Being a pet owner means being able to get your hands dirty — even if it’s just a wee bit. After all, every single one of us is responsible for our pets’ basic maintenance, including everything from feeding, bathing and brushing to exercising, toenail trimming and even doing dental duty. But wait! That’s not all.
Along with a more modern conception of responsible ownership comes the requirement that we, as their caretakers, expand our definition of what’s considered “basic care.” Which is why pet owners are increasingly being expected to perform tasks that may once have been relegated to practitioners of the veterinary arts alone.
Consider the following additions to your at-home pet-care repertoire:
2. Collect Bodily “Fluids”
Urine and stool are the basic “fluids” we might ask you to collect for us, but it’s not unheard of that we would ask you to bring in samples of sputum and vomitus, too (for example).
It’s yucky, I know, but here’s where I tell you to “get over it” for your pet’s sake. And consider yourself lucky if it’s just the occasional poop, pee and spit-up. After all, if it’s your lot to end up with a diabetic pet, routine blood collection might even be on your menu.
3. Take Photos and Films
Sometimes it’s hard to collect stuff — if not because it’s gross, then because sometimes it’s uncollectable (think: too soft to scoop). Then there’s the need to document the intermittent limp, the occasional cough, the strange sneeze and the bizarre behavior that simply can't be reproduced in the veterinary office. There’s nothing like knowing how to get a good video to endear you to your veterinarian.
For plenty of pets, it’s not just about the simple snip and clip every four to 12 weeks. Some pets require more frequent ministrations (especially around the exits), which often involve the need for owners to learn how to wield clippers and wipes with near-professional aplomb.
5. Brush and Floss
Yes, all pets benefit from brushing, and some pets do require the occasional floss. Dogs with lots of dental crowding (especially common among dwarfed breeds) benefit most from this addition to their dental detail. Luckily, there are some cool new tools to help make this happen more efficiently.
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This is an increasingly common requirement for pets suffering from specific conditions for which treatment may be optimized by employing highly customized diets. But don't trust that any diet you find online will be nutritionally balanced. Nutrition services like the one at the University of Tennessee School of Veterinary Medicine work with both veterinarians and their clients to devise recipes tailored to each pet’s unique health care needs.
7. Manage Ears and Skin Folds
Short-headed breeds of dogs and cats are especially prone to the kinds of issues that necessitate skin fold management, but any pet can be prone to ear and skin fold issues, especially those who suffer from food allergies. Learning how to properly manage ears and folds with solutions, salves and manual dexterity is crucial to many a pet’s basic welfare.
8. Perform Pedicures
No, not just a nail trim. Not even the fancy Dremel-drilling or occasional hand-filing. Pet pedicures are about more than just toenails, and plenty of pets can benefit from them, especially athletes who work their feet mercilessly or dogs whose allergic skin disease and/or excess poundage means lots of superficial foot infections (known as pododermatitis).
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Soaking feet in a warm Epsom salt solution, shampooing between toes, massaging pads with Aquaphor or another humectant and possibly even learning how to apply toenail covers like Soft Paws (especially for older dogs who scuff their toenails raw or for cats as a humane alternative to declawing) are all variations on this theme.
9. Offer Full-On Tub Soaks
After a long run, challenging course or a field trial, some canine athletes might be best served by a nice warm soak in a tub. Geriatric pets and those with osteoarthritis are also excellent candidates for this kind of home care. Epsom salts are an especially nice addition to the mix here, too.
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10. Learn Advanced Techniques in Medication Administration
These days, it’s not enough to know how to hide a pill in peanut butter, deviled ham or cream cheese. The need for daily medication in an increasingly broad segment of the pet population means more owners have to learn how to instill eye drops, manage ear medications, apply ointments and even give injections.
But that’s not all. I’m sure I can come up with at least a few more tricks you might one day learn to pull from your sleeve should the trend toward advanced pet care continue along its current path. So here’s the question: Will you be up for it?