First Time Dog owners need support - and so do repeat dog owners!
I just read the Merck Animal Health Survey results about first-time dog owners, who acquired dogs during the COVID pandemic of 2020. I was alerted to this survey, and upon reading felt is imperative to have everyone read. Here is the article Link I do not know the selection criteria for responders. From my personal experience, this survey reveals the truth of what will come unless we take steps to help new dog owners.
The highlights of the survey results are :
73% of new dog owners are considering rehoming their dogs at the end of the pandemic.
25% of new dog owners do not have enough information to care for a dog.
58% of new puppy owners said they wish it did not take as much time. ( this is nothing new)
33% of new dog owners were surprised at the cost of care.
70% want to learn how to keep their dog healthy. (Yea!!!! )
38% of puppy owners were surprised by the attention needs of the puppy.
The reasons for rehoming -
33% of new dog owners were considering rehoming due to energy demands of the dog (walks, playtime, and other attention)
35% said flea/tick and heartworm medication responsibility was a hurdle worse than housebreaking.
29% of pandemic puppy owners were surprised by the degree of parasite problems, and not understanding the need for control.
When it came to getting veterinary care:
57% said they wished care was easier and less time-consuming - it was not clear if this included home care or just clinical care. ( I suspect this related to the pet's stress and avoidance or aggression response to care)
22% of first time pandemic dog owners had problems scheduling an appointment.
27% of established dog owners noticed scheduling problems. ( yes, curbside care has been a scheduling challenge)
Ideas to help
Dog owners want to maintain preventative care - create a monthly schedule of care. This suggestion from Merck reminds me of one an employee asked for. Similar to a maintenance schedule for a car, how about a maintenance schedule for your pet's health? Crafting a monthly schedule of heartworm/ flea and tick prevention and then quarterly deworming, stool or urine checks are not difficult to do. A document can be created for the owner to have and then linked to reminders by email/ text or snail mail to help clients stay up on care.
Decrease the difficulty of medication There are lots of choices for oral, transmucosal, transdermal, or injectable medications. Start by asking your dog owners about how easy is it to medicate this dog? You may be shocked by the answers you get as to how the owner is getting the meds into the dog. Hold your breath, and offer solutions based on what this animal is avoiding ( head handling, oral meds). Ear gels, 6 m- 12-month injectable heartworm prevention may be a better alternative than the typical medication approach. Start with a one month dose and recheck via text/ email to see how easy it was to give. Then you can set up refills or alternative medicine methods.
Energy demands - part of me wants to say " You got a dog. They need to walk/ hike and run. They need to sniff different smells and terrain. That is what a dog needs. Alas, people do not know this and think their dog is primarily a cuddle buddy, with only a need to eliminate. So yards are the limit of play and exercise. This confined exercise space of the home yard results in frustrated dogs who jump/ lunge and nip at each other or pester the owner for time outside, barking, and other frustrating behaviors. Tell your clients to remove the bowl. Feed all the meals in a food puzzle. Now the dog will get more mental engagement in the home, with some exercise and cut the boredom.
Parasite problems As a veterinarian, I see this as a blended shelter and veterinary staff communication problem. pre-pandemic, many puppies would have been wormed at the shelter a couple of times, with vaccination and other care. With the "empty the shelters" quick placement, many new dog owners were not adequately informed about the need for repeated deworming or the shelter paperwork was limited on the health needs of the pet. Add to this, the curbside care limits of time and now you have a situation of missed health problems that become bigger. I have had a number of shelter dogs who did not get monthly heartworm and parasite protection because they had vaccination, and the first month of preventative, and though all was set for this dog.
Scheduling veterinary care - ok, this problem is widespread for established dog owners as well as new ones. This is more of a pandemic problem than industry problem. During this pandemic, veterinary practices went to curbside care as few exam room and waiting areas were large enough to allow for social distancing and contagion control. Splitting up the staff to avoid a practice shut down if one became positive was also another tactic needed as an essential service. Add to this an increased demand for veterinary care as pet owners are now home and paying attention to their pets. The problems we often advised for blood work or x rays, are now presented in an urgent way for full work up. So, this scheduling problem will not last. As the vaccine for Covid is released, and the level of community infection decreases, there can be a return to in person care and full scheduling. Yes, it may take a year to get there but it will get better. Asking about telemed/ video exam services may help to relieve the wait for in person care. Veterinary practices may offer this or collaborate with a provider like myself for care.
Less time consuming care I am interested to read what was considered "time consuming". Is it the resistance of the pet to recieve care at home? It is the fact that a pet may need ear drops, special diet or other care and taking the time is not something that the new owner had considered when owning a pet. Using a handling plan for your pet, that decreases stress and increases thier co operation can decrease the time it takes for care. If pet owners would tell us how they find the time consuming or difficult we can help them create a plan at home to decrease this difficulty.
Be pre emtive and address these problems now.
When ever you adopt a rescued pet, you are taking on a responsibility for care and welfare. You never know exactly what you are going to get. When you purchase a puppy, you have now taken on a young dog who needs to learn many things in the first year of life. Puppy hood is cute but they grow up fast! Some of the best ways to avoid the problems found in the survey are to use these handouts
New adult dog? Follow The Top 10 ways to add a dog to your home
Active puppy? Follow the Puppy Pina Colada behavior cocktail
Want a co operative pet for care? Create the Low Stress Pet care plan
I hope our shelters read this survey, and use some of the above handouts to help families with these problems. If a pro active approach is not taken now, we will have a big upsurge in surrenders and a lot of problem dogs in the next few years. All of this can be avoided with simple intervention plans and asking about pet behavior at every exam.
If you are having problems with your pet's behavior, please Contact me
Sally J Foote DVM, CABC-IAABC, LSHC-S
Better Behavior - Better Bond