Look before you leap into pet ownership

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Rather than writing this article, I should really be preparing a presentation I’ve been asked to give at Newcastle University next week.

In true technophobe fashion, I’m having problems with my computer so rather than prepare the talk, I will write about the talk I’m supposed to be preparing to write! Make sense of that and you’re doing well.

I’ve been asked to give a talk on the problem resulting from keeping exotic pets and, unfortunately, it’s a subject I will find all too easy to discuss. Similarly, I have had little difficulty in preparing previous presentations entitled ‘alpacas – and why not to keep them’ ‘ultraviolet lighting in reptiles and what can go wrong’ and ‘difficulties in modern day rabbit management’ – all riveting subjects, I’m sure you would agree, but do you notice a theme? The people providing the titles invariably seem to find it amusing to put a negative slant on ownership of the animals they love to look after and I seem all too able to provide a whole catalogue of reasons as to why owning those animals is, indeed, a really bad idea. This can lead not only to fairly depressing presentations but, on the face of it, could be really bad for business. Why, after all, would a vet want to discourage any potential owner from acquiring a pet?

The reality is that it benefits nobody, owner, vet, or most importantly – the pet – if an animal is acquired by somebody who does not know how best to meet its needs.

It is crucially important that any prospective owner appreciates the proposed pet’s requirements in terms of diet, accommodation and companionship and furthermore is aware of potential complications, costs and problems to which that specific animal is predisposed.

The Animal Welfare Act of 2006 (the subject of another incredibly dull talk once gave) has placed significantly greater responsibilities with the owner of a pet than its predecessor – The Protection of Animals Act 1911. It is no longer enough simply to not actively and maliciously cause harm to a pet, there is now an onus on the part of an owner to recognise a pet’s requirements for a healthy life and moreover to ensure that they are met.

It may reflect an apparent change in emphasis of the veterinary surgeon’s role that we spend a significant part of our working life advising clients about how best to care for an animal (even if our advice is not to acquire it in the first instance) rather than waiting until they are sick and then trying to mend them.

In truth, however, this approach sits more easily with the oath sworn by all graduating vets ‘to ensure the welfare of animals committed to my care’. After all, that is why we are in this profession and why we should advise on all aspects of responsible animal ownership and includes the downsides and the pitfalls.

The well-informed owner with the long-lived, healthy and happy pet will undoubtedly find the relationship a thoroughly rewarding one and please remember the best time to seek the advice of your vet about an animal you might acquire is always before you acquire it!

By Sam Prescott

Director and Senior Vet