If they tell the truth, more than one person will admit that their pets are their best friends. In good times or bad, pets give unconditional love and most of us are so attached to our animals that we’ll think twice about evacuating for a hurricane if we can’t take them with us.

If you’re thinking about adding a pet to your household, or if you are already caring for Fido, Fluffy or another critter, here’s some advice from local veterinarians and animal care specialists on how to give that bundle of fur or feathers a better quality of life.

Can I get a quality pet from the Louisiana SPCA?

Last year, more than 1,500 cats and dogs were adopted from the Louisiana SPCA, says CEO Ana Zorrilla. What many people don’t know is that lots of the cats and dogs at the shelter are purebred and those that aren’t still make terrific pets, she says.

The SPCA is open for adoptions seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at 1700 Mardi Gras Blvd. in Algiers, and also holds off-site adoption events to make it easier for potential pet owners to find just the right animal. The process is easy. First, staff members find out what type of pet would fit best with your lifestyle. Next, they let you visit with the animals so you can find the one you like best.
The adoption fee is $90 for puppies and kittens, $75 for cats and dogs, and $10 for rabbits, guinea pigs or rodents, and includes spaying or neutering, vaccinations, de-worming and microchipping. The pets come with a 14-day health guarantee and some pets require a yard check.

Are certain breeds of cats or dogs better for families with children?
If you are buying a purebred dog, it’s important to know how the dog was bred, says Dr. Stephen Bryan, a veterinarian with Audubon Veterinary Hospital. Some German Shepherds, for example, are bred to be working dogs and they will be much too high-strung to have around children. Other breeders breed their German Shepherds to be family pets and they will be wonderful with children. Another tip is to check out the animal’s mother and father and see if they’re at ease around youngsters. If possible, bring your kids to help pick out the dog and watch how the dog interacts with them.

No matter what type of dog you choose, don’t leave your pet alone with small children. Even the most easygoing dog can react sharply if a toddler pulls his tail or tries to grab his food dish. Caution children not to go near strange dogs, Bryan says. Often youngsters assume that if their dog is friendly, all dogs are friendly. “Things happen,” he says.

Cats are chosen mostly for their appearance, Bryan says. Because cats are so independent, it’s more difficult to predict whether a cat will be playful or not; the individual cat’s personality seems to matter more than the breed.

What does it take to set up a freshwater aquarium?
Fish make entertaining pets, especially for households that can’t handle larger animals. You can get started with a 55-gallon tank, some fish and a few other supplies for between $400 and $500, says Steve Alberti of 50 Fathoms Pet Shop. Care is minimal, he says; feed the fish, turn the lights on and off as directed and once a month change about 25 percent of the water and the filters (you can use conditioned tap water). Saltwater aquariums are dramatic, Alberti says, but they cost thousands of dollars to set up.

Does it really matter which type of pet food I use?

It sure does, says Dr. Christian Charlton, a veterinarian with Prytania Veterinary Hospital. More expensive pet food brands, such as Science Diet and Purina One, have better ingredients and are more nutritious, he says. The nutrients are better absorbed, the food has less filler and fewer stools are produced. You can use a cheaper food, especially if your pet is healthy, but pets with health problems really do better on a higher-tier food.

It is all right to feed cats either wet or dry food because they chew very little, Charlton says. Dogs, however, should always have dry food. “It’s so much better for their teeth,” he says.

Table scraps are off limits for all pets, the veterinarian says. “People food” is too rich for pets and can lead to diseases such as pancreatitis. It also has too many calories, and obesity has become a problem for pets just like it is for pet owners. Carrying too much weight can lead to arthritis issues later in life, Charlton says. If you give your pets animal treats – and everybody does – just be sure to lighten up on the amount of food you put in the pets’ food bowls to compensate for the extra calories.

How often should my dog or cat be groomed?
Dogs generally should be groomed every four to six weeks, says Judy Bourgeois-Bruzeau, owner of Pet Palace in Metairie. A good groomer will bathe and brush the dog, trim the nails, express the anal gland and give the animal a good going-over, looking for growths or skin problems.

