Monday, May 4, 2009

The Animals in Your Household

Are you working on the crochet project or pillowcase project? If so, how's it coming? I will start my pillowcase project this week -- Lord willing -- and I will post photos and instructions. In the meantime, we'll chat about the animal occupants of our household.

For various reasons, some families do not keep pets or animals. There are many valid circumstances in which a family may decide that they either do not want to or cannot assume the care of animals. However, many families do own pets and/or farm animals, at least at some point in their family life. Thus, the keeper at home does well to know something about the care of pets, and the aspiring keeper at home may want to learn about this area, as well. If the keeper at home lives on a farm or if the family keeps a horse or two for riding, she may need to know something about the care of livestock or poultry, as well.

Just as with the human occupants of the home, animals have needs for shelter, food, health care, affection, and grooming. Animals may also require protection from predators. Even in our urban area, there are foxes and coyotes that have been known to snatch pets.

In addition, animals may produce wastes, dander, or smells that must be cleaned in order to keep the home sanitary for the family.

If your family does keep animals, involving children in animal care is a great way to teach them about many things. They will learn to think about what another being needs, which will help them overcome selfishness. They will learn responsiblity. They may learn about birth and also about death and mourning. They will learn how to show affection to another being, and they may receive great emotional happiness and comfort from owning a pet.

Children as young as 4 to 8 can begin to help with basic pet care. Certainly, they can learn to set out food and water. Additionally, they may learn to gently brush or groom a willing pet. Of course, if an animal is large or there is any potential for danger to either the child or the animal, you will need to supervise the process until the child is old enough to take over the responsibility entirely.

There is some school of thought that children who live with farm animals or even with pets develop fewer allergies than children who are not exposed to animals. Perhaps, this is so. However, my mother grew up on a farm and loved to ride horses. Alas, in midlife, she developed an allergy to horses. I had pets when I was young, and I developed allergies, as well. Still, you may find that this works in your family.

Even if your family lives an urban lifestyle and you also choose not to keep pets, it's a good idea to take your children to see a working farm. Many city children do not have a sense of where food products really come from. They may have only a vague idea of what it means that eggs come from chickens and milk comes from cows. It is good for children to learn both the place of and the importance of animals in the Father's world. This helps them develop real knowledge of an important part of God's creation.

Also, if you have a chance to take your child to see baby animals being born, this can be a wondrous experience for them. A very young and very sensitive child may not be ready for this. Most children, however, do find great delight in the birth of puppies, kittens, and the like.

Animals, like humans, use water to regulate body temperature, to form blood and lymph fluids, and to keep the body tissues and joints and skin lubricated. Again, like humans, their bodies contain lots of fluid -- as much as 75 percent for some animals. Just as with us, they lose fluids through certain bodily processes, and these fluids must be replaced. Providing an adequate water supply for your pet is important. Again, this is one area where children are often eager to help. You can use this as a teaching opportunity to explain the importance of water to all living things.

Remember, if your pet eats a diet largely of dry food, the animal will need more water to digest the food. If the diet contains more liquid -- such as with table scraps or canned foods -- the animal may not need quite as much, but will still require an adequate supply. Obviously, pregnant and lactating animals may require even more water than usual, and animals that have been recently exercised or that stay outside in the hot summer sun may be quite thirsty. Animals may also require more water if they are eating more than previously.

Like people, animals enjoy fresh water. They may turn up their nose at water that has been sitting too long in a pet bowl. Be sure to change the water daily.

Some people believe that adding raw animals to an animal's diet will improve the condition of the coat. Be careful with this. In both dogs and cats, eating raw eggs can cause a biotin deficiency, which can produce the opposite of a healthy coat: poor skin, loss of hair, and stunted overall growth.

