Some common mistakes pet owners make, ad how to avoid them.

It’s true. People make mistakes all the time. From the trivial to the ones that affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of people, not one person who has ever walked the face of this earth can ever say that he has never, in his lifetime, made a bad call. I’m willing to bet my head that even the greatest figures such as Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama have had their share of poor judgment.Mistakes come in all forms and sizes and affect creatures of… well… all forms and sizes, including our beloved pets. In fact, very few of us know that, more often than not, they become the reluctant recipients of the consequences of some of our most frequent faults. From stress to diarrhea and even death, many pet owners unknowingly put their helpless pets through situations that cause their wellbeing to deteriorate. And the only way to stop it is to know what among the things you’re doing (or not doing) harm them. To help you get started, I’ve listed down the five most common mistakes people make that harm their pets.

1. (Over) Petting. Contrary to popular belief, not all animals want to be handled, stroked or cuddled, at least not all the time. A number of dog experts have been preaching this for years now, citing the number of cases when dogs snapped and bit people who are trying to pet them. Humans need to realize that petting is not essential to life of an animal. In fact, it can even cause a lot of stress for some species like cats who actually prefer peace and quiet as opposed to interaction―whether it be with its human or other animals.

2. Lack of physical activities. Here in the Philippines, a lot of pet owners put their dogs in cages or on a leash and leave them like that for most part of the day, thinking they’re fine just the way they are. What they don’t realize is that dogs are naturally very athletic creatures and need a lot of freedom and physical activities in order to stay healthy.

This is especially true for certain canine breeds like beagles and huskies.Erwin De Leon, 25, the owner of a four-year old husky named Chivas shares his experience about learning his pet’s special need. “I got Chivas as a birthday present back in 2009. He was barely a month old when he was placed under my care. Prior to Chivas, all my dogs never had any needs that were out of the ordinary―I fed them, bathed them, clean after their mess and play with them from time to time. I always thought the same formula would work for any dog.”

“What I didn’t know was that Siberian Huskies are extremely energetic and require more play time compared to other breeds. They’d get restless if they aren’t regularly taken out for runs. This wasn’t a problem back when I was still in college, but it became a bit of an issue when I started working. I learned that there have been several instances where he snuck out of the backyard and left a trail of destruction and a handful of dead cats in his wake.”

Erwin says that after learning of the incidents, he decided to research about Siberian Huskies. “It was at that point that I decided to change the way I take care of Chivas. I dedicated more time in my schedule for play time and exercise. And when this wasn’t possible, I made sure that other people in the household would take him out for runs around the village. I’m pretty lucky to have a runner for a sister.”

3. Brimming food bowls. You might think that you are doing your pet good by making sure his food bowl is never empty, but truth is, by doing so you’re actually setting him up for sickness or even death. Unlike humans, cats, dogs and most other animals have the tendency to eat more than they need. Constant access to food will cause your pets to take in too many calories―and in some cases, even fats―and put on too much weight. Make sure your pets get only the right amount of food and nourishment it needs by researching or asking your veterinarian for guidance

4. Giving Bones to Dogs. Dogs love bones. That’s a fact. Giving a bone to your dog can be harmful to him. That’s also a fact. According to experts, chewing on bones can injure the teeth, tongue or mouth of your canine friend. When ingested, it can also get stuck inside his digestive tract, where doctors will have to remove it via surgery or an endoscope.

5. Shying away from the vet. Generally speaking, animals need the same kind of preventive and critical medical care as humans. Perhaps, even more. Remember that animals don’t have the words to express exactly how they are feeling when they are sick―they can’t rate the amount of pain they are feeling, tell you where it hurts most or if they feel chills or joint pains. The best way to know exactly how your pet is feeling is by taking him to a professional. This is a lesson that Celina Cheng, learned the hard way. “The first time I adopted a kitten, he started having diarrhea and I did not realize he needed vet attention. There were no vets near our house back in the 1990s and I had no car or carrier for Kitty back then. Finally I saved enough to pay for cab to a vet in Mandaluyong. The driver insisted we put the “stinking” kitten, who was very weak by this time, in the trunk. Stupid me agreed. When we got to the vet, Kitty was already dead. I was such a moron back then.”

Celina adds that the event taught her to always seek professional advice when it comes to the health of her pets. “I really learned my lesson. I started talking to vets and reading cat care books as a result (of the incident). Kitty died in 1993 and it wasn’t until 2009 before I adopted another grey cat. I wanted to make sure I become a well-informed pet owner first before I get another one.” Today, she advocates regular veterinary consultations and advices everyone to visit a professional immediately once their pets start showing any sign of any discomfort. “Call your vet if your cat isn’t eating or is eating less than normal or is vomiting or has diarrhea or fever, or just doesn’t seem well. It’s not wise to skimp if it means losing a loved one,” she ends.

Owning a pet is one of the best experiences anyone can have in a lifetime. It teaches you responsibility, compassion, love and above all, the value of a life, regardless of size or form. Just as how your parents took the effort to learn more about caring for a child prior to your birth, it is my hope that you also take the time to learn more about the creature you’re letting into your life before taking him under your care. Equipping yourself with proper information is the best way to keep yourself from making mistakes that can leave a permanent mark to you or your pet or even cost him his life.

This appeared in Animal Scene’s February 2015 issue.