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Dear JoAnne: 

I grew up without pets but I was always "adopting" my neighbors' cats and dogs, so I knew once got my own home, I would get a pet.  Last week I signed my first lease and adopted a beautiful tabby kitten. She's so fun and playful - I want her to stay that way!  How do I make sure she stays healthy for life?

Blissfully,
New Parent

Dear JoAnne: 

I grew up without pets but I was always "adopting" my neighbors' cats and dogs, so I knew once got my own home, I would get a pet.  Last week I signed my first lease and adopted a beautiful tabby kitten. She's so fun and playful - I want her to stay that way!  How do I make sure she stays healthy for life?

Blissfully,
New Parent

Dear New Parent,

As you are no doubt aware, adopting a dog or cat comes with a lot of responsibility and commitment. When cared for properly, some animals can live as long as 15 to 20 years.

During their lives a dog or cat can experience health problems, behavior problems, injuries and just the natural stages of aging. The secret to a long and healthy life is no secret at all. Preventive care, responsible habits and lots of love will all contribute to your pet living a long, healthy and happy life. Here are some important reminders for keeping your pet healthy, happy and safe:

Annual Veterinary Exams - Yearly checkups, current vaccinations, diagnostic or basic tests if needed. Your veterinarian will check your pets teeth, ears, coat and skin. Check for fleas and ticks (your should also check regularly) and check for internal parasites (worms).
**Heartworm prevention is essential as mosquitoes are prevalent in our area and it takes one bite for an animal to become infected. The treatment for Heartworms can be expensive and without treatment, heartworms are fatal. Area shelters see numerous heartworm positive animals come through their doors every day.

If your pet is sick or injured, seek help immediately.

Spay and Neuter - Females should be spayed and males neutered. This can be performed as early as 6 to 8 weeks of age. Altered pets live a longer, healthier life as tumors and certain cancers are prevented. In addition, pets are less likely to run away and get into fights with other animals while trying to breed. Over 12 million unwanted animals are euthanized every year in this country.

Licensing and I.D. - Check the local and state laws. Texas requires all pets over 4 months of age to wear a rabies tag. A personal ID tag with the pets name and phone number is also recommended. ** Cats should wear a break-a-way collar so they can break free if they become entangled.
Micro chips are being used by more pet owners and is a safe, reliable way to ID your pet. Micro chips are inserted under the skin and cannot be removed. Veterinary clinics and shelters all scan animals for microchips so if your pet becomes lost, they can be reunited with you through the micro chip.

Food - Feed your pet a good quality food that meets nutritional requirements and provides a well-balanced diet. Feed the amounts and schedule recommended by your veterinarian or the manufacturer. Fresh water should be available at all times.

Bedding/Housing - Your pet needs a warm, quiet place to rest, away from drafts and off the floor. Pet beds, pillows and blankets are ideal. Keep bedding clean. If your pet spends a lot of time outdoors, be sure they are protected by the elements, especially heat, cold, rain and wind. A four sided structure with a roof is recommended. Provide plenty of shade and water in the summer and make sure your pet stays dry and out of the wind in winter. Additional bedding in the colder months is recommended. This also applies to cats.

Exercise - Exercise burns calories and prevents boredom and destructive behavior. Supervised fund and games will satisfy your dog’s instinctive needs to dig, chew, retrieve and chase. Dogs enjoy the exercise and companionship of long walks or trips to local dog parks where they can play and socialize with other dogs. Keep your dog on leash when out in public places.
NEVER ALLOW YOUR DOG (OR CAT) TO ROAM OFF YOUR PROPERTY. The dangers that confront a stray animal are numerous, including being hit by a car, being attacked by other animals, getting into poisons, etc. Although it is not recommended to chain your dog outside for long periods of time, if this is necessary, you can devise a stretch of cable between two poles so your dog can run up and down without getting tangled.

Grooming - Grooming helps keep your pet from shedding with frequent brushing. Most dogs only require bathing a few times a year. Regular grooming for long haired pets helps prevent matting and clumps. Nails need to be trimmed and ears cleaned regularly. A clean pet is a happy pet.

Behavior - A well behaved dog is a joy. Teach your dog the basics (sit, stay, come, down, heal, off and leave it). This will improve your relationship with your dog and your neighbors. Obedience training classes are also available throughout the community.

You can find more detailed information caring for cats and kittens, as well dogs and puppies, and small animals on cap4pets.org.  We hope that these tips and reminders will be helpful and you and your pet will enjoy a happy, healthy and long life together.