Q: My children want a pet but we cannot decide which type of pet would be the best fit for our family. Any advice?
A: This is such an important question to ask before getting any pet! Making sure you get one that fits into your family and lifestyle is important for both the pet and for your family.
First, you must consider how much time your family has each day to take care of the pet. If you have small children, they might be eager to take care of the pet in the beginning but eventually the adults will be the ones caring for the it, so you need to consider your own time constraints and workload.
Dogs need daily exercise and attention, which means a bigger time commitment on your part because dogs will have serious behavioral issues if they are not exercised properly. Cats on the other hand do not need as much attention daily and might be a better choice for a busy household.
Secondly, you must consider the housing of the animal and the space required. As an example, Guinea Pigs make great family pets but require a large cage to move around and exercise in, so you would need space in your house to accommodate the appropriate sized cage. They might not need as much attention as a dog but do require daily attention and weekly cage cleanings. For any pet that requires a cage, you must consider whether you have the space in your house to accommodate the appropriate sized cage.
Thirdly, you must consider the cost of the animal and whether you can budget for all the items needed to properly care for the pet. Reptiles are fun and cool pets that do not necessarily need a lot of time but require specialized cages, lighting, and care that can get expensive. Veterinary bills can add up for any pet if they have medical issues, so you must be monetarily prepared for these possibilities.
Another consideration in your choice needs to be the life span of the pet because some pets such as birds can live upwards of 70 years.
Please do not get a pet without first understanding what that pet needs and considering the life-long commitment that you are making to the pet.
Q: My dog gets very anxious when I leave the house and generally has high anxiety issues. She can get so upset that she will start destroying the house to get out. Is there anything I can do to help her with this anxiety?
A: Anxiety disorders in dogs are very difficult to treat as there is no single treatment that can cure the issue.
Anxiety disorders are hardwired into your dog’s brain and it takes time and commitment to try to change the wiring. Most importantly, everyone in the household must be on the same page with the treatment of your dog as the keystone to any good behavioral modification treatment plan is changing your behavior as the owner.
If you have a certified animal trainer or veterinary behaviorist in your area I highly recommend scheduling a consultation.
The main aspect of helping your dog to overcome her anxiety is to change your behavior and/or routine so that your body language does not automatically induce the anxiety. For example, changing your morning routine so that your dog is not quite sure when you are leaving your house can help alleviate the anxiety wind-up. On your days off, leaving the house for 10-15 minutes and then coming home throughout the day can help desensitize your dog to your leaving because they learn that you are quickly coming home. Making sure your dog is getting sufficient exercise can also help as a tired dog is typically a happy dog.
Ultimately, some dogs need medications to help with the anxiety but it is important to know that there is no medication that can “fix” the problem and that any medications must be used in combination with a good behavioral modification plan.