11 Questions to Ask Before You Get a New Pet

Here’s what you need to know in order to care for your pets, according to local veterinarians and pet pros

We love them, they’re members of our families, and we spend an increasing percentage of our discretionary dollars to feed, care, train, and pamper them. Our total national pet expenditures, according to the American Pet Products Association, is expected to reach $60 billion this year. We asked Beacon-based dog whisperer extraordinaire Leroy Williams, the owner of All For Dogs pet service (and daddy to three dogs of his own), and the staff at Countryside Animal Hospital in Staatsburg to answer some of your most pressing questions.

Which breed is best for young children? And how about if you live alone or are elderly?
Williams: People need to look at the age of the person and their activity level. Can that child — or any other person — walk the dog daily? For a child, a Golden Retriever or Labrador is nice because they’re friendly and a good family dog. But they have a lot of energy, so they do need walking. For an older person who’s more sedentary, I’d suggest another breed, possibly a Pug, which doesn’t require a lot of exercise or maintenance and can be trained to go to the bathroom in the house.

What about the risks of these breeds or others?
Williams: With a Golden Retriever or Labrador, the main risk is not training the dog adequately. You have to get the dog to understand boundaries, so that it is not running out of the house and into the street, and being mindful when on a leash, so the dog doesn’t pull the owner.

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Are there certain breeds that are easier or harder to train?
Williams: No. I haven’t found any dog difficult, with the one exception of a high-strung Boxer I know that’s very energetic, almost ADHD, and finds it hard to sit still. In those cases, you have to get the dog calm enough to be able to train it. You have to learn to communicate without language. You look at their body language and actions, such as when they yawn, and you get them to look at you and your actions and communicate.

Are mixed breeds better than purebreds?
Countryside: So many animals need to be rescued, and you can actually bring home purebred rescues, so consider that in making your choice. Do your research, talk to a vet, don’t bring home a dog from a pet store, and know your own limitations regarding care. What happens too often is that people get animals impulsively; the decision should take a lot of thought and research.

What should people be looking for or asking about when they go to a local shelter to find a pet?
Williams: The problem with dogs from a shelter is that you can’t see the mother and father or know what they were like. I would ask if the shelter has done X-rays to see if there are issues such as hip problems. But without proof, you won’t always know if they’re telling you the entire truth.
Countryside: There are so many aspects to consider when finding an animal that’s right for your family. Some like to adopt animals that are seniors or have disabilities. Those pets need homes, too, and some folks will work closely with a vet to learn ahead of time what they’re getting into to be prepared.

How do I safely remove a tick from my pet?
Countryside: Use a tick remover or twister that you can purchase at a pet store or through your vet, and go underneath the tick to try to get at its head.

Some think declawing a cat is necessary. What’s your take?
Countryside: No, it’s not necessary. There are many other options. And it’s painful — like removing the first digit of your finger. It should be done with great thought and discussion with your vet. If a vet does decide to do it, he or she will use proper pain medication, but often try other options first.

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Can you give me tips for potty training my dog?
Williams: Crate train, which takes about two weeks. When your dog is in the crate, use a leash to take it out right away in the morning, then reward the dog, either with a treat or a toy.
Countryside: Consistency is key; be sure to leash-walk the dog, take it out enough times, and use a lot of praise. Discuss the idea again with your vet or trainer.

What are some human foods that can kill or harm my pet — is chocolate a myth?
Countryside: Baking chocolate is harmful for dogs and cats. Technically, a small amount of ice cream is fine unless the dog is lactose intolerant, since that can cause diarrhea. One spoonful isn’t harmful. Sugar-free chewing gum can be deadly, so don’t let a pet get into your purse or pocket if you have any. Also, raisins, onions, and grapes are harmful.

Can you explain some common, yet serious, health issues?
Countryside: Distemper, heartworm, bordetella, giardia, and parvo are all serious, and if your dog shows any symptoms, take your pet for help. Some are contagious and can even be deadly.

What about Lyme disease? Is it still a serious threat to pets? And what are the first symptoms?
Countryside: Yes, it’s a serious threat — but there is a vaccine that has made a huge difference for dogs. Signs include lameness, fever, swollen joints, kidney failure, not acting according to its normal behavior, and not eating.

dog q&a

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