Beyond Food, Water, Shelter, and Sanitation:
PROPER CARE AND ATTENTION FOR COMPANION ANIMALS: GUIDELINES FOR PUBLIC OFFICIALS
The Knoxville City Animal Ordinance requires that companion animals be provided food, water, shelter, and sanitary living conditions. In addition, the ordinance says that a person keeping an animal must provide proper care and attention for the animal. (Sec. 5-23 (d)).
Since “proper care and attention” are not further defined in the city ordinance, the Knoxville Veterinary Medical Association provides the following guidance regarding the meaning of these words for public officials making decisions under the ordinance. Please review the “Proper Care and Attention for Companion Animals: A Guideline for Pet Owners” for more detailed recommendations.
Proper Care of a Companion Animal
A pet’s health and welfare depends on more than just food, water, shelter, and sanitary living conditions. Proper care of a pet requires active protection from harm and regular maintenance of good hygiene.
Prevention of fleas and ticks
Fleas and ticks are not just an irritant to an animal. They can cause serious disease.
Monthly application of an effective topical flea and tick preventive will ensure that a cat or dog is free of external parasites. Highly effective monthly topical preventives are available through a veterinarian and some pet supply stores. Other less effective preventives are flea collars, sprays, some topical drops and shampoos available at pet stores.
Flea and tick infestation may lead to:
· Severe itching, intense scratching and rubbing
· Inflamed skin with bleeding or open sores
· A thin coat with bald patches
· Flea and tick-borne infections
· Anemia and even death in cases of severe infestation
· Exposure of people to flea or tick bites, and related infections
Heavy infestations may be indicated by large numbers of obvious fleas or ticks, open sores, severe itching, self-mutilation, or pale white gums. KVMA recommends noting evidence of heavy infestations and suggests intervention with a veterinarian within 48 hours. As all itchy skin disease is not caused by fleas, KVMA recommends requiring evidence of ongoing care with a veterinarian for cases of severe skin disease not associated with fleas or ticks.
Prevention of intestinal worms
Intestinal worms (such as hookworms, roundworms, tapeworms, and whipworms) are easily transmitted, are not always visible in feces and are not all treatable with over-the-counter deworming medicine. Some intestinal worms may also be transmitted to people, especially to children.
Year round heartworm prevention also provides protection against most intestinal worms. Yearly fecal exams by a veterinarian (and deworming, if needed) are the only way to ensure that a cat or dog is free of intestinal parasites. Feces should be removed from the environment routinely to minimize contamination of the environment and exposure of people.
Intestinal parasites in dogs and cats may cause:
· Blood in the stool
· Weight loss
KVMA recommends consultation with a veterinarian within 72 hours if there is evidence of intestinal parasites, diarrhea, vomiting or emaciation. KVMA also suggests measures and a timeline for cleaning an environment heavily soiled with excrement. In cases of obvious, severe, bloody diarrhea, KVMA recommends veterinary medical intervention within 24 hours.
Bathing, brushing, toe nail trims, ear cleaning, and periodic veterinary dental care are all aspects of proper grooming.
If grooming needs are ignored, a pet may develop any of the following problems:
· Dirty and matted fur that harbors parasites and irritates the skin
· Heavy mats causing sores, scabs or maggot infestation
· Toenails that curve or curl into the skin, impede walking, and become embedded in the paws
· Painful ears that become bloody and swollen
· Infected or broken teeth that cause pain or prevent a pet from eating
· A collar too tight that may grow into the skin, or cause skin irritation
If there are signs of improper grooming causing a pet distress or pain, KVMA recommends immediate intervention within 24 hours. Evidence of maggot infestation or grown-in collars should be addressed immediately. Heavy matting not yet leading to infection, sores, or parasites may be addressed within 72 hours of identification. Some medical conditions such as swollen painful ears may be under the care of a veterinarian, having a variety of causes. We recommend requiring evidence of ongoing medical care in these situations.
