National Pet Month – Responsible Pet Ownership
This year’s National Pet Month runs from April 1st to May 3rd 2021, spreading awareness and promoting “Responsible Pet Ownership”. Read on to see some of the things we believe comprise a good responsible pet owner!
ANIMAL WELFARE ACT
SECTION 9 of the ANIMAL WELFARE ACT 2006 places a duty of care on people to ensure they take reasonable steps in all circumstances to meet the welfare needs of their animals to the extent required by good practice. In short, this means that under law, pet owners or those responsible for animals, must take positive steps to ensure they care for their animals properly, and in particular, must provide for the FIVE WELFARE NEEDS, which are:
- NEED FOR A SUITABLE ENVIRONMENT
- NEED FOR A SUITABLE DIET
- NEED TO BE ABLE TO EXHIBIT NORMAL BEHAVIOUR PATTERNS
- NEED TO BE HOUSED WITH, OR APART FROM OTHER ANIMALS
- NEED TO BE PROTECTED FROM PAIN, SUFFERING, INJURY AND DISEASE
DO YOUR RESEARCH!
Before taking on any pet, it is worth researching the needs of the species and breed you are considering, to see if they are the right choice of pet for your lifestyle and budget. Areas to research include housing; exercise and activity; dietary requirements; need for company (of own species or human contact); how good they are with children and other pets, etc.
Also consider financially if you can provide responsible ownership – you may take out an insurance policy, but can you afford the ongoing premium, and pay the excess in the event of an insurance claim? Some vets require that you pay their fees upfront, with an insurance settlement claimed back to the policyholder. Can you afford vets bills that do not reach your policy excess and so cannot be claimed back? Can you afford routine preventative healthcare such as vaccinations, parasite control, a suitable diet etc.?
ADOPT OR BUY?
Before deciding to buy a pet from a breeder or a pet shop, perhaps consider adopting a pet from a rescue or shelter? There are thousands of animals in shelters across the country that may have been lost or abandoned, or their previous owners were unable to care for them any longer, who are looking for that second chance at a loving home.
And it’s not just cats and dogs in shelters – rabbits and guinea pigs are often available for adoption, as well as more exotic pets such as reptiles. Perhaps also consider adopting an older pet. These animals are often the most difficult to rehome as people tend to want a young pet, but the golden oldies have so much to offer and can be very rewarding.
The decision to spay or castrate your pet could be the best decision you make for your pet’s long-term welfare. At Stanhope Park Vets, we believe neutering is financially sensible and the most responsible action to take if you don’t intend to breed from your pet. Not only will you avoid unwanted litters, neutering can also prevent certain illnesses and behaviours.
With thousands of cats given up to rehoming centres or relinquished to the stray population every year in the UK, it is vital that pet cats are neutered to reduce these increasingly out-of-control statistics. Did you know that a single unneutered female cat could be responsible for 20,000 descendants in 5 years?! Traditionally cats were generally neutered at around 6 months of age, but it is now becoming common practice to neuter at the earlier age of 4 months old, when they start to breed.
SPAYING (removal of the ovaries and uterus), reduces the occurrence of mammary tumours as well as prevention of uterine infections such as pyometra, and prevents spread of infectious diseases to the offspring. CASTRATION (removal of the testes), prevents testicular cancer and reduces territorial behaviour such as fighting, which can cause painful abscesses as well as transmission of terminal illnesses such as FIV (Feline Immunodeficiency Virus). Unwanted behaviours such as roaming and urine spraying can be drastically reduced by neutering, as well as preventing females from wailing or “calling” whilst in heat (sexually mature female cats come into season every 3 weeks during the breeding season)! A common myth is that it is kinder to allow female cats to have a litter before neutering. There is no evidence to support this rationale, with the reality being that surgery is easier when performed at a younger age and kittens recover more quickly.
With dogs, we recommend that bitches are spayed at five and a half to six months of age, prior to their first season. At this age, spaying hugely decreases the risk of future development of mammary tumours. If they have had a season, we would recommend that they are spayed three to four months after the season. Unneutered bitches are at increased risk of mammary tumours, and may go on to develop pyometra, a potentially fatal uterine infection, as well as many unneutered bitches having undesirable issues with phantom pregnancies.
Male dogs are best castrated between six and nine months of age, depending on breed. After this age they can be castrated at any age. Unneutered males are at greater risk of developing prostatic disease and anal tumours, as well as testicular tumours.
