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Responsible Pet Ownership

Sharing your life with a pet can be a rewarding experience. They give love, laughs and companionship. In return, we have a responsibility to make sure their various needs are met, plus a social responsibility towards others. With kitten season fast approaching in Australia, and the cat shelters already beginning to fill with unwanted kittens, this article is a timely reminder to all pet owners on the responsibilities we all have.

Dumping your pet:

It sounds obvious but sadly it still happens that people no longer wish to care for their pet just dump it, and expect it to fend for itself. Financial reasons, losing interest in the pet, moving to a new home which doesn't allow pets are some common reasons for dumping a pet.

When we adopt a pet, we become their guardian. We are responsible for their well-being for the life of the pet, not until it is no longer convenient to have the animal. There seems to be a belief that pets, especially cats can fend for themselves if left alone. This is not the case, once you are gone, they have to fend for food themselves. Either scrounging food from garbage cans and risking food poisoning or baiting, or hunting which kills off the native wildlife. They no longer receive veterinary care when they become unwell, no longer receive love and companionship, are exposed to the elements and their lifespan is greatly shortened. Is this what you would want for an animal which was once your pet?

If you are in the situation where you can no longer give your pet a home then do the responsible thing, find it another home. The best method is to advertise in your local paper and on the many websites which permit you to list pets, but don't just dump it and expect it to fend for itself. Not only is it completely unfair to the pet, but your neighbours won't be thrilled with having a stray pet hanging around, and think of the impact it will have on the wildlife. When you took on this pet, you accepted responsibility for it, so do the right thing now and don't make your pet somebody else's problem, you owe it that much.

Not desexing your cat:

This is something which has been covered numerous times on Cat-World, but I cannot emphasise enough how important it is to desex your pet. Once again, the shelters are overflowing with unwanted cats and dogs and it is up to all of us to do our bit for animal welfare and ensure our pets don't contribute to the pet overpopulation. Thousands upon thousands of cats and dogs are euthanised due to there just not being enough homes for them all. Don't be a part of the problem by allowing your cat to have kittens.

There are many health benefits to desexing your cat, including eliminating or reducing the risks of; breast cancer, pyometra, testicular cancer plus many more medical problems entire cats can face.

Not planning ahead:

Many people have come to our forums looking to rehome a cat because they are pregnant. Countless times during my first pregnancy well-meaning people would ask what I planned to do with the cats now I was expecting. They seemed to think that babies and cats cannot live together. There is no denying the medical information which states a pregnant woman who is exposed to toxoplasmosis during pregnancy is at risk of her unborn baby becoming infected, which can lead to deformities. However, if the pregnant woman takes the proper precautions such as having somebody else scoop litter trays diligently then the risk is minute. She is also vulnerable to toxoplasmosis from eating undercooked meat or improperly washed vegetables. A common sense approach to avoiding exposure is all that is required, not rehoming the family cat.

There is also somewhat of a misunderstanding that cats smother infants. While it would be irresponsible of me to say this cannot happen, if it does it is incredibly rare. Once again, taking precautions is all that you need to do. Ensure that the cat doesn't have access to the baby's room by putting a screen door up, or just shutting the door. You can also purchase crib nets to prevent cats climbing into the cot.

If you are of childbearing age and plan to have a child in the future, please do consider what will happen to your pet once the child comes along. There is definitely room for cats and babies.

If you are a renter, you need to bear in mind that many landlords and real estate agents don't permit pets on the lease. So, if you are a pet owner and renter it will be more difficult for you to find a house or unit than if you didn't have a pet. A common reason for pets to be surrendered to shelters is due to the owner moving into a rental property which doesn't permit pets. So once again, before you acquire a pet, think ahead to what you will do about accommodation.

Do you know what you will do with your pet when you go on holiday? A few days here and there is no issue, you can have a friend or neighbour pop around and feed your cat. But what about that 6 week holiday to Europe? Do you have a plan on who will care for your pet? Options include having a friend, relative or pet sitting service mind your pet, or put it in a boarding facility. A pet sitting service or boarding facility are best for the long term holiday care, but can be quite expensive. So once again, plan ahead and know what you will do for holiday care.

