A Vet’s View: Responsible Pet Ownership

UPDATED: Nov 14, 2013

If you spend enough time in a veterinary hospital, you’ll eventually hear someone on staff talk about ‘responsible pet ownership’. This discussion often comes up after the staff has had to deal with someone who hasn’t taken good care of their pet, or even worse, when someone has neglected or abused a pet.

What is responsible pet ownership? What responsibility do we have to our pets? And to what standard should we be held in order to make sure we are holding up our end of the bargain, as well as our end of the leash?

This is one of those ethically gray areas that has no real hard answers to guide us – if you ask five people you’re likely to get six answers on just what it means to be a responsible pet owner. What extremes do we need to go to in order to fulfill our obligation to the pets we live with? Do we need to spend more money? More time? Feed the best food we can afford, or is it okay to feed them the food in the bag with the cute puppy on it that costs half as much?

And what about when our pets take ill? When is it OK to shoot the works on expensive tests and treatments, and when is it OK to say ‘no’ and either try for simple treatments or not treat at all?

Obviously, as a veterinarian, I think people should treat their pets to the best degree that they realistically can. I realize that not everyone has large amounts of money or free time to spend on the care and feeding of pets, but there are some things that I think make up basic pet owner responsibility. Here is my list of minimum standards for pet owners (whether their pets have hooves, fur, feathers or scales), along with how my own pets (two dogs and two cats, three chickens, a snake and a cockatiel) fare:

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