Essential pet advice with vet Jo Gourlay

This week continues the series of articles on National Pet Month and the 10 top tips for responsible pet ownership, which is one of the key areas it promotes.

We continue starting where we left off last week, on point number three, which is providing a nutritious and well-balanced diet. This is relatively easy in theory for the more common domestic pets as complete balanced commercial foods are available, but it’s important to make sure they get the right one, not only for their species but also for their age and breed or type.

Rabbits and guinea-pigs are much better on pelleted food, as opposed to the muesli type foods which allow them to leave the healthy fibrous parts vital for gut and dental health. Also the bought commercial food should be thought of as a top-up to supplement the core diet of grass or good quality hay and fresh vegetables rather than the mainstay of their diet.

More exotic species such as snakes require highly specialised diets or they are prone to deficiencies. For example, many snakes are fed on mice or other rodents of varying ages which can either be humanely killed and fed to the snakes, come frozen or arrive in vacuum-packed bags through the mail – yum! The problem can be sometimes the snake may choose to only eat pinkies (baby mice that are not yet skeletally mature) which lack the necessary calcium the snake requires over a longer period, and so may require supplementation. This is a simple example to show that, especially for exotic species, adequate research and knowledge is vital to prevent nutritional problems.

Number four is providing suitable housing and bedding. I mentioned last week that exotic animals often have unique requirements for special lighting and heat sources, types of flooring and size and type of housing. Tortoises, for example, have to be carefully prepared for hibernation and helped to recover afterwards, not only in terms of bedding and correct temperature but also ensuring they are hydrated by giving them warm water baths of the correct depth. Even common pets such as hamsters need appropriate separate areas and bedding for sleeping, toileting and also cleaning (using the correct sand for their baths).

Number five on the list is cleaning up after your pet and worming it regularly. Obviously the main culprit is dogs leaving mess that is unpleasant for everyone and a health hazard, especially to children, if they are not wormed, but worms can also cause problems to the pets themselves if regular treatment with a good quality product is not maintained.

Unless stated otherwise in all public areas it’s only courteous to pick up your dog’s mess. In some places they advocate with signs the “find a stick and flick it” method to keep paths clear, but it’s shocking just how many owners cannot even be bothered to do that, giving all dog walkers a bad name. I can think of an example of a walk that’s geared especially for disabled access which is spoiled just now due to this total lack of consideration.

For small furry pets and exotics, regular cleaning out of cages is also a must to prevent disease. Which brings us neatly to point six: protecting against disease. Certainly for more exotic species prevention is a massive issue as the underlying cause for many ill reptiles and birds being brought to vets is, at least partially, attributed to poor management or diet. The example earlier with the snake’s diet shows how easily problems can develop. With dogs, cats, rabbits and horses, vaccination and parasite prevention are important components of disease prevention, and your vet will help guide you on the specifics, depending on the species of your pet. Another example would be tooth brushing for dogs and cats, which can help stop unnecessary pain and bills for tooth extractions as they get older.

Next week we complete the final three points of the top 10 tips for responsible ownership.