Making the right decisions for our pets

Posted on: 6th July, 2015

Category: Features

Contributor: Sheila Mullins

Pat Coffey’s Surgery on Casement Street, Clonakilty is home to two very experienced vets. Pat deals with large farm animals whilst Marta Stephan specialises in small companion animals. Sheila Mullins visits Marta in the surgery to discuss responsible pet ownership in terms of both health and behaviour.

Being a responsible dog owner actually begins with choosing your puppy, according to Marta. Different breeds have different strengths and weaknesses in their temperaments. Marta calls it “breed attitudes” and a responsible owner will investigate which breed will best suit their family or lifestyle before they make this huge commitment.

“When people are buying a new phone they will google all the pros and cons of models but when it comes to dogs, a lot will base their decision purely on aesthetics,” says Marta. “I’m happy for anybody to give me a call beforehand and I’ll give them advice. There is nothing more heartbreaking than having to give away a dog because its behaviour is causing problems.

“A dog doesn’t have to be purebred and I’d always encourage people to visit their local rescue centre. If you understand different attitudes of breeds, you’ll know how a collie-mix, for example, is likely to behave. But beware of this new fashion for deliberate crossbreeds such as Labskys (Labrador and Husky) or Chugs (Pug and Chihuahua). Breeders are mixing just because it is trendy and there is a demand. This practice can result in common breed specific problems (breathing, hips, skin complaints etc) being mixed and multiplied. Paying €400 for a dog that is of no value in terms of breeding – it won’t have any papers – is crazy and again based on aesthetics rather than getting the right dog to be part of your family for the next 15 years.”

The next step for a new dog owner is a visit to the vet for vaccinations and microchipping. Whilst there, discuss neutering your dog and discover the many benefits to this simple procedure; in females you will prevent unwanted litters and avoid breast cancer and other hormone related issues, in males it prevents aggression as a result of sexual frustration around bitches in heat and also reduces the tendency to wander. “Preventing wandering in dogs is more important than people realise,” advises Marta. “If your dog causes a car to swerve on the road, you are liable for any damage caused in that accident. That’s the law.”

Marta strongly believes “a pet is a pet and it’s wrong to think of earning money back from selling puppies – something that’s actually not so easy to do. Let breeders do the breeding.

“Spaying in females is best done before the first heat or definitely before they are one year old. It’s a simple operation with a speedy recovery time. It’s not expensive and far cheaper than the alternative.

“Common myths about neutering, that I can assure you are not true, are that females can become more aggressive or put on weight. Too much weight is only ever the result of too much feeding!”

Cat owners need to also think about neutering. Cats are prolific breeders and can become pregnant whilst still breastfeeding a litter. It’s important to keep cat populations small to prevent inbreeding and the spread of diseases such as Feline Aids and Viral Leukaemia, both of which are viruses that up to 10 per cent of cats carry. Like other pet diseases these illnesses are species specific – they cannot be transferred to humans or other animals – but are spread amongst cats through fighting usually. This is another reason to neuter male cats – it reduces aggression.

“Cats don’t like to live in large groups,” says Marta, “so have just one or two cats instead of twenty!”

Finally, Marta is passionate about socialising and training puppies so that they can be fully integrated in to their family and community. “If you haven’t much experience with dogs, attend an obedience course where you will learn to be a good owner with an obedient dog. A well-behaved dog is like a well-behaved child, welcome and loved everywhere they go!

“A dog should be welcome in the house but know his place in life; not on the bed or couch but in his own bed with his own food bowl. This way there is an established hierarchy. When I hear of a child being bitten and the owner says that the dog “was always a dote” beforehand, I know that’s not true. The dog was giving clear signals of his growing aggression and dominance that his owner ignored, underestimated or dismissed as “just his character”. A responsible owner ensures their dog is properly trained and, going back to my previous point, the right breed match for its family.”

As an Italian living in Ireland for 12 years, Marta would love to see dogs welcomed in accommodation, shops and town centres, as is the case on the continent. “Now that EU Pet Passports have been introduced, quarantines are gone and people are able to travel freely with their pets. I really feel there is a huge tourism opportunity if accommodation providers here welcomed dogs – especially from ‘Dog Crazy’ British visitors. A well-behaved dog is completely house-trained and will not jump on furniture but lie quietly when indoors, be it a hotel or restaurant.”

She accepts that dog owners on the continent are more aware of training and cleaning up after their pets but believes that could become the norm in Ireland too, if we are all more aware of our responsibilities.

On a final note, Marta strongly recommends getting health insurance for your dog when they are puppies, particularly for large breeds. “Shop around for a good deal from the usual insurance providers. Major health issues can require extensive surgery or expensive treatments. You won’t ever have the burden of making a decision for your pet based on your purse.”

Coffey Vets is open six days and also has a 24-hour emergency service. You can call for an appointment or to speak to Marta on 023 8833221. In every circumstance, you’ll receive a kind and sympathetic service from Pat, Marta and their receptionists Mary and Catherine, both of whom are also huge animal lovers!

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