The Ins and Outs of Pet Parenting

Columbia is a pet-friendly city with amenities that include three fenced dog parks and two leash-free nature areas. There are local shops dedicated to pet needs, social events that revolve around our non-human friends and even several restaurants that allow animals on their patios.

Whether they’re four-legged, furry, feathered or scaled, pets are a meaningful part of life for many people. In fact, according to the American Pet Products Association’s most recent study, about 67% of U.S. households (85 million families) own a pet. In Missouri, the Department of Health & Senior Services found that dogs and cats are the pets of choice for 1.5 million households. While canines and felines rule supreme, birds, fish and small mammals such as hamsters, rabbits and ferrets are also beloved companions.

Pets bring us fun and comfort, but it can take a lot of time and money to keep them healthy and happy. The latest report from the American Animal Hospital Association reveals that Americans spent $72 billion on their pets in 2018, with about 40% of the money going to food, followed by veterinary care, supplies such as beds, leashes and toys, and over-the-counter medications and supplements.

With so much to consider, how do you ensure your pet is living its best life? From feeding and training to grooming and vet visits, here’s a guide to pet parenting in CoMo.

Finding Your Forever Friend

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, every year about 6.5 million dogs, cats and other companion animals enter shelters across the country. There are rescues in and around Columbia that have tons of lovable creatures waiting for a home. Here are some organizations to consider if you’re looking to adopt:

Central Missouri Humane Society
This organization (known as the Columbia Humane Society until 1968) has been in continuous operation for nearly 80 years. In 2019, CMHS took in and cared for 1,687 cats, 1,364 dogs and 293 small animals. As the only open-door shelter in Boone County, CMHS takes in animals regardless of health, breed, gender, age or temperament. They never euthanize for lack of space, and there’s no limit to how long an animal can stay in their care. The adoption process starts with filling out a survey, either in-person or online. Next, you’ll meet with a CMHS staff member to find your perfect match. Once you’ve completed the adoption and paid the fees, you can take your pet home. CMHS adoption fees cover spay/neuter surgery, vaccinations, microchip, heartworm testing and feline leukemia testing. You’ll also receive a free bag of pet food and a complimentary visit to a local veterinarian.

Second Chance
This 6,000-square-foot haven for dogs and cats is located on 30 scenic acres just off Interstate 70. As part of the no-kill movement, Second Chance never euthanizes healthy, adoptable animals. The adoption process includes an application and a trial sleepover period that can range from a few days to more than a week. The fee for dogs and puppies younger than 10 years is $150. Dogs older than 10 are $75. Adult cats (older than 6 months) are $60, and kittens are $75. Your new pet will leave Second Chance healthy, spayed or neutered and with age-appropriate vaccinations. All dogs are heartworm-tested, and cats are screened for feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV) and feline leukemia virus.

Boone County Animal Care
Cats of all ages and physical conditions are welcome at this entirely foster-based organization. The group puts a significant focus on trap, spay/neuter and release efforts to reduce the overpopulation of cats in the community. BCAC partners with Papa’s Cat Cafe in downtown Columbia, a coffee shop where you can hang out with adoptable cats in a natural, comfortable environment. The adoption fee is $80 for one cat and $120 for two. All BCAC felines are fostered for at least two weeks to allow time for socialization and observation for illness and temperament. They’re also tested for FIV and feline leukemia, de-wormed, treated for fleas, vaccinated for feline distemper and rabies, microchipped and spayed/neutered.

Unchained Melodies
Freeing chained/penned dogs and getting them re-homed with responsible, loving owners is the mission of this volunteer-based rescue. Unchained Melodies implements a foster-to-adopt period of about a week for all dogs older than 6 months. Before adoption, all dogs are spayed/neutered, vaccinated, microchipped, tested for heartworms and treated for any diagnosed medical conditions. To help cover the medical and boarding costs, a tax-deductible donation is required as the adoption fee. The group also offers force-free training classes for puppies and adults.

Training Your New Family Member

Good behavior is essential to enjoy time with your pet. Luckily, issues such as clawing furniture, pottying indoors, biting and more can usually be handled with patient and consistent training.

Jamie Sieveking, an instructor at Columbia Canine Sports Center, says that every dog should be housetrained and know the basic commands of sit, down, stay and come.

“The main reason that dogs are given away is because of uncontrollable behavior,” she says. “You’ll be happier with a dog that sits politely, doesn’t destroy the house and walks on a leash without pulling.”

Dogs who are bored or stressed, or who don’t see their human as their leader, are more likely to misbehave, says Sieveking.

“Dogs don’t do bad things on purpose to upset us or to spite us,” she explains. “They don’t like to be left alone for long periods of time; they get worried that their person isn’t coming home. A second to them is like an hour. They also need structure and guidance from their human to feel secure.”

To train your pup to do its business outside, Sieveking suggests taking the animal out every two hours, immediately after waking up and after eating or drinking. Keep a record of when your pup goes to determine its schedule and patterns. Another trick is to set up a bell by the door and ring it whenever you take your dog outside to potty. Eventually, your dog will learn to alert you by ringing the bell when it needs to go outside.