Pets need regular, measured meals. Pets need species-appropriate, nutritionally balanced food. Many medical conditions may cause extreme weight loss or weight gain. You should not be able to see the pet’s ribs, but you should easily be able to feel them. If you cannot easily feel the ribs, your pet may be overweight. If you can see the ribs, the pet may be underweight.
Failure to maintain proper weight may lead to the following problems:
· Underfeeding can result in insufficient body fat, weakness, and even death.
· Not feeding species-appropriate food can result in many symptoms of poor health, such as a dull and thinning coat, chronic diarrhea, vomiting, and frequent illness due to a weakened immune system.
· Overfeeding can result in obesity preventing the animal from moving about, predisposing to arthritis, pressure sores and difficulty breathing.
KVMA recommends intervention when a pet is noted to be emaciated or morbidly obese. Emaciated animals have easily visible ribs, pelvic bones, and shoulder bones. The abdomen may be very sunken in behind the rib cage. The eyes may be sunken into the head. Emaciated animals require immediate medical attention. Morbidly obese animals may be unable to rise or ambulate well. They may have pressure sores from lying down, and may be lying in their own excrement. There is no “waist” when viewing these animals from above. The ribs are not at all palpable. Morbidly obese animals require immediate medical attention if they cannot rise or ambulate. A veterinarian may be consulted if there is uncertainty about the proper weight (or other appropriate physical status) of a pet.
A pet needs protection from both human and environmental threats. People need to be safe from roaming aggressive or nuisance pets.
A pet should be safely contained to provide protection from traffic, roaming animals, other physical danger and harassment by people. Fences are the best protection. A pet should have protection from extremes in temperature, wind, rain, sun and snow. Pets should have shelter when the temperature is below 32 degrees or above 95 degrees. Indoors, in a garage, basement or a dry dog house are good options. During hot weather, the shelter should have adequate ventilation and air flow.
Physical injury, behavior problems and death can result from an owner’s benign neglect or, at worst, intentional harm.
KVMA recommends aggressive intervention where there is evidence of abuse or neglect,. Immediate intervention is warranted if pets are exposed to extreme weather conditions. Aggressive, territorial or roaming pets may harm people or other pets, and should be addressed immediately.
Exercise is essential to both the mental and physical well-being of a pet.
Every healthy pet needs to be able to walk, run or play on a regular basis. Continuous physical restraint such as tethering by a chain, cable, rope, or continuous confinement in a pen, is counter to an animal’s need for mental stimulation and physical exercise, and is not proper care.
Lack of regular exercise, socialization and mental stimulation may lead to behavior problems such as self-mutilation, destructive behavior, fear and aggression. KVMA recommends intervention if pets are constantly tethered or caged without exercise or social interaction.
Proper Attention for a Companion Animal
Companion animals are social creatures by nature. They need companionship and regular interaction. They need physical exercise, medical attention and social interaction.
A pet needs a relationship with at least one other living being. Chronic isolation is unnatural and unhealthy for a companion animal. Human contact that occurs only when food and water are replenished does not constitute proper attention.
Pets also need medical attention from a veterinarian on a yearly basis. Vaccines must be kept up to date in the best interest of the pet and public health. If a pet is suffering from a medical ailment, a veterinarian should be consulted.
Pets make the best companions when trained in basic obedience. Pets learn best with positive reinforcement. A veterinarian can provide advice on the best training methods or training resources for a pet.
A companion animal without companionship may be a lonely, bored, depressed or anxious creature. A companion animal that has neither human nor animal companionship may become sick, anti-social, or both.
Abusive training behavior such as hitting or throwing a pet is not acceptable.
Companion animals without routine medical attention may harbor infections transmissible to people or other animals. Without routine medical attention, they may have unknown painful diseases affecting their everyday lives. They may have untreated chronic diseases that ultimately lead to suffering and death. A pet owner should establish a relationship with a veterinarian to keep a pet healthy, to prevent disease, and to identify or treat disease that may occur.