This month we will focus on owning pets and the benefits to our mental health from owning pets.

Most of us like to have pets in our lives. Did you know that just sitting with your pet and stroking their fur can help reduce stress and anxiety? Even having pet fish can reduce stress. We all know how important that can be right now.

Owning a pet can give people purpose every day. Pets give us a reason to get up every day and dogs can get us out of the house for a walk or run. If you or if someone you know is suffering from a mental health disease, then maybe a pet will help. A pet can be a sounding board and they don’t talk back! Pets are also nonjudgmental and provide unconditional love. Consult your mental health provider and a veterinarian before getting a pet.

When owning a pet it is important to remember the following:

Commit to the pet for their lifetime. Pets, depending on their size and type, have different life spans. A Chihuahua may live for 15-20 years, but a Great Dane may not live to be 10. Some birds can live for 30-plus years. Before owning a pet, it is important to assess your own life in order to know what type of animal is best to get. Talk with a veterinarian or your own doctor about which pet might be right for you. Educate yourself on how to best care for your pet during their younger stages and their older stages. Should he or she be fed a certain diet? Do they need different veterinary care? Know what is normal for your pet!

Be prepared for emergencies. Emergencies can happen anytime. Make sure you know what to do in case of an emergency with your pet (eg. basic first aid knowledge) and make sure you have written instructions for your pet in case someone else has to care for your pet. Do not forget your pet in a plan for a natural disaster!

Keep your pet healthy by seeing a veterinarian on a regular basis. Pets need to see a veterinarian once a year, even if they do not need shots and even if you think they are healthy. Animals can hide illnesses well, so early detection is key!

Don’t own a pet if you can not afford to care for them properly. Pets can be expensive! There are vet bills and food bills, among other bills. It is best to have an emergency fund just for your pet. It can cost a lot to properly treat an animal who is sick. There is pet insurance that can be helpful, as well as companies like Care Credit. When owning a pet, you need to be financially responsible for that animal. In many instances, a pet is like a child. You should be prepared to pay the bill for your pet’s care anytime they need to go to the veterinarian.

Make sure you know what to do in order to travel with a pet, the right way. Right now, travel is not likely, but when the pandemic is over and we begin travel again, your pet needs to be included in your plans. There are, in most instances, airline requirements that must be met. Did you know that when traveling out of our country with your pet, he or she needs a health certificate? Some countries have specific requirements regarding rabies vaccines. It is also good to know what your pet needs to safely ride in a vehicle.

Social skills are essential for your pet. Every pet needs to know what is appropriate when they are around other people and other animals. I owned a cat that would run and hide whenever people came over to the house. When he was a kitten, I did not give him the social exposure that he needed. Some dogs can get aggressive when people come over to the house. This is not OK in most instances. Animals have a stage of life that is their “imprint stage.” Now is not the best time to get a puppy or kitten, because it is impossible to get them the socialization skills that they need.

Diet and exercise are important regardless of the pet you own. Marketing by some pet food companies is genius. It is best to find out from a veterinarian what the best food is to feed your pet. Did you know that feeding certain treats is the same as humans eating a candy bar? Should your dog get a treat every time they go outside during the day? Calories are important to us and our pets. Exercise is needed, not only to keep your pet in shape, but it also helps with their behavior. You need to commit at least 20 minutes of undivided attention every day to interact with your pet (going outside, playing with toys). There are many creative ways to exercise your pet. Even cats need exercise!

Owning a pet can benefit our health, but owning a pet comes with responsibility. If you do not own a pet, it can be a major decision. If you already own a pet, make sure you are caring for them properly. Be kind and be safe.

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