November 4, 2019 | Casey Fletcher

Veterinarians Reveal The Common Mistakes We're Making With Our Pets


As a pet owner, you want your pet to have the best life possible. You love them like a family member and treat them with unconditional love, but sometimes, the excitement of having them in your life can make you forget that accepting responsibility for your pet means more than just morning cuddles and dog walks. Pets have all sorts of needs beyond being pet and getting fed.

New and even seasoned pet owners can fall victim to bad habits that can make life difficult for both you and your furry, four-legged friend. These veterinarians and vet technicians reveal their pet tips and cautionary tales to save you time and trouble. Are you guilty of making these mistakes with your pet?

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#1 Not Socializing Them Early Enough

Not letting your dogs around other dogs until they have all their vaccines. Their socialization window closes about 14 weeks, meaning it is pretty much closed if you wait until 16 weeks. This causes a lot of dogs to go nuts and freak out whenever they see something they didn't see during that period.

Notice that I did not say to take them to the dog park! They need to be around other dogs (and other people) in controlled situations: puppy socialization classes, friends houses, etc. Make sure the dogs they are around are healthy, vaccinated, and good with puppies and let them have positive experiences with other dogs and people. Obviously NEVER get behind on their vaccines while you're doing this.

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#2 Declawing Cats

Declawing pet cats (unless someone in the house is immuno-compromised). It's considered inhumane. Contrary to what most people think, it isn't simply "taking off a nail." It's a literal digit amputation of the distal phalanx. That's like cutting your fingers off at the last knuckle.

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#3 Relying on Advice From the Wrong People

Getting and relying on medical advice from breeders and groomers (with no medical background). I once saw a rat terrier with a fractured humerus, which typically requires surgical correction. As I stepped out of the room to check availability with a surgeon, the client called the dog’s breeder who said not to follow my advice and to “just put the dog in a sling” and that she’s “done the same on her own dogs plenty of times.”

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#4 Not Looking After Their Health

- Letting them get fat

- Not taking care of their teeth

Obesity and dental disease are the most common problems I see.

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#5 Not Trimming Nails

Trim your pets' nails! I can't tell you how many times I've had to wrestle an ingrown nail out of an animal's flesh. And that stuff can get in there deep. Most of the time, the animal doesn't give you any signs that it's in pain and the owners don't even notice it's happening. Keep an eye on nail lengths and use your best judgement. If you think they are getting long, trim them yourself or take them to a groomer or veterinarian.

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#6 Ignoring Pets

I'm one year away from being a full-blown vet and I worked as a technician for four years before vet school. Please don't ignore cats screaming or "looking constipated," they are likely suffering a urinary blockage and they can die. Please bring them to a vet.

Also, it's not as much the food as the kcals—read the bag. There are plenty of calculators online that will give you an idea of how much your pet should be eating. Then, compare that to the food you have (and measure out what is appropriate).

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#7 Grain-Free Is Marketing

Grain-free is 100 percent marketing. You're paying extra for absolutely no benefit. And while we are on the subject, by-products should not specifically be avoided. Pets need nutrients, not ingredients. Also, spay and neuter. Why owners elect not to do this astounds me, considering the number of conditions that can be prevented by this simple procedure.

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#8 Ignoring Low Life Expectancy

You are buying breeds that are already prone to having a low life expectancy, like bulldogs. Certain breeds are terribly bred. The bulldog is by far the worst breed and you are signing yourself up to be paying for a lot of vet bills.

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#9 Not Listening to Your Vet

Listen to your veterinarian. "The breeder said..." is not a valid excuse for anything. It doesn't take much to put two dogs in a room and wait 60 days. Why people say this to a veterinarian is beyond me. Your breeder makes money on making sure each female dog produces a large number of viable offspring—nothing more.

