Adopting a puppy or kitten? Here’s what you need to know about proper care to ensure a happy, healthy pet at every stage of life.
Dr. Elaine Jordan, a veterinarian for San Diego Humane Society, recommends giving pets high-quality, brand name pet food formulated for their age (and breed size, in the case of dogs) because such products are made with the right balance of essential nutrients for each stage of life.
“For instance, when a puppy’s growing and his bones are developing, he needs a specific ratio of calcium to phosphorus,” Jordan says. “Puppy food, not just any food, has that balance to promote bone growth.”
Feed puppies and kittens three meals a day. Through their adulthood and senior years, feed them one or two meals a day and pay attention to meal portions: Start with the guidelines listed on the pet food and pay attention to your pet’s body shape—is she getting thinner or thicker around the waist? Adjust her diet as needed.
Limit snacking, especially on “people food,” which packs more calories than a pet needs. Choose pet foods that carry a statement under the ingredients list about using Association of Animal Feed Control Officials procedures to test the product. As for hydration, stick to fresh, clean water; never milk (yes, even with cats).
Preventive health measures such as sterilization (spaying or neutering), vaccination and regular veterinary exams improve the quality of your pet’s life and protect her from life-threatening conditions.
Spaying or neutering your pet can serve as a safeguard against reproductive cancer as well as make it easier to manage your pet’s behavior. Pets are less likely to run away from home because they no longer have an urge to seek out a mate. They’re also more relaxed around other animals, making confrontations at dog parks or on walks less likely.
“Everyone’s a little calmer without
hormones pumping through their systems,” Jordan says.
As for immunizations, puppies and kittens usually get their first core vaccinations as early as 5 weeks old, then monthly boosters until 16 weeks. Afterward, vaccinations should be repeated annually or at least every three years. Talk to your vet to determine the best care protocol for your pet. Senior pets usually don’t need additional vaccines, but a vet can run a blood test to make sure.
Finally, schedule annual vet exams for your pet from adolescence through adulthood. Once she reaches her senior years, check with her doctor twice a year.
Coupled with a properly portioned diet, an active lifestyle helps your pet maintain peak physical condition and a happy state of mind.
Develop a puppy’s social skills early by regularly exposing him to other dogs, people and various environments before he’s 12 weeks of age; just be sure to avoid high-traffic areas like a dog park until he’s fully vaccinated. As his curiosity goes into hyperdrive during his adolescent months, tire him out with lots of social interaction and high-impact activities on non-concrete surfaces. Play a game of fetch in the yard, run in the park or hike a trail. When he reaches senior status, dial it down and opt for low-impact activities like walking and playing in the shade on level terrain.
Since cats are natural climbers and aren’t prone to leashed walks, it’s best to play with them indoors, especially if you live in an
urban neighborhood or near canyons.
“The hard part about allowing cats outside is the dangers that come with it, especially in San Diego,” Jordan says. With road traffic, coyotes and other prey animals, it’s simply safer for cats to stay inside.
Make the most of the indoors by finding out what kind of toys your kitten likes. Introduce her to a variety of items (laser pen, anyone?), then develop a playtime routine that encourages her to climb, jump, crawl and twist to get them. As an adolescent, your cat will likely become a precocious predator. So don’t tap your fingers or toes to get her attention. Avoid getting scratched or bitten by mistake, and interact with toys you can wiggle, shake and bounce.
As with senior dogs, senior cats thrive better on low-impact activities. Consider giving your senior cat access to a window that looks out on passersby and phasing out any toys that encourage too much jumping or twisting. When in doubt, contact San Diego Humane Society’s Behavior Center experts about ways to modify your pet’s exercise routine.
The best defense your pet has against future ailments is a hygienic offense. But you can’t tackle it solo. Start early in his life by establishing a consistent hygiene regimen.
Slowly but surely, get your puppy or kitten used to you touching his paws, ears, face and body so that you can regularly clip nails, brush fur, scope inner ears, brush teeth, and run hands along his body to check for matting, cuts and signs of parasites.
As pets grow, their baby coats give way to their adult ones. Translation: lots of shedding. Brush frequently, especially if your pet has medium-to-long hair. If you have a young cat who tries to play with grooming and hygiene tools while you’re using them, redirect his attention with one of his actual toys.
Dr. Jordan says dogs don’t need to be bathed more than monthly so long as their fur is brushed often, they don’t suffer from any skin allergies, and they don’t spend the day at the beach. And cats? They don’t need baths at all unless they become overweight.
Once they become seniors, break grooming into shorter and more comfortable sessions.
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