“Cats try to keep themselves clean,” says Bourgeois-Bruzeau, who has cared for animals for more than 27 years. They should receive a professional grooming four times a year. Grooming a cat is no easy feat, she says – it takes one person to hold the cat while the other does the bathing and trimming. And yes, cats are bathed in water, despite their dislike of dunking.

Fees for grooming begin at $37 for dogs, $45 for cats, and go up depending on the breed. Bourgeois-Bruzeau says it’s worth it because clean animals not only look better, they feel better, too.

Is it ever appropriate to de-claw a cat?
In some situations de-clawing a cat is appropriate, says veterinarian nurse Lauren Wade with The Cat Practice on Magazine Street. Sometimes, the cat’s owner is a diabetic and can’t risk being scratched. Other cats persist in scratching walls, furniture or drapes. Wade says she de-clawed her own pet cat for that very reason. Cats who spend part of their lives outdoors should never be de-clawed, because it takes away one of their primary defenses.

If you don’t want to de-claw your cat, you can try a few tricks to deter scratching. Special sprays can discourage a cat from its favorite scratching spots, as can double-sided sticky pads that cats find uncomfortable. Cats also like scratching on sisal mats, which can divert them from your furniture.

Are cats dangerous around babies?
The old wives’ tale about cats “sucking” the breath out of an infant probably arose from the fact that cats like warmth and have been known to jump into cribs and snuggle up to babies. Although they don’t belong in your baby’s crib, cats don’t suffocate infants, says Wade of The Cat Practice. They just find cribs and bassinets cozy spots to hang out. Occasionally, a cat (or dog) can be jealous of a new baby, so owners should be careful about leaving their pets alone with small children.
One tale about cats and babies is true, Wade says: Pregnant women should not handle a cat’s litter pan. A disease called toxoplasmosis can be spread through cat stool, so moms-to-be should leave emptying the litter pan to someone else until baby is delivered.

Can young children handle small pets safely?

If your child wants a hamster, gerbil or guinea pig, it’s best to wait until he or she is at least 5 years old. Younger children can be too rough with these “pocket pets,” says Dr. Gary Levy, a veterinarian at Lakeview Veterinary Hospital. These pets don’t have a very long lifespan, he adds; most live only four or five years.

Should I have my pet micro-chipped?
Locals have embraced micro-chipping their cats and dogs in a big way since Hurricane Katrina, says Dr. Daryl Haydel, a veterinarian at Metairie Small Animal Hospital. The procedure is quick, inexpensive and relatively painless; the chip is inserted via a syringe needle. If your pet is lost, the person who finds it can bring the animal to a vet and have it scanned. The scan reveals a number to call to find out who owns the pet. Many facilities that board animals require microchipping, and all pets adopted from the SPCA are chipped.
Does my pet need a buddy? In general, a cat or dog left alone at home while its owner works is just fine, Levy says. Sometimes a companion works well but other times it just “doubles the trouble,” he says.

Cats generally do well having the run of the house. With dogs, some can be left to roam the home, while others do better in a crate. Dogs are den-like animals, Levy points out, and they find the crate calming and soothing.

How can I preserve my memories after my pet has died?
Losing a pet can be just as traumatic as losing a beloved human, says Jennifer Melius, president of Heaven’s Pets at Lake Lawn Metairie Funeral Home and Cemeteries. Heaven’s Pets provides internment for cremated remains, as well as urns for people who want to take their pet’s “cremains” home.

Since it opened in 2006, Heaven’s Pets has handled internment for dogs, cats, hamsters, gerbils, pet rats, goats, parrots, flying squirrels and a pot-bellied pig. They also hold grief groups and bereavement services. The cost to cremate an animal up to 19 pounds is $150 and includes an urn, a certificate, a personalized poem and a lock of hair.

People turn to animal cemeteries and mausoleums because they want to honor and respect their pets after death, Melius says. Burial in a backyard is illegal in some areas, and the remains have to be left behind when you move. Sometimes the idea of a pet’s body going to landfill is too upsetting for pet owners to contemplate. “[Pets] are family members,” she says.