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The Daily Vet by petMD

The Daily Vet is a blog featuring veterinarians from all walks of life. Every week they will tackle entertaining, interesting, and sometimes difficult topics in the world of animal medicine – all in the hopes that their unique insights and personal experiences will help you to understand your pets.

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Upon hearing a family or individual discuss a plan to give the gift of canine life as a holiday present, I experience an unusual psychic shift: I am transported out of my body into a dreamscape reminiscent of a scene from Inception; I get stuck running in place while trying to get to a veterinary school final exam; Patti Page’s (How Much Is That) Doggy in the Window echoes repeatedly in the background.

I’m then jostled back into reality when I hear the claim that the dog will be primarily tended to by a less than responsible adult or child. The urge to help both my patient and client motivates the sudden return of my lucid care-giving skills.

When a dog is given as a gift, the process may be well planned out or impulsive. Each scenario has the potential for developing into to a positive long term relationship between human and canine companion.

Unfortunately for the innocent pooch, less than well planned adoptions often do not guarantee the best outcome for the adoptee. The dog may be improperly trained to assimilate into the family dynamic, suffer from neglect or abuse, be dropped off at a shelter, or encounter a variety of life threatening scenarios (set free, euthanized, etc.).

As domesticated dogs are expected to abide by the unfamiliar rules and regulations established by society and the newly adoptive owner, a significant learning curve exists. Without owner motivated consistency and positive reinforcement for appropriate bathroom behavior, a dog will merely act on the biological urge to void wherever the impetus strikes.

Failure for a dog to be completely housebroken creates a variety of problems within the household. The owner feels frustration from repeatedly having to clean up waste deposited in an undesirable location. General lack of trust of a new canine companion inhibits the development of a positive human-animal bond. Valid concerns for disease transmission (parasites, bacteria, viruses, etc.) among people and other pets from contact with excrement tainted surfaces raise doubt regarding the dog’s long term role as a family member.

Housebreaking issues are more likely to occur in households lacking a carefully considered training plan, such as when a new dog is brought home as a holiday gift. When adequate efforts are made in educating all family members about the housebreaking process and a productive strategy is implemented, success is more likely.

Yet even the best laid out efforts at teaching bathroom behaviors can fail due to underlying medical problems. This is why a veterinary exam within the first 24 hours post-adoption is a smart practice.

I have been in the care-providing role of this scenario innumerable times during my veterinary career. A new puppy or adult canine coming from the breeder, shelter, or the street presents with varying degrees of illnesses secondary to infection, nutritional imbalances, metabolic diseases, or other health abnormalities.

Besides the physical examination, performing fecal testing on a newly adopted dog is an integral component of a wellness evaluation. I have diagnosed Giardia on innumerable dogs having no reported changes in bowel movement appearance or pattern. Diagnosing and treating an infectious organism before the home environment is contaminated and before other pets or people are infected promotes better public health.

After all, in accepting a pet into your home, you have signed up for numerous ownership responsibilities. Adequately addressing a new companion’s needs is one of the primary challenges facing new pet owners (see Prepare Yourself for the Evolving Challenge of Dog Ownership). Failure to provide proper medical care is one form of neglect of which no pet owner wants to be accused.

Unfortunately, many animals suffer varying degrees of neglect even when they have been brought into a planned adoptive home. Owners may lack adequate finances, permit personal and professional schedules to intervene with regular exercise or preventive care, or intentionally disregard a pet’s presence. All situations point in the direction of a less than ideal circumstance for the innocent pet.

Before you consider acquiring a new pet or giving one as a gift, seriously consider the required lifestyle changes you will face regarding time management, personal space and economics. Returning that ill fitting and unflattering piece of clothing you received this holiday season is simple. Determining what to do with a pet for which you are unprepared to provide adequate care for is an entirely different scenario.

Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Image: Cardiff, with Gifts by Dr. Patrick Mahaney

Comments  2

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  • Well Said
    01/10/2012 07:21am

    Well said!

    Any type of new critter in the home will require changes for the human even if it's assuring the critter is fed properly and had access to fresh water.

    A thorough vet checkup is paramount = maybe even a couple of checkups. I don't know about dogs, but cats hate change and can break with an upper respiratory infection or urinary infection just from the stress of changing environments.

    It looks like Santa was good to Cardiff this year. He must have been a really good boy!

  • 01/10/2012 11:23am

    Thank you for your comments.
    Having multiple examinations, especially at times of wellness, is a great idea. I always prefer to have a benchmark for wellness so I can better evaluate my patients during illness.
    Great that you brought up cats having URTIs post-adoption, as URT infectious organisms often proliferate at times of stress (new household, etc).
    Cardiff was a very good boy this year (as usual). It has been 2 years since his last IMHA episode, which is the best holiday present I have received!
    Dr PM

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