We are at the "tail end" of National Pet Week (it ends today). Two of the goals of this program created by the veterinary profession are responsible pet ownership and celebrating the human bond with animals.
Responsible pet ownership starts with proper pet selection.
We encourage owners to do their homework before purchasing a new dog or cat that will be their responsibility for 15 years if cared for properly. Caring for a pet requires time and devotion.
Before getting one, potential owners need to examine their lifestyle and choose a pet wisely. New owners must be realistic about both time and expenses of ownership. Working long hours will make getting a new puppy difficult. The expansion of doggy day care can make that less of an issue but will add expense.
A toy breed dog might be a poor choice for a family with small children. Large dogs can be difficult for an older person to walk. Cats are easier to care for and can be a much better choice for some households.
Talk to a veterinarian before purchasing a pet and discuss what type of pet fits your situation.
Animal shelters have pet counselors available to advise you. Pet stores can be an additional resource, and some now provide shelter pets for adoption.
Fish, birds and small mammals such as rabbits are all pets that one can consider.
One of the most important aspects of being responsible owners of a cat or dog is to limit unwanted litters.
A recent study has created significant controversy. The study compared some common cancers and orthopedic problems with the age of spaying and neutering. Some breeders now want owners of their dogs to wait until the pets are more mature before they are spayed or neutered.
I believe waiting until pets are 24 months old creates as many problems as it solves. Technically, surgery on older animals is much more difficult with more complications. Late neutering of dogs can lead to aggressive behavior in both males and females.
Some owners will elect to forgo sterilization altogether. Even educated and experienced pet owners can have accidental pet pregnancies.
Animals that are not spayed can experience uterus infections, mammary cancer and behavior issues in addition to the nuisance and aggravation of heat cycles. Unwanted and unexpected pregnancies overload already crowded shelters.
Celebrating the human/companion animal bond is another important part of Pet Week.
Nothing can express this relationship more than the words people use to remember their pet in an obituary.
"I held this little angel in the palm of my hand" is how one of my clients described his new pet. "She spent many a day on my lap nestled to my chest. Her constant and loving presence soothed and calmed me in my new home," he wrote several years later.
Finally, he wrote: "So today I held my little girl for the last time to my chest, felt her heart synchronize with mine. I shared my breath with her as she took her last and gave her up to heaven with as much strength and courage as I could muster."
Only people who have experienced the love a pet can give understand the range of emotions that come from sharing a life with them. Pets make it a great life together.
Lawrence Gerson is a veterinarian and founder of the Point Breeze Veterinary Clinic. His biweekly column is intended to educate pet owners. Consultation with a veterinarian is necessary to diagnose and treat individual pets. If you have a question you'd like addressed in Pet Points, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and municipality or neighborhood.