A guide to owning your first pet

Bringing a new pet home for the first time is always exciting, and in the UK our most common household pets are cats and dogs. Whether you’re a cat person or a dog person, there are a few things you need to sort out in order for your first pet to stay happy and healthy for a long time.

Cats

A bit more independent than dogs, cats may be seen as lower maintenance and are more likely to just coexist alongside their owners. No need to take them out for walks (although it has been known to happen!), cats are pretty good at looking after many of their daily needs themselves.

However, in no way does that mean that you can neglect them. To make sure that your cat stays healthy, a few trips to the vet are in order.

The first trip will most likely be for vaccinations. Kittens get these at nine and 12 weeks, followed by annual booster jabs to help keep up their immunity.

The next trip should be for neutering, usually at around four or five months. It may seem sad but unless you are absolutely sure you can give a safe, loving home to about nine kittens, it’s best to make sure your cat is spayed (female) or neutered (male). This also reduces the chances of them straying.

Other than this, your cat shouldn’t need much attention other than love and affection – when it decides it wants it, of course! Do keep an eye on their diet too; Cats aren’t as bad as dogs at overeating but can become overweight, particularly after neutering.

Cats are also prone to fleas, but many flea prevention medicines can be bought from the supermarket or chemist, and then just dabbed on the back of the neck.

Vets sell a range of these products that can combine all of the flea and worming needs for your cat, so it’s worth shopping around and seeking advice to see what is most suitable for you.

Dogs

It’s for good reason that dogs are called a man’s best friend. With the right treatment they are incredibly loyal, great playmates for children, protectors of the household and, in certain circumstances, co-workers; such as guard dogs and guide dogs for the blind. So, if pet owners treat their dogs like mini-humans, it’s with good reason.

From a young age dogs need to be taught to eat properly, be potty trained (or at least trained to wee somewhere other than the kitchen floor) and behave well. As owners, we also have to make sure we look after their health including their teeth, diet and exercise.

As a first time dog owner there can be quite a large amount of information to process. For the basic need-to-know on introducing a new dog to the family we have some helpful information but remember, if you’re ever worried about your puppy it is always OK to call your vet.

Most veterinary practices hold puppy parties, where new owners can gather and be taught invaluable lessons on how to look after their new dog.

Vaccines

It is recommended that puppy vaccinations take place no earlier than at six weeks old.

Leptospirosis, flu and kennel cough vaccinations need to be boosted every year, while others only need to be done once every three years.

Behaviour

It’s important to teach your dog good behaviour from a young age as it can be hard (though not impossible) to change it once they’re adults. 

Start with toilet training – no one wants a dog to be weeing indoors all the time – at three to four months old.

Keep their mealtimes regular, give them frequent, supervised access to an outside area where you’re happy for them to go to the toilet and keep it to the same spot each time. As with a child, give lots of praise when they do the right thing.

The basic commands of stop, no, sit, stay, drop, come and heel are enough to make sure your dog can be trusted to behave when out and about, so teach each one individually, one at a time, and keep up the praise when they do well.

If you’re worried about your ability to be a dog disciplinarian then search online for local puppy and dog training classes.

Diet

There are a lot of different options for dogs these days (see our guide to dog diet) and just like humans, they enjoy variety. Make sure your dog has the right food type for their age and keep an eye out for an expanding tummy – dogs have a hard time resisting a treat and are excellent scavengers around the dinner table!

Insurance

To ensure your dog can be treated for illnesses or injuries, take out pet insurance to cover the eventuality of your pet becoming poorly. If you have a very active dog, who has a habit of leaping off things, into things and across things, insurance is a must-have.

If any accidents do happen, having insurance can take the sting out of an expensive stay at the vets where some treatments can run into thousands of pounds. For example, x-rays can cost around £300 and surgery can often cost upwards of £1500.

New dog law

Just like humans, dogs have laws that protect them from harm and poor quality of care. But, thanks to the Dangerous Dogs Act instated in 1991, there are also laws that result in punishments for bad and dangerous behaviour.

Dogs have a legal right to a good home, the right diet, to have their health looked after and to be treated with understanding; including their ability to be with other animals.

The law around dog behaviour includes making sure that a dog is on a lead in appropriate areas, that its mess is picked up in public areas, that it’s not out of control (i.e. doesn’t chase others and comes to when called) and that it doesn’t go into areas where dogs are forbidden.

It’s also the duty of owners to make sure their pets are microchipped plus wearing collar and tags and, if you want to take them abroad, have a pet passport and the right medical treatments, such as rabies and tapeworm.

Find out more about Pet Insurance from MORE THAN.

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