Pets are part of the family and deserve the same care as any other member, and that means taking full responsibility for their welfare. Dr Belal Sahlab of the British Veterinary Center in Khalifa City, Abu Dhabi tells The Livehealthy.ae Podcast how to be a good pet owner – along with a few fun animal facts.
Cats are like cows, dogs are like horses
Believe it or not, cats and cows are similar in the way they are both very good at hiding pain. Dogs and horses, on the other hand, are very good at showing you when they’re in pain – and even showing you where the pain is. A horse that’s colicky, for example, will be jumpy, kicking and pawing at the ground, very sweaty and won’t come when it’s called. You only have to look at them to know they’re not right.
Cats tend to just sit quietly. They don’t come to you, they suppress their pain. It’s because their big cousins in the wild where they were the kings of the jungle needed to look strong. As vets, we need to be aware of that and also train the owners in how to be aware.
Obviously, cats and dogs have different physiognomies and anatomies and they get different diseases.
Your pet is not a cartoon
One of the biggest mistakes pet owners make is thinking their pet is like the animals they see in cartoons. Of course, they know the characters in the cartoons are not real but they still fasten on to some misconceptions about animals and pets.
For example, in Tom and Jerry, you’ll see a cat drinking cow’s milk. That’s not right. The reality is that cats are actually intolerant to lactose, which is the sugar in milk. It makes them colicky and uncomfortable and their bowel motions get loose. So please don’t give your cat cow’s milk, especially if it’s an adult cat.
Lactose-free cow’s milk is also not right for them. Each mammal has its own unique nutrients in its milk. For kittens, you can get cat’s milk replacement, which is easily available.
With dogs, people tend to feed them the wrong food, thinking the most expensive diet is the best. Ask your veterinarian about the right amount to feed your dog or what to feed if your pet has a chronic condition.
A vegan diet might be recommended sometimes for certain conditions where the dog should avoid most proteins.
If your pet is fat, reducing its food is not the answer.
Obesity is a big problem in this part of the world because we don’t exercise enough due to the heat. Feeding your pet less food is not the answer; they will just feel more hungry and go and find food somewhere else. Use a prescriptive diet food instead. There are good, weight-limiting foods with the right fiber that will provide the same energy, but with fewer calories.
It’s not always straightforward though, and your veterinarian will be able to see if there any underlying conditions contributing to the obesity.
Pets get depressed too
It’s actually very common in dogs, cats and birds and it’s because they live with us humans. We see it a lot, especially if the owner is very busy and doesn’t have much time to spend with their pet. Lifestyle changes help and there is also medication for it these days.
Pets need Vitamin D too
They should be able to get it from a good diet and enough exposure to the sun. Otherwise, like us, they can become deficient and get hypoglycemia. However, regarding exposure to the sun, never take your dog for a walk during the hottest part of the day. Early mornings and late in the evening only, please. Even then it can still be quite hot so take plenty of water with you.
The brachycephalic breeds – the short-nosed breeds, like French bulldogs, English bulldogs and pugs – struggle more in this climate. It’s not always necessary to go for a long walk, especially at this time of year.
Before you get a pet, think hard
Think about everything – what breed of dog, what age? Does a pet fit in with your kids, your lifestyle? Are you ready to take full responsibility for its nutrition, vaccinations, the veterinary expenses? You must ask yourself those questions.
The worst part of being a veterinarian…
The hardest part of the job is when you reach the point where there is nothing more you can do. Sometimes the owner knows it’s going to be the end, even before they come to see you, so that makes it a bit easier. But if someone is not expecting it – well, you have to keep trying.
But you have to listen to the pet. If the body is saying “I’m done – no more” then it has to be done.
…and the best
I grew up in a family that had horses, cats and dogs and I always wanted to be the person that took care of them. I was also fascinated by the vets who came to treat our horses. I wanted to be like them.
The best part of being a veterinarian is that animals are fascinating. I still sometimes see gazelles, peacocks, parrots and the occasional reptile. A few years ago I used to see big cats and primates, but the government is doing a lot to educate people about keeping those types of animals, because it’s really not good. They need to be where they should be.
Anna Pukas has reported from all over the world as a foreign correspondent for British media. She is now an editor based in Abu Dhabi.