Please vaccinate for the conditions your veterinarian recommends, when they recommend them. If you are not willing to spend the appropriate amount of time training and exercising your high energy dog, please get a fish. If you do not have experience with any dog in the working class, please at least put in the time to research and then train your GSD, GSP, etc. Do not purchase a pet for someone else as a surprise. Getting a pet is a 10 to 20-year commitment and should not be dumped on an unwilling or unable family member, girlfriend, etc.

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#10 Making Pets Vegan

Make your pet vegan or vegetarian because you are. Cats absolutely need essential amino acids that can only be found in meat. They'll die otherwise.

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#11 Snakes Shouldn't Sneeze

Snakes are not supposed to sneeze or cough. They lack diaphragms so if yours does this, take it to the vet immediately. And please do not drive with your snake free-roaming. This is extremely unsafe for the snake as it causes stress and it could get stuck somewhere while you are driving. Also, different snakes require different bedding's, humidity levels, enrichment etc. Just because it works for a corn doesn't mean it's meant for a ball python.

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#12 Grain Allergy is Rare

Listen: genuine grain allergy is INCREDIBLY rare in dogs. Grain-free is a marketing crock. Oh, and your cute dog with no face? They can’t breathe. Try to breathe with your nose permanently 80 percent blocked. And your soft palate blocks your throat. Now try running. Yes, I went there. And yes, I'm a vet.

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#13 Not Understanding Your Pet's Health

I’m a vet. I can list a million things I wish owners would understand about their pet’s health, but what's equally important is understanding that if you cannot afford basic veterinary care, then you cannot afford a pet. Period. This is an industry with serious mental health concerns. We are routinely presented with cases that could have been avoidable if you’d practiced the suggested preventative care, or brought your pet in for evaluation once the symptoms started rather than waiting six weeks until the animal is beyond help.

We are routinely berated by the public for being uncaring or having no compassion for not providing our services for free, though often veterinary diagnostics are performed at a fraction of the cost of human diagnostics and the turn-around time is considerably shorter. I do not want to euthanize your beloved family member, but if you have no ability to cover the estimated cost of care, you put us both in an unfortunate situation. The fact that I have to euthanize multiple pets on a daily basis is one of the worst parts of my job. Sometimes it’s unavoidable, but oftentimes a traumatic end could be prevented with basic yearly checkups.

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#14 Not Vaccinating

Not vaccinating your pets because you are sold on the Kool-Aid offered by anti-vaxxers. Not keeping your pet in optimal body condition score. Not going for yearly check-ups.

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#15 Not Telling the Truth

Veterinary Nurse here! Please, if your pet got into your edibles, just tell us! No, we are not going to call the cops on you. We just want to treat your pet correctly and not waste our time!! We really don't care that you smoke!

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#16 Giving Them People Medicine

Giving your pets "people medicine": A lot of the things we can ingest may be toxic to animals. You can kill your pet even with the best of intentions. Also, waiting for weeks or days to rush in with an "emergency." Chances are, your pet has been in considerable pain and therefore, treatment may be more complex and your bill will be much, much higher.

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#17 Understand Your Pet

Former vet tech here. A few things.

- Spay/neuter your pets. No, Fifi does not need to have a litter, and it might actually endanger her health to do so (look up pyometra). There are too many unwanted dogs and cats in the world. Please don't add to the burden.

 - Microchip your pet, and keep the information updated! It is usually the key to help your pet find their way back home!

- Play with your kitten's feet. Seriously. Start as early as possible. This will help with nail trimmings!

- Socialize your puppies to anything and everything. When this is done safely, it can help prevent behavioral problems in the future.

- Learn to read your pets behavior! Knowing when they are stressed out, scared, or sick can really help you avoid dangerous situations.

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#18 Cats Need Dry Food

Not a vet, but I learned through hardship that cats need dry food. In the wild, they'd be crunching on bones to clean their teeth. As pets, they'll develop tooth decay, inflammation, sepsis, and they'll stop eating completely. I was lucky really. I bought something online and she was obsessed with chewing the box. At first, I thought she was just being weird. Then, I took a look at her teeth, and they were all either yellow or dark grey. Luckily, I caught it just at the right time and she just needed her teeth cleaned, but if it had progressed further, they would've had to pull some of her teeth.

