As a veterinarian, the phrase "what were you thinking?" crosses my mind with some regularity. I am a great believer in an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. With a little foresight and common sense, many of life’s problems could be avoided or ameliorated, but from my point of view, pet owners often seem to make wildly inappropriate choices.

Granted, I am usually not privy to all of the information that went into a decision, but when faced with a client complaining about the cost of health care for his 12 elderly cats, the mother who worries that her child can’t safely walk their 145 pound mastiff around the block, or the owner looking to find a new home for his now full-grown and none-to-friendly green iguana, I have to stop myself from giving voice to what I’m actually thinking.

So, I was happy to see that the American Veterinary Medical Association’s Executive Board recently approved new guidelines for responsible pet ownership. Here they are in their entirety. Feel free to post them anywhere you think a prospective pet owner might run into them. Maybe we can prevent some bad decisions from being made in 2012.


Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations. Responsible pet ownership includes:

  • Committing to the relationship for the life of the pet(s).
  • Avoiding impulsive decisions about obtaining pet(s), and carefully selecting pet(s) suited to your home and lifestyle.
  • Recognizing that ownership of pet(s) requires an investment of time and money.
  • Keeping only the type and number of pets for which an appropriate and safe environment can be provided, including appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and companionship.
  • Ensuring pets are properly identified (i.e., tags, microchips, or tattoos) and that registration information in associated databases is kept up-to-date
  • Adherence to local ordinances, including licensing and leash requirements.
  • Controlling pet(s') reproduction through managed breeding, containment, or spay/neuter, thereby helping to address animal control and overpopulation problems.
  • Establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.
  • Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, its veterinarian.
  • Socialization and appropriate training for pet(s), which facilitates their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people.
  • Preventing pet(s) from negatively impacting other people, animals and the environment, including proper waste disposal, noise control, and not allowing pet(s) to stray or become feral.
  • Providing exercise and mental stimulation appropriate to the pet(s') age, breed and health status.
  • Advance preparation to ensure the pet(s') well-being in the case of an emergency or disaster, including assembling an evacuation kit.
  • Making alternative arrangements if caring for the pet is no longer possible.
  • Recognizing declines in the pet(s') quality of life and making decisions in consultation with a veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (e.g., palliative care, hospice, euthanasia).

AVMA Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership

Oversight CHAB; EB approved 11/2011


Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: Shadow Dog by Raymond Larose / via Flickr