At Stanhope Park Vets, we regularly spay and castrate CATS, DOGS , RABBITS and GUINEA PIGS, but have also successfully neutered more exotic species such as hedgehogs, rats, gerbils, hamsters and sugar gliders to name a few!
DID YOU KNOW 1 IN 3 PETS WILL NEED MAJOR VETERINARY ATTENTION EACH YEAR?? It is also commonly recognised that policy holders are far more likely to claim on their pet insurance than any other type of insurance policy, such as car or home insurance.
At Stanhope Park Vets, we believe that pet insurance is extremely important as the cost of veterinary treatment is continually rising. This is in part due to the advent of new and better drugs, and because we are now able to carry out so many more highly skilled treatments and procedures. There are now many different companies offering pet insurance, but not all policies are the same. Annual policies are cheaper, but will only pay out on any condition for a period of one year and then will add an exclusion for that condition. We recommend lifelong policies that will continue to pay for the same condition throughout your pet’s life so long as you continue to renew your policy without a break in cover. Pet insurance is now available for most pets including small furries such as rabbits and guinea pigs, as well as birds and reptiles.
Having pet insurance cover allows us to provide the best possible care for your pet without having to worry about how the costs may be covered, and with some more complex cases, this may involve referral to a specialist centre.
HEALTHY PETS PLAN
Our monthly direct debit Healthcare Plan allows you to spread the cost of routine preventative healthcare throughout the year. This includes annual booster vaccinations; flea prevention; worming treatments; along with discounts on various other products and procedures.
We have plans available for CATS, DOGS RABBITS, RODENTS, FERRETS, LIZARDS, SNAKES and TORTOISES.
MICROCHIPPING & IDENTIFICATION
MICROCHIPPING is a quick and painless procedure, where a chip the size of a grain of rice is placed under the skin using a specialist device. The chip is surrounded by a biocompatible glass covering to prevent it being rejected from the body, and the pet’s tissue will grow around it to stop it from moving under the skin. Each microchip holds a unique number which is linked to the owner’s details on a national database.
Microchipping ensures a permanent and reliable means of identification for your pet, and allows missing pets to be reunited with worried owners quickly and easily. In April 2016, it became a legal requirement for every dog in the UK to be microchipped by 8 weeks of age, but all species can be microchipped. It is important that owners keep their contact details up-to-date so that missing pets can be reunited promptly, as we still see many stray animals with microchips, that have out-of-date contact details registered to them.
As well as a means of identification, microchips can also work with specialist cat-flaps and feeding bowls, that can be programmed to specific pets – extremely useful for pets on special prescription diets, for example, and to prevent unwanted animals entering your home!
The CONTROL OF DOGS ORDER 1992 states that every dog while on a public highway or place of public resort, must wear a collar with the NAME & ADDRESS of the owner inscribed on it, or a plate or badge attached to it.
CAT COLLARS are a controversial subject. If your cat has a collar placed, then this should be a SAFETY COLLAR which snaps open at the buckle if the collar gets caught. In an ideal world, a cat would not wear a collar because of the risks involved. Cats, being active and inquisitive, often get into small or dangerous places and can get caught up by the collar on a branch or fence, or even by something indoors, and could potentially choke or be injured. They can also get a leg through the collar if it is too loose, and this can cause injuries to the front leg or “armpit” area, which can be serious if not sorted out immediately.
Young animals, just like children, are at risk from many infectious diseases. In many cases, there is no treatment for these, and young puppies or kittens that catch them often die. Protection against these deadly diseases can be provided by VACCINATION. As with people, immunity fades over time, and so booster vaccinations are necessary to “top-up” this immunity. With pets, this is usually required at yearly intervals – remember your pet’s lifespan is much shorter than yours and as such they age quicker, therefore it makes sense that immunity to disease also wanes quicker than with people!
We are currently able to provide various vaccinations for CATS, DOGS and RABBITS.
Our pets can pick up various ECTOPARASITES (external) and ENDOPARASITES (internal), such as FLEAS, TICKS and INTESTINAL WORMS. With many of these common parasites, prevention is far better than cure, and so regular preventative control methods are advised. There are now many different products available that treat different parasites with various lengths of action, but sadly we are yet to develop a single product that will treat all of the parasites in one go, and so a combination of products are often required. Types of product available include spot-ons; tablets and chews; oral pastes; injections; collars.