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#19 It's Not About Money

I'm a vet. Please don’t say that vets are “in it for the money.” I’m raising a family of four and last year, I brought home less than $60,000. Vets make a living but we will never be wealthy. We do not make recommendations to take your money. We make recommendations because we genuinely care about your pet’s wellbeing. I have been a vet for 13 years and just last year made enough to buy a car. A Honda. And I still owe $80,000 on my student loans. Vets are NOT in it for the money.

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#20 Hot Sidewalks

Just a reminder: if the sidewalk is too hot for your bare feet, your dog is definitely not having any better of a time on it.

#21 Preventing Heartworms

Vet technician here. Getting their teeth cleaned is not a way for us to make money. Pets actually need their teeth cleaned or else their teeth will rot out and can cause other issues. Also, dogs need to be tested for heartworms. Heartworms are spread by mosquitoes, and just because your dog does not go outside, does not mean they can't get heartworms. Mosquitoes can still come inside your house. Heartworms cause damage to their heart and is very expensive to get rid of and treat. It's cheaper to prevent them.

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#22 Pets Are Expensive

Critical care vet nurse here with a history of GP work also. One of the common problems I see is pets without a budget to fall back on. Pets have bodies that fail in similar ways that people's do: their teeth rot, their bones can break, they can get cancer. They get injured unexpectedly, just like we can. Fixing these illnesses and injuries is often possible, but it costs money. A lot of it, in fact.

Bills at my clinic are routinely between $600 to $3,000 for things like road traffic accidents, broken limbs from jumping wrong, kidney stones causing blockage, etc. Even ongoing minor problems can end up costing a lot, over time, with medication revisits or special dietary requirements. And if you have a flat-faced breed, you're in for a bad time cost-wise, because they have so many more common health problems.

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#23 Caring for Exotic Pets

Exotic pets are sometimes horribly cared for, even with good intentions. Especially reptiles. Pet stores normally give poor, uneducated guidelines for care. Their own animals available for sale are often kept in inappropriate and even deadly conditions while waiting to be sold.

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#24 Inappropriate Euthanasia

I am a vet with 18 years of experience. The most common problems that we have with our cats come from a misunderstanding about their needs in our homes. In 2014, I learned that the number one cause of death for cats was euthanasia for behavior problems. The very behavior problems that we cause by not meeting their innate needs in our homes. I found this completely unacceptable.

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#25 Get Your Puppy Vaccinated

I'm not a vet but I witnessed my friend's puppy dying of Parvo. It was devastating even for me. My friend's mistake was putting off getting the puppy’s first set of shots and letting the puppy play with other puppies before getting vaccinated. One of the other puppies had been in contact with a dog that had Parvo. So please get your new puppies their first set of shots IMMEDIATELY. And DONT let them play with other dogs until you do!

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#26 Feeding Them Too Much

Vet tech here. You're feeding them too much. We had FOUR new diabetic dogs in the past two months. And you're not using your flea/tick prevention regularly. Lyme disease sucks, so protect your buddies. The same goes for heartworm pills. It is expensive to treat heartworms. Prevent it instead.

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#27 Pet Insurance

I’m a CVT with years of experience in ECC and IM. I love my career and I love to help pets! Get your pets insured, especially your large breed dogs and purebreds. Do it the day you get them, right after their first wellness visit. This saves a lot of heartache during trauma or when an underlying condition pops up (I use it to cover the costs of my cat’s chronic renal failure).

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#28 Exotic Pets Are Hard Work

Here is my two cents on exotic pets and pocket pets as a veterinarian: Please for the love of God look up the basic husbandry and nutrition for an exotic pet before you go and purchase a super glider, hamster, iguana, bearded dragon, etc. The husbandry problems are 90 percent of an exotic vet's business honestly.

