If you're one of the growing number of Americans stuck at home and taking the opportunity to foster or adopt a pet, you might need a few tips to take care of your new friend.
Schedule regular check-ups.
Take your dog or cat to the veterinarian annually for a wellness exam. (This is obviously going to be an evolving process as we practice social distancing.)
Keep your pet at a healthy weight.
“It can reduce the risk of significant life-threatening, costly medical problems throughout their life,” Millward said. “It’s extremely important.”
Overweight cats may develop type 2 diabetes and become insulin dependent. Overweight dogs may injure their musculoskeletal systems and develop arthritis, a herniated disc or other issues that can limit their mobility.
Your vet should help you change feeding plans if your pet is gaining too much weight.
Feed your pet a complete and balanced diet.
No more than 10 percent of your pet’s daily diet should come from treats, such as dog biscuits, peanut butter, chicken, cheese and other “people food,” Parker said.
“People food is OK as long as it’s within that 10 percent of the calories,” Parker said.
Canned or dry food? Either is fine. “Whatever the owner and the pet prefer as long as it’s a good-quality, complete and balanced diet,” Parker said.
Vaccinate your pet.
“I am all about the vaccines,” Millward said. “Failure to vaccinate your animal puts them at risk for life-threatening, contagious diseases.”
Vaccines protect dogs against parvovirus, distemper and rabies, and cats against panleukopenia, which is sort of like feline parvo. Side effects of the shots are rare. “The benefits outweigh the risks in most cases,” Millward said.
Prevent your dog or cat from getting heartworm disease.
Both the disease and even the treatment can be life threatening to your pet, so prevention is key. Ask your vet about prevention options, which include oral tablets, a topical application or an injection. Your vet will find the right fit for you and your pet, Millward said.
Prevent your pet from getting fleas and ticks.
Their bites can sicken your animal. Prevention options include oral and topical, and collars. “It’s important to ask your veterinarian which products they recommend rather than go straight to over-the-counter products,” Millward said.
Know your pet.
“Recognize when you see changes, and when you see a change of concern, seek veterinary care,” Parker said.
Changes of concern may include increased drinking and urination, loss of appetite, vomiting and diarrhea, unexplained weight loss or gain, coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing, changes in vision or hearing, or lameness or changes in gait, she said.
Provide your pet with good mental stimulation and exercise.
Some dogs need more physical or mental stimulation to avoid behavioral issues. “Engage in play, go for a walk, play ball,” Parker suggested. “You also could feed your food-motivated dog a meal in a food-dispensing toy that they have to work at. I recommend that for obesity management.”
Cats, though often content to be alone napping on the couch, also need stimulation. Cats enjoy playing with laser pointers and feather toys, climbing on multilevel cat furniture and using scratching posts, and some like food-dispensing toys, too, Parker said.
Don’t neglect dental health.
“It’s a real thing,” Millward said. Broken or infected teeth can lead to other health problems.
You can try brushing your pet’s teeth with a beef-, chicken- or seafood-flavored paste — “You can’t use people toothpaste,” Millward said — or you could give your dog or cat treats that help maintain their teeth. The Veterinary Oral Health Council lists acceptable products.
Take action if your dog or cat is displaying destructive or aggressive behavior.
Talk to your vet and get a recommendation for a board-certified behavioral-health specialist to treat your pet. Puppies can be socialized early by attending puppy kindergarten. The College of Veterinary Medicine offers such classes for a fee.