From Christmas Pets to Family Members

Kristie Franks, M.S.

Pets as a holiday gift can be considered a tradition in many places. In the United States, many puppies and kittens are gifted for Christmas. The pets are a welcome addition to the family and it is our responsibility to make sure they stay that way. So what can we do to make sure our new family members have a long and happy life with us?

Puppies and kittens are usually acquired between 6 to 8 weeks of age. Reputable breeders and shelters will have given the age appropriate vaccinations and parasite control. If you get a pet that has not had any vaccinations or parasite control, then you will need to get to a veterinarian ASAP to begin them on the vaccination and parasite control schedule.

Puppies purchased from a reputable breeder will have a health contract. The initial health guarantee gives you anywhere from 3 days to about 3 weeks to get your new pet into your veterinarian for an exam. If you do so and a health issue is found, the breeder will either refund your purchase money or allow you to pick out another pet. When your pet has been deemed healthy, you and your veterinarian should discuss and schedule the remaining vaccinations needed for the puppy. In all, a series of three vaccines will protect your new pup from diseases that are highly contagious, expensive to treat and often fatal. Protecting your pup is going to make sure your investment in your new family member is secure.

Kittens from breeders will also have health contracts and guarantees. There are many pure breeds of cats and reputable breeders want to make sure that they are producing happy, healthy animals. In the United States, there are many cross breed domestic cats that can be obtained for free or adopted through a shelter. The shelter and breeder again should have given the kitten its age appropriate vaccinations. Free kittens will need the entire series to begin as soon as you as a veterinary appointment can be scheduled. Kittens also need a series of three vaccinations and will also need parasite control. The veterinarian will discuss with you what is best for your new friend. Especially in male cats, when to neuter is very important for the overall urinary tract health of the animal. Sometimes it can be a fine balance of neutering before the age they will begin to mark territory and when they are truly mature enough to neuter, so definitely try and map out a plan with your veterinarian so that the appropriate age is chosen. Spaying also needs to be done at the age you and your veterinarian deem appropriate.

Puppies will also need to be well socialized and taught obedience commands and leash manners. The better obedience training and socialization your pup receives, the more likely he or she will spend the rest of their lives within the same home. Many classes are available to help new owners from puppy kindergarten/socialization classes to advanced obedience. Obedience and socialization can be done by an experienced owner, but it is highly recommended that inexperienced puppy owners seek out help from professional trainers.

Kittens often receive minimum training though cats are highly trainable. It is difficult in the beginning because kittens will naturally bite and scratch in situations that they are nervous about dealing with. Speak to your veterinarian on recommendations or seek out an experienced cat owner to help you teach your new kitten good social skills.

Throughout their lives, pets need health care. There is a trend now where some breeders are placing stipulations in their seller’s contracts stating they will not honor long term health guarantees if the animals are spayed or neutered before a certain age. The timing of when to spay or neuter should only be decided by you and your veterinarian to determine what is best for your pet’s health. Always be cautious of a contract that dictates your ability to control what is in the best interest of your pet’s health in any way. The contract, of course, would not keep you from spaying or neutering at any time that you and your veterinarian deem appropriate, but it would nullify your ability to obtain a refund should a genetic based health issue arise within the time frame the breeder noted.

You and your veterinarian must always be in control of your pet’s health. You should have a long term plan in place and discuss with your veterinarian at what age different preventatives and vaccinations need to happen. Your pet will need to be placed on flea and tick prevention, heartworm prevention and an appropriate diet. Your veterinarian will discuss with you how to keep your pet healthy and happy for many years to come.

There are other trends that do not necessarily have an immediate implication on pet health, but could have long term negative effects on the breed as a whole. Breeders within the dog industry have been using the ability to sell a registered animal as “pet only” or as “full breeding rights” as a way to make more money on their puppies. The registries began the practice of allowing limited registration as “pet only” to try and help control unnecessary and unwanted breeding of dogs that were truly not of breeding quality, though they are registered. Not every dog in a litter of registered puppies has the conformation, attitude and overall appearance or health to be considered a breeding animal. There are many people now that have never read the “breed standards” that are in place as guidelines for breeders to know what is of appropriate quality for breeding. Breeders now will offer their pups for one price for “pet only” and another price for “full breeding rights”. If the pups are old enough to be evaluated for appropriate breed standards and have health testing done, then selling them this way is appropriate, otherwise they should all be sold at pet price with the stipulation of limited registration as a spayed or neutered animal. You cannot know at a very young age what will be of appropriate breeding quality. The more strictly the breeder regulates their own breeding’s, the better chance of having breeding quality animals in the litter, but it is still not a guarantee without seeing them at a slightly older age. A good breeder will know that this is true and will not offer up a pup as breeding quality until they are able to make the assessment. Unless you are sure you are going to become a breeder, save yourself money and purchase at the “pet only” price. The majority of people really want a pet to begin with and dogs do not miss getting to have puppies or having the chance to mate. The choice to breed animals just because they are registered has led to many health issues in many different breeds.

To make sure your pet is healthy and happy, make sure and foster a good relationship with your veterinarian. Keeping a health log of your pet’s shot records, preventative care, etc. will help you maintain the appropriate schedule for your pet. Veterinary care can be expensive when your pet is ill or injured and preventative care is the key to minimizing those costs. Pet medical insurance is a great option these days too to help recoup costs of veterinary care. Pets can make our lives so much better, so let’s make sure their lives are as good as they can be too.