As well as being a nuisance, many parasites can also carry and transmit more serious diseases, some of which can be passed on to people (a ZOONOSIS), and so routine preventative parasite control is also regarded as responsible pet ownership.
DIET & NUTRITION
Correct and good quality balanced nutrition is vital for your pet’s health and longevity. A complete commercial diet appropriate for your pet’s lifestage (e.g. kitten / puppy / adult / senior etc.), and lifestyle (e.g. indoor cat / working dog etc.), will ensure your pet receives a balanced diet full of all the nutrients they need to help keep them fit and healthy. Home prepared diets can be useful in some instances, such as food intolerances and allergies, but can be very difficult to ensure they are correctly nutritionally balanced, as well as being time-consuming to prepare.
It is also important to ensure your pet is fed correctly for their species. For example, cats have very specific nutritional requirements and must have a diet containing a high proportion of meat as they are OBLIGATE CARNIVORES (they require certain nutrients only found in meat which is essential for their survival and so cannot be fed a vegetarian diet).
If you choose to keep an exotic pet such as a lizard or snake, then you must be prepared and willing to feed your pet live prey such as insects (some lizard species) or frozen prey such as mice (snakes).
There are a huge variety of “complete” diets available for small furries such as rabbits and guinea pigs, however, some of these are actually detrimental to their health. So-called “muesli” type diets should be avoided as these promote selective feeding, where the pet picks out the tasty sugary bits, leaving the less attractive healthier bits. This results in an unhealthy and unbalanced diet and can lead to health issues such as obesity and dental disease. It is far better to opt for a pellet-type diet where each bit looks and tastes the same, thus providing balanced nutrition, but again, research your species’ needs! For example, pellets should only make up a very small portion of a rabbit’s diet, whilst good quality hay should make up around 80% of their food intake, topped up with a few healthy greens, to ensure tip-top health.
Imagine never brushing your teeth – how uncomfortable would this be with the ongoing plaque and tartar build-up? Well the same goes for our pets.
TOOTHBRUSHING is considered the “gold standard” of dental care for our cats and dogs, and can be tolerated very well if started at an early age. The mechanical action of toothbrushing is the best way to reduce plaque formation, but does need to be performed on a daily basis to be effective. Always ensure you use a toothpaste specifically for pets – human toothpastes contain fluoride which can be harmful if swallowed, as well as having foaming agents and mint flavourings which will be quite unpleasant for most cats and dogs.
Not all dogs and cats will tolerate having their teeth brushed, but there are other options available to help promote good oral hygiene and delay the progression of dental disease. Enzymatic pet toothpastes can be used by rubbing onto the gums, or letting your pet lick it off their paw or food – even without the manual toothbrushing action, the enzymes in the paste will help to breakdown plaque formation. Special dental diets and chews can be used that not only have ingredients to help combat plaque formation, but the mechanical action of chewing these kibbles or treats can help to clean the teeth. Food and water additives are also available to help reduce plaque build-up, but care needs to be taken if your pet has certain medical conditions, and use of these additives may sometimes put a pet off their food or water.
Different species have different environmental needs. For example, cats are highly independent and territorial, with their immediate environment being hugely important to their well-being. Having the correct type and amount of resources located in suitable places, ensures a happy and stress-free cat (click here for further information).
Different breeds of dog also have different environmental requirements. For example, some large heavy-coated breeds may be quite uncomfortable in a super-warm house and may prefer more time spend in an outdoor environment. Some breeds require much more mental stimulation, such as interactive play and puzzle feeders etc. whilst others will be happy to spend most of their day just lounging about snoozing.
Small furries such as rabbits and guinea pigs should not be just confined to a hutch in the garden – they need plenty of room to exercise and should be given opportunity to graze safely in fresh air to allow them to display natural behaviour. Many small furries can be successfully kept within the home, but should still be provided with the opportunity for regular grazing outdoors.
Pet birds should be kept within an enclosure that is big enough to allow proper flight to demonstrate natural behaviour, in a safe and draught-free area – again different species have differing requirements and so should be researched.
Reptiles have very specialised environmental needs, and research is vitally important before taking on such animals, as many of the health problems we see in these patients are down to incorrect husbandry.
At Stanhope Park Vets, we believe that owning a pet is not a right but a privilege, and by being a responsible pet owner, you can achieve a very rewarding relationship with your pet!