Exercise, fun and companionship: If I had a dog, I would not have to go for my evening walk by myself. If I had a cat, she would snuggle up to me while I watch TV or a movie. Many of us think that way. And wish for a pet. But: What – on the other side – do our cats and dogs need to live with us healthily and happily?

Ideally, the dog should be able to cavort in the garden, and the cat roam about outside. But even if you do not have your own garden, balcony, or terrace, or if you life in a traffic-busy street, you can still consider keeping a pet. ‘If the cat cannot go outside, the owner should create the necessary compensations, should play with her and create opportunities for hiding and climbing’, says Lea Schmitz, spokesperson for the German Animal Welfare Federation. A cat-friendly flat should have at least two rooms where the pet is welcome, and she should also have a permanent sleeping and feeding place. Two cat loos are the minimum, plus another one for every additional cat in the flat.

Dogs and Cats

Dogs need to get outside to their business. Mistress or master thus have to be prepared to go outside about three times a day, come hail or shine. For how long and how intensively a dog will want to exercise is individually different. ‘It depends on age, breed and health status of the animal’, says animal welfare expert Schmidt. Upon returning from a long walk or exercise, the dog usually retires to its basket quite happily – almost regardless of the size of the flat. There is no clear-cut rule on square metres. For larger dogs, however, a certain size of flat makes sense, Schmitz explains: ‘Sharing a small flat with a Saint Bernard dog might get a little tight.’

Before getting a dog, you should consider carefully if its character and needs are suitable to your lifestyle. Ultimately, it is not enough to walk the dog until its tired. Their brains should also be engaged, says Schmitz. Hide-and-seek and dog sport are suitable possibilities.

Cats can be a little distinct: They do not necessarily want to play when we are in the mood or have got the time. Especially when confining cats to the flat, it is always better to have two cats, Schmitz argues: ‘They can then engage each other’. For example: play together, snuggle up to each other, clean each other. The pre-condition, of course, is that the little fur demons get on with each other. But it is a misconception that cats are always solitary animals. Some, of course, are – maybe because of their background, says Schmitz. But: ‘If they are used to other cats from early on, it should normally not be a problem.’ If you want to keep a tomcat and a she-cat together, you should have both of them neutered. And not only to prevent unwanted offspring. ‘Unneutered cats can otherwise be permanently on heat, and tomcats like to spray their territory in the whole flat’, Schmitz knows.

And what about dogs? ‘Actually, the human is its most important attachment figure’, says Schmitz. Nevertheless, the contact with conspecifics – other dogs – is important. That is the only way for a dog to live out its natural social behaviour. ‘A dog without contact to other dogs as a puppy will often react anxiously or aggressively when meeting one later on’, Schmitz explains.

The German animal welfare stipulation for dogs states: ‘It is required to enable regular contact for one’s dog with conspecifics.’ Which is rather unspecific. But if you are regular on tour with your dog, you automatically meet other human-dog couples. If your dog is not prepared for dog contact, or if health reasons prevent it, you should not enforce contact, of course. But generally speaking, conspecific contact enriches your dog’s life.

Pet Diet - Balanced and species-appropriate

The way to a pet’s heart is through its stomach. What usually goes for humans, also goes for your four-legged partner. The food we provide our cats and dogs with on a daily basis is not just there to fill them up. Animal owners also communicate with their pet loved ones via their diet. With the way we feed them, we show our pets affection, get their attention or reward good behaviour. Animal nutrition is thus about emotions. Big emotions.

Almost every second pet is overweight. The superfluous pounds not only lead to lethargy and listlessness, but may also cause an earlier death, as research at the University of Liverpool has shown. The researchers accompanied 51,000 dogs of twelve different breeds from midlife to death. The worst effect of overweight was identified in small and generally long-living breeds like Yorkshire terriers. They lost two and a half years of life expectancy on average through overweight. With shepherds, it was still six months on average.

