Before getting a dog or a cat, potential owners need to make sure they can be financially responsible for the animal, said Manuela Mattingly, practice manager for Twin Lakes Animal Hospital. That includes having money for needed vaccinations and treatments, being able to afford either emergency care or pet insurance, and being able to buy collars, leashes, food, bedding and obedience classes.
One of the first things to remember is to never feed a dog or cat people food, according to Dr. Todd Ray of Leitchfield Veterinary Clinic. Besides potentially establishing behaviors, like begging, that will be annoying when the animal is older, feeding it human food could have some serious medical consequences.
One of those, the veterinarian said, is pancreatitis, an inflammation of the pancreas that causes leakage of the digestive enzymes. The condition can be acute, or suddenly happening, or chronic. Treatment can include being kept on intravenous fluids for up to five days to give the pancreas time to recover.
Eating high-fat foods can cause pancreatitis, as can obesity – both possible side effects of pets eating human food, Ray said.
Other potential dangers in the house around the holidays include candies and plants – like chocolate and poinsettias – that can make dogs and cats sick, he said.
Mattingly said people need to realize that having a dog or cat is a long-term commitment. Some breeds of dogs and cats can live 15 or more years, and will require continuing care throughout their lives.
And people need to realize, both said, that animals aren’t disposable. Animal shelters routinely see increased surrenders in January and February, as Christmas-gift pets grow up and become more demanding and less cute.
Ray said puppies and kittens need a “health visit” to a veterinarian at about 6 to 8 weeks of age. The animal will be checked for any congenital deformities, tested for parasites and other infections, and then will be started on a series of needed vaccinations against diseases like distemper and rabies.
And generally around 5 to 6 months of age, a pet should be spayed or neutered, said Mattingly.
For those who’ve had a few days off work for the holidays, going back to work means some adjustments for their new puppy or kitten too.
Young animals should be crated or caged, both said, to help keep them safe while alone in the house. Mattingly said ideally the crate will include a pillow or blanket for naps, a litter box for kittens and newspaper or pee pads for puppies, and a solid toy for playing.
She also suggested trying to come home every three or four hours to let a puppy outside, to help it with housebreaking.
Schedule changes can play havoc with toy breeds, cautioned Ray. Smaller dogs run the risk of becoming hypoglycemic if they don’t eat regularly, and their new owners returning to work full time can put them at risk, he said.
If a dog does become hypoglycemic it will generally be very lethargic, he said. If that happens, it can be helped by rubbing Karo syrup on its gums to help bring its blood sugar levels back up.
Above all, Mattingly said, new pet owners need to be responsible.
“Read, get information, talk to professionals,” she said. “Educate yourself about this animal and its care.”