Clean up the mess. An unkempt litter box or waste that has not been removed from your yard is an open invitation for diseases. Children under age 5 are most at risk because they're more likely to put their fingers in their mouths after touching contaminated areas, according to the CDC. One common scenario occurs when children eat dirt or walk outside barefoot and contract hookworms, which cause itchy skin, intestinal bleeding and abdominal pain.
Humans who have contact with animal waste can also be exposed to E. coli, salmonella and other bacteria. Left untreated, the diseases can be passed between humans and pets. In humans, the symptoms are diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps. To avoid contamination, be sure to wash your hands before meals and after handling pets.
Keep medical records updated. If your pet doesn't have parasites and is healthy, he likely won't spread diseases to people, Hendricks points out. When you first get a young pet, you'll need to take multiple visits to a veterinarian for a series of vaccinations. Dogs and cats should also be dewormed by a veterinarian, the CDC recommends. Hendricks adds that it's a good idea to see a veterinarian at least once a year for the pet's well-being, even if there appears to be nothing wrong.
A pet's teeth can often get neglected, she says. Dogs, for instance, can get periodontal, or gum, disease, which causes them to get sick, makes eating painful and gives them bad breath, she says. Veterinarians often encourage owners to brush their dog's teeth. Maintaining healthy teeth can avoid hefty veterinary bills later, as some dogs have to get their teeth pulled or undergo anesthesia for cleaning.
Feed your pet correctly. When it comes to a diet for your pet, Hendricks suggests keeping it boring, meaning that picking one type of food and sticking to the same amount every day is best for the animal. The science behind pet food is superb, she says, and what you buy at the store in the pet section offers a complete diet.
Some people enjoy varying their pet's diet, Hendricks says, but they should avoid doing so because new dog food could upset their stomachs. People also tend to feed animals too much, which has led to an obesity epidemic in pets. Feeding a pet gives families a sense of routine and altruism, which can contribute to mental wellness. But for a pet to live a long life, it's important to keep the diet simple. For owners looking to change things up, try buying a new leash or playing a new game instead, she suggests.
It's important not to feed pets scraps from the table. If a dog enjoys vegetables, though, such as carrots or lettuce, use them as treats because they are no-calorie foods. Dogs can be fed vegetarian diets, she says, but owners have to be careful. Cats will get sick on vegetarian diets and also do not like variety in their meals.
Consider pet insurance. Only 1 percent of Americans have health insurance for their pets, according to the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. It is a good idea to consider getting pet health insurance, Hendricks says, adding that it can be heartbreaking for a family to have a sick pet they can't afford to treat. Some families, though, will have the insurance for a long time and have difficulty seeing the benefit if they don't use it, she admits.
However, when families know which breed they want, it can help to anticipate health problems. Golden Retrievers, for instance, are most likely to get lymphosarcoma – a cancer common in dogs – while Cavalier King Charles Spaniels are more prone to get heart disease.
Pet owners can apply for pet insurance online by visiting Trupanion, 24PetWatch or the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. Depending on your pet's age and breed, or whether they are taking medication, policies can cost anywhere from $10 a month for emergency care, to $20 to $40 a month for more robust plans that cover accidents, illnesses and hereditary issues. Some also charge deductibles from $100 to $500