be put into place. This all makes it easier if your pet falls ill or has an accident: your vet already has all of the necessary information about the animal.

It's a big moment when you arrive home with your pet: the world has changed for both of you. From now on, you share a new daily routine, and it's important to get that right. Animals love a regular schedule, so that they know what to expect. There are few hard and fast rules, but in general, there's an average pattern which suits many people and pets.

First, when you get up in the morning: if you have a cat, they love breakfast early on, so a small meal makes sense. Many people leave dry kibble down for their cats to graze on, but this isn't a good idea: obesity has become very common and it makes sense to give a measured amount of food every day to prevent this. It's better to feed several small meals a day: this mirrors how cats eat in the wild, hunting small prey frequently. Ideally, use a food releasing toy to feed them so that they need to work a bit, burning up energy around meal times.

If you have a dog, the general rule is that it's better to exercise before eating, and this is a great way to start the day. On average, a dog should be taken for a walk for 20 to 30 minutes twice daily: this gives them the mental stimulation they need as well as the physical exercise. And by the way, it's good for you, and it's good for the relationship between you and your dog too.

After the walk, it's breakfast time. Most dogs do well with two smaller meals a day rather than one big meal. Choose their diet carefully: there are many options, but the main goal is to find a diet that is tasty, good for their health, and convenient and affordable for you. Do your research: talk to people who you know with healthy dogs, and discuss the topic with your vet. Be wary of online advice on this topic: there are many strong opinions based on "fake news" out there.

Most dogs are happy to snooze and just lie around for a few hours after breakfast, idling while still being close to you. A short walk at lunch is ideal: breaking the routine of the day.

Then in the evening, it's time for another decent walk and another meal.

Variations in the routine are welcome: no humans or animals would choose to have exactly the same day, repeated endlessly. But a good, simple daily routine, planned when you first get your pet, is a sensible place to start. Both you and your new pet will settle more quickly and live healthier, happier lives.

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