People also buy pocket pets/exotics thinking they will be super low key pets that are easy to maintain. I argue they are much harder because of the delicate balance you have to strike. They have specific hide box needs, humidity needs, special bedding, heating requirements, basking areas, and special diets. They take a lot more work than your normal cat or dog.

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#29 Dental Problems

Lack of dentistry or dental hygiene is probably the main thing I see. Dental cleanings are important and pets usually need a cleaning after three years of age, sometimes younger. A “teeth cleaning” at the groomer is not a dental. I’m talking about an anesthetized prophylactic cleaning and polishing. Similar to what you get at your human dentist. However, we can’t ask your pet to hold still and open its mouth, so anesthesia is necessary. Most veterinary hospitals use up-to-date equipment that provides safe monitoring for your pet. Just be sure to go to a reputable veterinary clinic or an animal dentist.

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#30 Brachycephalic Breeds

Vet student here. It's starting pop up more in the media, but the unscrupulous breeding and buying of brachycephalic, flat-faced breeds. If you want to improve the life of your pet, make sure they can breathe from the off! Or, be prepared to spend a lot of money on surgery to help them do so, along with other problems associated with it, like not being able to exercise properly, which leads to obesity and its consequences, etc.

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#31 Ask If You Don't Know

If you have to do something medical at home like subcutaneous fluids, medications, insulin injections, or use a feeding tube and are uncomfortable with it, please tell me! I will go over this with you as many times as it takes, that’s what I’m here for. The first few days are always rough and mistakes will happen but I’m on your team and I can help.

Also, if medications like pills are difficult to give, let us know! We can compound a lot of them into flavored liquids or even switch some to transdermal formulas. The thing that breaks my heart with my chronic condition pets is when owners have trouble with a medication and stop it abruptly on their own.

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#32 Pregnant Cats

Cats are in heat and are able to get pregnant for longer than you may think, even if they don’t appear to be in heat. They can also get pregnant again 72 hours after having kittens.

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#33 Sit First

The best advice I ever got from my vet: My dog used to come flying in from the backyard into the house and just rampage. She didn’t know the difference between outside partying and inside chilling. I had taught her 30 different tricks by then, done two rounds of puppy school, and was at my wit's end because I couldn’t stop the insanity.

He told me that a dog should never go through a door unless it sits first. GAME CHANGER. My dog flies up to the back door and practically does a backflip knocking to come in. As soon as I open the door, she sits down calmly and I can just freeze her there for a couple of seconds. When I beckon her in, she’s completely calm.

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#34 Tick Medication

Please, for the love of God, do not give your cat tick or flea preventative. That’s meant for dogs

#35 Dogs Are Not Wolves

We do not support dominance training in pets. Dogs are not wolves and feral dogs don’t even act like wild wolves. Please, hire trainers that use positive reinforcement and follow through at home. Be careful with training aids.

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#36 Get Pet Insurance

From my perspective as an ER Vet, make a savings account for your pet (or get pet insurance) so that when Fluffy has a fixable but expensive health issue, you don’t have to consider euthanasia just because you can’t afford care. Yes, it’s okay for finances to dictate whether you move forward with treatment but it really sucks when your pet has a bad fracture, a foreign body, or your cat has a urinary obstruction and would be good as new with treatment—$3,000 to $4,000 is probably going to cover most easily fixable emergencies.

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#37 Be Kind to Vets

Please, please be kind to your vet! It is all too often we are accused of "being in this for the money." We aren't, most of us take on huge loans to the tune of $200,000 to be your pet's doctor. Please keep that in mind before you leave a mean review. We take failure personally, trust me. There may be some exceptions, but I speak for me and my colleagues. We love your pets too, that's why we spent eight or more years getting to be their doctor!

