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Family Pet Animal Care - Neglect

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Family Pet Animal Care 
Neglect- September 2016

by Dr. Michael Trapani

Every profession includes things that we’d rather not talk about; unspoken secrets, deep and dark, and attitudes or events that make us shake our heads in disbelief. The foundation of the veterinary profession is the care and concern of human beings for the animals in our lives. This human-animal bond is the source of the richness and depth of emotion that we receive from the animals with which we live. 

But not all of these bonds are positive. Too often, the bond between human and animal being is a one-way street, like the cat hoarder who feeds fifty feral cats but does not spay or neuter the ever-growing throng of animals that collect whenever a supply of food is provided. Saying, “I can’t stand to see them starve,” ignores the ill effect generated by a poorly instituted good intention. Unspoken, the above quotation concludes, “so I feed enough to keep them breeding and let Mother Nature control their population with disease and predation.” Thus does the “N-word” rear its ugly head: We’re talking about NEGLECT.

When we feed a feral cat, when we take in a “rescue,” when we give an animal a “forever home,” we commit to provide for its needs, immediate and future. Our responsibility is not diminished when they have the misfortune of being poorly socialized (as the feral), or have an unfortunate history (as the rescue). When we take them in, we accept a lifetime obligation to provide for their welfare.

I am not demanding that every animal be given a penthouse and Cadillac health insurance plan. BUT our commitment must include the provision of certain simple things. To fail in this duty is neglect. We signed on for these responsibilities when we chose to take an animal into our life. Failure is not an option.

The list is short.

Adequate food: Every animal requires enough food, offered in a regular and reliable schedule, to maintain its health. This means the food must be capable of supporting the animal’s needs in both quantity and quality. A cat, for example, must be fed a diet containing some kind of meat because no amount of vegetarian food will provide for the cat’s metabolic requirements. Food must be available at least daily.

Adequate shelter: Animals living outside the home must be provided with shelter sufficient to keep them warm, dry, and protected from the elements. Outdoor animals need spaces where they are safe from predators.

Control of reproduction: Left on their own, a dog will have one to two litters per year and a cat two to three litters. Unregulated reproduction not only fills the world with homeless animals, but creates a situation where the natural forces of starvation, disease, and predation eliminate animals whose numbers have exceeded the carrying capacity of their environment. This is particularly a concern with feral cats, whose death rates can be extremely high during the first year of life. When we care for any animal, we have a responsibility to prevent it from reproducing. There are scores of organizations who provide spay and neuter services at rock-bottom cost - some will even trap your feral cats. There’s no excuse for ignoring this basic requirement. Just do it.

Boundary limitations: Animals require boundaries to keep them safe and prevent them from harming themselves or others. Just as keeping a horse requires adequate fencing, keeping a dog requires the creation and maintenance of boundaries necessary to prevent it from entering traffic or running at large. It’s tougher with feral and outdoor cats, but the principal remains: most cats roam to satisfy their dietary needs. If your cat is hunting for “sport,” occupy it with another fun activity. Neutering provides excellent control of roaming behaviors in both male cats and dogs.

Basic health care: It is not expensive or difficult to manage an animal’s health. Start with basic vaccinations providing protection from feline panleukopenia, or canine distemper and parvo viruses. Dogs are legally required to be kept current on rabies vaccinations, and pet owners are wise to keep cats vaccinated against this deadly disease. Vaccinate kittens and puppies, then maintain immunity with boosters at three-year intervals whenever possible. Feral cats can be particularly difficult to protect, but even a single vaccination given at the time of spaying or neutering offers vastly better protection than nothing.

Parasite control is available for everyone with simple spot-on flea and tick control products. Even feral cats can have these applied while they are distracted by a bowl of food. Parasite control improves quality of life and prevents disease.

Acute illness or injury needs to be dealt with in a timely fashion. Animals do not pretend to be ill. If your animal is limping, it’s telling you it’s in pain. Don’t ignore it! Likewise for any other physical sign. Put yourself in the animal’s place: What does it mean when you cough, or limp, or bleed? Seek timely care and prevent small problems from becoming large problems.

Mama always told me, “If you’re going to do something, you need to do it right.” This is crucial when keeping animals. To keep and NEGLECT an animal is the height of selfishness.