Behind those big brown eyes and furry face looking at you from your couch or from behind the gate of a shelter wall is an animal seeking your tender love and care, your financial commitment and, yes, your time. Providing them the quality care they deserve is a task made easier by the many pet-friendly resources Delaware has to offer.
There is no better place to start when learning about our pets and the animals awaiting permanent homes than with the people who keep them healthy.
As many veterinarians will advise, caring for a pet begins long before you welcome one into your home. Carefully considering whether or not your family is truly ready for a pet and determining what kind of animal is the best fit will ensure a positive experience.
According to Dr. William Wade, veterinarian and owner of the Seaford Animal Hospital and president of the Delaware Veterinary Medical Association, consider how much time you have to offer a pet before you adopt or purchase it.
“If you are going to be out of the house for 12 hours at a time, a dog may not be for you,” says Wade. You may be more of a cat person.
Lifestyle considerations should extend into the long term. “Ask yourself if you’re ready for a pet for a lifetime,” says Hetti Brown, state director of the Delaware chapter of the Humane Society of the United States. “Think about how your family may change over time and how a pet would fit into that.” Consider the types of activities you participate in, such as the amount of travel you enjoy. Do remember also to think about the space you have in your home or yard.
Finances play a large part in the equation. “Pets are not free,” Wade says. “Families need to have enough disposable income to give a pet the care they need.” This includes food and shelter, as well as veterinary visits.
Veterinary expenses can range from $350 to $700, depending on the animal’s size and type. “The most expensive time for a dog, for example, is when he is a puppy,” Wade says. Initial vaccines, preventative medicines, spaying or neutering can add up quickly.
There are two important factors to consider when looking at the cost of a potential pet. Routine and preventative care leads to a healthier pet and, as a result, less costly vet bills. Also, pet insurance has become a viable option for many pet owners and the types and brands available are plentiful. There is value in purchasing health insurance for your pet, says Dr. James Foor, veterinarian and partner at Governors Avenue Animal Hospital in Dover. It can help offset the cost of wellness care and reduce the expense of surgeries and procedures. “What you are getting is peace of mind,” Foor says. “Insurance can help you provide first-class care for your pet.”
Find the right vet for your pet—and you. When searching for a vet to care for your pet, there are many factors to consider, Wade explains. He recommends that pet owners look at office hours, friendliness of staff, standard fees, types of services and emergency care available, cleanliness of the facility, and professional affiliations. The vet should be willing to answer questions as they arise. “The pet owner should always feel like part of a team,” Wade says.
Establish a relationship with your vet. If she knows your pet well, she will be better suited to identify problems when they arise. You will feel more relaxed and comfortable. Essentially, “you should have a vet on retainer,” Foor says. “That way, you will have somewhere to turn when there is an issue.”
Provide your pets with flea and tick control, and give them a heartworm preventative. Heartworms, fleas and ticks pose potentially fatal threats to your pets. But, says Wade, “prevention is economical and safe.”
Keep up with wellness veterinary visits. “During annual visits, we check body weight, look for lumps and bumps, and note any personality changes,” Foor says. These visits also give your vet the opportunity to identify potential health issues and address those issues early. And, once the pet gets older, geriatric visits should bring you and your pet to the vet’s office twice a year.
Invest in wellness blood work. “It is a cost-effective way to identify changes in your pet and look for problems,” Foor says.
“If detected early,” says Wade, “many diseases can be treated with greater success and less cost.” Getting lab work done early in life will provide a baseline, which a vet can use to monitor your pet’s health throughout his or her life.
Feed your pet good, quality food. An appropriate diet will help keep your pet happy and healthy for as long as possible. “It may be more expensive in the short term,” says Wade, “but it will save you money down the road.”
Know the signs of an emergency. Incessant vomiting or diarrhea, weakness, lethargy, a change in breathing or mentation, and trauma warrant a call to your vet and, perhaps, a visit to an emergency care center, says Barbara Maton, emergency and critical care specialist at the Veterinary Specialty Center of Delaware in New Castle. In situations such as these, Maton says, owners should call their primary veterinarians first. They may want to see your pet or may recommend that you bring it to an emergency center.
Know what can be toxic for animals and have Poison Control on speed dial. Antifreeze, sugarless gum and candy, certain kinds of chocolate, raisins, grapes, some over-the-counter medications, pesticides and some plants pose a health risk to some dogs and cats. If a pet ingests these or other toxins, pet owners can call a poison help line, such as Penn Veterinary Medicine’s Pet Poison Helpline (800-213-6680), where they will receive advice that relates to the specific toxin involved. There may be a fee involved, but the information they provide is well worth it to owners—and the vet who will be caring for the pet.
Keep your pet trim and fit with exercise. According to Wade, pets that are kept at a healthy weight live, on average, one to two years longer than overweight pets. Furthermore, they are 10 times less likely to develop arthritis in their later years.
Spay or neuter your pet. Wade says that spaying and neutering reduces the risk of certain cancers and diseases. And, it decreases the number of unwanted puppies and kittens sent to shelters every year.
Brush your pet’s teeth. “People often forget about oral care when it comes to their pets,” Wade says. He recommends brushing a pet’s teeth three to five times per week. Doing so can prevent gingivitis and gum disease that could poison an animal’s system. “Problems like these could lead to kidney disease, heart valve issues and inflammation throughout the body,” Wade says.
Keep your dog on a leash or in a fenced yard, and your cat indoors. Doing so can prevent traumas like being hit by a car or ingesting outdoor toxins.
Although pet owners do their best to keep their animals healthy and safe, accidents do happen. Maton recommends that owners stay calm and trust the vet. “It is normal to be scared during an emotionally trying time,” she says.
Clinicians will look for common and obvious causes of distress. “However, uncovering what’s going on with your pet may not be straightforward,” Maton says. “It will require an exam, a consultation, testing or hospitalization. All this requires patience as well as time.”