Expert tips from veterinarians on raising young animals
It's easy to fall in love as soon as you spot a tiny puppy or a fluffy little kitten. Without realizing it, all logic goes out the window, and the only things you see are those eyes staring up at you. To ensure success and minimize stress, there are a few things you should prepare for before you say "yes" to a young animal.
Making the decision to bring a young animal into your home shouldn't be taken lightly. An animal is a lifetime commitment, and in many cases, it will mean making sacrifices. To help ensure that a new pet is a good fit for you and your family, we asked a few veterinarians for their best tips on raising young animals.
Dr. Jeff Werber is a well-known veterinarian, veterinary medical journalist, developer of Pro-Sense pet products and, most importantly, an animal lover. Dr. Werber said that pet owners should expect their new pet to live between 8 and 20 years, depending on the species and breed. Making the decision to bring home a new puppy or kitten means being willing to commit to care for that pet for that duration of time. Pet owners should expect to spend somewhere between $1,000 and $1,200 per year on each pet for food, supplies and routine vet care. In the first year, all young animals need routine shots and should be spayed or neutered, and just those procedures can cost upwards of $500. Dr. Brittney Barton, a Dallas-based veterinarian, suggested looking into pet insurance just in case any health emergencies happen that are more difficult to prepare for. Proper vet care isn't an option, it's a requirement and a necessity that responsible pet owners should prepare for.
Set yourself up for success
First and foremost, Dr. Werber recommends that pet owners know what they are getting into. "First, it is important to decide on the type of pet you want, one that suits your lifestyle. Most dogs that end up in shelters do so as a result of behavior/lifestyle issues," Dr. Werber said. Evaluate your lifestyle, your home, how much free time you have and how much time you can dedicate to an animal. If you work 12 hours a day, getting a puppy that requires a lot of attention and care probably isn't the smartest idea. Dr. Barton agrees, "Puppies will need someone with time to potty train, basic train and socialize them," she said. "Kittens are a bit more independent and easy to litter train, but you should have the time to spend with them to develop a bond," she said.
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Get your home ready
Having a young animal is much like having a toddler in the home, and you'll need to be prepared to ensure your new pet stays safe. "If there's any way they can get into something, they will! Be prepared to close up or cover sockets, keep wires hidden or inaccessible, as well as any shoes you hope to wear again. Given a choice between your old, coming-apart slippers, and your brand new Nikes, they're going for the Nikes," Dr. Werber said. Avoid frustration by being willing to spend plenty of time with your new pet to avoid boredom or anxiety that often will result in them chewing on your things. Be aware that if you leave your pet alone for long periods of time, they will turn to just about anything to help keep them entertained.
Dr. Kathleen Hanson, a veterinarian in Massachusetts, suggests paying particular attention to items that could be poisonous. "When bringing home a kitten, it is important to remove anything edible that can harm them. I recommend that folks get a list of poisonous plants and make sure that these are not in the house. Easter lilies are particularly toxic to cats. Easter grass, tinsel, curling ribbon and dental floss should all be kept out of reach. A lot of kittens like to chew on these, and they can cause an obstruction, requiring surgery," she said.
Make them feel secure
Crate training is a great option for puppies, as it can help with potty training, general training and separation anxiety. If a crate isn't an option, consider giving them a confined space in your home so they don't have as much room to roam. "Confinement is not a punishment but a tool that will help teach your pup to redirect undesirable behaviors and provide a safe environment when needed. New kittens need a 'safe' room as well, equipped with a litter box, food/water, a scratching post and some kitty toys to keep them occupied,” Dr. Werber said.
Be realistic about your pet's behavior
"It is critical to remember that the behaviors we find most objectionable in puppies are normal, natural and essential behaviors. Puppies need to chew, dig and eliminate. The key is not to fixate on bad behaviors, because they're not essentially bad, but to redirect them to appropriate outlets for the natural behavior," Dr. Werber said. The best thing a pet owner can do is to expect and be prepared for any issues that may come up. "This means providing a variety of chew toys and activities to work off energy. This means expecting bathroom mistakes. Be aware of when your dog has eaten and may need to eliminate, so you can walk him or her at the right time," Dr. Werber said.
When it comes to cats, while potty training may be a lot easier, they have their own natural behaviors to be aware of and prepared for. The most troublesome for most people is their tendency to scratch. While some pet owners may consider declawing, Dr. Hanson doesn't recommend it. "Most kittens can be trained to scratch on an appropriate surface. However, if you don't want anything in your house scratched, this may not be the right pet for you," she said.
In many cases, it is the owner who needs the most training, not the animal! If this is your first experience with a young animal, consider enrolling in training classes. It will be a huge benefit for your puppy, but it will also be a benefit to you. "Spend time bonding with your pup. Their desire to please you is the greatest motivation of all. The more time you spend, the closer the bond, the more they'll want to get it right," Dr. Werber said.
Consistency is the key to raising a young animal into a lovable and obedient adult pet. Setting boundaries, offering proper socialization and providing consistent rules while your pet is young will go a long way toward turning your cute little puppy or kitten into a lifetime companion.
What is your best piece of advice for raising a young animal? Let us know in the comments section below!