We've all seen the scene in the movie where the child opens the (moving) box underneath the Christmas tree, a puppy or kitten leaps out, and everybody is happy. It's pure joy. Of course, Hollywood always leaves out the next (possibly not quite as joyful) four to six months after that where we are cleaning up accidents, getting up in the middle of the night to let them out, dealing with chewed up furniture or toys and any potential health problems that come up along the way. I'm guessing that movie doesn't sell quite as well.
Getting new pets, of any age, is very common this time of year. And, it is an exciting and happy time. Because of that, I want to spend the next two columns talking about how to get yourself started on the right foot with your pet to keep them (and you) happier and healthier. Next month we'll talk a little about behavior, including getting new pets used to old pets. This month, though, we'll focus more on the medical side.
When the new pet comes into your house, one of the most important things to consider is if you have other pets in the household, especially of the same species. If you have pets of the same species, the first thing I would recommend is keeping the new pet confined to their own area, with their own food, water and areas of elimination for two weeks. This is to help prevent the spread of disease from one pet to the next; while not nearly as Hollywood as letting them all play together right away, it is worth considering that some of these diseases can be very destructive and can often be spread before real signs begin (parvovirus in dogs is an easy example.) For cats, this would mean their own litter box, food and water confined within their own room. For dogs, this will ideally mean letting the previous members out in one yard and the new member out in another (e.g. front yard and back yard.) Obviously, you'll need to give plenty of time and love to the new member while they are separated. But, this short separation between new pet and existing pets can pay huge dividends if a communicable disease is present.
Next, get your new pet into your veterinarian as soon as possible. So much can be learned and detected at this step that it is worth it to help avoid bigger problems down the road. It is a vital part of your new addition's healthcare. I would even suggest the appointment be within a few days of the new pet's arrival. Also, I would suggest making this before you get the pet. That way you don't have to worry about not getting in on time and can have things all planned out in advance, especially during the busy holiday season.
The preventative care that will likely begin at this first appointment is a critical step in giving your pet a longer, healthier life. At this appointment, your veterinarian can also help answer any individual questions or concerns you may have - from the medical to behavioral - and help give you the tools and resources to be successful. This will include advice on everything from food to vaccines to preventative medicine (like heartworm prevention).
And speaking of preventative advice, make sure you are only taking this advice from your veterinarian and their team. You will invariably hear many people give their thoughts on all aspects of owning a pet, including those medical issues I listed above. And I know they mean well. Many may be well versed or well read in animal issues, or even have experience on a professional level with animals (i.e. working at a pet store or being a breeder). But this is not, and will never be, a substitute for the years and years of medical school, training, board certification and licensure requirements that enable a veterinarian and his or her team to offer the best, most accurate and up-to-date scientific advice that they can. It is not to say that any of those people don't have something to offer in their respective field, but they do not have the training or robust field of knowledge to make any medical decisions (because even things like proper vaccination schedules and timing is not simple, by any stretch) about your specific pet without that expertise.
Taking well-intentioned but incorrect advice is probably one of the most common mistakes that I see. By way of analogy, I often use this example: Let's say I take either of my sons to day care. The people that run this day care have been around hundreds of children. They each even have children of their own. They subscribe to great parenting magazines and read the top authors on child care regularly. But they aren't pediatricians, and they can't take their place. They cannot offer competent medical advice to you about your children, nor even make appropriate solitary medical decisions about their own (i.e. without the advice of a trained physician.) It doesn't matter how many kids they have, or how many they work around, they just don't have that body of knowledge to give accurate advice. It is the same with pets, only this inaccurate advice-giving is far more common with pets than people.
This goes the same for vaccines and medications received from anyone other than your veterinarian. The proper storage, handling and administration of these things is a medical issue, and so should be handled by a medical team. It is not a casual or simple thing to do, nor something anyone can just do on their own. There are instances where I see pets who have even received vaccines from a non-medical source. I have seen these vaccines fail many times - I'm sure some are due to poor handing, some due to incorrect shipping conditions, some due to poor storage and some due to inappropriate administration and boosters - but that is why they are a medical device. They need that medical training and proper controls to be done effectively. So, just like you would (hopefully) not purchase a vaccine for your child in the local store or online, or have someone who is not a medical provider give it to them, it would be a poor decision to do that for you pet as well.
This may sound like a small soap box. But that's only because I am extremely passionate about people getting the most out of their pets, keeping them healthy and making sure that they get exactly what they set out to achieve (and pay for). And advice or medications or vaccines or anything given outside of that medical relationship is not only unwise, but dangerous (especially given some of these diseases can be passed to people). I don't want to see a wonderful Christmas (or anytime) gift hurt or made ill - or worse - because of a highly preventable thing. So, please, talk to your veterinarian as soon as you can so that you can get things moving in the right, and healthy, direction.
I wish you all the best this holiday season, and hope it's a happy and healthy one (whether your tree has a moving box or not).
Dr. Brandon Stapleton
Managing Doctor/Medical Director