Caring for kids can be tough enough. Add in the family’s furry and feathered little friends, and keeping control over domestic duties can become quite the chore.
To help you cope, we’ve gathered some tried-and-true tips for dealing with family pets from the American Kennel Club (AKC), The Post and Courer’s “Pet Docs” column and McClatchy News Service.
With some planning and know-how, pet owners can live happily with their four-legged (and otherwise) friends while keeping their home intact.
Bringing home a puppy
Giving a puppy to your kids for Christmas can create lifelong memories, but remember that adding a pet to your family is a major decision, and with that addition comes a great deal of responsibility. Some savvy planning can help make your new furry friend’s arrival much less stressful.
• Go shopping. Before you bring home your four-legged bundle of joy, there are a few items that you’ll need to care for the puppy:
- Bowls for water and food, as well as the food your puppy will eat.
- A leash and collar for walks.
- A bed that will be comfortable for your puppy and easy for you to clean.
- A crate that is big enough for your puppy to stand up, turn around, and lay down in.
- Toys for puppy playtime.
• Puppy-proof your home. Puppies can get into trouble until they’ve learned the rules and developed physical skills. Make sure to puppy-proof your home in advance. Tips for puppy-proofing include:
- Put all small objects away where your puppy can’t get to them to chew.
- Secure your cabinets and move anything toxic to a high shelf.
- Remove any poisonous plants, such as Poinsettia and Calla Lilies.
- Use baby gates to block off any steps so your puppy can’t fall and hurt himself.
Keep kids safe around dogs
Children and dogs can be best friends, but it’s very important that kids are taught how to be safe around dogs to prevent accidents. Whether it is a familiar dog, a new one, or even your own pet, there are certain ways children should approach a dog.
• Ask permission: It’s very important to ask a dog’s owner first if you can pet the dog. Not every dog reacts the same way to strangers petting them, and the owner will know if the dog is friendly and if it is safe for you to approach.
• Approach calmly: If the owner says yes, make a fist, extend your hand slowly to the dog, and let him sniff the back of your hand. Dogs recognize people by scent, so letting him sniff your hand lets him become familiar with you.
• Where to pet: Once the dog has sniffed your hand, pet him gently under the chin or on the chest.
• Don’t hug dogs: Kids should never hug a dog. Dogs don’t hug each other, and they don’t understand hugs to mean love and affection like humans do. Wrapping your arms around a dog can stress him out and lead to a potential negative reaction.
• Keep your chin up: Never put your face down in front of a dog. This can be threatening to the dog and cause him to react.
Early-socialization for your puppy
Exposing your puppy to new people, places and situations early on is important, as it sets the stage in helping your dog feel confident with new experiences throughout his life. Early socialization can begin as soon as you bring your puppy home.
• Socializing at home: It’s important to begin socializing your puppy right away since the peak socialization period is from birth to 16 weeks. A good way to start is scheduling a daily playtime at home. This is a time where you and your puppy can bond. You can sit on the floor and cuddle with your dog or play with him using his favorite toys. Invite a friend or two over to play with the puppy.
• Puppy’s day out: It’s best to introduce your puppy to new people, places and things gradually. Once your dog feels comfortable around new people at home, you can try taking him for a walk around the block. Once your dog begins to feel more comfortable with daily walks, take him to places where there are lots of people and activity such as a local park. If your dog is on a leash and sitting calmly, invite new people to pet him.
• Socialization after puppyhood: Socializing is an ongoing process that continues throughout your dog’s life. Keep introducing your dog to new places, sounds, people, environments and other animals. You can take your dog to a new dog park or take a different route while walking. Using treats and praise to reward your dog will make it a positive experience for him.
Give cats a happy home
Cats are not as self-sufficent as people think. They need support, and what cats need out of their environment to have a happy, stress free life differs from dogs. The American Association of Feline Practitioners and the International Society of Feline Medicine recently released guidelines on feline environmental needs:
• Provide a safe place. Cats need a quiet, private, secure place to escape to. A cardboard box, perch and open cat carrier are examples. There should be a safe location for every cat in the home, and they should be separated from each other to reduce any unwanted interactions.
• Provide multiple and separate key environmental resources. These resources are associated with feeding, drinking, litter use, claw scratching, playing and resting/sleeping. Since cats generally are solitary animals, they need to be able to meet these needs without feeling challenged. Each cat should have its own food bowl, and there should be one litter box per cat.
• Provide opportunity for play and predatory behavior. Cats have a strong predatory instinct, which consists of locating, capturing, killing, preparing and eating its prey. Any object that moves and promotes them to chase can be used. Allow them to occasionally catch and mouth it. Be sure to put away anything with a string or that could easily be eaten and cause an obstruction after use.
• Provide positive, consistent, and predictable human-cat social interaction. This need will vary from cat to cat based on genetics and early rearing experiences with people. It is important to not force this interaction but to allow your cat to initiate it. Once it ends the interaction, allow it to go and do not force further contact.
