Written by COAPE International
What does it mean to be a responsible pet owner?
Most animal welfare organizations use the 5 freedoms as a guideline:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Freedom from pain, injury or disease.
- Freedom to express normal behaviour.
- Freedom from fear and distress.
These 5 freedoms form the foundation of responsible pet care and are vital to an animals’ welfare. However, there are so many more things you can do to make sure you are being a responsible, and fantastic, pet owner. The American Veterinary Medical Association and the British Veterinary Association suggest the following:
- When you get a pet remember this means committing to the relationship for your pet’s entire life. Animals have rich emotional lives and being abandoned by their owner has a huge negative impact on them.
- Select a pet who is suited to your home and lifestyle. Pets who are not compatible with your lifestyle often don’t receive what they need to have an emotionally fulfilling life and may start showing some behaviour problems. While choosing by breed and looks is most common when selecting a dog or puppy, take into account what that dog was originally bred for, and if his needs can be met in the time you can spend with him, and if he will fit into your lifestyle. For example, if you are looking for a dog who will be able to run with you – short legged breeds like Bassets and Dachshunds will not fit the bill nor will big heavy breeds like Great Danes or St Bernards. When selecting a cat or kitten, looks are the most common reason given but be aware that long haired breeds like Persians and Maine Coons require daily brushing to keep them burr free and comfortable, and hairless cats like the Sphinx and Peterbald need to be bathed regularly in a special shampoo as well as being given protection against heat and cold.
- Remember that owning a pet requires an investment of time and money.
- Ensure your pets are properly identified (i.e., tags, microchips, or tattoos) and that if they are microchipped your information is kept up to date with the microchip company.
- Provide preventive health care e.g. vaccinations, internal and external parasite control and spaying or neutering to prevent unwanted litters.
- Socialization and appropriate training for your dog is not only really good for him, but good for your bond with him too.
- Preventing your pet from negatively impacting other people, animals and the environment is the responsible thing to do. For dogs this includes picking up after him on walks, making sure he doesn’t bark excessively, is safe on your property and cannot escape to go explore and get into trouble with other dogs (or people) or get in a traffic accident. The same goes for cats but they are far harder to keep on your property if they are outdoor cats. The most common problem neighbours have is cat fights and calling Queens, so be sure to neuter or spay your cat so they will not be a part of the problem.
- Provide exercise and mental stimulation appropriate to your pets’ age, breed, and health status. Do some research or ask a behaviourist what the best way to entertain your pet is, especially if they are left alone for long periods.
- Never ever use aversive items such as shock collars, spray collars, prong collars or choke chains on your dog. These are not only physically damaging to your dog and have huge behavioural fallout, but it will irreparably damage your relationship with your dog.
- Recognize any decline in your pets’ quality of life and make decisions in consultation with your veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (e.g., palliative care, hospice, euthanasia). Remember that no matter how sad it is for you (often heart breaking) being a responsible owner means putting your pets needs above your emotions.
Having a pet is a huge responsibility, and these guidelines in responsible pet ownership are for the benefit of your pet and yourself. The bond between a happy pet and a happy owner is irreplaceable, nurturing that bond and providing your pet with all they need to live a happy and fulfilled life is the most responsible thing you can do as a pet owner.