20 Things You’re Probably Doing That Veterinarians Wouldn’t
Vets went to school to learn the dos and don’ts of animal care. Here are the mistakes they’re not making with their own pets that you likely are.
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Love is not enough
If you suspect that your vet’s pet is better disciplined or healthier than yours, you’re probably right. Even the most loving pet parents can make mistakes with their furry, feathered, or finned friends. Not sure what you’re doing wrong? We’ve got a few ideas—or more accurately, the veterinarians and other pet experts we interviewed do. While veterinarians may not tell you some of their secrets, they are more than happy to divulge this information so that you and your pet live a long, happy life together. Whether you’re killing Fido with kindness or over-disciplining Cuddles, here’s what you may be doing wrong—and how to fix it.
You don’t train your pet right away
Parents don’t wait until their kids need to read to start teaching them their ABCs. It’s the same with dogs. Training them early not only gives them guidelines for appropriate behavior—it also provides them with the comfort and stability that comes with living within boundaries. “The biggest mistake pet owners make is not putting enough priority in their pet’s training until a problem arises,” says Eleasha Gall, a certified professional dog trainer at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace in Playa Vista, California. “Training isn’t just about tricks or obedience. It’s also critical for developing communication tools between a pet parent and their companion animal.”
In fact, the ideal time to learn how to train your pet—or to find a trainer—is before adopting. “Learn what to do in advance, to avoid being overwhelmed when welcoming a new pet to the home,” says Gall. “Even previous dog owners who think they have enough experience could do well with classes for their pet. One of the most common attendees of training sessions are other trainers. There’s always opportunity for more learning and bonding.” Also, don’t believe these dog training myths that can hurt your puppy.
You think your pet is too old to be trained
Even an old dog can learn new tricks, so don’t hesitate to take home that older shelter dog—or to start training a beloved pet who was never taught in the first place. “Even dogs that initially seem unadoptable or untrainable can be taught proper behaviors and set up for success in a home environment,” says Gall. The important thing is to practice positive-reinforcement training methods rather than punishment-based ones. “If a dog is kept busy with positive tasks and rewards, they won’t have time to act out negatively,” she adds. “Giving that type of encouraging response to a pet will establish communication tools while helping them feel loved and enabled to continue their good habits. Soon enough, those trained actions will become the routine, resulting in a stronger bond and happier household.” And if you want to get fancy, here are some easy dog tricks you could start teaching today.
You overfeed your pet
This is an incredibly common mistake—and one that many pet owners don’t even realize they’re making. “Nearly 60 percent of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight, and most pet parents don’t even realize it,” says Rob Jackson, co-founder and CEO of Healthy Paws Pet Insurance. “They simply don’t know how much their pets should weigh or the warning signs that indicate a pet is overweight, like difficulty feeling their ribs or the lack of a distinct waist.”
Just like it does in people, obesity can cause or exacerbate health issues in pets. It can also shorten their lifespan. “Pet parents should make a point to talk to their vets about their pet’s weight and create a weight-management plan, which should include a more balanced diet and exercise,” Jackson adds. “Taking these steps now can make a big difference in a pet’s health in the long run.”
You let your puppy or kitten bite you
Puppy and kitten nibbles may not hurt very much, but this behavior needs to be addressed so that your cute little furball doesn’t morph into a full-grown, biting animal. “It’s important to address this behavior and to train your puppy not to bite you,” stresses Jennifer Coates, DVM, an advisory board member for Pet Life Today. One way to do that is by making sure you have lots of chew toys on hand so your pup can nibble on that instead of your fingers. Kittens also respond to anti-biting training. The Santa Barbara Humane Society suggests includes using toys as playthings instead of fingers, encouraging vigorous playtime, and never using physical punishment to address biting.
