Pets are not unlike children, they need your care and attention. In this special article, a leading Australian pet expert tells how you can make your pet’s life a happy, healthy one.
Grooming your pet
Here’s how to groom your pet properly:
A dog’s nails
A dog who runs on hard surfaces continually will wear his nails down naturally. However, if your dog is kept inside or in a lawn yard he will need his nails clipped regularly, using pet nail clippers specially designed to take the round shape.
Dogs have a vein growing down the center of each nail. Be careful not to cut this. If cut, it can be painful and your pet will be reluctant to have you touch his nails again.
Hold each nail to a strong light to clearly see the vein before cutting and cut ⅛ of an inch below the vein. If your dog has dark nails and the vein cannot be seen, file the nail, or have this done by a veterinary surgeon.
The vein grows with the nail, making regular clipping essential. If your pet’s nails have become overgrown, regular clipping will gradually make the vein recede.
Many dogs have a dewclaw, a nail higher up on the inside of the foot. This nail does not always touch the ground and so wear down naturally. If not clipped, it may grow in a circle back into the foot. Whether your pet is kept inside or out, check this claw regularly.
A cat’s nails
True to their independent nature, cats have worked out their own way to sharpen their claws. If kept outside they will use a tree or fence; if kept inside they will use a chair or carpet unless trained to use a scratching post.
Everyone realizes how important a dog’s hearing is to him, yet many pet owners never think to check inside the ears, where all sorts of trouble could be brewing.
The enemies to dog and cat ears are wax, dirt, and moisture, all of which allow a tiny mite to multiply, causing canker and more serious conditions.
Floppy-eared dogs are particularly susceptible to such ailments, as the air cannot circulate and so keep the ears dry. Long-haired dogs with fine hair growing inside the ears are also more susceptible to canker, as the hair collects wax, dirt, and moisture. Using the tips of your fingers, the hair should be plucked regularly from inside the ear. This will not hurt your dog provided you take a few hairs at a time.
The gums and teeth
Your pet needs dental care just the same as you, although not quite to the same extent.
Dogs should have their teeth checked and cleaned at least once a year after the age of three to four, otherwise a build-up of hard tartar on the outside of the teeth will cause foul breath and infect the gums. Chewing hard dog biscuits and firm bones helps prevent the buildup of tartar. However, be sure the bones cannot splinter. Chicken, chop, and fish bones must be avoided.
Cats, especially long-haired breeds, also need regular check-ups of their gums and teeth, as hair often collects there. Regular check-ups are advised from five to six years of age.
Puppies and kittens begin cutting their milk teeth from about two to three weeks of age and have their adult teeth by about six months. When losing the milk teeth the gums can become inflamed, causing bad breath and discomfort. The condition can be eased with a solution of half-strength peroxide dabbed on the affected areas.
Fleas are your pet’s most common enemy and one of his worst. They are the host to tapeworm and the cause of severe skin eczemas, especially prevalent in summer when fleas are the most active.
A flea bite causes eczema when it sets up frantic scratching, often breaking the skin and leaving the area open to infection.
Some dogs are hypersensitive to fleas. They can be helped by a series of injections given by the vet to “desensitize” the skin. It is still important to control fleas, however, and this can be done simply by the regular use of an insecticide.
When using an insecticide on a cat, remember cats wash their fur and therefore you should be sure the brand you use is marked safe for cats.
Daily brushing and combing of your pet’s coat right to the skin are important to keep the coat healthy and to prevent skin eczemas.
Dogs and cats shed their hair in autumn and spring, and attention to grooming is particularly important at this time: long hair will catch in the coat and become matted, and loose short hairs create an irritant when they prick the skin.
There are many different brushes and combs available and the right choice of these will make your daily chore a lot easier.
Your pet’s size, weight, age, and amount of exercise should dictate the amount of daily food it requires. However, as a general rule, give 4 oz for every 5 lb of body weight.
What you feed your pet is really a matter of personal choice, but prepacked foods, canned and dry, are prepared with great care for nutritional requirements. They are convenient, hygienically prepared, and provide variety.
The dog’s or cat’s digestive system is designed to take large meals at longer intervals. Adult pets should be fed once a day, and if possible at the same time each day.
An evening meal is advised, with 20 minutes allowed for your pet to complete his meal. If he has not eaten by then the meal should be taken away, as it becomes stale and sour. Food readily available can also encourage appetites to become finicky.
Puppies and kittens
Puppies and kittens need more than one meal a day.
