By Dr. Karen Burks, Associate Veterinarian

puppy in a sweaterSo, you’re thinking about adding a furry friend to your household? That’s great! As many of you know, nothing beats the companionship of a dog or cat. Here are a couple of tips to get you started!

Step 1: Adopt, adopt, ADOPT!
According to the Humane Society of the United States, approximately 3-4 million healthy animals are put to sleep every year because there are not enough available homes. When you adopt a pet from a shelter, you save two pets (the one you take into your home and the one that can fill that vacancy at the shelter). There are lots of misconceptions about adoption (examples: all shelter pets are older or have behavioral problems, etc.). In actuality, many puppies and kittens end up in shelters when unspayed animals are allowed to reproduce (especially in the spring). While some pets are given up because of perceived behavioral issues, many pets are given up through no fault of their own. And while it may take a bit more time and diligence in finding your dream pet, as many as 25% of shelter pets are purebred. Another good reason for adoption is that most shelters and rescues include vaccines, spay/neuter, deworming, flea medications, and exam in their adoption fee, which saves you money.

Step 2: Bring your Pet to the Vet to Start Vaccines and get a Check-up           Puppies and kittens need to start their first set of vaccines at 8 weeks of age and continue those vaccines every 3-4 weeks until they are 16 weeks of age, or until recommended by your veterinarian. For puppies, the rabies and DA2PP vaccines are required. Other vaccines include bordetella, canine influenza, leptospira, and lyme. Most of these vaccines require boostering every 3-4 weeks, so watch your calendar closely! Kittens require rabies vaccine and FVRCP. The leukemia vaccine is recommended if your cat will go outside. It is important to discuss with one of our veterinarians which vaccines are right for you and your pet. When you bring your pet in, please bring a stool sample. Many young pets have worms, and only through a series of fecal tests and deworming are we able to eliminate those worms. We will also want to start your pet on heartworm and flea preventative. We’ll run a leukemia/AIDS test for your kitten, and (depending on the age) a heartworm test on your puppy.

Step 3: Spaying and Neutering
Again, if you adopt your pet from a reputable rescue, this step will likely have already taken place. If not, spaying and neutering is typically ideal at 6 months of age. Spaying a female dog (surgically removing the uterus and ovaries) has many health benefits. If a female dog is spayed before her first heat cycle, you drastically reduce the risk of breast cancer. Other health benefits of spaying include reducing the risk for uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and a potentially fatal uterine infection. Neutering a dog (surgical removal of the testicles) at 6 months of age will reduce the risk for testicular and prostate cancers, as well as reduce “undesirable” male characteristics (aggression, marking territory, humping, roaming, etc.). In addition to these wide health benefits, having pets spayed and neutered reduces the unwanted pet population. In the 1970s, approximately 12-20 million homeless pets were euthanized every year. We have been able to get that number down drastically since then (see above statistic) through spaying and neutering, but we still have a long way to go.

Step 4: At-Home Training                                                                                                           Training for a puppy or a dog requires diligence. Housebreaking is the most important training. I highly recommend crate-training a puppy when you are away. They are less likely to be destructive and to get themselves into trouble by eating things they shouldn’t. It also helps to maintain a positive relationship between you and your puppy if you are not cleaning up their “mess” every day when you get home. Crate training starts with a crate that is just large enough for them to comfortably turn around in. Start by putting all meals, treats, and toys in the crate with it open. Use a simple command such as “crate” or “kennel”. Soon they will start to see it as their happy space, and then you can start closing them in for brief errands, and eventually longer ones. Any time you are home, I recommend keeping your puppy in eyesight, in order to avoid accidents. You can either have them on a leash attached to yourself or use a barricade such as a baby gate. In the beginning, your puppy may not know how to express that he needs to urinate or defecate. It is up to you to take him out regularly (sometimes every 30 minutes) and reward him when he eliminates outside. Learning to read his body language is key to knowing when he has to go.

Cats and kittens oftentimes take to eliminating in a litterbox as second nature. However, many require some coaxing. Make sure the cat is kept in a small enough room that a litterbox is nearby when the urge arises, otherwise you may see inappropriate elimination. This may require confining your cat to one room or putting litterboxes on each level of the house. Eventually, your kitty will know where to go and you should be able to scale back. In general, a good litterbox rule of thumb is number of cats plus 1 (if you have 3 cats, you should have 4 litterboxes, etc).

I hope this information is helpful in your quest to find a furry companion. The veterinarians and staff at Pet Dominion are here for you every step of the way. Do not hesitate to call us at 301-258-0333 or stop by if you have any questions or concerns!