How to choose your pet and take care of it

Table of contents
1 Cat
2 Dog

Cat

Caring for Cats

See also Caring for kittens.

Cats are low-maintenance pets compared to dogs, and are suitable for households where everyone works full-time, although you might want to get two cats so that they can keep each other company during the day. Also consider getting an adult cat rather than a kitten. Animal shelters often find that many people are keen to adopt kittens, but adult cats are harder to home. Take your new cat to the vet to have it neutered and vaccinated.

Feed your cat a good-quality cat food. There are cat foods which are formulated for cats with special dietary needs, such as kittens or older or less active cats. Cats should also have fresh water available at all times, although many cats prefer to drink rain water (possibly because they can taste the chlorine in tap water). Avoid feeding them tuna - this can contribute to premature kidney failure, especially in males.

Long-haired cats need to be groomed every day to prevent their fur from getting matted. Short-haired cats can handle most of their own grooming, but should still be brushed occasionally to remove loose hairs.

Cats are very clean animals and are normally easy to house-train by showing them their litterbox after meals and perhaps scratching their paws in it. If a cat suddenly stops using its litterbox, take it to the vet, because this may be caused by a medical problem - if the cat finds it painful to relieve itself, it may associate the pain with the litterbox. It can also be a behavioural problem; for example, the cat may be resentful over the introduction of a new kitten to the household. Since citrus smells unpleasant to cats, cleaning up the mess with a citrus-scented cleaner may help.

Another problem some people have with cats is that some cats sharpen their claws on the furniture. Often it is the owner's favourite chair that is clawed most, because the cat is responding to its owner's scent. Cats which are allowed to go outside are less likely to have this problem because they can sharpen their claws on trees. Try giving the cat a scratching post; you may have to try several to find one your cat likes, and a log of wood with the bark still on may work better than a commercial scratching post. Covering the furniture with aluminium foil may help discourage the cat. Many cat owners declaw their cats, however, if they are ever let loose again, they are not able to defend themselves or live optimally. Declawing cats is illegal in the UK. An alternative is to glue nail caps known as "SoftPaws" onto the cat's claws. These also interfere with the cat's ability to defend itself, but will fall off after a few weeks (along with the outer sheath of the claws).

Dog

Breeds

For average owners, the importance of the breed is in understanding for what purpose the dog was bred and how that purpose relates to its life as a pet. Herding dogs often get a reputation for nipping, because that is the way they control animals they are herding. Retrievers require lots of regular active running and chasing. Lap dogs love to be in your lap. Dalmatians are coach dogs. As decorative as they are, if they will not have an opportunity for regular exercise, you should choose some other dog.

Acquiring a pet dog

You can buy a dog from a reputable dog breeder, if you are motivated to adopt by the desire for a specific type of dog or you wish to minimize the uncertainty that often accompanies a shelter dog. You will also pay significantly more for the privilege, but welcoming a well-bred and trained dog into your home is quite a privilege, indeed!

Buying a dog from a pet store is not recommended, as these dogs are often poorly socialized, receive no training, and are commonly weaned from their mothers and siblings too early. If you ever see a dog in a pet store, and want to take them home and care for them, consider the following:

Many animal welfare charities recommend adopting a dog from an animal shelter, rather than buying one at a store or from a breeder.

Keeping your dog healthy

The best way to keep a dog healthy is to let him have plenty of exercise, and not to overfeed him. You should be able to feel only a slight padding of flesh over the dog's ribs and the "waist", just in front of the hind legs, should curve up noticeably from the chest.

Let them have at all times a plentiful supply of clean water. When giving baths, use shampoo made for dogs; human shampoos can strip protective oils from hair and irritate skin. Breeds of dogs with long hair need regular combing out and may need a professional groomer.

Feed your dog a complete and balanced dog food. Dogs have different nutritonal needs than people and some common human foods can kill dogs through poisoning (chocolate) or intestinal blockage (bones, corn on the cob).

Canine distemper is liable to attack dogs from four months to four years old. It prevails most in spring and autumn. The disease generally manifests itself by a dullness of the eye, husky cough, shivering, loss of appetite and energy, and occasional fits. Because distemper is infectious and incurable, affected dogs should be isolated from healthy dogs. Fortunately, an effective vaccine exists and should be administered to all puppies.

Dogs can get worms from eating wild animals, living or dead, and from eating the droppings of other dogs. Watch the stool for signs of worms and bring a stool sample whenever you take the dog to the veterinarian or if you suspect a problem.

To administer medicine to a dog, try wrapping a pill in bacon, cheese or some other treat. Give the dog a treat or two without the pill first and the dog will be more likely to swallow it quickly. Or, if you and the dog trust each other, simply push the pill down the throat past the tongue, clamp the dog's jaws shut, and blow at the dog's nose. It will usually swallow the pill.




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