Dogs and cats may consume some foodstuff also consumed by humans. But they have different and distinctly larger nutritional requirements.

With the superfluous weight, the risk of joint problems, diabetes and some types of cancer also increases. ‘Therefore, every dog and every cat has the right to a waistline’, says Dr Julia Fritz from Planegg near Munich, a veterinarian specialised in animal nutrition consultation. She wants to encourage pet owners to counter-act even the first signs of overweight within their animals: ‘If you love your pet, you should consciously watch its weight, put it onto the scales regularly and pat it down.’

Watch the weight

Ideally, you should be able to feel the rib cage when stroking its chest. When looking down upon your pet from above, it should get slimmer when moving your gaze from chest to hips. However, it is not a good idea to simply halve the food portions. ‘That way, you also halve the nutrients’, says expert Fritz. It would be better to switch to special dietary food that contains more fibre. They fill the stomach.

If you actually cook for your pet darling, you might want to add Psyllium seed husks (make sure your pet drinks plenty of water!), cellulose or boiled vegetables. Julia Fritz’ most important advice: balanced pet food. ‘Dogs and cats may consume some foodstuff also consumed by humans. But they have different and distinctly larger nutritional requirements.’ Dogs, for example, need more protein and mineral nutrients like calcium and micronutrients. Ready-made dog food declared as ‘complete feed’ covers all that. The producers have to follow strict guidelines, and pet owners are on the safe side – at least regarding the nutritional value of the food.

If you would rather pamper your pet with home cooking or raw vegetarian food, you need to add certain nutrients like calcium, iodine, vitamin D or vitamin B 12. It’s best to consult a specialised veterinarian. The same goes for everyone planning to keep their dog on a vegetarian or even vegan diet. However: Cats naturally feed almost exclusively on meats. It is a taboo and against animal welfare to keep them on a vegan diet.

What remains is the issue of treats. For upbringing, training and relationship, they are necessary. But they have to be deducted from the usual daily ration. Pieces of fruit or vegetable are low-calory treats. Ham is also relatively light. But where is the limit concerning treats? Julia Fritz has no blanket answer. In principle, the same goes for pets as for humans: ‘If you are rather active and exercise a lot, you can afford more than a couch potato can.’

Training - He just wants to play!

‘Heel!’ – as if! If your dog simply ignores your commands, it can be embarrassing and inconvenient. Even dangerous, in the worst case. ‘As a dog owner, you are obliged to make it fit for society’, says dog trainer, presenter and author Martin Rütter. But: How does one go about that?

First of all, you need clear-cut rules. Today, I am allowed on the couch – tomorrow, I’m not? On Sundays, I am welcome at the breakfast table, but not on the other days of the week? ‘That confuses a dog and is therefore counter-productive’, Rütter explains. Humans often make rules, but don’t follow them themselves. Another regular problem: excessive humanisation. Bello is in a bad mood – so we won’t force him to go on his walk today. ‘A dog cannot think and act like a human’, the expert emphasises. Its main need is to live harmoniously in a pack. And the pack need a member in charge of peace and order: a leader of the pack. This role must be assumed by the pet owner, the human.

But what makes a good leader of the pack? For once, he or she must organise life within the pack. But he or she must also look after all external confounding factors. ‘A good leader of the pack does not behave extraordinarily strictly, and does not exert his or her commands with rigidity and violence’, says Rütter. What is vital is to show the other members of the pack that they can rely upon their leader. Naturally, you can at times cuddle your dog or follow its demand to play. But: The human has to do that following an active decision. That creates trust: The leader of the pack knows what he or she is doing. He or she knows what is good for the pack.

Training begins with the new owner

But what do you do if you got your dog not as a puppy, but later on in life, possibly already ‘spoilt’? ‘Basically, the training begins the moment the dog has a new owner’, Rütter explains. The age of the animal is of no importance. But age does play a role in the dog’s general behaviour, of course: The older the pet, the lower its play instinct, and the calmer it gets. Despite popular belief, age even has a more important influence upon the character of the pet than breed.

