Top Tips for Pet Owners

Our resident country vet, Dr. Robert Sharp, offers essential tips to ensure your pets are kept in the best care possible.

1. Keeping your cat indoors may allow it to live longer.

Asking a vet if your cat should be kept inside is like asking a dentist if you should brush your teeth. Statistics vary, but house cats live, on average, nine years longer than their outdoor counterparts. Have you ever heard of a pet being hit by a car while snoozing on a recliner? And traffic is just one hazard. Kitties who roam outside risk exposure to potentially fatal diseases, including feline leukemia, feline AIDS, and rabies, as well as less dangerous but still unpleasant parasites and infections (fleas, ticks, ringworm). Then there are predators, like coyotes, raccoons, dogs, even humans with guns.

2. Mature hamsters can't live together.

Hamsters are territorial. Put two in the same space, and one will kill the other. Sure, it’s hard to imagine when you visit a pet shop, where a whole gang of hamsters scurries about in one cage. But that’s only because the little guys are 3 or 4 weeks old. Give the animals a bit more time and the fighting begins.An easy solution exists, though: Buy two separate habitats.

3. Have your vet examine your feline's teeth for tartar during routine check-ups.

Just like humans, kitties accumulate tartar on the surfaces of their teeth, and this buildup can cause inflammation and infections under the gums. Brushing your cats’ choppers is no easy task—nor a necessary one. A vet should always examine your cat’s teeth, gums, and the rest of the mouth as part of any routine checkup. If tartar is present in a significant quantity, a cleaning, which requires anesthesia or sedation, will be in order.

Installing an identification microchip is safe.

Implanting one of these devices (about the size of a grain of rice) between a dog’s shoulder blades is no more painful or time-consuming than a vaccination. It’s also inexpensive. Most vets charge around $50—a small price to pay for the security of knowing that you and your lost pet can be reunited with one scan.

5. Prescription drugs can make dogs with hip dysplasia more comfortable.

Hip dysplasia is the number one canine orthopedic disease, seen most frequently in larger breeds like German shepherds, golden retrievers, and Labradors. It means that the thigh bone doesn’t fit snugly in the hip socket, causing an erosion of cartilage, leading to arthritis, which can occur in animals as young as 4 months. Ice packs, heating pads, massage, and acupuncture may ease your pet’s aches, but he needs a long-term solution. I recommend prescription nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. (Depending on the severity of the situation, corrective surgery may eventually be necessary.)

6. A good home will extend the life of your goldfish.

Instead of depositing the poor guy in any old glass bowl invest in a simple three-gallon aquarium and be sure to pick up a floating thermometer too. Once you bring your fish home, float the bag in your aquarium in order for the water temperatures to equalize. Open the sack and let in a bit of air, then close it up again. When the bag and tank temps reach within two degrees of each other, add half a cup of liquid from the tank to the bag so your fish can acclimate; repeat a few times at 10-minute intervals. Then you can release your fish safely into the tank.

7. A simple vaccine can prevent kennel cough.

A simple vaccine can lower your dog's risk of contracting the pesky kennel cough, bronchitis that spreads quickly among canines in close quarters. Although the illness can be caused by a host of organisms, the bacterium Bordetella bronchiseptica and the parainfluenza virus top the list of common culprits.

Need more pet advice? Dr. Sharp has great tips here!

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Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.