Bondi Vet Dr Chris Brown has made a wish this Christmas for people to be responsible pet owners, whether they currently have a pet or are considering their first companion animal this festive period.
Experts advise that while pet ownership is extremely rewarding, it is a long term commitment that should not be taken lightly. Tens of thousands of unwanted pets are surrendered to animal shelters each year, with many abandoned not long after Christmas when some pets lose their initial novelty and appeal. Despite the best efforts of organisations like PetRescue, many unwanted pets are humanely put down if new homes cannot be found.
According to veterinarian Dr Chris Brown, 'There's nothing better than a pet's love and affection, but don't forget they will want the same in return. Pet owners have a responsibility to look after their pet for the rest of its life, which means there are a number of considerations before they are bought or given as a present."
Dog breeder Ruth Thompson, Chaleur Golden Retriever Kennel, South Australia, said: 'Leading up to Christmas we receive a large number of enquiries from people wanting to give a puppy as a gift, but we like to ensure they have a good understanding of exactly what's involved when it comes to owning a dog. We like to know they can make an informed decision as to whether a puppy truly is the best present for the person they have in mind – not just for Christmas Day, but for the long term."
Whether it's a cuddly pug or a fluffy Persian you've got in mind, there are some important factors to consider before giving a pet this Christmas. The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition has put together advice on building long and happy relationships with your pet.
Checklist for a Long and Happy Relationship with your Pet:
1. Pet selection
Selecting the right pet for your living situation, environment, future plans, activity level, lifestyle, budget and available time is critically important.
Becoming educated about the needs, life spans and temperaments of various species and breeds will help you make an informed choice.
It is important to appreciate the nutritional, behavioural and health needs of any pet species to ensure that their welfare is not compromised.
It is also important to spend time with a potential pet before deciding to welcome it into the family.
Providing adequate socialisation, particularly to puppies and kittens, is critical to ensuring a pet's long-term well-being.
Pets who are inadequately socialised cannot relax and enjoy life, and are frequently stressed by even minor events.
Poorly socialised dogs and cats are less likely to make rewarding pets.
In addition to socialisation, training is particularly important for dogs. If a dog is expected to behave in a certain way, such as relieving themselves outside, then you have to teach them how to successfully meet those expectations.
s and puppy classes are widely available, as are instructional books and other resources. In addition to teaching basic obedience, group classes offer excellent opportunities for puppy socialisation.
Training is a great means of building the bond between you and your pet.
Providing a healthy, nutritious, high-quality diet is important to ensuring a long and healthy life for your pet.
Diets that are suitable for humans rarely provide the nutritional balance that dogs and cats require, so it is best to avoid giving them -people food'.
Some common ingredients in human food can be toxic to cats and dogs, including chocolate, grapes, raisins and onions.
One way to ensure that all essential nutrient requirements are met is to feed pets a complete and balanced manufactured diet. In most cases, these diets are based on decades of scientific research and expertise, and are carefully designed to provide the right amount of nutrients according to a pet's life-stage or lifestyle.
5. Veterinary care
Just like people, pets need regular medical and dental care.
Vaccinations are especially important for puppies and kittens, but are needed at regular intervals for pets of all ages.
Regular check-ups and preventative care for problems like heartworms and fleas also help to ensure a pet's health and well-being.
Periodontal disease is one of the most common diseases in dogs, and can result in pain, tooth loss and chronic infections.
Dental care not only helps to prevent periodontal disease, it may also be beneficial to a pet's general health.
For those prepared to make the commitment, Mars Petcare has created a useful online Find a Dog or Cat tool at www.petpositives.com.au. The tool takes into consideration house or unit size, location, access to a garden, and free time to look after the pet to identify breeds of cat or dog that might be suitable. But, just like people, animals are individuals with unique personalities and temperaments. Therefore, simply choosing a breed with an affable reputation (e.g. a golden retriever) does not guarantee a good match for a particular family or living situation. Speaking to a reputable breeders or visiting a pet adoption centre are good ways to find the perfect pets to suit a variety of lifestyles.
Research by WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition suggests that pets offer a range of physical and emotional benefits to their owners from childhood well into old age. Australian researchers are also at the forefront of studies into pets increasing exercise levels. A study by the University of Western Australia found that dog owners increase their recreational walking by 31 minutes per week and are more likely to meet the recommended levels of exercise than non-dog owners.2 In a separate study, dog owners were five times more likely to get to know people in their neighborhood compared with other pet owners.
