Princess collars, doggie day care and even designer pet beds are popular among pet owners, and it's easy to understand the temptation to indulge your pets. How can you not spoil the kitten that falls asleep on the small of your back, or the puppy that trots behind you carrying a prized oversize stick? But pampering your pet should only be a bonus; keeping them safe, happy and healthy is what really makes you the best pet owner.
"We invite these animals into our homes, we make them part of our family," says Steve Carroll, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies (chfs.ca.) "And when we make that commitment, we need to live up to it." Here are 10 ways to make sure you are.
1. Pick the right pup
"One of the most important things you want to consider before you buy a pet is whether your lifestyle will accommodate it," says Carroll. Your experience owning pets, the time you have at home, your level of physical activity, whether there are other pets in the house and the amount of room you have should all factor into your decision.
The Humane Society has a comprehensive program to match owners and pets, and many breeders also discuss compatibility.
2. Keep him healthy
Your pet can't tell you if he's sick, points out Carroll, so it's important to schedule regular checkups with the vet. You might also want to consider pet health insurance, an increasingly popular option that can help you avoid unexpected bills if your pet is injured or sick.
It's also important to spay or neuter your pet: it prevents unwanted animals and makes your pet less likely to be aggressive or roam, and lowers its chances of catching a disease.
3. ID your pet
All pets need some form of permanent ID, either a tattoo or a microchip. Microchip programs don't yet link to a universal database, so ask questions before you buy.
In addition to a permanent option, every pet needs a collar with its name, your name, and a phone number. This often allows for pets to be returned directly, preventing a trip to the Humane Society that nobody wants.
4. Go to obedience school
Take your dog to obedience school. Training (which should be mostly with positive reinforcement) will help people feel safer around your pet, can reduce the amount of damage your pet may do to your home, and will make your dog happier.
"The animal feels more well adjusted and safe, because they know what the expectations are (for him)," explains Carroll.
5. No fat cats
If a cat (or dog) is overweight it often means he's not getting enough exercise. Play with indoor cats – and as an aside, Carroll strongly discourages letting cats roam outdoors, saying it's just not safe.
Dogs also need regular exercise, and letting Rover out in the backyard doesn't count. As a bonus, long walks "will keep both of you healthy," says Carroll.
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6. Encourage good eating habits
"Nutrition is absolutely fundamental," says Carroll. Pet food provides a balanced diet, and there are lots of options, so talk to your vet about what's best for your pet.
And avoid the temptation to give animals "people food" -- it encourages weight gain, and might put them off their own food.
7. Pick the right treats
Treats need to be nutritious, but many have too much sugar or fat in them. Again, ask your vet for advice, and try to use treats sporadically, as part of a training or reward plan, rather than impulsively.
8. Obey your local bylaws
Beyond "poop and scoop" laws, many municipalities also have leash rules and licensing. No matter what the law, your pet should be under control at all times.
9. Think twice about getting exotic pets
When your nine-year-old asks for a snake for his birthday, there's more than the just obvious reason to say no.
Carroll discourages people from having reptiles and rare animals, because they're not meant for captive care. Animals like guinea pigs, rabbits or hamsters are fine, as long as your family is committed to giving them the care they need.
10. Beat the heat
We've all heard the horror stories of dogs locked in cars in the summer, and all animals can suffer in the heat.
An excited animal won't always slow down, so watch for lethargy and heavy panting. Be sure that on hot days he always has access to shade and fresh water.
One last tip: "Spend time with them!" says Carroll. Along with following all of the tips above, your pet also needs your attention and your love.
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