The Responsible Pet Owner's Checklist for Taking Care of a Pet

Written by:

PetMD Editorial
Published: March 19, 2019
Updated: March 18, 2019
Vet Reviewed by: Katie Grzyb, DVM

Reviewed for accuracy on March 19, 2019, by Dr. Katie Grzyb, DVM

As pet owners, we all want the best for our furry family members. It is important to every pet parent that their fur friends are getting everything they need to be happy and healthy pets.

Taking care of a pet is more than just making sure their bowl is full or that the dog is walked and the litter box is scooped.

In honor of Responsible Pet Owner Month, we put together a checklist of pet care musts that pet owners should do in order to be the most responsible pet parents they can be.

Take the Time to Train Your Dog

Being a responsible canine pet parent means taking responsibility for training your dog.

Dog training is an ongoing duty for pet owners. “Dogs don’t come already knowing how we would like them to behave, so we need to train them so they know what to do,” says Zazie Todd, PhD, a certified dog trainer and founder of Companion Animal Psychology.

Obedience training not only helps instill healthy doggy manners, but it also plays a big role in keeping your dog happy, healthy and safe.

“Teaching a dog to come when called is especially important and can prevent dogs from getting lost or running out into the road,” says Todd. “[You] can also train dogs to help them cope with things, like going to the vet, that they might otherwise find scary.”

Dog training also helps provide mental and physical stimulation for your pup. Todd explains, “Training with positive reinforcement is also a fun enrichment activity for dogs and a way to engage their brain.” With positive reinforcement training, you’ll praise and/or reward your pup with treats for performing the desired cue.

As a responsible pet parent, you should be including dog training in your daily routine. Whether it is making your dog sit before feeding them or having them wait for you to walk through doorways instead of allowing them to bolt through, you can create habits that help keep your pup’s manners sharp.

Make Time For Engaging Playtime

Playtime is an essential part of building and strengthening the bond between you and your pet. It allows you to establish a fun and positive relationship with your pet while also providing them with a productive outlet for their energy.

“Play helps to stop pets from getting bored, [getting] frustrated and developing behavior problems,” says Shermaine Wilson Cox, DVM, an Atlanta-based veterinarian.

As a responsible pet owner, you should set aside time to spend each day actively playing with your pet. Dr. Jim Carlson,  DVM CVA CVTP, owner of Riverside Animal Clinic McHenry and Grove Animal Hospital & Holistic Center in Chicago's Northwest Suburbs, says, “Dogs are companion animals so it's good for their mental well-being to have positive interaction with their human.” He says, “All members of the household, animal or human, should be involved in playtime and walks.”

Not all pets enjoy the same types of play, so you will have to figure out what gets your pet up and moving. This means that you have to experiment with a variety of cat toys or dog toys until you find what they like.

Take Your Dog on Daily Walks

Dog walks are an important part of your dog’s exercise and socialization routine. As a responsible pet parent, you must have time to take your pup for daily walks.

Every dog needs regular walks—but how often and how long depends on the dog. There are dogs that may only enjoy short walks to do their business and then want to head back inside, and there are other dogs that may need to go for longer runs to burn off all their energy. “For those dogs, it can be helpful to include games such as fetch in their daily routine, or other activities such as agility, dock diving or nose work,” says Todd.

One thing to keep in mind when planning outdoor walks with your dog is the importance of using a dog leash. It not only keeps your dog safe and under control, but it also allows other pet parents who may have reactive dogs or fearful dogs to walk their pups without worrying about your dog approaching without consent.

Off-leash time is important too. “It’s really good for dogs to get some off-leash time, both for the exercise and because it gives them the opportunity to choose what they’re doing for a while,” says Todd.

But you need to make sure that this off-leash time takes place in a secure and safe environment. Todd says that because leash rules are different everywhere, you will need to find a place that is suitable and legal for your dog to be running around.

This might mean taking them to a dog park or dog beach or on a hiking trail that allows dogs. Just remember to be respectful of other pet owners and do not just assume that your dog can freely approach other dogs without permission.

You’ll also want to make sure your dog is trained to come back to you and follows cues when off-leash.

Clean Up After Your Pet

As a pet owner, you’re responsible for your pet and the messes they make.

