Making 2020 the best year ever for your pet

As we enter a new year and a new decade, many of us make New Year’s resolutions for ourselves. This a great time to reconsider one’s priorities and establish the foundation for better living habits. Why not do the same for our pets?

1. Make sure they are safe 

Depending on which part of the country you live, your surroundings may differ. These days in the big cities, most of us have high walls or fences around our properties. This is usually a great way of keeping unwanted intruders from coming into our personal spaces, but how does it affect our pets? Growing up behind large walls and being confined for most of their lives means that our pets are probably not street smart, at least not to the level of a few decades ago where most properties had no walls or fences around them. Many people these days have electronic gates controlled with remotes which allows one not to have to get out your car to physically open the gate when arriving home. Dogs are social creatures by nature and are also curious, which mean every time the gate opens, they are likely to be tempted to explore the outside and go and “take a sniff” on the pavement. If your dogs have been properly trained, they will likely respond to your calling them back into the property if they do run out. However, if they have not been properly trained, the likelihood of them running into the street and being hit by a car becomes a much bigger risk. Training can be high on your list of New Year’s resolutions for your dog, if you have not done so yet. If your dog is not properly trained yet, you will have to ensure there are means inside the property to prevent him or her from getting out the gate. This may take the form of physical barriers like a fence or alternatively may take the form of a correctional collar which the dog wears which emits a tiny electrical current any time the dog comes close to the motor gate, making them associate the vicinity of a motor gate with an unpleasant experience. This will prevent them from running out the gate.  

For cats safety is a completely different concept to dogs. Dogs will usually accept the physical boundaries of your property as their territory. However cats have much bigger territories than the boundaries of our properties. A cat’s territory will usually span three properties east and west, and four properties north and south, and they certainly do not consider the walls and fences we put up around our properties as their boundaries. Cats, being nocturnal (night time) animals will often sleep the whole day and be out at night roaming their territory, which means they will most likely be found somewhere in your neighbour’s property or the streets and pavements. This means that they will be a lot more vulnerable for being attacked by dogs, landing up in fights with other cats from the neighbourhood, or being run over by cars. Many people in South Africa have razor wires or electrical fences on top of their walls or fences, as an extra measure for security. This holds inherent risks for cats and one should keep this in mind when planning the security of your property if you own a cat.  

Dog and cat flaps are great for letting your four footed furry family in and out the house without having to open the door for them. As long as  the area they are getting access to is secure, this is a great way to provide more freedom to move around for your pets. 

There are also special harnesses and leads available as safety belts when your dog is travelling in the car with you which means that your pet can also “buckle up” and be safe on the road, whenever they go the in car with you. 

2. Training

The second New Year’s Resolution you may want to consider if you have not done so yet, is training for your pets. Contrary to popular belief that cats cannot be trained, cats can definitely be trained. However cats have figured out that it is much easier to train humans than the other way around They have mastered the art of meowing, purring and running up to you and brushing up against your legs for food, only to see how gladly their human servants run to provide them with the food they are so vocally demanding. 😊 Seriously however, cats can be trained and finding a suitable trainer is well worth the while if you have a problematic feline friend. 

No one needs to convince anyone that dogs can be trained and starting young is the best thing you can possibly do when you acquire a new puppy. If you have not managed to take your puppy to puppy school, and he or she is now a fully grown dog, please don’t believe the saying “You cannot teach an old dog new tricks”. Older dogs can definitely be trained. There is nothing more pleasant to have a well trained dog which responds to your commands. Coming back to the aspect of running out of a property. A well trained dogs is much less likely to run out into the street and not respond to their owner calling them back. So go ahead, find a suitable dog training school and sign up. You will not regret it and your dog will most certainly enjoy the extra attention and interaction. 

