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Environment Shapes Pet Habits, Health
By Allison Powe
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Many animals have habits that neighbors, guests and owners don't appreciate, but a good, well-behaved pet usually can be traced to a good home.
A pet's personality and habits are shaped largely by what it is exposed to. Without the proper environment, an animal can become unhealthy and unhappy. Destructive behavior in pets can actually be avoided by placing pets in appropriate surroundings.
Pet owners should take precautions when preparing for a new pet.
Dr. Richard Hopper, extension leader of veterinary medicine at Mississippi State University, said most puppies and kittens have a playful nature and a desire to investigate their surroundings. Although a puppy may be cute playing with a useless object, owners aren't so amused when a shoe is ruined.
"Many animals develop destructive habits which could be prevented with the right tools, such as chew toys," Hopper said.
Experiment with different kinds of chew toys to see which type puppies prefer. Stuffing food in the openings of toys will increase a puppy's interest and may prolong the time it stays occupied.
Distractions such as chew toys also may help decrease a dog's desire to dig. Dogs dig for a variety of reasons, such as to bury bones, chase rodents, escape confinement or cool off. Owners can prevent dogs from developing a digging habit by exercising and playing with the dogs often.
Preventive measures also can be taken to avoid undesirable behavior in cats.
Cat owners should proof their homes carefully to keep feline explorers from getting into dangerous or fragile areas. Provide a scratching post and an area where cats can climb and perch. Do not punish cats for scratching furniture unless an alternative scratching place has been provided. Attract cats to designated scratching posts by rubbing catnip onto the surfaces.
"If an indoor cat continuously scratches furniture, declawing may be the only solution. However, don't allow a declawed cat outside unsupervised because they are more vulnerable to injury," Hopper said.
Give indoor cats lettuce or catnip to avoid chewing problems which develop in some cats which have little access to grass or vegetable matter.
Hopper said pets need the same considerations humans need to remain comfortable and healthy. He warned to consider temperatures and other outdoor conditions which may affect pets.
"During the summer, make sure an animal has enough shade to stay cool outside, and always leave plenty of fresh water for them," Hopper said.
Insulated dog houses provide protection from hot and cold weather all year long. These can be built by making an inside and outside wall and placing insulation between the two.
"Long-haired animals need special attention during the summer. Clipping long hair in warm weather is best, but if this is not done, at least brush their hair often," Hopper recommended.
"Matted hair does not allow good air flow over an animal's skin. If it becomes wet, it may not dry well, which may lead to skin infections," he said.
Never leave an animal unattended in an enclosed vehicle. Even on seemingly mild days, pets can become overheated quickly in a car when the windows are up.
"Caring for a pet just requires good common sense. Most pets are good natured, healthy and enjoyable as long as their basic comforts and needs have been met," Hopper said.