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Dear Readers:

These days, most people consider their companion animals part of their families and report that they enjoy a significant emotional benefit from the companionship of those pets.

Pets often serve as surrogate children for people who have never had children or whose children have left home, and for young adults away from home for the first time. For adults who may be separating or divorcing, or for adults who have lost a spouse, pets often act as “replacements” for those missing relationships.

Pets provide an opportunity for parents to educate their children about responsibility and can serve as a “best buddy” at various times during childhood. In addition, research has shown that living with pets provides certain health benefits including lowering blood pressure, lessening anxiety and helping to boost our immunity. Most of us agree that adding a pet to your family, no matter the size of the family or the size of the pet, is a good thing.

Yet, this very important, albeit short and furry, member of your family, has no capacity to articulate most of its needs, especially those related to health. As a responsible pet care provider, it is important to think in terms of what is really in the best interest of your pet.

Here are some questions and guidelines to consider in your relationship with your current pet or before you get your next pet.

Can you afford a pet?

When considering adopting a pet, many people only think about the daily expenses such as food. If you adopt a puppy or kitten, it will need to be spayed or neutered, and immunized against diseases. Beyond routine vet care such as annual wellness exams and dental cleanings, there may be emergencies and accidents that require extensive care and quite often, considerable expense. Most people don’t think about the additional expense involved in caring for a senior pet, but our pets grow old just like we do and may require special care. Make sure to add a section to the family budget for pet care.

Do you have time to spend with your pet?

Animals need interaction, companionship and love every bit as much, if not more, than food and water. Responsible pet ownership means never adopting an animal during times of major stress or life changes. It also means that when these things invariably occur, we need to find ways to help our pets have stability. Depending on the circumstances, that might mean enlisting the aid of family or friends, dog walkers, pet sitters or a doggie daycare facility.

Has your pet’s behavior changed recently?

Owners will often comment that their kitty just hasn’t been herself lately. Or that their Golden Retriever hasn’t been eating like he used to and has been a bit lethargic the last few weeks. Somehow, these loving, responsible owners haven’t made the connection that something physical may be wrong. Animals will often be very stoic about an illness. If you suspect something is off kilter with your pet, an immediate appointment with your veterinarian should be your first step.

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Are you feeding them a high-quality pet food?

Good food is the cornerstone of good health, for humans and pets alike, and should not be a place to cut corners in managing expenses.

A pet is for life!

Too many times, when “life’s challenges” get in the way of living, pets become expendable. All too often, I’ve heard someone say that “things are rough right now and I just can’t handle another responsibility so the dog or cat has to go.” Whether it’s a new baby, a new job, or having to move to a new apartment, a pet should not suffer the consequences of life’s interruptions.

Every pet deserves to have a loving family. If your pet is truly a member of your family, then please remember that responsible pet ownership involves acting not just as an owner (as you would of a possession) but as a guardian or advocate who will “speak” for the animal when necessary to ensure that animal’s well-being.

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Dr. Julianne Miller is a Flagstaff veterinarian. She can be reached at


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