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Pet Health


Pets are becoming increasingly more popular and Indian families are beginning to appreciate the wholesome roles they play in our lives. Dogs and cats are by far the most familiar-- some of us eat and sleep with our furry friends, while some of us foster strays that greet us every morning and take up residence around our house. There are some of us who live on farms or are involved with agriculture, so poultry and cattle interact often with humans as well. 

Then there are of course birds and reptiles as well-- humans have fostered meaningful bonds with all sorts of animals. 

Studies have shown that having a pet can be good for your health; you get exercise as the pet is usually high energy and needs to be taken on walks, and the love that they give us can also help relieve stress and bring some happiness to our lives. However, keeping a pet also means responsibilities; while they give us unconditional love, it is our responsibility to provide them with healthy food, shelter and make sure that all their health needs are taken care of. This means that we need to properly understand what the requirements of a pet may be, and learn to look out for important messages the animals send us; it is up to us to understand when our pet is sick and to administer an intervention.

Also, while we do co-exist peacefully, zoonotic diseases are always a concern-- especially for children younger than 5, pregnant women and elderly members of the family over 65 years of age. Preventive steps such as personal hygiene, vaccines and orderliness greatly diminish the spread of zoonotic diseases. 

Another very important relationship is the one with your veterinarian. Before you get a pet, make sure there is a competent veterinarian in your area and familiarize yourself with them. They will give you all the information you need about nutrition, vaccination and making the most of your experience with your new friend. You and your veterinarian make a crucial partnership in keeping your pet healthy; while the day to day care is provided by you, you need to know when to take your pet to the veterinarian.

  1. Consider what kind of pet is right for you
  2. Responsible pet ownership
  3. Protecting yourself from zoonotic diseases
  4. First aid for your pet

Consider what kind of pet is right for you

It is exciting to think about bringing a pet in your home, but it is very important to not rush the decision. There are some important things to consider before deciding what kind of pet is the right choice, such as:

  • How much time and commitment can you give to the pet? Dogs will require a lot more connection and attention than a pet lizard, for example. You must understand that owning a pet is a long term commitment and not something to be taken lightly. Only if your personal situation and household will allow you to get a pet should you get one.
  • It is also important to understand the costs involved with owning a pet. The animal will be needed to be fed every day and regular health check ups will be required as well. Discuss with a veterinarian the fiscal aspect of the commitment as well, or speak with a friend who has a pet. 
  • Understand your own expectations with your pet. You may want an animal that goes on runs with your or a low energy companion that acts like a seat warmer. Understand what the characteristics of the animal are before getting one. 
  • If you already have another pet, make sure that the two animals will be able to get along and not cause each other and your family untoward harm.

The important thing to remember is to value the life of the pet and not to be impulsive. Make sure you know what you are getting into before getting the pet and be prepared for emergencies.

(Read things to consider before getting a dog for more information).

Responsible pet ownership

You will have to make many changes in your lifestyle to accomodate a pet. If the pet is not kept in a cage (like a snake, bird, or lizard), you will have to make sure your house is pet-proof. This involves removing potentially poisonous substances from easily accessible places and getting rid of heavy objects that can fall and cause injury. 

Foods such as chocolate, coffee grounds, avocado, salt, alcohol, onion and garlic (to name a few) can be harmful to your pet if ingested in high quantities proportionate to weight. Similarly, medications, cleaning products, insecticides, chemicals such as paint, and even some plants can be a hazard to your pet. For all edible items, make sure they are stowed away safely so the pet cannot access them, and all cleaning products and chemicals should also be put away safely for your own safety as well as the pet’s. 

If you suspect that your pet has ingested something poisonous, do not hesitate in calling your vet. Some products such as antifreeze are absorbed quickly and can have fatal results unless the animal is not forced to vomit out the contents. 

Other than this, ask your vet what the nutritional and exercise requirements of the pet are-- make sure you have food stocked and regularly exercise your pet. 

Grooming your pet is important as well. While pets don’t usually need to be bathed very often, grooming will help take care of hair matting and is also a good way to check for fleas and ticks. Dogs with droopy ears tend to develop ear infections, so it is a good idea to get the ears cleaned to prevent any discomfort. 

(Read about how to bathe and groom your dog).

As you become a more experienced pet owner you will learn to pick up on warning signs that require attention, such as: 

  • Loss of appetite 
  • Sudden increase or gain in weight 
  • Behavioral changes such as increased fatigue or aggression 
  • Strange growths such as tumors 
  • Increased thirst.

(Read about obesity in dogs).

If you notice something untoward in your pet’s behaviour, quickly inform the vet.

Protecting yourself from zoonotic diseases

Care must be taken to ensure that your interaction with your pet is safe; the unfortunate truth is that zoonotic diseases can spread relatively easily and cause significant distress to your family. 

Special care is warranted for the elderly, young children and pregnant women. It is recommended that pregnant women not handle stray cats-- especially kittens, since they can transmit toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can cause birth defects. Similarly, a household with children younger than 5 years of age should not keep reptiles, amphibians or poultry as pets due to risk of zoonotic diseases. 

There are some other practical measures you must follow as well: 

  • Thoroughly wash your hands after playing with your pet, handling their bedding, bowls or generally interacting with them.
  • Make sure their bedding and bowls are clean so that they remain healthy as well.
  • Safely get rid of pet litter such as stool since it can harbor harmful microorganisms. 
  • Never wash animal dishes in the same place that you wash your own household dishes-- use different soap and cleaning equipment as well. 
  • Regularly get your dog checked for ticks and fleas as these can cause debilitating diseases to humans as well. 
  • Put your clothes in the wash after playing with your pets. 

Aside from these, a very important part of protecting your pet and family is to get your pet vaccinated. This will prevent many harmful diseases such as rabies, distemper and parvovirus that are a huge concern. It may also be important to get your pet spayed-- there are some health benefits from this practice. Discuss this with your vet.

First aid for your pet

There will invariably be times when you will need to provide first aid to your pet. While first aid and home care can never substitute for professional veterinary care, there are some steps you can take to keep your pet calm and provide care as you wait for professional help. 

Having a first aid kit for your pet is important. This will include:

  • Emergency information of the vet, or NGOs that provide healthcare services
  • Gauze, non-stick bandages or cloth 
  • Betadine and other antiseptics 
  • Thermometer 
  • Muzzle 
  • Leash 
  • Eye dropper 
  • Any medication that your doctor has prescribed for your pet.

Remember to diligently follow the dosage of any medication prescribed by your vet. If your pet has an adverse reaction, quickly inform your veterinarian and stop the medication. As mentioned above, keep all medication away from your pet lest they ingest it. 

References

  1. CDC [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; About Pets & People
  2. MedLine Plus [Internet]. US National Library of Medicine, NIH; Pet Health
  3. CDC [Internet]. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Preventing ticks on your pets
  4. AVMA [Internet]. American Veterinary Medical Association; Vaccinations
  5. FDA [Internet]. US Food and Drug Administration Pain Medicines for Pets: Know the Risks
  6. FDA [Internet]. US Food and Drug Administration Potentially Dangerous Items for Your Pet
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