There are around 57 million pets in the UK, with 40 per cent of households (that’s 11 million) sharing a home with furry, feathered or scaly friends. Getting a new pet and bringing it home is exciting, but it can also be daunting, with lots of vaccinations and treatments to remember.
As such, pet owners need to establish a health routine to ensure their pets are as healthy and happy as possible from birth to their golden years.
As soon as pet owners know which pet they are getting, they should look into insurance to avoid unexpected vet bills. Clare Hamilton from Cherry Tree Vets in High Wycombe also suggests that customers visit their local vet as soon as they get their pet. “We offer a free heath check for new pets,” she says. “We check the pet is healthy and we may start vaccinations, depending on the pet’s age. We then discuss issues such as worming, fleas, insurance, diet and feeding patterns.”
Puppies and kittens should be wormed regularly from an early age as they are often born with worms and can become infected through their mother’s milk. Products are available from pharmacies, as well as pet food stores, but it’s important that customers check that they are suitable for their pet’s breed, weight and age, as well as how often they should be used. Clare also recommends checking that these products protect against lungworm, as this is a particular threat to dogs.
Since April 2016, all dogs in the UK legally have to be microchipped before they are eight weeks old and details must be kept up to date with an authorised database (such as Petlog). Cats can be microchipped at any age, although it is not a legal requirement. The procedure takes a few minutes and needs to be carried out by a vet or trained implanter.
Dr Paul Adams, veterinary surgeon at Knutsford Veterinary Surgery in Cheshire, says dogs are usually given a course of two or three vaccinations between the ages of six and 16 weeks. “The vaccination protocol depends on the brand and risk factors,” he says. “Cats usually have two vaccinations between four and 12 weeks, while rabbits have their vaccinations from five weeks onwards.”
Socialisation is essential from early on – getting a pet used to being touched, stroked and handled, as well as being introduced to new situations. Until a pet is fully vaccinated, they shouldn’t come into contact with other animals or ground that could be infected. “Owners can buy a pet carrier to take their dog to the shops and in the street,” says Clare. “Puppies can often be afraid of people wearing hats, men with beards, high visibility jackets and bicycles. Cats need lots of handling, ideally before 12 weeks, as this is when they are most flexible and adaptable, but shouldn’t be let outdoors until they are chipped and neutered.”
Pets will have their second vaccinations at 12 to 14 weeks and still need to be wormed regularly. Once they’ve had their vaccinations, puppies can go for walks outdoors. Puppy classes will help to boost their confidence and teach them basic training. “Between three and six months, we get pets in to weigh them and maintain parasite prevention,” says Dr Adams. “We neuter cats around five and six months and dogs between six and nine months. It’s important to remember that once they are neutered, their metabolism drops, so their diet may need to be adjusted. We also check for heart murmurs, hip dysplasia and other health problems around this time,” he adds.
Spending time playing with pets every day is important to stimulate them mentally and physically. Even kittens can be trained to come to their owners when called. It’s also important to let pets have plenty of rest as they grow at a fast rate and tire easily.
Owners should speak to their vet about the best adult food for their pet’s breed. They should also discuss feeding patterns and keep an eye on their pet’s weight. Once cats are going out on their own, owners should fit a collar with an identification tag. Quick-release collars, which snap open if they are caught on anything, are the safest option. Owners may also wish to consider an electronic cat flap, with a magnet or key on the cat’s collar. Dogs should continue to go to training classes. Play and exercise are also essential to ensure a pet is healthy and happy.
Owners should speak to their vet if they are worried about any aspect of their pet’s health or behaviour. “Many people lag on vet visits when their pet is between 18 months and two years up to around five or six years,” says Gudrun Ravetz, British Veterinary Association president. “This is when their dog, for example, is full of energy with no visible problems. Vets are often seen as the place to go to when a pet is ill, but it’s still important to keep up the vaccination, worming and flea treatment routine, as well as general check ups. Going to a vet is not just about products – it’s about education and information.”
Once pets reach the age of seven years, they are considered to be middle-aged. As with humans, pets become more prone to chronic health problems (such as arthritis or diabetes) and put on weight. Their hearing and eyesight can change, leading to anxiety, and bladder control can become an issue. Older pets shouldn’t be left on their own for long periods of time. Some pet foods can prevent or manage age-related medical conditions, as well as dental problems.
“It’s quite normal for pets to start to slow down as they reach their senior years but, with a little extra care and attention, they can continue to lead happy and healthy lives,” says PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman. “It’s also important we don’t just dismiss signs of disease as inevitable due to old age. Lameness, stiffness, lethargy and many other symptoms are signs of a problem and it’s important to speak to your vet to see what you can do to alleviate symptoms.”
Older pets need regular boosters for vaccinations, plus flea and worming treatments, even if they’re not going outside as often. “We recommend six monthly checks for older pets to check their blood pressure, urine, weight and signs of disease,” says Clare. “This is especially important for cats, as it can be more difficult to see any deterioration in their health until it’s too late to treat them.
Dental disease is a common problem in cats, dogs and rabbits, but many pet insurance policies don’t cover dental work. Daily brushing should be introduced to cats and dogs at an early age so they think it’s normal. “Start cleaning with a finger, then switch to a silicone baby toothbrush to get the pet used to a brushing sensation,” says vet Dr Paul Adams. “From around week four, use a specialist pet toothbrush for the front teeth and then work backwards. The upper back teeth tend to be most affected by dental disease.”
A vet will check cats’ and dogs’ teeth twice a year. A rabbit’s back and front teeth must be checked regularly, especially if they are beginning to lose weight for no apparent reason.
Obesity in pets is a common but preventable problem. Many owners are unsure how much to feed their cats and dogs or give out too many fatty treats and table scraps. Obesity in pets can lead to chronic health conditions such as diabetes and arthritis.
“It is important pets are fed a healthy, balanced diet and do regular exercise to reduce the risk of weight-related health conditions,” says PDSA vet Rebecca Ashman. “Unfortunately, many pet owners are unsure whether their pet is a healthy size as overweight pets are now often seen as a ‘normal’ pet shape.”
All pets need to be groomed regularly. This keeps their fur and skin in good condition and free from tangles or matting and also enables owners to check for signs of ill-health (including lumps, bumps, discharge from the ears or eyes, and fleas). Cats wash their coats themselves. Bathing a cat may affect the natural oils in their skin, but sometimes a vet will recommend a specific shampoo to treat a skin condition. Grooming smooth-coated dogs weekly will reduce hair shedding at home – rough or long-coated dogs will need grooming more often. Grooming should be a fun part of physical contact. Rabbits should be checked for any changes in appearance or behaviour on a daily basis.
Play and exercise are also essential to ensure a pet is healthy and happy