Are You Loving Your Pet to Death?

Feeding Dog From Table
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In the winter of 2010, I was living in Leesburg, Va., with my wife and our 2-year-old daughter. When a snowstorm blanketed the area, my wife and I decided it was time for our daughter’s first snow experience.

First time parents that we were, we bundled her up like a little Michelin man, wrapped in layer upon layer of padded clothing to ensure absolutely no harm — or cold – would come to her. Did our efforts keep her warm? Oh, yes. Did they keep her safe? Well, not exactly. When she fell down, as toddlers eventually do when set free outdoors, she rolled around helplessly in the snow. She was so heavily insulated that she couldn’t use her arms or legs to get up. Whoops. We had acted very deliberately to do what we thought was best and had created an entirely new problem.

Still, aside from her face, I’m certain she was never cold.

Can We Care Too Much?

As a veterinarian, I am always delighted to see pets who are loved by their owners. Sometimes, however, when an adoring owner places the immediate comfort or wishes of a pet above the pet’s enduring wellness, it can lead to problems later.

Here are 5 common ways I see pet owners protecting and caring for their pets in the short term, but potentially harming them in the long term:

1. Never Letting Their Feet Touch the Ground

It’s wonderful to see pets have a close bond with their owners. I start to worry, however, when the pet’s body shape appears to have molded over time to fit precisely in the crook of the owner’s elbow. It’s not that pets shouldn’t be carried. It’s that they shouldn’t be carried to the exclusion of interactions with other people and pets. This is especially true for puppies under about 3 months of age. If dogs aren’t allowed to socialize, they don’t learn how to interact well with others. That can lead to lifelong fear and behavioral problems. It can also deprive them of lots of beneficial walking and exercise.

2. Avoiding Anesthesia

Some pet owners decline any recommended procedure that requires their pet being “put under.” While it’s wise not to take the risks of anesthesia lightly, I have seen pets incur greater health risks from progressive dental disease, cancerous growths that could have been removed, and orthopedic injuries that could have been repaired — all because their owners flatly refused anesthesia.

While anesthesia in healthy animals is generally very safe, there is always at least some risk. If you have concerns, discuss them with your doctor. Be honest about any apprehensions; talk about the risks for your pet; and discuss the steps your veterinarian takes to minimize the risks of anesthesia in patients. Also discuss what might happen in the long term if you opt not to do a procedure. That way, you have all the information you need to make an educated decision.

3. Showing Love With Food

I understand why some people overnourish their pets. For some pets, food is what they want more than anything in the world. Giving it to them seems like a clear sign of our affection. Unfortunately, many of these pets end up severely overweight, and their bodies pay a hefty toll in the form of joint problems, diabetes, heart disease, or other conditions.

So stick to giving treats as a reward, and avoid giving table scraps. Focus on healthy treats like carrots and green beans, and use small pieces. It may be hard to resist those big, longing eyes while you’re making a sandwich, but our loved ones will be around longer and live happier lives if we don’t try to prove our love with food.

4. Not Taking the Cat to the Vet

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the phrase, “I have a cat you’ve never seen.” When I inquire as to why I have not made this acquaintance, I am usually told that the cat does not like to travel.

Getting cats to the veterinarian’s office can be difficult. However, regular examinations are extremely important. Ask your veterinarian for any advice he or she may have on making trips to the clinic easier, and feel free to check out this fun video on improving the voyage. 

5. Dreading the Crate

Probably the most common house-training problem I see in young dogs stems from wanting to crate-train them but not wanting to see them in a crate. I completely understand that. Who wants their new best friend in confinement?

However, the desire to get them out of the crate and free in the house is exactly why I encourage people to embrace crate training. Quite often, a reluctance to put puppies into the crate allows them to slip away from watchful eyes and into situations that set back housetraining efforts, enable the formation of bad habits, and allow the pup to get into danger.

I recommend committing to using the crate whenever the puppy is inside and can’t be supervised by an adult. In my experience, by combining crate training with basic dog training, we can teach pups to be trustworthy family members in the shortest period of time possible while keeping them safe. And won’t that make them happier for the long term?

We all want to do what’s best for our loved ones. Whether they’re little girls going into the snow for the first time or puppies and kittens exploring their new home, it’s important to balance our impulse to provide immediate comfort with our knowledge of what’s best for long-term health and happiness.

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