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February 27, 2013

What to know to care for your furry friend

By Tiffany Esshaki
C & G Staff Writer

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What to know to care for your furry friend
Arizona, pictured here, is one of the many puppies available for adoption at the Michigan Humane Society. According to Kevin Hatman of MHS, families should research what age pet would be a good fit for them before they adopt.

If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, does a Milk-Bone a day keep the vet at bay?

Having a pet means more than just companionship. It means caring for your furry friend with the same love and attention they would give to you. That’s why so many local experts are making it easier for pet parents to get the knowledge and tools they need to care for their cats and dogs.

According to Kevin Hatman, public relations coordinator for the Michigan Humane Society, brushing up on animal know-how begins before you even bring your forever-friend home.

“There’s a lot of questions that need to be answered before you do decide to adopt a pet. A pet isn’t a toy or something to be viewed as an accessory. It’s a living, breathing creature that you’re taking responsibility for,” he said. “You probably have to be pretty realistic. Your 7-year-old son may say he’ll take care of the dog every single day, but that probably won’t happen.”

Hatman said that, before a family decides to bring a pet into their home, they need to learn more about the kinds of pets available and decide what animal would fit best with their lifestyle.

“Get an idea of your activity level. If you have a puppy or a kitten, you’re going to need more time,” he said. “An older cat, on the other hand, you pretty much just put a litter box and some food down, and the cat’s ready to go.”

Once an adopter decides what type of pet they’re looking for, Hatman said it’s important to learn about the different places you can go to get pets to be sure you’re adopting from a reputable establishment.

“Adopt — don’t shop. Adopting an animal is so important, and there are so many unwanted animals out there. So make sure you go to a shelter or make sure a breeder is responsible,” said Hatman, who said that most pet stores get their supply of animals from inhumane puppy mills.

The research doesn’t stop there, though. Once you bring a pet home, there’s still a lot to learn about how to care for your new family member, according to Macomb County Animal Control Manager Jeffery Randazzo.

That’s why the shelter has partnered with the Macomb Community College Veterinary Technology program to offer new pet owners a crash-course in animal care.

“When someone adopts an animal from us a year old and younger, we offer them a free two-week online course on animal behavior through the college,” said Randazzo.

He said the shelter also works with a group called Teacher’s Pet to educate shelter staff on animal behavior and temperament so they can properly counsel potential adopters on how to care for their new friend.

Such efforts to promote animal education are hugely important to veterinarians like Dr. Andrea Switch. According to Switch, the founder of Veterinary House Calls, based in West Bloomfield, learning the basics of pet care could prevent more serious and, in turn, more costly ailments down the road.

“I always say, never just assume anything is OK, and no question is a stupid question,” she said.

Switch explained that many animal owners only take their pet to a vet to be examined when it’s time for their routine vaccinations, which in some cases could be every three years. She said annual visits to the vet can reveal potential health issues before they become major complications. 

“You have to remember that, on average, for every one year for us is about seven years of life for an animal. So they should be examined at least once a year,” she said.

While many pet owners may be vigilant in the care of their furry friend, there are some symptoms that only a veterinarian would be likely to spot, said Switch, such as heart murmurs to indicate cardiac issues, cataracts that could reveal diabetes, over- or under-active thyroids, weight issues and more. Simple blood tests, eye and dental exams can take just minutes, but they could make all the difference.

Regular visits to the vet can also help a pet owner learn about the little changes that can be made to extend and improve an animal’s quality of life, said Switch.

“Sometimes it’s a matter of going to Home Depot and getting carpet runners for the house. If they’re slipping and sliding on the floors, they could rupture a ligament, which costs thousands of dollars (to repair),” she said. “Or doing a toxicology of your house for poisonous substances. You’d be surprised how many people don’t know raisins and grapes are incredibly toxic to animals, and lilies are a big one for cats. And medications — so many people take pills and a lot of vitamins or ibuprofen or Tylenol, which can be very toxic to animals.”

Most importantly, Switch said that animals aren’t always able to express when they’re not feeling well, so it’s up to families to make sure their pets are healthy and happy with regular check-ups with a vet.

“Make sure you have a good relationship with your veterinarian. (Pets) don’t have a voice, so we have to be their voice.”

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Tiffany Esshaki at tesshaki@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1095.