When you’re walking your dog, always make sure to have dog poop bags on hand to pick up any mess he leaves behind on the sidewalk or in a neighbor’s lawn. There are plenty of dog poop bag dispensers available that can be attached directly to your dog’s leash, so there is no excuse to not pick up after your pup.

Picking up after your dog is an important pet parent responsibility because it not only helps keep walkways clean, but it also prevents the spread of disease.

If you have a cat, a responsible pet owner always makes sure to clean out the cat litter box daily.

It is best to use an unscented, natural cat litter to mimic the sand or soil that a cat would naturally use to bury their waste. Dr. Carlson says, “Scented litters were designed to benefit us, not to benefit the cats. Using a more natural litter provides natural deodorizers and can help with minimizing bacteria. Bacteria produces odors that are common in the litter box.”

“The litter box should be scooped at least once a day, preferably twice, and cleaned thoroughly and refilled with fresh litter at least once a week,” says Todd, who also holds a certificate in Feline Behavior from International Cat Care.

“[When cleaning,] use a detergent that is safe for pets and does not have a strong smell, which cats might find off-putting,” says Todd.

Make Sure Your Pet Is Groomed

Ensuring that your pet is properly groomed is a big part of being a responsible pet owner. From their coat to their nails, a well-groomed pet helps to ensure a healthy pet.

“Pets should be bathed on a regular basis with shampoos and conditioners that are specifically labeled for them. Make sure you follow the labeled directions and rinse the skin and coat thoroughly,” says Dr. Cox. “Ears should be cleaned using ear cleaner that is approved for use in dogs and cats. Regular ear cleaning will prohibit the buildup of dirt and debris that could lead to ear infections.”

Never use cotton swabs to clean your pet’s ears. It’s always good to ask your veterinarian to show you the proper way to do it before trying it at home.

The regularity of bathing for your pet is dependent on their coat and routine activities. You should talk with your veterinarian to decide on the best bathing routine for your pet.

Brushing your pet is also important. “Brushing the hair coat several times a week will keep your pet’s hair from getting matted and will remove dead hair and potential allergens,” says Dr. Cox.

You should also regularly check your pet’s nails to make sure they are a healthy length. Dr. Carlson, says, “As a veterinarian, overgrown nails are one of the first things I notice.”

Overgrown nails can cause a lot of pain and discomfort for your pet. Dr. Carlson explains, “Overgrown nails can create problems throughout the body, especially in the back and hips.  When I see a pet come in with pain symptoms, the feet are the first place I look. Nail trims should be even and not just look at the nail itself, but the posture of the pet and how the pet moves after the nail trim.”

If your pet does not tolerate getting their nails cut well, reach out to your veterinarian; they are always there to help.

Make Microchipping Your Pet Nonnegotiable

As a pet owner, you should take every step possible to make sure your pet is easily identifiable. From ID tags on their collars to GPS tracking equipment, there are a variety of ways you can help to ensure your pet never gets lost.

It doesn’t matter how responsible you are with pet care—there’s still a chance your pet could get lost. It is alarmingly common—and while collars, tags and GPS tracking devices can be helpful, the best and most permanent way to keep your pet protected if lost is a microchip.

“Unfortunately, one in three pets will get lost during their lifetime,” says Dr. Cox. “Although pets commonly wear collars and tags, these forms of identification are capable of coming off and getting lost. Pet microchips add a second level of protection to bring your pet back home.”

Getting a pet microchip dramatically increases the chance you’ll be reunited if your pet gets lost. “Dogs with microchips are more than twice as likely to be returned home, and microchipped cats are 20 times more likely to be returned home,” says Dr. Cox.

So, if your dog or cat isn’t already microchipped, do the responsible thing and get it done ASAP.

Take Them for Routine Veterinary Checkups

As a pet owner, you’re responsible for your pet’s health, which includes regular veterinary care.

“Regular veterinary visits will allow veterinarians to prevent disease or provide early treatment if problems arise,” says Dr. Cox.

So, how often is regularly? “Adult dogs and cats should see a veterinarian annually for a full comprehensive examination and bloodwork,” says Dr. Cox.

