Pet Talk: Tips for responsible dog ownership

Thinking about adopting a dog? There are a lot more facets to having this pet than buying a leash and coming up with a cute name.

Bob Weedon, a shelter veterinarian on the faculty at the UI College of Veterinary Medicine in Urbana, wants prospective owners to understand the time commitment, expense and upkeep required to care for a dog responsibly.

"It is very important for people to realize that getting an animal is a lifelong decision," he said. "Small dogs live anywhere from 15 to 20 years, with large dogs having shorter life spans, depending on the breed."

"Pets are not disposable. Sadly, I have seen two dogs that were returned to a shelter because the owner redecorated the living room. The dogs no longer fit the decor and therefore were out of a home."

Pets can be expensive. How much can you expect to spend on your dog every year? The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals estimates the cost of owning a small dog to be at least $1,300, and for a large dog more than $1,800. This includes additional expenses incurred with a new pet, such as adoption fees, food, training classes, a soft bed and a crate.

Veterinary expenses must be factored into your pet budget. Weedon advises taking a newly adopted dog to your veterinarian soon after adoption for required vaccines. For example, the Champaign County Humane Society does not give animals a vaccine against rabies, so an owner is responsible for ensuring that the new pet gets this required vaccine.

One of the most important precautions is ensuring that your pet is sterilized. Weedon said not all animal shelters spay or neuter animals before they are adopted, and animals capable of reproducing can lead to unwanted litters of puppies. These unwanted puppies are most often relinquished to a shelter.

As far as preventive veterinary care for your dog, Weedon recommends bringing an animal less than 8 years of age for an annual exam. Older animals should see the veterinarian twice a year to catch any problems in the earliest stages when treatment is most effective and least expensive.

Your veterinarian will assess your pet's body condition and oral health and discuss any behavioral issues, if necessary.

Most people consider their pet to be a part of the family, so providing preventive health care is important to keep them healthy and happy for as long as possible.

Proper pet identification is so important, especially in the instance that a dog is separated from its owner. Weedon said the best means of pet identification is by having the veterinarian microchip your pet. Illinois law states animals adopted from shelters have to be microchipped.

"People need to remember to keep their pet microchip information current. Update address, phone number and email address to ensure that if your pet gets loose, it can be reunited with you," Weedon said. "People often forget to make the update if they move."

In addition to microchipping, a name tag on a collar with current contact information also is a good way to identify your dog.

Pet-proofing a home is essential to being a responsible pet owner, especially for puppies. Don't leave clothes lying around, put locks on cabinets that contain potential toxicants such as household cleaners and pesticides and be aware of electrical cords. Some dogs love to chew on them. Baby gates are a great way to keep a dog corralled in a certain area of the house and out of trouble.

For new puppy owners, Weedon recommends attending training classes. Classes can help keep behavioral problems from developing. They also provide an opportunity for owners to learn about their pets and to bond with them. The Champaign County Humane Society requires adopted puppies to attend at least one training class.

For more information about how to responsibly care for a pet, speak with your veterinarian.

An archive of pet columns from the UI College of Veterinary Medicine is available at http://vetmed.illinois.edu/petcolumns/. Requests for reprints of this article may be directed to Chris Beuoy, beuoy@illinois.edu.

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