3. Microchips and tags

This is a real quick win and certainly one of the best New Year’s resolutions you can have for your pet. Dogs and cats do well with collars and a small tag with the animal’s name and your contact number is the first step in ensuring a lost pet is reunited with their owner sooner than later. Better yet, and in conjunction with a collar and tag, having a microchip inserted underneath the skin between the shoulder blades is a quick and easy way to provide a permanent means of identification for your pet. Your vet will be able to assist you in this regard and injecting the rice grain size mini transponder under your dog’s skin will take no more than a few seconds. A microchip is not a satellite tracking device (as it does not have a battery), but is a transponder, which when scanned provides a number, which is captured on an electronic database together with your and your pet’s information, providing your contact details when your pet is lost. Most vets and welfare organisations have scanners with which to scan your pets for microchips. There are also more and more medical aids (discussed later) which requires a permanent form of identification for pets and a microchips is the preferred method of choice. 

4. Good quality pet food

If you are not doing so already, it is well worth considering putting your pet on a premium diet available from the vet. Research has shown that animals live longer and suffer less disease then a few decades ago as a result of the improvements made in pet nutrition. Many people are concerned about the cost of a premium diet but when considering that one can feed less of a premium diet compared to conventional pet food because of the higher quality means that more of the food is digested and less of it lands up on the lawn or in the litter box. 

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions for humans is to lose weight. Sadly, according to statistics, very few people “stick it out” with their diets. If your pet is overweight, it is somewhat easier, because you determine what they eat. If your pet is overweight you can obtain a scientifically formulated veterinary diet from the vet, which will be easy to feed and reduce an overweight pet’s weight. Just remember to also use the right snacks at the right intervals same as with humans who go on diet. The vet will be able to provide you with the correct information in this regard. 

5. Exercise 

Exercise goes hand in hand with diet and weight loss so it goes without saying that a pet that needs to lose weight usually also needs to exercise more to reduce their weight adequately. Even pets who don’t need to lose weight, need to exercise and the more exercise they can have, the better. With sedentary lifestyles humans need more physical exercise and this is one of those areas where you can slap two flies at the same time with a New Year’s resolution for yourself as well as for your pet. Taking your dog for more regular walks or swims will be a great way to improve their health and yours. Dogs who are well socialised (discussed in the next section) can be let off their leads in most dog walking parks around South Africa, which means that they will do between 5 and 10 times the distance you do when you walk, with running off the lead. 

6. Socialising

Dogs are social creatures by nature and the close relative of dogs, the wolf, living in packs, is a well known fact. Dogs tend to love interacting with other dogs and even though there is quite a distinct difference between how social certain dog breeds will tend to be, the common principle is that dogs unlike their feline friends, enjoy interaction with other dogs. 

Puppy socialisation has become the norm rather than the exception in the past decade with puppy play schools, puppy day care centres, puppy training schools and puppy socialisation classes springing up all over the place.  This is a really wonderful development but in the same breath one has to be careful that not all puppy training and care facilities are equal. It will stand you in good stead to do proper research before committing to a specific training entity. So what about the scenario if your dog is now fully grown and was never properly socialised as a puppy. Once again an old dog can be taught new tricks. With the correct guidance and proper precautionary measures an older dog which has not been well socialised as puppy can learn to accept and tolerate other animals. Just like in humans, dogs can also be described as introverted or extroverted. Some dogs, “the extroverts”, are everyone’s friend and loves to play and interact with humans, other dogs and even other species of animals. “The introverts” are more reserved and will tolerate other animals or humans but is less likely to be outgoing and go up to other dogs or humans to befriend them. Some dogs, especially the bigger terrier types like Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Terriers and Pit Bull Terriers were bred to show aggression to other dogs. In these cases it may take a bit more time and effort to get them to socialise well with other dogs. 

The best place to socialise your dog (this is after they have been initially introduced to other dogs and properly socialised with the help of a properly trained and equipped professional) is the park. The park is usually considered neutral ground making dogs a lot less aggressive towards each other than when they are in their own property. Taking your dog for a walk in the neighbourhood and trying to let them make friends with dogs who are inside their own properties and inside their motor gates, is a really bad idea. Territorial aggression is a common known phenomenon and many vets can attest to having had to stitch up dogs after a major fight through a motor gate. 

