Pet’s Bill of Rights: February is Responsible Pet Owners Month

What responsibility do we have to our pets? What is responsible pet ownership? To highlight this important concept, February is Responsible Pet Owners Month and here are some points to consider when taking care of your pets or thinking about getting a new one.

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 just the stuff in the bag with the cute puppy on it that costs half as much?

Here’s my list of the minimum standards that pet owners should adhere to in order to be considered responsible pet owners. You can go way above and beyond this — this is just my list of the basic needs that every pet should receive — call it my Pet’s Bill of Rights.

  1. Love: Why get a pet if you won’t love and interact with them? Our domestic pets have been bred to depend on human companionship for their mental and physical health. Spend time playing with them, take them to a park for a walk, or just canoodle on the couch. They’ll love it and they’ll feel more secure knowing you love them.
  2. Health care: OK, I’m a vet, so you probably saw this one coming. Your dog or cat can’t tell you they are ill or have cancer or have become diabetic. They depend on you to have them checked out by your family pet doctor when anything seems amiss and an annual physical can help catch things before they become chronic and harder to treat. Regular followups and making sure you have a doctor for your pet are important parts of responsible pet ownership — about one third of the folks I see in the ER don’t have a regular vet and that’s just not right.
  3. Exercise: This one’s win-win. Your pet needs to get out and get moving, and maybe you do too! Even cats can benefit from a session with the laser pointer and I don’t know of a dog who doesn’t like a walk when the weather is nice. Make sure you provide sensory stimulation for your pet and opportunities for them to socialize appropriately with others. Dog parks have their downside and you have to be careful to not let the little dogs mingle with the big ones without supervision, but pets need to keep their minds and bodies active in order to be happy.
  4. Training: It’s not just people who need to think about responsibility. Pets need manners, too! Dog training can help your dog become a good canine citizen and can make life much easier for both of you. Most pet stores can offer training classes and puppy socialization classes. (Luckily, most cats were born civilized).
  5. Food & shelter: You don’t have to drain your 401k to feed your pet, but don’t go for the cheapest you can get — that’s like eating fast food three meals a day forever. Good food promotes good health, and making sure that they get enough (and not too much — pet obesity is a problem, just as it is for people) good quality food is part of being a responsible pet owner. Fresh water should always be available, and pets who spend time outdoors should always have shelter from sun, wind, rain and cold.

Give back to the pets who give us so much in our life — hit all the points on my Pet’s Bill of Rights and you’re well on your way to being a responsible pet owner. It’s your month — enjoy it with your pet!

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