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#38 Socializing is Key

Not socializing or training puppies. Socialization (not just to other dogs! To people! Cats! Men in hats! Vet care! Foot touching, handling, bathing! Car rides!), basic dog behavior and development knowledge, and positive reinforcement training with just a few basic commands can be the difference between a well adjusted dog in a loving home and a dog with persistent behavior issues being surrendered to a shelter.

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#39 Pet Obesity

Equating food with love. Pet obesity is a real thing. You could be taking years off of your pet's life and causing them painful joint issues by over-feeding.

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#40 Fish Taks

One thing I see absolutely everywhere that enrages me is fish being kept in small tanks or bowls. The idea that fish can be kept in bowls comes from the fact that people in east-Asian countries like Japan would temporarily put their fish on display in bowls to show off to guests, and housed them in large ponds most of the time. Westerners assumed such small containers were suitable to house fish in and this is still wide-spread today.

Not only does a bowl destroy your fish's health due to the lack of air touching the surface per unit volume of water, but the space you're giving your fish is basically comparable to keeping a human in one room the whole of their life. Fish are cleverer than people give them credit, and they feel pain and emotion more than people give them credit for also. They grow much larger and live much longer than most people think. They absolutely need to be housed in the right accommodation, in the right environment and with the correct amount and type of other fish. It takes a lot of space, time, and money to look after them decently. They're not the low-maintenance pets so many treat them as.

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#41 Consult a Nutrition

If you want to make a home-cooked diet for your pets, please ask for a nutrition consultation from a vet. Our vets spend a ton of time on animal nutrition and some are even dedicated to it. It’s something that the public has a poor grasp on whether they are going crazy for grain-free or decrying animal by-products. I’ve seen an entire cattery end up with heart disease because the breeder chose to feed them all raw chicken. I’ve seen internet recipes that contain onions, garlic and other toxic substances. Your pets depend on you for balanced diets and we can help with that.

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#42 Brush Your Pet's Teeth

One of the most common things we see, and a very serious issue at that, is dental disease in pets, and often the owner has no idea that their animal's teeth are bad at all. Dental disease affects all body systems (bacteria and dental disease go hand in hand, and those bacteria end up all throughout the body, affecting organs such as the kidneys and the heart), not to mention it flipping hurts!

Some owners are under the impression that because their animal is still eating, that must mean that they do not have an oral health issue. The truth of it is, you either eat or starve. I like to tell people that the most common symptom you'll see in dental disease is no symptoms. I have seen a lot of owners comment on how their dog or cat is "young again" after getting a much needed dental treatment, specifically the extraction of diseased teeth. Arguably, the most important aspect of oral care that you can do at home is tooth brushing, optimally every single day with a veterinary toothpaste.

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#43 Call the ASPCA

Consuming medication, illegal drugs, chocolate, grapes/raisins, yeasted bread dough, etc: Not sure whether to be concerned but don’t want to go to an emergency vet unless you absolutely have to? Call the ASPCA’s Pet Poison Helpline. It costs $60 but they will tell you how much you need to be concerned, if you need to go straight to the vet, etc. Plus, if you do have to go to an ER vet, we can talk to them and they will tell us exactly what we need to do.

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#44 Heartworms Suck

Heartworm prevention. I am in a rural place where the common theme is "dogs are tools" and therefore kept outside off-leash. I have never made a grown adult redneck cry faster than telling him his favorite hunting dog has heartworms. Everyone knows the treatment is expensive and somewhat risky, so they often have no choice but to either euthanize or just let it run its course. When they refuse treatment, prior to release, we're obligated to tell them exactly what will happen and that's when the tears flow.

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#45 Rabbits Don't Need More Calcium

Rabbits are NEVER low in calcium and do NOT need it supplemented in the diet. They should not have salt licks and should avoid alfalfa hay and pellets as this leads to urinary stones. So many rabbit foods have this in them and it is a huge problem, and often the workers at pet stores will lead you to them as a great choice. Do not be fooled.

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