Labradors and golden retrievers are considered particularly calm; pitbulls especially aggressive. Not quite so, according to a new study from the USA: The researchers found out that the breed of a dog says very little about its personality. They examined the genetic makeup of over 2,000 pedigree and mixed-breed dogs. At the same time, they asked their owners about the dog’s behaviour.

For example: How well does your dog follow orders? The result: Only about nine per cent of the behavioural differences can be explained by genetic differences – vulgo: breed. Fundamentally, breed is only a good indicator for the looks of a dog. Surely, greyhounds are tall and slim, dachshunds small and stocky instead. The physique, of course, makes some dog breeds more suitable to certain tasks and activities than others.

Basically, dogs from breeds that have been living and breeding with humans for decades or more are easier to train, says Rütter. These include Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. So, in some ways there is a connection between breed and behaviour, after all. But: ‘Every dog has its own personality.’ The dog trainer remains unconvinced by distinctions between ‘dangerous’ and ‘benign’ dog breeds.

In many German federal states, certain breeds have to be muzzled in public. ‘Whether a dog is friendly, fearful or aggressive mainly depends on the experiences it has made in life’, Rüttger says. He is in favour of a muzzle if there is even the slightest suspicion that a dog could be dangerous. ‘Then, of course, a dog leash is also compulsory.’

‘As a dog owner, you are obliged to make it fit for society.’

A leash makes sense for more reasons than one. If a dog senses a deer or a hare, your four-legged friend might be gone in an instant and be deaf to its mistress’ or master’s calls. ‘It is a hunting dog, after all’, some owners will certainly claim. Rütter concedes that the hunting instinct cannot be eradicated. But you can still intervene: ‘If I watch out for harbingers of hunting behaviour, I can halt the dog before it disappears’, he explains. If a dog stops abruptly, sniffs excessively or tenses its whole body, it’s time to act.

And if your dog then acts obediently and stays with you – time for a treat? Generally, a reward makes sense in certain situations, Rüttger agrees. But there are all sorts of rewards. ‘For some dogs, it is already a reward to be allowed to fetch its beloved ball once again. Others are more delighted with praise or some tender loving care.’ But one thing is for sure: Violence of any type is a taboo in the training of a dog. ‘That is always an admission of human inadequacy.’

Pet Care - stay healthy and well looked after

The little fur monster on the photo is rather sweet, don’t you agree? For pets to look that well looked after, they have to get accustomed to combing and brushing from early on – because shags, felt and mountains of undercoat are everything but sweet. And tauted fur can also cause itches and eczema.

What the mistress or master of a cat or dog should also not forget: brushing the pet’s teeth. Otherwise, the furry friends develop dental calculus. And dental calculus cause not only bad breath, but also lead to infections and early tooth loss. It is also recommended to clean the eyes and ears of your darlings on a regular basis. Dried tears in the corner of the eye are best washed away every morning with a moistened cotton pad. The (drooping) ears of certain dog breeds like dachshund, beagle or Tibetan terrier should be cleaned with a wet cloth regularly. Otherwise, the ears begin to smell or – even worse – get infected by mites.

The care and attention does not only pay off with regards to your and your pet’s cohabitation. It also helps to keep the pets healthy. According to the Professional Association of Practicing Veterinarians, skin, ear and eye diseases are among the ten most common diseases suffered by cats and dogs in Germany. The earlier you get your pet used to the care procedures, the better: ‘Try to do it connected to a positive situation like playing or petting’, René Weigand advises. The pharmacist from Herborn is specialised in animal medication.

At some stage, your pet will get used to the care programme. Might even begin to enjoy it. It is part of the care programme to check the felt after every walk or play-time outside. From March to November, it is tick season. With a bite through the skin, ticks suck the blood of animals. They can – as with humans – transfer infections like Lime disease (borreliosis). To detick your pet, you best use special tick tongs or tweezers.