You don’t provide enough structure
Pets, like people, need to know what their role is in their family, as well as what’s expected of them. “Many new pet parents don’t realize pets need structure,” says Amanda Landis-Hanna, DVM, senior manager of veterinary outreach at PetSmart Charities. “In a new family, an adopted pet will look for where they fit in and what are the rules of the house. Dogs, especially, crave routine, boundaries, and rules. Cats like to know what to expect, too.” Structure, in the form of sensible rules, assures your pets of stability and safety. When they don’t get that, they feel uncertain and might even hide out until they feel more comfortable. “Being consistent with training, helping pets understand what behavior you want, and providing a solid routine is good from a pet’s point of view,” she adds. These are some more things your dog wishes you knew.
You don’t keep your pet warm in the cold
If you live in a cold-weather climate, it is imperative that you help your pets avoid hypothermia by keeping them warm. Pets feel the cold well before temperatures hit the freezing level. And that fur coat of theirs? It’s not always enough. In fact, animal fur loses its ability to protect if it’s wet or matted. “Animals tell us they are cold by shivering, but only once they have been too cold for a bit of time,” says Dr. Landis-Hanna. “It’s better to be cautious and not wait for your pet to shiver before you make the decision to get them warm.” She recommends snow boots as well as sweaters or dog coats when animals are in temperatures under 30 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 20 minutes. Here are 10 important tips for keeping your pet safe this winter.
You’re late with their vaccines
When that little card comes in the mail letting you know that your pet is due for a vaccination or booster shot, don’t ignore it. Vaccines keep your pet safe from diseases and illnesses that they can contract at home or outdoors. While your pets will need these periodically, these are the dog vaccinations your puppy needs.
And this doesn’t just apply to dogs and cats. Rabbit owners in the United States do not routinely get vaccinations the way they do in many other parts of the world, including Europe and Australia. However, cases of rabbit viral hemorrhagic disease occasionally occur in stateside, according to Rabbit.org. Talk to your veterinarian about the potential need for this vaccine.
You ignore their pearly whites
If your dog or cat has stinky breath, they may also have plaque buildup or periodontal disease. Brushing your pet’s teeth can ward off tooth decay, as well as infections that can spread to other parts of the body. You can bet your vet is brushing her dog’s or cat’s teeth. Not only is this part of an animal’s necessary health care, but it can also help to prevent the need for expensive surgical cleaning later on.
If you get your pet into the habit of having their teeth brushed when they are young, you’ll be able to scratch this worry off your list. One important note: Make sure to get a toothbrush and toothpaste made specifically for pets. Never use toothpaste made for people on pets, as these can harm them.
You didn’t consider the financial reality of owning a pet
It’s easy to look into those big, gorgeous eyes, fall in love immediately, and adopt a pet on impulse. But if you don’t first figure out whether or not you can afford to take care of a pet for life, you’re making a big mistake—and a very common one, at that. So how much will a pet cost you? According to the ASPCA, new pet owners can expect to spend between $1,000 and $2,000 annually on their dog or cat. This estimate, however, may be low if you have an aging pet or one with special needs or a medical condition.
“Dogs need vaccinations, flea treatment, and heartworm medication, which can all be budgeted for, but the unexpected emergency care, such as when the dog eats something he shouldn’t or the cat gets a urinary tract infection, can catch a pet parent off guard,” says Jackson. “Certain purebred dogs—such as pugs, bulldogs, and German shepherds—are also more prone to medical problems than others. Pet insurance can help offset a big portion of these unexpected veterinary costs for accidents and illnesses and help make sure that you can afford the necessary care. This way, pet parents won’t be faced with having to make a difficult decision between their wallet and their pet’s health.”
Dr. Landis-Hanna adds that getting pet insurance right away means your pet won’t have any “pre-existing” conditions that will be excluded from your insurance plan. Plus, it’s a good idea to save some money for unexpected emergencies. “If you want to ensure you have an emergency fund saved for your pet, you can also consider a pet savings account with your bank,” she suggests. “Consider an automatic deposit of 5 percent of your pay to hold in case of an emergency. Generally, young pets (puppies and kittens) and senior pets (over age 7) are more expensive than adults (aged 1 to 6).” But before you commit, this is what you need to ask before signing up for pet insurance.