KITTENS AND CATS
Roaming cats are prime candidates for fights with other animals, traffic accidents, and communicable diseases from other cats. Their life span can be expected to be considerably shorter as a result. Many cats are strictly indoor pets and are perfectly content, as long as they have access to a clean litter box and fresh water at all times. If your cat must go outside, make sure you know where it is at all times, that the kitten is old enough to manage on its own, that it is identified in some fashion (microchip ID or breakaway collar and tag), current on vaccinations, and not outdoors in extremely cold, hot, or inclement weather. If you don’t want your kitten in certain areas of the house, start training it immediately to avoid those areas. When choosing where your kitten will sleep, keep in mind that cats are nocturnal animals and will be active at night. Placing soft bedding materials in secluded corners will help your kitten to feel at home.
A kitten will housebreak itself. Provide it with a clean litter box and make sure the kitten knows where it is located. Edges of boxes should not be too deep for a kitten to navigate and the box should be kept scrupulously clean. A good rule of thumb is that there should be one more litter boxes in the house than the number of cats residing there, and the boxes should be kept in different locations affording some privacy. Choice of litter (eg, clay, sand, recyclable paper) is up to the kitten owner, although some cats appear to have substrate preferences. Many veterinarians recommend staying away from litters with deodorant and baking soda additives as they can irritate your cat’s respiratory tract. If your kitten (or cat) isn’t using the litter box reliably, it could be because of dirty litter, illness, litter preference, or psychological stress.
Feed a new kitten a high quality diet designed for kittens. Your veterinarian is your best source for information regarding an appropriate diet for your kitten or adult cat. Dry foods are usually most economical and have the advantage of providing a rough surface that will help reduce plaque and tartar buildup on your kitten’s teeth, but canned foods can be fed/supplemented if desired. Amount fed will depend on the diet, as well as the age, size, and activity level of your kitten or cat. Using stainless steel bowls is recommended because plastic and ceramic bowls can scratch, leaving crevices for bacteria to hide. The latter types of bowls (and resultant resident bacteria) have been associated with feline “acne” and skin irritation.
Health examinations and vaccinations
Have your cat examined by a veterinarian to ensure that it has no major health problems. Your kitten will need a series of vaccinations for respiratory disease. Vaccinations are usually given at 3 week intervals from approximately 6 to 15 weeks of age. Blood testing for feline leukemia virus and feline immunodeficiency virus is recommended and the first of 2 feline leukemia vaccines can be given at approximately 12 weeks of age (booster is usually 3 weeks later). At 15-16 weeks old, the kitten can receive its rabies vaccination.. Kittens should be checked for intestinal parasites (2 stool samples 3 weeks apart), fleas, and ear mites and appropriate medications given for these problems. Your veterinarian may also recommend a preventative for heartworm disease, which is more commonly associated with dogs, but can also affect cats. These are general guidelines. Remember, your cat is an individual and need for specific vaccinations, timing of boosters, and risk factors for disease are best assessed by your veterinarian.
Cats do a good job of grooming themselves, but regular brushing to prevent matting of hair is important. Cats rarely need a bath, but one can be given if necessary. Cats object to bathing in slippery tubs, so give your kitten something to cling to, such as a wood platform or a wire screen. Use a shampoo designed for cats and kittens, as some dog shampoos may be irritating. Place cotton balls in the kitten’s ears to keep out water and use an ophthalmic ointment (obtain one that is safe for kittens from your veterinarian) in its eyes to prevent burning from shampoo. Towel dry the kitten completely and gently comb out any mats. Kittens’ teeth should be carefully brushed on a regular basis. Your veterinarian can provide you with an appropriate toothbrush, dentifrice, and instruction on how to perform this task so that your kitten learns to accept this as part of its daily care.
Toys should be strong enough to withstand chewing, not have bells or squeakers that could be torn off and swallowed, and large enough so that the entire toy cannot be swallowed. String, thread, balls of yarn, and ribbons are deadly toys that can be swallowed and become lodged in the digestive tract; do not allow your kitten to play with these items.
Please spay or neuter your kitten. Letting children see the miracle of birth is not a good reason to breed your pet. Spaying and neutering decrease incidence of some tumors and reproductive infections, both of which require more serious (and costly) surgical procedures. A male cat must be neutered if it will be a housepet because the strong urine odor of unneutered males will make your cat an unacceptable housemate. Discuss with your veterinarian the most appropriate time to spay or neuter your kitten.