Pharmaceuticals for humans are a principle taboo for animals.

Flea and tick repellents are among the most sought-after products in Weigand’s pharmacy. ‘Of course, we are often asked if there are natural alternatives to chemical agents.’ The pharmacist has made good experience with essential oils. For both cats and dogs, lemon-scented gum oil or a mixture of lavender and black cumin oils might do the trick. Tee tree and margosa oil may only be used on dogs and must not be overdosed. The essential oils – like their chemical counterparts – are applied to the neck and tail of your pet. That can keep ticks at bay for up to five hours.

If your pet shows signs if a serious malady, however, you should contact a veterinarian. Under no circumstances should you look through your own medicine chest to help your cat or dog. ‘Pharmaceuticals for humans are a principle taboo for animals’, pharmacist Weigand warns. Although some pharmaceuticals used in human medicine are also prescribed by veterinarians (like cortisone or the asthma medication theophylline for dogs), the dosage has to be adjusted according to the body weight to avoid problems. Painkillers like ibuprofen, paracetamol or diclofenac are poisonous for cats and dogs. And might even kill them.

Medical Care - visit your pet’s vet regularly

A good medical prevention can improve your well-being and extend your life. That goes for humans and for animals alike. According to a study from North America, the life span of cats and dogs has increased by ten and four per cent respectively over the last decade. Some diseases can be brought under control ever more effectively.

But then, cats or dogs don’t just say: ‘Hey, let’s go to the vet!’ Quite the opposite: Especially cats are often rather avers to visits to the veterinarian. Catching them, transporting them and the impressions from the clinic are quite stressful for pets not used to leave their usual environment otherwise. Dogs are sometime more relaxed. They trust their mistress or master and just follow them.

‘Cat owners are less inclined to bring their pets in for preventive health care than dog owners; many [cat owners] do not seem to realise that cats often cover up the symptoms of a disease’, the medical small animal clinic’s team at the Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU) in Munich writes. Many dogs have significant vaccination gaps. Many pet owners simply don’t know that they should bring their loved ones in for a regular veterinary check-up.

‘Every dog and every cat should be brought in for preventive health care at least once a year’, says Dr Michèle Bergmann, a veterinarian at the LMU Munich. Research has shown: Older animals get brought in for preventive health care less often than younger ones. Despite the fact that the risk of age-related and chronic diseases increases with the years. The recommendation for older and chronically-ill pets: a check-up every six months.

Puppies have to be seen by a veterinarian every three of four weeks from week eight to week 16; cats even to week 20 of their life. That young, they are particularly susceptible to infectious diseases and have to be vaccinated accordingly to build up a good protection.

Every dog and every cat should be brought in for preventive health care at least once a year.

Veterinarians differentiate between disease protection necessary for all animals all the time (so-called core components) and vaccinations only necessary under certain circumstances (so-called non-core components). This differentiation is stipulated in the ‘Guidelines for the Vaccination of Small Animals’. A ‘traffic light’ vaccination scale indicates the vaccinations recommended by veterinary experts. Core components for cats are vaccinations against feline calici, herpes and panleukopenia viruses. For dogs, they are against canine distemper virus, parvovirus and leptospirosis. The last one is a bacterial infection that can also be transferred to humans.

The vaccination programme aims to protect the individual pet, but also to build up resistance within the whole species population to prevent wide-spread infections. At the same time, unnecessary vaccinations ought to be avoided. ‘Risks and benefits should always be assessed’, veterinarian Bergmann argues. With adult pets, antibody measuring may help to ascertain whether or when a booster shot is necessary.

Good preventive health care does not only include vaccinations. Almost equally important are the protection against parasites, a check of diet and fitness, dental health and a blood and urine test. Bergmann summarises: ‘If you regularly partake in preventive health care, you gift your pet health and quality of life.’

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