Don’t worry about trying to socialise your cat. Your company is usually good enough for them and although cats are by nature very curious, they certainly do not need the company of other cats or dogs to experience quality of life. 

7. Annual wellness exams and vaccinations

If your dog or cat has been a healthy and happy pet for the past year without the need to visit the vet consider yourself privileged. The very rough general consensus that one dog or cat year represents roughly 7 human years, means that your dog or cat has been healthy for 7 years without the need for a visit to the vet. Quite something if you consider the likelihood of you not visiting the doctor or dentist once in 7 years. An annual wellness examination is a must for all pets. Taking them to the vet for this very important visit may seem like an unnecessary exercise for a healthy pet. This is exactly why it is called an annual wellness exam. Many underlying or potentially harmful conditions can be picked up during an annual wellness exam and everyone knows prevention is better than cure. The purpose of the visit is to establish just how well your pet really is. If your pet is due for vaccinations this can be done at the same time and most vets will also give deworming medication during this visit (discussed in the next section).  If you have not taken your animal to the vet in the past year for a wellness exam, why don’t you schedule a visit in February. Most vets tend to be slightly quieter in February as a result of most humans getting stuck into activities like school and work properly by February, meaning that most animals have to enjoy a bit of a back seat at this time of year.

8. Parasite control

Internal Parasites

As mentioned in the previous section, most vets will do deworming at the time of an annual wellness exam. The exposure of your pet to other animals and the environment will determine how often they need to be dewormed. Most vets recommend every 3 to 4 months. It is a good idea to get some deworming for yourself and other human family members at the very least once a year. 

External Parasites

Ticks, fleas, flies, lice, mites – you name them. They can all affect your animal in one away or another some of them even causing death in a beloved pet. Spot-ons and new generation palatable tablets, have made it very easy to control ticks and fleas and many other external parasites on your pets. Gone are the days of having to dip your animal and powder them up from tip to tail. Many parasites have also become resistant to the chemicals used in these products and the new generation products are phenomenal in that they are biologically and chemically designed to target the brain cells of the parasite without doing the same in mammals. Cats are particularly prone to the poisonous effects of chemical compounds and the vet will be able to provide you with the correct information and products to make parasite control safe, yet effective, for your animal. 

9. Medical Aid

In the past few years, a number of established insurance companies have launched short term insurance products for pets’ health also colloquially referred to as “medical aid” for pets. These products do not work exactly the same as medical aids for humans, but in principle they work on the basis that a small monthly premium is paid, and should your animal need to visit the vet for treatment, the insurance company will contribute towards the expenses involved, depending on the product and plan you take out. It will be a really good New Year’s resolution to start making provision for your animals medical expenses by making a monthly contribution. Veterinary care by its very nature cannot be cheap because the same level of knowledge, expertise, equipment and similar products are used to treat animals as humans. 

10. Make sure your pets are comfortable 

Last but not least, why not decide to make a New Year’s resolution to make life as comfortable as possible for your pet. Many years ago the qualification for a good life for a dog or cat was whether they were kept indoors or outdoors. These days we are far past that and the qualification now is whether your dog or cat sleeps inside your bed under the blankets vs on top of the blankets on your bed. 😊

If you don’t have a proper dedicated dog or cat bed for your pet, buy one and put it in a place which is close enough to you so that your animal can interact with you without “cramping their style”. Having plenty of cat litter boxes available for your cat will make life easy for them when it comes to their toilet requirements. Similarly, if your dog stays inside and you do not physically take them outdoors at night “to do their thing”, then consider installing a dog flap, so they can come and go as they please. 

If your dogs are outside dogs, ensure they have a good quality dog house which will keep them dry and warm when the weather is rainy or cold. 

Last but not least, give your animals lots of love! They deserve it. As one of best parts of life, our pets, giving us the joy, love and affection they do, deserve all the affection and love you can muster.

Happy New Year – to you and your pets!

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