Whether they bark or meow, pets give their owners a unique type of companionship: always there, always loving, asking little in return. But owning a pet comes with responsibility, and the more you know about caring for your pets, the healthier they’ll be.
Feeding. One of the first questions pet owners ask is what to feed that little bundle of fur. Dr. W. Mark Cousins, a feline specialist at The Cat Practice, says the best answer is to follow the advice of your veterinarian.
“No one size fits all,” says Cousins. But table food is a no-no, he says, and don’t substitute dog food for cat food either.
The main thing to remember when picking out dog food is to read the label to see how much of the protein in the food actually nourishes the pet, versus how much is eliminated, says Dr. Siegfried Mayer of Metairie Small Animal Hospital. Most of the higher-quality dog foods, such as Purina and Iams, provide a nourishing diet, Mayer says. An occasional table scrap is OK, but avoid foods high in fat and salt. For example, don’t throw the fat from a steak to the dog.
If you could interview your dog, he’d probably tell you he likes the taste of canned food over dry, but most will eat whatever you serve. When it comes to portion size, follow your vet’s instructions; obesity is as big a problem in the canine world as it is among humans.
Health concerns. Every cat, especially those who live in southeastern Louisiana, needs to be on a prescription heartworm preventative, Cousins says. Mosquitoes spread the disease, which can be fatal, and we all know what a problem mosquitoes are in New Orleans.
“It’s a simple formula: Mosquito, plus cat, equals risk,” he says.
Dog-owners have some new tools to help give their canines longer, healthier lives. Veterinarians now use acupuncture, massage therapy and treadmills to fight pain, obesity, arthritis and paralysis in dogs.
“It’s a fairly new school of thought,” says Dr. Bridget Barthelemey, a veterinarian at Dag’s House in Marrero, which accepts patients by referral only.
“Treadmill [therapy] started with horses and now is specialized for canines. The treadmills are submerged in water; the buoyancy makes the running easier while the resistance of the water builds muscle faster, she says. “A lot of our patients are paralyzed or recovering from surgery,” Barthelemey says. Dogs usually become comfortable with the treadmill after one or two sessions, although occasionally a dog refuses to cooperate.
Acupuncture is done for pain relief, inflammation and to promote healing, Barthelemey says; most dogs find it relaxing.
Obesity compounded with age can cause a dog’s joints to ache, which makes it painful to stand up. The pain causes the dog to spend its days lying down, which in turn leads to more weight gain. Shedding the pounds gets dogs back on their feet, Barthelemey says.
What breed? Nature selects the healthiest genes, so a mixed-breed mutt is generally healthier than a purebred, says Dr. Eleanore Armani of Prytania Veterinary Hospital. When people breed dogs they generally breed for looks, not health, and some purebreds can have issues. English bulldogs, for example, are lovable but traditionally have very bad skin allergies.
A slew of so-called designer dogs have hit the market. Breeders try to get the best of each parent; in the Golden Doodle, for example, the goal is the no-shed coat of the poodle with the friendly temperament of a golden retriever.
There is nothing wrong with choosing one of these dogs, veterinarians say, although they put in a plug for the many adorable dogs awaiting adoption from animal shelters. “Some of the cutest, healthiest dogs are question-mark dogs,” Armani says.
Tripping. Whether it’s Christmas vacation or spring break, lots of families love to pack up Fido or Fifi and hit the road. Traveling with pets can be fun, but a few precautions are in order, Armani says. Most airlines require all animals to have a health certificate, signed by a veterinarian within 10 days of travel, attesting to the animal’s good health. Some airlines also have temperature restrictions, she says, so your pet won’t be able to fly if it’s too cold.
Check with your veterinarian well in advance if you think your pet might need sedatives or anti-anxiety drugs for the trip, Armani says. The day you plan to fly to California isn’t the best time to try out a new drug; your pet could have an allergy to the medication. Make sure your pet is properly identified via a microchip.
Finally, think about where you’re going to keep your pet once you arrive at your destination. Not all pets can adjust to a houseful of little children, so you may need boarding facilities. Find out before you go where the closest animal emergency clinic is, Armani says, just in case a mishap occurs.
The little extras. Because pets are so important to us, we love to buy little goodies for them. At Pet Emporium in Metairie, you can find everything Saints-related to outfit your pet, and Louisiana State University gear as well. To match your luxe kitchen, pick up a hand-painted dog bowl, featuring the fleur-de-lis and signed by the artist. Other treats include doggie colognes (Beautifur, Miss Claybone), sweatshirts and soft fleece blankets.
At Chi-Wa-Wa Ga-Ga in the French Quarter, you can outfit dogs of all sizes in bandannas, T-shirts, sweaters, socks and shoes (so your dog’s nails won’t scratch your hardwood floors).
“In winter, people put little sweaters on their dogs to take them outside to tinkle,” says owner Justine Roig. “It’s chilly for the little ones.”
Roig says her busiest time is from October to May, as people pick up outfits for Halloween, Christmas and Mardi Gras. She doesn’t find it surprising that people spend so easily on their pets.
“They are their children, especially those who don’t have kids,” she says.
And after all, what pet wouldn’t love to wear a smoking jacket, a Shirley Temple dress, a Hawaiian bikini or a bandanna that says “Will Bark For Beignets”?