If one of your holiday gifts was a new puppy or kitten, chances are you have learned that taking care of that little bundle of fur is both exciting and a little overwhelming. Especially if you are a first-time pet owner.
To help ensure that this new relationship is a successful one, the veterinarians at Colorado State University’s James. L. Voss Veterinary Teaching Hospital offers these tips for taking care of your new best friend.
- Select a good veterinarian. This will be an important contact for the life of your pet. Choose your veterinarian as you would the family physician. Ask for recommendations from your pet-owning friends, but also visit a few offices before making a commitment. Is the reception area clean and welcoming? Is the staff courteous and friendly? Is the clinic in a good location for you? Don’t hesitate to ask a few questions.
- First visit to the veterinary clinic. For your first visit, it’s recommended that you bring a stool sample for a routine parasite check. If your pet is at least eight weeks old and has never been vaccinated, now is the time to start. For puppies, vaccinations should include series of Distemper and Parvovirus, as well as establishing a heartworm prevention schedule.
For kittens, vaccinations should include a series of Feline Viral Rhinotracheitis, Calicivirus and Panleukopenia. For both puppies and kittens, rabies vaccinations should begin at 16 weeks of age.
Remember that, like children, pets need regular booster shots to protect them against disease. Establishing a regular routine for vaccination updates is as important as an annual visit.
- Puppy/Kitten Proofing Your Home and Creating Pet’s Own Space. Just like children, puppies and kittens are extremely curious and fearless. Some suggestions for puppy/kitten proofing your home include:
- Keep items such as rubber bands, paper clips, buttons, needles and thread and beads out of reach of your new pet. These and similar items could become lodged in their throat and choke them.
- Keep household cleaning products safely away from playful paws. Some plants can also be toxic to pets. For a list of potentially dangerous plants, and an emergency contact number in case of accidental poisoning, contact your local poison control center.
- Keep electrical cords out of reach or cover them in heavy electricians tape. Applying lemon juice or underarm deodorant can also make cords less appealing.
- It is important to establish a little sanctuary room for your new pet. For kittens, set up space in a separate room with the litter box on one side and food and water on the other. Also, set up some hiding places and several little sleeping spots. Allow the kitten to become accustomed to the rest of the house gradually. This is important whether your new pet is a kitten or an adult cat. For a puppy, prepare a comfortable spot for a bed or sleeping mat and designate a regular place for food and water bowls.
- Diet/Nutrition. Proper nutrition at this stage of life is extremely important. Bones, muscles and joints are growing quickly. The energy requirements of a puppy or kitten are almost twice that of an adult, but their stomachs are smaller. Look for food specifically designated for "puppies" or "kittens, " and be sure to check the label for proper ingredients. Large breed dogs that will be more than 50 pounds as adults should be put on "large breed" puppy food. Your veterinarian can explain some of the ingredients important for the good health of your new pet.
- Grooming. Although dogs and cats groom themselves regularly, your new pet will need your help. Use grooming products specifically designed for a dog or a cat. Don’t use grooming tools or products designed for humans.
- Regular brushing helps keep the coat healthy, allows you to check for parasites or skin changes and gets your puppy or kitten accustomed to being handled by you.
- Examine eyes, nose, ears, mouth and paws carefully. If ears are dirty, clean them gently with a cotton ball and ear-cleaning solution. Use a cotton ball to gently clean any discharge around the eye area. Look for redness, swelling or other signs of infection requiring veterinary attention.
- Nail trimming takes a little practice for both of you. Nails should be trimmed every four to six weeks. Your veterinarian can show you how to do this and can recommend the best tools to use.
- Dental check ups should be a part of your regular veterinary visits. Weekly at-home care is important to help prevent periodontal disease. Healthy teeth and gums are as important to your pet’s overall health as it is to yours.
- Socialization. The experiences of young pets during their first few months of life are critical in helping to shape their temperaments as adults. Exposing puppies and kittens to as many people as possible early on is important to lessen their fear of strangers. Frequent, gentle handling and petting is also important to socialization. Take your leashed puppy for walks to get accustomed to street sounds and, only after he has been properly vaccinated, to the dog park to meet other dog families. Don’t hesitate to occasionally put the kitten in a carrier to go with you for a social visit to cat-friendly friends, including those with cat-friendly children or dogs. Dropping by your veterinarian’s office for a quick "hello" visit is a good idea. Call ahead to make sure that it isn’t too busy since the goal is for your pet to have a positive experience at the clinic.
Family interaction is an important part of your pet’s socialization. Without overwhelming your new pet, have each member of the family engage in frequent, gentle handling sessions. Use interactive playtime to help your new pet bond with each person. Enrollment in a puppy kindergarten/socialization class is a valuable experience for both of you. This is a critical learning time for socialization, leadership and learning basic commands.
Never leave a pet alone with a small child. Children tend to tug on ears, pull tails and grab fur. A pet’s natural response is a defensive one, to bite or scratch. Always monitor interactions between young children and pets.
- Introducing Your New Pet to Other Pets. Keep your new kitten confined to one room of the house for the first several days, allowing your other pets to grow accustomed to new smells. Make the first introduction short and sweet. Dogs should be introduced on neutral ground to avoid any territorial issues. Introducing a new kitten or puppy to an older animal can be stressful for the older animal. Give lots of attention to the older animal to lessen the feeling of being threatened by the new pet. Make sure all interactions are supervised and positive during this important getting-to-know-each-other period. Offer both pets a place to feel safe when they want to be alone.
- Exercise is another vital element of good overall health. Young pets are bundles of energy and play behavior is very important. Your new kitten may stalk toys, couch legs or wads of paper. It looks silly, but this play is just exercising natural predatory instincts. A scratching post is a good item to get for your new kitten, allowing it to scratch, stretch and play simultaneously.
Depending on the size and breed of your puppy, your veterinarian can offer tips about daily exercise requirements. A regular, appropriate exercise routine will help keep your pup healthy. But remember, your puppy is still young, so don’t overdo the exercise. Too much exertion could lead to serious injuries or low blood sugar. Proper exercise helps promote good behavior and training.