If you have a senior dog or cat, it is recommended to make appointments with your veterinarian every six months. Dr. Carlson says, “Senior dogs and cats need biannual checkups. Pets can age several years over a six-month period of time compared to humans, so a lot can change quickly.” This will help you catch changes in your pet’s health more efficiently so they can continue to live a healthy life in their golden years.

And while annual visits to the vet are a must, that’s not the only time you may need to schedule face time with your veterinarian. “Outside of regular physical exams, adult pets may need yearly vaccinations depending on their age and lifestyle, the region you live in, health concerns, disease risk or plans for travel,” says Dr. Cox.

Keep Up With Your Pet’s Dental Care

Taking care of a pet’s oral health is a vital part of being a responsible pet owner.

Neglecting your pet’s oral health can lead to periodontal disease—which not only puts their mouth in danger, but their overall health as well.

“Periodontal disease is caused by a bacterial infection of the tissues that surround the teeth, which ultimately ends up destroying the surrounding soft tissue and bone,” says Dr. Cox.

According to Dr. Cox, once the surrounding tissue and bone are compromised, teeth begin to loosen and can start to fall out. Compromised tissue and bone are also at risk of bacterial infection, which can put your pet at risk for heart, lung, liver and kidney disease.

If you want to keep your pet’s mouth healthy, schedule annual dental cleanings with your vet. “Dental cleanings under general anesthesia are important for several reasons,” says Dr. Cox.

“They allow the veterinarian to perform a full oral examination, which otherwise is difficult to obtain when the pet is fully awake. The veterinarian can check for the presence of oral masses, loose teeth, foreign bodies, gingivitis [or] tooth fractures. A thorough teeth cleaning will [also] rid the mouth of tartar buildup and will help prevent gingivitis, bad breath, and periodontal disease,” says Dr. Cox.

In between cleanings, regular brushings can keep your pet’s teeth and gums healthier. “Outside of yearly dental cleanings, owners should brush their pets’ teeth at least three times a week to prevent plaque or tartar buildup using specially formulated dog or cat toothpaste,” says Dr. Cox.

Between brushings, Dr. Cox says that you can use dog dental chews or cat dental treats to help fight off dental disease.

Protect Them From Fleas, Ticks and Heartworms

Taking care of your pet’s general health is important, as is being aware of some common threats to their health and taking the necessary steps to protect them.

Fleas and Ticks

“Fleas and ticks are two of the most common [pests] found on pets. If not prevented, fleas can lead to itching, hair loss, flea allergy dermatitis (an allergic reaction causing redness and inflammation of the skin), secondary skin infections, tapeworms and even severe anemia,” says Dr. Cox.

Ticks can be even more problematic. “Ticks are capable of transmitting viral, bacterial and protozoal diseases. Examples of vector-borne tick diseases include Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and ehrlichiosis. These diseases can make your pet very ill if not properly diagnosed and treated,” says Dr. Cox.

Luckily, protecting your pet from fleas and ticks is fairly simple. “For fleas and ticks, there are several products that owners can get over the counter or through a veterinarian, such as shampoos or sprays, topical medications and collars,” says Dr. Cox.

If over-the-counter options aren’t working as effectively (or if you live in an area known to have a flea or tick problem), you can ask your veterinarian for suggestions; they may prescribe you a prescription flea and tick option that they recommend.

Talk with your veterinarian to figure out which option suits your pet’s needs best.


Heartworm disease is a serious and potentially life-threatening disease that is becoming more and more common within the US.

“Heartworms are parasites that are transmitted by mosquitos. After transmission, the larval worms travel through the blood and get lodged in the heart, lungs and nearby blood vessels. The worms continue to grow in these locations and can cause substantial damage to these organs prior to the pet showing any clinical signs of the disease,” explains Dr. Cox.

“Heartworm disease can lead to coughing, exercise intolerance, difficulty breathing, fainting and even sudden death,” she says.

Your vet can prescribe pet prescription heartworm medicine to protect your pet from heartworms—but in order to get access to the medication, you need to get your pet tested annually.

As a responsible pet parent, you should make sure your vet is testing for heartworms at your annual checkup and prescribing the medication necessary to prevent it as well.

By: Deanna deBara

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