As a guide, pets from 6 to 16 weeks should be given breakfast and supper of milk and cereal, with milk for lunch and morning tea, and for dinner finely chopped meat or a canned food containing a cereal.
From four months and until fully grown, give two meals of meat or canned food, with milk in between meals.
Certain additives to the diet are advised, especially with growing puppies, kittens, and expectant mothers. Calcium powder should be sprinkled on the food to promote healthy teeth and bones and prevent rickets.
A wide selection of diet additives made especially for pets is available from pet shops. These include blood tonics, wheatgerm oil, kelp, and multi-vitamin tablets to ensure a healthy coat and skin.
Avoiding pet illnesses
Every year thousands of dogs and cats die from dreaded diseases which could have been avoided if they had been immunized and given booster injections.
The most common infectious diseases are distemper and canine hepatitis in dogs and feline enteritis and contagious rhinitis in cats. All, with the exception of contagious rhinitis, can be prevented with immunization and follow-up booster injections as advised by your vet.
Injections against canine hepatitis and distemper are generally given at about three months of age. However, temporary immunization may be given earlier. When temporary injections have not been given, puppies should be kept away from other dogs and where other dogs have been until they are given their permanent injections.
Kittens can be vaccinated against feline enteritis as early as six weeks and should also be kept away from strange cats until the immunization takes effect.
As mentioned previously, there is no vaccination against infectious rhinitis or, as it is commonly called, feline catarrh. The symptoms of this disease are those of a very heavy cold, and should this be noticed the cat writ need warmth and nursing. His sense of smell will suffer, and as a cat will not generally eat food if he cannot smell it, this is the main reason the disease has serious results.
None of these pets’ diseases is contagious to humans.
Four types of worms
Worms are an unpleasant subject, but they are something every pet owner should be realistic about. There are four common types of worms that can infect your pet: roundworm, tapeworm, hookworm, and whipworm.
Most puppies and kittens are born with roundworms, which are passed on from an infected mother. To lessen the prevalence of this worm, expectant mothers should be treated with roundworm tablets two weeks after mating and three weeks after the birth of the puppies.
Three-week-old puppies should be treated at the same time with a worming syrup and then dosed again at six and 12 weeks of age. Kittens should be dosed at four, eight, and 12 weeks of age.
Humans can accidentally become infected with roundworms, and it is, therefore, important to teach children to wash their hands after handling pets and to ensure that your pet remains free of these worms. Routine treatment every three months should ensure this.
A threat to human health
The other worm which can present a threat to human health is the hydatid tapeworm, although luckily this occurs only in country areas when dogs eat infected offal from uninspected meat.
The other common-type tapeworm does not infect humans, but can seriously affect the health of your pet. The worm is passed to dogs or cats through infected fleas, which are the common host, or through mice, cockroaches, and beetles. Tapeworms can be detected in an animal when the segments of the worm are passed in the feces. The segments look like small cucumber seeds.
The hookworm and whipworm are not so common or easy to detect and are best diagnosed by your vet.
There are many worming preparations available on the market; however, these should always be used sensibly. It is foolish to assume that your pet has worms just because he looks sick. He may well have something entirely different wrong with him, and worming will only serve to make this considerably worse. Whenever in doubt about your pet’s health, seek veterinary advice.
Bathing your pet
Contrary to common belief, regular bathing is not bad for a pet. In fact it is quite the opposite if a good quality pet shampoo is used.
Bathing a dog
Many human shampoos, cheap soaps, and heavily medicated shampoos tend to dry the skin, making it itchy and the coat brittle. It is important, therefore, that you select an oil or lanolin enriched shampoo to replace the oils in your dog’s coat. A wide selection is available from pet shops.
Before bathing your dog, groom any tangles from the coat and plug its ears with cotton-wool to prevent water from entering the ear canal.
Shampoo your dog in warm water, and then thoroughly rinse away all traces of the shampoo. If left in the coat, it may be an irritant.
After rinsing, a final wash with an insecticide rinse is recommended. Be careful to avoid the eyes and allow the rinse to dry on the coat. To keep your dog free of fleas, a weekly or fortnightly rinse is recommended.
Bathing a cat
Cats normally keep their own fur clean by continual washing. However, there are some parts, such as under the chin and around the neck, which they just can’t reach.
If you wish to bath your cat, it is preferable to get him used to this at an early age. Many show cats are bathed before every show, and the practice is more common than you would think.
When bathing a cat, great care must be taken to ensure that the soaps and insecticides used are safe for them. Bath the same way as for a dog.