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If Getting a Pet this Holiday Season then Make it a "Season of Reason"

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Addicted to "Cute"

Adorable little fuzzy faces. Soft, wet noses. Big soulfuleyes. Purring kittens batting away at a ball of foil. Puppies playfully tuggingaway at your pant leg. Cuteness. It'sthat quality that all young mammals possess that makes their parents want totake care of and nurture them. How wonderful it is that humans'evolutionarily-engraved instinct to protect, feed, comfort and love our own offspring can also bedirected towards creatures belonging to another species. This is the essence ofthe human-animal bond and a big part of why people become pet owners and petcare professionals. It is certainly a major reason I became a veterinarian.

There are quantifiable positive effects emanating from thisbond we have with our pets. First, there's the unmistakable look of joy on thefaces of those interacting with a furry friend. Not to mention the goofy thingswe say while doting over our pets. On a deeper level there are measurablephysiologic changes such as a lessening of anxiety and lowering of bloodpressure known to occur in animal owners. It has also been shown that oxytocinlevels rise in dog owners making eye contact with their pet. Oxytocin, "the hormoneof love", present in us to assure we nurture our own kids and feelaffection toward a mate, is also responsible-in large part-for the verypleasant side effect known as the human-animal bond.

It is not unreasonable to compare oxytocin to a narcotic.Just like young people in love or someone under the influence of amind-altering drug, a potential pet owner under the influence of "cute" may not be in the bestposition to make a rational decision when it comes to choosing a pet. This hasresulted in countless dogs and cats that were adopted when they were adorable,cuddly kittens and pups-but grew into something quite unexpected-beingsurrendered to shelters where, sadly, many of them are euthanized.

Make it a"season of reason" when choosing a pet

The holiday season is upon us once again. A time of yearwhen many people acquire pets. Also a time when, with all the imagery ofreindeer, elves, lights and ornaments, we all have a little more oxytocin thanusual flowing in the veins. So, at the risk of being a Grinch, I wish to temperall the warm and fuzzy feelings with a little bit of detached reason and givesome advice about how to go about choosing or not choosing a new pet thisholiday season.

Considerwaiting until the holidays are past before getting a pet. Many people are distractedduring the holidays, more busy than usual decorating, preparing food andwrapping gifts. Adding a puppy or a kitten to such an environment could be arecipe for disaster. Consider all the ribbons, toys, tinsel, candy etc presentin a typical household during the holiday just waiting to to be swallowed by anew kitten or puppy-and cause gastrointestinal blockage. Waiting for a lesshectic time should allow for making a more informed decision and a saferenvironment for the pet.

Avoidgiving a pet as a gift.Limit gifts to inanimate objects. Puppies and kittens are living things andshould not be put in the same category as an Xbox 360 or a pair of socks andcertainly never wrapped up in a box! If you absolutely must gift a pet, makesure the recipient is responsible enough for, actually desires, and has themeans to care for a pet.

Makesure you get a pet that fits your lifestyle. If you live in an apartment, you don't want that littlefuzz ball that made your oxytocin flow at the pet store to grow up into ahigh-energy, high-shedding sheepdog. If you have children you want a dog or catthat is good with kids. A good resource for determining the breeds of dogs mostlikely to match your desires is the find a pet page at healthypet.com

Makesure you have the means to care for a pet. Give us a call here at the DMVC to get an estimate of thecost of veterinary care for the first year of a puppy or kitten's life. Add tothat pet food and supplies as well as training classes. Keep in mind that thelarger the breed of dog you own, the more expensive it is to care for.

Makeyour local shelter the first place you look for a pet. Your local shelter is where many of the canine and felinevictims of human oxytocin rushes end up and a great place to find a wonderfulcompanion. Another good place is petfinder. One of my own dogs, "Truffles", was acquiredthrough petfinder and she is a lovely dog!

Don'tbuy a dog from a breeder unless you can physically visit the premises. The ideal breeder is someonewho is motivated not by profit, but by love of their particular breed. Bymeeting a breeder in person one is in the best position to determine theirmotivations. You are also able to assess the cleanliness of the environment,the condition of the bitch and sire and also get a sense of how often the pupswere handled. For these same reasons oneshould avoid purchasing a dog from a breeder online.

Researchthoroughly the breed you are interested in. As much as I wish it were otherwise, the term"purebred" is a euphemism for "inbred". There's no wayaround that painful truth. Inasmuch, every breed has its share of geneticdisorders. Learn as much as you can about the breed that interests you. Ask thebreeder about any genetic problems they've had in their line. Make sure thatyou are prepared for any costs that might result from a genetic condition. Purchase pet insurance to help offsetthese costs. Again consider getting a mixed breed dog. Mixed breed dogs possess"hybrid vigor". Being less inbred means genetic disease is lesslikely.

Well I hope my detached reason hasn't lowered your oxytocin levels by too much. If you require a little "fix" have a gander at this video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KBSOeUCzefQ 

 Happy Holidays to all creatures great and small. 

Michael Bukowski DVM 

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