Common Mistakes in Pet Ownership – A Vet Weighs In


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Despite the deep affection and well-meaning intentions most pet parents hold for their animals, it is not uncommon for them to inadvertently make mistakes that can affect their pet’s health and well-being. These errors often stem from a lack of knowledge rather than a deficiency of care or love. Understanding the subtleties of pet healthcare, nutritional needs, and behavioral management can be complex. Without proper guidance, even the most devoted pet owner can find themselves unknowingly compromising their pet’s quality of life.

Recognizing these common oversights is the first step towards remedying them and ensuring a happier, healthier life for our beloved animal companions. “Everybody can find a great pet, but there are some factors to consider before making a lifetime commitment,” shares Dr. Carol Osborne, author and world-renowned integrative veterinarian at Chagrin Falls Pet Clinic. Pet owners’ mistakes run the gamut from not pre-planning to overlooking dental care and having a personality mismatch.

And if a pet owner has already gotten in over their head, there is still hope: “Your vet is, in most cases, your first line of help and defense. Talk to your vet and be honest about the situation, be it financial, behavioral, or whatever,” says Dr. Osborne. “If you can put your heads together often you can find a solution that is reasonable, affordable, and that works with your time constraints. What we don’t want to see is pets abandoned on the side of the road or suffering because their owners don’t know what to do.”

In this article, we have compiled a list of common mistakes made by pet owners and consulted with Dr. Osborne to get her professional insights on how to avoid them.

The Most Common Mistakes

With more than two decades of experience as a veterinarian, Dr. Osborne has seen it all. Here are the most common mistakes she sees pet owners make.

Impulse Buys

Without a doubt, the most common mistake Dr. Osborne sees is buying a pet on impulse: “People often buy a pet without doing their homework and without planning. They don’t take the time to learn what they need to know about the pet, whatever type of a pet it might be,” she says. “The homework needs to include the kind of pet, the age, the sex, and the breed. The puppy in the window is cute and cuddly, but doing your homework before you get an animal is a big deal.”

Unfortunately, over 6.3 animals are surrendered to shelters every year. While the reasons may vary, in Dr. Osborne’s experience, the number one reason owners rehome their pets is a lack of planning.

Personality Mismatch

Many owners fail to consider how their personality will mesh with that of the pet they are considering. “Owners need to think about the personality of the pet alongside the personality of the person. Every animal has their own unique personalities. Certainly, there are generalities that you can make about certain purebred groups or cats versus dogs. But in today’s world with designer dogs, which are basically just expensive mixed breeds, you can get the best of both worlds—or the worst of both worlds,” says Dr. Osborne.

Underestimating Costs

From food and vaccinations to routine check-ups and unexpected medical expenses, owning a pet can be expensive: “You have to think about the cost. Is it a big dog or a little dog? Does it have long hair or short hair? I tell my my clients, ‘The bigger the dog and the longer the hair the higher the costs.’ The costs just keep going up,” warns Dr. Osborne. “A lot of breeds of dogs require grooming every four to 12 weeks, and that is a lifetime financial commitment.”

She continues, “There is also the cost of food for you, and currently that is only going up. Then there’s medical care. All pets have medical needs and sometimes pets get sick, just like people, and that’s something you need to be prepared for. Visiting your vet at least once a year should be a priority and with older pets, it can be more than that.”

Location, Location, Location

Where you live can greatly influence your pet. It is important to consider their well-being in your environment prior to bringing them home, and if you already own a pet, you need to consider how a move might affect them. “Do you live in the city or in the country? Do you have a big house? Do you live in an apartment? Do you live in Alaska? Do you live in Florida?” asks Dr. Osborne. “If you have a brachiocephalic breed like a Frenchie—America’s number one dog—they don’t do well in hot humid climates. If you have a Malamute or a husky, you probably shouldn’t live on the beach. If you have a Mexican hairless, I hope you’re not going to move to Alaska,” shares Dr. Osborne.

Purchasing A Pet As A Gift

Giving a pet as a gift may seem like a heartfelt gesture, but it is rarely in the best interest of the animal. “Getting a pet is a very personal decision. I see people make the mistake of buying a pet for someone else, and while it is well-meaning, it is usually a bad choice,” says Dr. Osborne.

“We see this a lot around Easter when parents buy their kids a rabbit. A rabbit is very cute and cuddly, but when they are grown they have big long nails and big powerful hind legs. Probably not a great choice for most kids.”

Breed And Owner Mismatch

Just as personality mismatch can cause issues between a pet and its owner, so, too, can breeds mismatch. “I have seen parents purchase a Rottweiler for their five-year-old daughter. A Rottweiler is probably the worst choice you could ever make for your five-year-old daughter. They are great dogs for adults who have a little bit of experience with a dog,” explains Dr. Osborne.

It is important to consider the characteristics of the breed carefully to ensure their traits match your lifestyle: “If you have a quiet little girl who likes to read books by the fireplace or if you’re a senior citizen, a Collie or a Spaniel is a great choice, “ she says. “Should you go out and buy a terrier if you are sedentary? Probably not. They will rip up your gardener, tear up your house, and never stop.”

Assuming Cats Don’t Need Grooming

Dogs are not the only pets that may need regular grooming. “Persians and Himalayas and those cats with those beautiful hair coats people don’t realize that the reason that they look so pretty in the pictures is because somebody spent hours upon hours grooming them. Their coats have to be maintained every single day, and it is a big job with a huge time commitment,” says Dr. Osborne. “On top of that, many cats don’t like to be groomed. Unfortunately, I have had people bring in a cat that hasn’t been groomed for five years completely matted, and under the mats, their skin is all infected.”

Not Using Flea and Parasite Treatment

Most dog owners are relatively on top of parasite and flea treatment. However, even indoor pets need this routine care. “Often, indoor cats will start itching and get bloody scabs and sores all over their body. That’s a sign of fleas,” says Dr. Osborne. The owner will ask how that is possible since the cat is indoors. They bring the outside in every time you walk in and out of their front door. Flea, tick, and parasite control is critical even for inside animals.”

Forgoing Dental Care

Oral health is critical for dog and cat wellbeing as well as longevity. “People are reluctant to put their hands inside their pet’s mouth, which is fair. They have a lot of teeth. But pet’s teeth are just like your teeth- something that should be addressed daily. Brushing teeth is the first line of defense to keep a healthy mouth,” says Dr. Osborne. “Bacteria from the mouth feed into the bloodstream and cause heart and other issues. When your pet has bad breath, there’s usually a reason why.”

Unfortunately, the only tried and true method to assist with oral health is to actually brush your pet’s teeth. “Chewing bones does not keep your pet’s teeth clean. There are different products that they cleverly market as chews, but they don’t work. I liken it to the fact that if you were to chew on a treat or a bone and not brush your teeth for a couple of months, I doubt anyone would want to kiss you,” she explains. “If you’re lucky enough to start life out with a puppy or a kitten, start with brushing those teeth daily. Make it so that your pet loves to have their teeth brushed.”

Skipping The Homework On Exotic Pets

Buying an exotic pet can be remarkably easy, particularly if it lives in an enclosure. However, it comes with its own set of challenges. “The primary mistakes I see with reptiles are an improper environment and nutritional deficiencies from dietary inadequacies. It’s sadly very common,” explains Dr. Osborne. “People go to the pet store and do the basic setup—and it’s never quite enough. Exotics needs are pretty particular and the more exotic you get, the more you need to know how to properly care for your pet.”

Kimmy Gustafson (Writer)

Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about healthcare careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor's offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning and that drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.