Dr. Dana Johnson: Getting a Pet

Originally published on December 4, 2013, in the Wisconsin State Journal. Dr. Johnson is a pediatrician practicing at the Meriter McKee clinic.

Dear Dr. Johnson: We are considering getting a pet for our family for Christmas. What recommendations do you have?

Dear Reader: This is a timely topic for my family — we introduced a new puppy to our household recently. We’ve had a dog before so we somewhat knew what to expect, but it has been about 10 years since we had a new puppy.

We were quickly reminded that a puppy means nighttime awakening and frequent potty breaks outside, even in the cold and snow. These frequent outdoor trips, however, don’t guarantee there won’t be accidents indoors.

I can tell you, though, that in the short time our dog has been a part of our family, she has already stolen each of our hearts.

There are several things you should consider before deciding that a pet is right for your family.

First, is it the right time? No matter what type of pet you get, it will take extra time and attention. If your family is already super busy and has limited free time, adding an animal to the mix may only increase stress.

With your family’s schedule and your child’s developmental stage in mind, decide how demanding of a pet you want.

A fish only requires feeding and water changes periodically. A guinea pig, hamster, bird or similar pet also requires minimal care compared to a cat or dog.

Even if you get the new pet with the idea that it will be your child’s responsibility to tend to, they may need help or frequent reminders to make sure the animal is cared for adequately.

If your child loses interest after a couple of weeks or months, maybe another family member is willing to take over the responsibility.

If not, discuss with your child that the animal’s health is at stake and if they are unwilling to care for the pet, you will need to find it a new home. Don’t blame your child or tell them they are too selfish; just present it in a matter-of-fact way that the animal has to be cared for properly.

Research the types of animal you are considering. Determine if it is a good animal for your child’s age and what you are seeking in a pet.

It can be important to know life expectancy. If the life expectancy of the animal is short, you will need to be prepared to address the death of the animal when it occurs.

If you are looking for a dog or cat, research the various breeds. Some are much better family pets than others. Also, adopt only from a reputable breeder or shelter.

All animals can carry disease, so it is important for them to have regular veterinary care. It is also important to wash hands thoroughly with soap and water after touching the animal.

An animal can be a great addition to a family but may or may not be right for your family at this time.

This column provides general health information and is not specific advice intended for any particular individual(s). It is not a professional medical opinion or a diagnosis. Always consult your personal health care provider about your concerns. No ongoing relationship of any sort (including but not limited to any form of professional relationship) is implied or offered by Dr. Johnson to people submitting questions.

Read more: http://host.madison.com/news/local/ask/dr-johnson/dr-dana-johnson-getting-a-pet/article_b7b4cdf6-bb9c-53f5-9d70-4cb0cc92fb95.html#ixzz2mWBTBV00

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