In previous recent columns, I have dealt extensively on the important considerations relating to the choice of a pet (cat, dog, kitten, puppy), your choice of a veterinarian, and the expectations we veterinarians have of you and your handling of your pets during visits to the clinic. We shall now engage our discussions on the general “Pet Care” for your companion animal(s), who have now joined your family and hopefully will be with you for many years in a happy “forever home”.
You have gone to great effort to choose your pet, and you are taking it home. Both owner and pet are excited, and the pet will also be in a state of anxiety. Of course, pulling a puppy on a leash behind you as you ride a bicycle is not an option. It is best to place the animal in a sturdy carton box, travelling bag, or commercially available “pet taxi”.
Ventilation must be provided (holes in the box, zipper of bag slightly open, etc). The animal, particularly if it is young, is nervous, and is so intimidated by the motion and surrounding commotion that it will remain fairly quiet in the transport container. The odd kitten might wish to tunnel its way out of a soft cardboard box and take a sudden leap into the traffic. Please guard against this.
It is always good to take someone along with you to hold the animal (if you prefer not to use a transport container) and to provide reassuring hugs and soothing petting and words during that first vehicle drive. It is advisable to have a towel, a roll of paper towel and some newspapers with you. Nervousness creates all sorts of consequences.
Cats generally do not like cars! Place the kitten in a strong enclosed container (with ventilation, of course) if you do not wish to have it jumping around and distracting you while driving, or worse: escaping immediately when you open the car door on arriving home. I have heard many such stories from distraught new pet owners.
There is always great family excitement when the new pet arrives home, especially if it is a young kitten or puppy, both of which are extremely cute at that age. All this generous welcome may be overwhelming and quite disturbing to the new pet, simply because the general environment and the family members are strange to the animal. It is advisable to temper your overly demonstrative affections quickly.
Allow the pet to exit the transport container quietly and on its own terms, as it acquaints itself with its new surroundings. Feed it a light first meal. Keep the kids’ enthusiasm level and visits to a minimum. (Yes, I know that this is easier said than done). Boisterous and strenuous play on the first day is definitely not recommended, if ever. Your children and other family members (including pets that are already part of the household) must be repeatedly cautioned about overly zealous physical acts with the new pet, and be particularly warned that the cute little fur ball does not bounce, and must not be thrown in the air to see if it lands on its four feet.
When you lift the pet, place one hand firmly under its chest and the other under its hind quarters. In this way the pet not only feels secure, but is secure.
You will have to dedicate some time and effort to ensuring that any habit of urinating and defecating at the most inopportune time and in the most undesirable places is quickly addressed. Discipline and training must begin from day one (we shall be dealing with the curbing of bad habits in the coming weeks).
As any pet owner would attest, the first night is agonising. The puppy/kitten, and even the adult dog/cat, is lonely. For the first time, neither mummy, siblings or former caregivers are around to snuggle with and to bring comfort and that feeling of security. Anything from whimpering to a full-fledged caterwauling could be expected.
Here are some suggestions that you may consider in preparing for the arrival of your new pet:
“Construct” a comfortable crate for the new pet. A simple cardboard box lined with newspapers, a cushion or an old towel/rug/blanket would suffice. The front of the box should be open, to allow easy entry and exit.
The pet shops supply very functional animal crates that are light, collapsible, and easy to maintain, and these are offered in various sizes and colours. These are ideal for pets, especially if you intend to keep them indoors at night, and if you will be taking them with you on vacations out of town. Pets, like humans, are creatures of routine, enjoy their personal space, and will happily enter their crates when they need to sleep or relax. Dogs are particularly consistent with their time for night sleep.
The crate must be large enough for the pet to lie, stand, and stretch. Above all, the crate must be placed in a draft-free location, but not a windowless room, which is hot and stuffy and with no air circulation. Especially in the case of kittens/cats, windows must be escape-free.
If you have determined to keep the puppy/dog (never the cat) outside, you will have to build/buy a kennel with dimensions which would allow the animal comfort and manoeuvreability. It must be at least nine inches above the ground. Not too high, though, as entering and exiting the kennel may become problematic when the dog gets older.
Note: there are many excellent Guyanese carpenters /cabinet makers who can construct customised and beautiful kennels for the comfort of your pets.
Do not bathe the kitten (never bathe a cat, unless it is absolutely necessary) or puppy during the first few days at your home. Speak to your vet about the frequency of dog baths.
There are some further suggestions that dog and cat lovers have made over the years that have proven to be effective in smoothly transitioning the new pet to his new environment:
Place a sealed glass jar (or hot water bottle) with warm water into the crate to recreate the warmth of the mother and litter mates which are no longer present. Do not use electric heating pads, as pets may bite the wires and receive a nasty shock or die from the electrocution.
A ticking clock may bring comfort, as the ticking sound simulates the heartbeat of the mother.
Well, I am not going to disagree with anything that works! My dear mother (rest her soul) believed in rubbing salted butter on the mouths and noses of kittens and puppies as a distraction to give them solace in their loneliness during the first few nights.