Cats notoriously love cream or milk. While milk and cream contain some fluids and many nutrients, they do not provide enough fluid to substitute for an adequate water supply, nor do they provide enough nutrition to be a food substitute for adult felines. Like some people,
some cats are actually lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk or cream. You will know to stop feeding your pet milk if your pet develops diarrhea or vomits after consuming it. If your cat can handle milk or cream, he may enjoy a nice bowl from time to time.

Some plants are toxic to pets. Likewise, some foods that we people can eat are also toxic to pets -- particularly to dogs. For example, dogs cannot safely consume chocolate, onions or garlic, grapes or raisins, or liquids with caffeine. If you have a pet in the home, it makes since to educate yourself about which plants or foods are safe for your particular animal and to keep unsafe substances away from the pet. Ask your vet if you have any questions.

Here's a link that provides information about taking care of various small pets, such as rabbits, hamsters, or birds.

Before purchasing animals (or land), research covenants and codes pertaining to animal ownership. Find out if leash laws apply to dogs. Also, find out if you are required to fence dogs or other animals. Determine what type of animals you are legally allowed to own.

Even in a rural area, your options for animal ownership may be restricted. For example, my family recently sold some land deep in the country. This land was turned into several acre country lots. Purchasers were allowed to keep horses, but they had to sign an agreement not to keep certain other animals.

On the other hand, you might be surprised to find how many different types of animals you might be allowed to own in the middle of a city. Many cities allow residents to own poultry or rabbits, for example. If you live on farmland that was grandfathered into a city, you might even be able to run a few cows or sheep.

Given the wide variety of local laws and covenants, it's always better to do your research rather than to assume that you may or may not be able to have a certain type of animal. It's better to know upfront than to either miss out on the joys of owning your dream animal or, conversely, to fall in love with an animal, only to find out that you must give it up for legal reasons. If you do live in a city, remember that even if the codes and covenants allow you to keep certain animals, your neighbors may not be excited about your choices of animal ownership. The early cry of a rooster may not be music to your neighbors' ears, for example.
There's some controversy about including raw meats in the diets of dogs and cats. Dogs and cats are largely carnivorous. So, on the one hand, these animals, do by nature kill and eat smaller animals. Dogs have long participated with man in hunting, and cats have long "earned their keep" by assuring that both barns and houses free of rodents. Dogs and cats have God-designed digestive and immune systems that handle some germs found in raw meats better than our human systems do. For example, they may be less susceptible to e-coli infections than we are. Because raw foods are a natural part of the diet of a dog or cat and have been for centuries and centuries, I tend toward the idea that giving these foods to a pet is ok -- especially if this makes up only part of their diet.

On the other hand, I also see the point that raw meats can carry certain parasites. In the long term, these can be harmful to your pet's health. Moreover, this may have some implications for your family's health as well, especially if the pet lives indoors with you. Plus, in the wild, the animal will choose foods that are right for him, and we may find it difficult to replicate their ideal diet exactly. Likewise, animals that do spend most of their time outdoors or in the wild often do not live as long as house pets do, so there might be some benefit to giving our indoor pets a more domesticated diet. Not only that, but some pet stores charge a fair amount for raw or natural food concoctions, and it can also be espensive to feed your animal raw meats that you purchase elsewhere. So, even though I do tend toward the idea that cats and dogs were created with the ability to enjoy some raw meats in their diet, I do see some sense to this argument, as well.

Talk to your vet, and do some research to determine what your beliefs about including raw meats in your animal's diet are. Also, educate yourself about what raw foods are actually good for your pet. For example, cats do enjoy liver, but a steady diet of liver causes some health problems for them. They also enjoy raw fish, but not all types of fish are good for them. Eating a certain kind of fish can cause vitamin deficiencies.

If you do decide that your animal will thrive on raw meats, for your own safety, be sure to carefully wash your hands and any surfaces the raw meats have touched. You may also want to use separate utensils and surfaces for preparing the raw meats for your pet than you do for the meats you cook for your family.

More on animals later!

Happy home keeping!

Elizabeth



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