Group training classes are a good way to socialize pets with other animals and get them comfortable in unfamiliar environments. “The more dogs they can interact with, the better,” Sieveking says. “They need to know more than just you or just the other dogs that are part of their pack at home.”

Sieveking stresses that dogs must be rewarded, in the form of small treats or praise, for doing what is asked of them. “People want a paycheck for their work, and it’s the same for dogs,” she says. “They need to be paid in the moment to constantly reinforce their good behavior.”

Although cats generally don’t need as much training as dogs, there are still some things you can do to make your feline an excellent roommate. MacKenzie Everett-Kennedy is the co-owner of Papa’s Cat Café, where dozens of adoptable cats live, play and interact with visiting humans while they wait for their forever homes. She says cats can learn to use a litter box in as quickly as 24 hours. She advises putting the litter box in a small bedroom or bathroom first and then slowly increasing the size of the space.

“It’s a natural survival instinct for them to want to cover their smell because in the wild they don’t want to be traced,” Everett-Kennedy says. “If a cat won’t use their litter box, there could be a medical issue like a urinary tract infection.”

A common problem with cats is scratching furniture, but Everett-Kennedy says this can be handled easily by providing your cat with a scratching post or pad made out of carpet, rope or cardboard.

“You have to give your cat an appropriate surface to scratch, and you need to keep their nails trimmed regularly,” she says.

Health and Wellness 101

Just like humans, pets need care and attention to stay healthy. Routine physicals, vaccines, flea, tick and heartworm prevention, grooming and dental cleanings are some of the things you can do to ensure that your pet feels its best. To guarantee you’re taking the right steps for your new pet’s health, you’ll want to get established with a veterinarian as soon as possible.

Wholesome food is key to maintaining your pet’s health and well-being. Shelby Porter, assistant manager at Treats Unleashed in Columbia, says that before picking out food for your pet, it’s important to know about any allergies it might have and what it was eating before you got the animal. She tells people to feed their pets based on the recommended servings that are listed on food packages. It’s important to note that animals will have different nutritional needs as they age. For example, Porter says, puppies and kittens need more fat content in their diets than older pets. When in doubt, ask your veterinarian for nutritional counseling to make sure your pet’s diet is aligned with its breed, stage in life and any medical conditions.

When it comes to treats, the University of Missouri Veterinary Health Center recommends making them no more than 10 percent of your pet’s total daily calorie intake. Low-fat and low-sodium foods such as zucchini, raw carrots and green beans are good options.

Dr. Susan Sappington, a veterinarian at Rock Bridge Animal Hospital, offers pet care advice on the clinic’s blog. She suggests measuring your pet’s food to help with weight control and the prevention of health issues such as arthritis, heart disease and diabetes.

Exercise is also essential for physical and mental health. Food puzzles, which make pets use their paws or noses to find food hidden in containers, mazes and compartments, provide a challenge and a bit of a workout.

“Spend at least 15 minutes a day playing with your pet or going for a walk or jog,” Sappington says. “Get your cat to chase the laser pointer or feather toy for five minutes at a time, three times a day. Put your cat’s food on top of a cat tower or table so she has to work for it a little. You can even hide their food in different areas in the house each day, so they can go on a ‘hunt’ for it while you are gone.”

DIY Pet Treats

While treats should be kept to a minimum, these handcrafted snacks make for a delicious special occasion.

Tasty Tuna Cat Treats
6 ounces undrained tuna
1 cup flour
1 cup cornmeal
1 egg
2 tablespoons water

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Place all ingredients into a mixing bowl and stir well until soft dough forms.
  3. Let dough rest for 10 minutes.
  4. Cover large surface with cornmeal and roll dough out until ¼ inch thick.
  5. Use either a small cookie cutter or knife to cut into shapes.
  6. Place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper and bake for 15-20 minutes.
  7. Let cool before serving.

Homemade Peanut Butter Dog Treats
2/3 cup pumpkin puree
1/4 cup peanut butter
2 large eggs
3 cups whole wheat flour, or more as needed

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat; set aside.
  2. Use an electric mixer to beat pumpkin puree, peanut butter and eggs on medium-high until well combined. Gradually add 2½ cups of flour at low speed, beating just until incorporated. Add additional flour just until the dough is no longer sticky.
  3. On a lightly floured surface, knead the dough until it comes together.
  4. Roll the dough to a ¼-inch thickness. Using cookie cutters, cut out desired shapes and place onto the prepared baking sheet.
  5. Bake until edges are golden brown, about 20-25 minutes.* Let cool completely.
  6. *Baking time and serving size will vary depending on size and thickness of treats and cookie cutters used.

Oatmeal Chewies for Birds
1 cup dry oatmeal
1 raw egg
2-3 tablespoons of honey
  1. Place dry oatmeal in a bowl and mix with a raw egg. You can also add a bit of the egg’s crumbled shell for extra calcium.
  2. Add honey to the mixture as a sweetener.
  3. Spread the mixture onto a cookie sheet that’s been greased with a small amount of vegetable oil.
  4. Bake it in an oven heated to 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes or until set.
  5. Once done, take the cookie sheet out and let it cool before cutting the oatmeal mixture into small, bite-size​ pieces. Refrigerate any uneaten treats for up to three days.
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