The cute kitten or puppy you see is going to grow up into an adult. Are you prepared to care for this pet for the rest of its life? Is the pet suitable for your lifestyle and living arrangements? There's no use in getting a large and active dog if you live in a small apartment and don't have the time to exercise it daily. Think about what animal suits you and your lifestyle. Do you have the time to regularly walk a dog, are you gone for long periods of time? If so, then maybe two pets should be considered for company. Do you have the time to put into maintaining the coat in longhaired breeds? Make sure you really do your homework before you obtain a pet, and make sure it is suited to your lifestyle, commitment levels and environment. Remember cats and dogs are only babies for a short period of time and ask yourself if you are prepared to share your life with this animal for its lifetime? Cats can live up to 20 years.

Be prepared for veterinary expenses:

Cats get sick, it's a fact of life. Just like humans, some will be sick more than others. It is up to pet owners to prepare for this by either setting aside a special animal fund, in which they pay a certain amount of money into weekly, having a backup credit card, which is to be used for animal emergencies only or taking out pet insurance. Vet bills can run into hundreds and even thousands, so it is vital that you prepare for this in advance, so if and when your cat needs medical treatment, you are prepared.

Free roaming cats:

While the idea of letting your cat come and go as he pleases sounds like a kind solution it is fraught with problems.

Sadly, cats don't have road sense and many will become the victim of a road accident. If it does survive being hit by a car, the veterinary bills are likely to be high and it will be an extremely traumatic incident for both your cat and yourself.

Cats are hunters, even a well-fed cat will likely hunt if given the chance. It is our responsibility to protect our native fauna and do our best to stop our cat hunting. At the very least, keep your cat indoors from dusk to dawn, which is when many of our natives are active.

While we may love our cats, the neighbours don't necessarily feel the same way. They are entitled to enjoy their garden without having to deal with other people's pets entering their property, making a nuisance of themselves. It is increasingly unacceptable to permit our cats to roam into other people's property. Why should others have to share their gardens with our pets?

Other risks outdoor cats face is an injury from fighting, catching a disease from another cat and dog attacks. All are good reasons to prevent your cat free roaming.

There are several compromises we can make which will keep our cat happy and entertained while we do the responsible thing. We can either keep them indoors exclusively and provide them with high up posts and ledges so they can view the outside world, we can build a cat enclosure or we can take our cat outside on a harness.

Meeting your cat's requirements:

Most of these points are obvious, but once again need to be stated.

If you have a longhaired cat then you will have to be prepared to groom it regularly. This is something which cannot be neglected. So, if you aren't prepared to put in the time to groom your cat, don't get one with a coat which needs regular grooming.

Providing it with fresh food and water. Food should be nutritionally balanced to meet your pet's needs.

You will also need to regularly de-flea and worm your pet. Generally, this is something which needs to be done monthly.

Be alert to changes in behaviour and physical condition and properly meeting your pet's medical requirements. If you suspect your pet is unwell, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Providing your cat with a litter tray, which is scooped daily and changed regularly.

Providing your pet with mental stimulation. Play with him, talk to him, provide him with stimulating toys.

Regular vaccinations are also important as they protect your cat from often debilitating illness.

Meeting your pet's emotional requirements. Don't just get the pet, heap it with love for the first 2 months and then forget about it once the novelty has worn off. Treat your pet with dignity, respect and compassion.

Providing adequate shelter and safety for your pet.

Legal requirements:

Many councils have laws in regards to how many cats you can own, and if and when they are permitted to go outside. Make sure you are aware of your local council's laws regarding pets.

Some Australian states require your cat or dog to be microchipped. Even if this isn't a requirement in your state, it is strongly urged you do so, so that should your pet become lost, it can easily be reunited with you. If your pet isn't microchipped then a collar with an ID tag should be provided. Even indoor cats sometimes manage to escape.

Summary:

Remember that your pet is a living, breathing creature with emotions. It is not a possession. It trusts in you to provide the basics, to ensure it is safe and well cared for, and receives adequate love, nutrition, exercise, stimulation, medical care and shelter. If you are prepared to meet these requirements then you will be repaid by your pet a thousand fold. But please do remember that this is a living creature here and not a toy which can be tossed aside once the novelty has worn off. The intent of this article isn't to lecture but remind people of what's involved. Sadly, it appears that not everybody has come to realise this yet, and therefore it needs to be said.