Dr Sandra McCune, Scientific Leader on Human-Animal Interaction at the WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, said: 'This special relationship benefits both humans and pets and goes beyond mere companionship. People see their pets as important members of their families. It is our responsibility to take care of them and provide them with loving, safe and happy homes, good healthcare and nutrition, and proper training and socialisation."
The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition, owned by Mars, has been a leading scientific authority on pet nutrition and wellbeing for fifty years. In 2014 alone, WALTHAM published 46 peer reviewed scientific papers.
Question: What key points should people consider before buying or adopting a pet?
Dr Chris Brown: Buying or adopting a pet is a big commitment. The average lifespan of cats and dogs is 15 and 13 years, respectively. Prospective pet owners need to make sure they are prepared for this commitment and are willing to adapt their lifestyle to accommodate their new friend. This includes considering their future living situation, if they can financially support and care for a pet, if they have time to devote to a pet and if they know how to properly care for the particular pet they plan on getting.
Question: Why do you suggest adopting a pet over buying a pet from a pet store?
Dr Chris Brown: Every year over 250,000 healthy cats and dogs are euthanized because they can't find a loving home. Adopting a pet instead of buying one from a pet store can help reduce this number. Making sure you adopt a pet from a shelter or buy one through a reputable breeder ensures that the pet you are getting has been health-checked as well as assessed for temperament and basic manners, and also helps combat illegal puppy mills.
Question: What's involved in the pet check list?
Dr Chris Brown: The Pet Check list was created by experts at The WALTHAM Centre for Pet Nutrition to help pet owners build long and happy relationships with their new furry friend. It is compromised of five different considerations that pet owners should consider when adopting a pet. These include; pet selection, socialisation, training, nutrition and veterinary care. *The full checklist is available via an infographic upon request.
Question: What's the Mars Petcare Find a Dog or Cat tool?
Dr Chris Brown: Mars Petcare has created a really useful free online Find a Dog or Cat tool which is available at www.petpositives.com.au. The tool is a short series of questions which takes into consideration your house or unit size, location, access to a garden, and amount of free time you may have to look after the pet in order to identify the breeds of cat or dog that might be most suitable for you. However, it's important to keep in mind that, just like people, animals are individuals with unique personalities and temperaments. So, simply choosing a breed with an affable reputation (e.g. a golden retriever) does not guarantee a good match for a particular family or living situation. I recommend speaking to a reputable breeder or visiting a pet adoption centre to ensure you find the perfect pets for you and your family.
Question: What is your main message for parents who want to gift their children with a pet this Christmas?
Dr Chris Brown: A pet can make a wonderful, exciting new addition to the family! However pet ownership (at any time of the year) is not a decision to be taken lightly. Parents need to be sure their whole family is ready to take on the responsibilities associated with having a pet before they commit to getting one.
Question: What do we need to think about when getting a second pet, in the household?
Dr Chris Brown: Before pet owners decide to bring a second pet into their house there are a number of factors they need to consider:
Make sure the first pet is friendly; do they generally get along well with other pets?
Select the right second pet; Is the second pet a species/breed that is known for being friendly? Could it pose a risk to the first pet?
Ensure you have enough time and space to accommodate both pets
Review the proper protocol for introducing a new pet to your existing pet
Consider your motives for getting a second pet. Are you only getting a second pet because you think it will help alleviate loneliness, boredom or behavioural problems with your resident pet?
Question: What are your top tips when introducing a new pet to an existing pet?
Dr Chris Brown: Set up your introductions in a safely fenced neutral territory
Make sure there is one person per pet, just in case you need help separating them
Keep the first meeting brief, then slowly increase meeting times until both pets seem completely comfortable with each others company
Closely monitor both pets behaviour and body language to ensure you can separate them if there are any issues
Encourage both pets to engage with each other using a positive upbeat tone and be sure to reward good behaviour
Question: How often does a pet need to be taken to the vet?
Dr Chris Brown: How often your pet needs to go to the vet will largely depend on their current health status and how old they are. For a young healthy pet, a yearly check up will suffice, but vet visits should increase as they get older to ensure they are getting proper care. Pet owners also need to be vigilant in monitoring their dogs appearance and behaviour, as certain changes may indicate poorer health and will require a visit to the vet. Common indicators of poor health that owners should look out for include significant weight fluctuations, changes in food habits (especially being uninterested in food), a significant decrease in energy levels, vomiting and diarrhoea.
Interview by Brooke Hunter