• Provide an environment that supports the cat’s sense of smell. Felines use their strong sense of smell to evaluate their surroundings, and this promotes a feeling of comfort and security. Facial and body rubbing are used to mark the areas and objects (such as your pants leg) where they feel safe.
A place Tweety can call home
Birds are a popular household pet, and one that may seem to be an easy-to-care-for choice. Like dogs and cats, though, birds require a significant amount of care and attention, beginning with a proper cage where they can live.
Before you decide to bring a bird home as a pet, you should first consider where you will put a birdcage. The cage should sit in a location that has appropriate temperature and natural light, and allows for regular interaction between you and the bird. This location should be large enough to accommodate a sizable cage. Never keep a bird in the kitchen. Teflon-coated pans, cooking and cleaning sprays, hot water and gas stoves can pose serious health risk to birds. Also check for drafty spots that can chill a bird, especially in winter.
When buying a birdcage, purchase the largest cage that you can afford. Look for a metal cage designed for easy cleaning, and can withstand periodic disinfection. The cage should have a removable tray in the bottom and feed and water bowls, serviceable from outside the cage. Skip cages heavy on decorations, made of wood or wicker, or round or cylindrical, which can inhibit a bird’s movement. Look for a wide cage with room for a bird to move horizontally. The size of the bird housed will dictate the size and spacing of the cage bars. Keep in mind that you’ll want bars close enough together to keep your bird from escaping.
Other key birdcage features should include:
• Perches for your bird to sit on and climb; but not too many that can reduce the space available for movement.
• A minimum of one food bowl, one water bowl for drinking, and one bowl for bathing. Make sure that birds can reach the bowls comfortably from a perch. Don’t install bowls placed directly under perches where they will be fouled by bird droppings.
• Include some birdcage toys. Although finches and canaries are less likely to use them, other birds - such as parakeets, lovebirds, and cockatiels - can use them to climb on, chew up or hide in. Some birds also enjoy seeing themselves in small mirrors.
Cleaning up pet messes
• Slobber: A traditional home recipe for cleaning drool off of glass calls for white or apple-cider vinegar and water. Other recipes add rubbing alcohol and a couple of drops of scented essential oils like lavender. You’ll have to use some elbow grease.
• Diarrhea: After you clean up the mess, sprinkle baking soda over the spot. Wait for it to dry and then vacuum it up the next day.
• Pee puddles: Look for products like Natures Miracle that contain enzymes or combinations of enzymes with bacteria. First blot, don’t rub, away any excess urine before applying the solution. You’ll have to be patient – it can take several hours or days to remove the odor to prevent future visits to that spot.
• Sticky substances: You can effectively remove sticky substances, such as tar or chewing gum, from your dog’s coat with vegetable oil or peanut butter.
Preventing pet theft
Most dog owners consider their four-legged friend a part of the family, so the thought of the family pet getting stolen is unimaginable. With pet theft consistently on the rise, dog owners need to practice caution when it comes to their pooch:
• Keep your dog close. Keeping your dog on a leash and close to you during walks will reduce the likelihood of him wandering off and catching the attention of thieves.
• Never leave your dog unattended in your yard. When your dog is outside by himself in the yard, especially if it’s visible from the street, your dog becomes an easy target.
• Be cautious with information about your dog. If strangers approach you to admire your dog when you’re out on walks, be careful with how much information you give. Don’t reveal how much your dog cost or details about where you live.
• Don’t tie your dog outside a store. Leaving your dog tied outside of a store can be a recipe for disaster. If you need to go shopping, go to dog-friendly stores or leave your dog at home.
• Protect your dog with microchip identification – Collars and tags can be removed so make sure you have permanent ID with a microchip. Keep contact information current with your microchip recovery service provider so you can always be found should your dog be recovered.
Caring for older pets
As pets age into their golden years, they might need some assistance in their everyday lives. So make your home safe and ergonomically friendly for your cats and dogs.
• Raise those bowls: Your pets might be lower to the ground, but constantly having to bend down every time they need a drink of water or a bite of food can wear down their joints.
• Give the dog a life: Your furry baby isn’t as limber as she used to be, and it doesn’t help if she’s really tiny. Getting up on the couch is no mean feat. And let’s not even talk about your bed, which might as well be Mount Everest to your small friend. Solve the problem of her potentially hurting her back or legs while trying to get on and off the furniture by getting a set of stairs.
• Get them a really good bed: You’re not the only one who deserves a good night’s sleep. And don’t assume that any old pillow will do for your best friend; your precious pup should also have a comfortable bed. Particularly for aging dogs, memory foam beds can provide comfort and relief.
• Install a cat waterfall: A filtered fountain provides a continuous flow of fresh, trickling water, which encourages the cat to drink more. This is especially useful for older felines suffering from kidney disease or diabetes.
• Make the stairs safe: Humans and dogs alike can trip and fall down the stairs. But if you have an aging dog - especially an older large breed, like a Lab or golden retriever, which typically have back and haunch stiffness in their later years - getting down the stairs can be a precarious proposition.