It is part of your kitten’s nature to sharpen its claws so you will need to provide it with a carpeted board or pole to use as a scratching post (unless you want the kitten to use your furniture). Many owners decide to declaw their cats because they believe it makes them more acceptable housepets (easier on the furniture and the kids). For indoor cats, many veterinarians recommend declawing only the front feet, so that if the cat does get outside it has some mechanism of defense. For cats that are outside on a regular basis, it may be possible (and better) to avoid declawing by keeping nails trimmed or using “nail caps.” Whether to declaw is an individual and personal decision that is best discussed with your veterinarian.
PUPPIES AND DOGS
Selecting a puppy
Select your new family member with your lifestyle and living situation in mind. Primary considerations in addition to personality include temperatment, size, and coat. Some breeds have traits that may be objectionable in certain circumstances, such as hyperexcitability or a tendency to bark. Dogs originally bred for specific purposes tend to retain these characteristics and may require additional training and patience. Your veterinarian is a valuable resource and should be consulted before you acquire a puppy (or a pet of any kind).
Before bringing your puppy home
Prepare your house for your puppy’s arrival. A special place should be designated for it to eat, sleep, and eliminate. Obtain any necessary accessories (eg, collar, leash, ID tag, crate, and dishes) before you bring your puppy home. You will need to puppy-proof your home just as you would child-proof your home to avoid accidents. Harmful cleansers, plants, electrical cords, and breakable objects should be kept out of reach. Open windows should be screened.
A crate is a combined sleeping area, housebreaker, and preventer of bad habits; basically, it’s one of the best investments you’ll ever make for your puppy. Select a crate that is large enough to house the dog when fully grown, and insert a divider to make it smaller for housebreaking. The reduced area should be small enough so that the puppy can’t eliminate in one end and sit/sleep in the other. To make the crate a friendly place, appropriate bones (choose carefully and consult your veterinarian) can be placed within it and the puppy can be fed inside of it. Puppies should only be left in their crates for short periods initially, so that they learn that they will not be confined in them permanently.
Begin as soon as the puppy arrives in your home. Young puppies should be taken out immediately upon waking and just before retiring, as well as multiple times during the day. Most puppies cannot “hold it” for long periods so it will be necessary to take the puppy out almost every hour at first (especially after periods of play, naps, and mealtimes), and then gradually increase the amount of time between visits to the “bathroom.” Take the puppy to the same area each time and praise it immediately and enthusiastically when it eliminates. Do not play with, or talk to, the puppy until after it has eliminated. Remember, if the puppy doesn’t eliminate outside, its urine and feces are being saved for deposit inside your house!
Feed a high quality diet designed for puppies. A wide variety of diets and formulations are available and your veterinarian should be your primary source of information as to the best choice for your puppy or adult dog. The amount fed will vary with the type of food and the individual dog, but in general, should only be as much as the puppy can consume in 5 to 10 minutes at a given meal.
You will want to have your new dog examined by a veterinarian to ensure that it has no major health problems and is started on a program of preventive care. Your pet’s health care plan includes a series of vaccinations against distemper, parvovirus and coronavirus (gastrointestinal diseases), infectious hepatitis, and respiratory infections (adenovirus, parainfluenza, and bordetella). Vaccination protocols are designed on the basis of your puppy’s risk of infection and may vary depending upon your dog’s age, breed, and environmental exposures. Vaccinations are usually given at 3 week intervals from 6 to 16 weeks of age. At 15 to 16 weeks of age, the puppy receives its first rabies vaccination. Puppies should be checked for intestinal parasites (usually 2 stool samples 3 weeks apart), fleas, and heartworm disease (depending on age), and appropriate treatment or preventatives administered.
Regular brushing, bathing, and nail care are essential. Protect your dog’s eyes and ears when bathing, and don’t allow the dog to become chilled after bathing. Your veterinarian may recommend that you do not bathe your puppy when it is younger than 10 to 12 weeks unless absolutely necessary (especially if your puppy is one of the smaller breeds).
Obedience Training and Socialization
A MUST for every good family dog, regardless of size or breed! Puppies may start classes when they are as young as 8 weeks old. Check with your veterinarian for class recommendations.
Please spay or neuter your puppy. Letting children see the miracle of birth is NOT a good reason to breed your dog; only serious breeders who have the desire, expertise, and time to breed well should breed at all. Spaying your female dog can help to prevent cancers of the reproductive tract, including breast cancer, and will decrease the incidence of reproductive infections. Neutering your male dog will prevent testicular cancer and can decrease the incidence of prostate problems. The incidence of certain behavioral problems has also been shown to be reduced when dogs are spayed or neutered. The decision to spay or neuter your puppy is one of the best decisions you can make for its well-being. Your veterinarian can discuss with you its benefits and the best time to schedule the procedure.
For comprehensive information on care for your parrot or other bird, please visit The Gabriel Foundation.