Way to Go AVMA!

The Executive Board of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) recently approved the content of the following brand new, hot-off-the-press pet ownership guidelines. Have a look and see what you think.

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Sherman

Guidelines for Responsible Pet Ownership

Owning a pet is a privilege and should result in a mutually beneficial relationship. However, the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations.

Responsible pet ownership includes:

• Committing to the relationship for the life of the pet(s).

• Avoiding impulsive decisions about obtaining pet(s), and carefully selecting pet(s) suited to your home and lifestyle.

• Recognizing that ownership of pet(s) requires an investment of time and money.

• Keeping only the type and number of pets for which an appropriate and safe environment can be provided, including adequate and appropriate food, water, shelter, health care and companionship.

• Ensuring pets are properly identified (i.e., tags, microchips, or tattoos) and that registration information in associated databases is kept up-to-date.

•Adherence to local ordinances, including licensing and leash requirements.

• Controlling pet(s) reproduction through managed breeding, containment, or spay/neuter, thereby helping to address animal control and overpopulation problems.

• Establishing and maintaining a veterinarian-client-patient relationship.

• Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of the pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, its veterinarian.

• Socialization and appropriate training for pet(s), which facilitates their well-being and the well-being of other animals and people.

• Preventing pet(s) from negatively impacting other people, animals and the environment, including proper waste disposal, noise control, and not allowing pet(s) to stray or become feral.

• Providing exercise and mental stimulation appropriate to the pet(s)’ age, breed, and health status.

• Advance preparation to ensure the pet(s)’ well-being in the case of an emergency or disaster, including assembling an evacuation kit.

• Making alternative arrangements if caring for the pet is no longer possible.

• Recognizing declines in the pet(s) quality of life and making decisions in consultation with a veterinarian regarding appropriate end-of-life care (e.g., palliative care, hospice, euthanasia).

“AMEN!” is my response to these guidelines and kudos to the AVMA for issuing them forth to the public. Now, if only they were rules rather than mere guidelines! With all due respect to the AVMA, I would add one more item to their guidelines as a means of working towards the extinction of puppy mills. That item would be, “Never, ever purchase a puppy from a pet store or online site and sight unseen.”

What do you think of these AVMA guidelines for responsible pet ownership? Do you have any suggested additions for the AVMA to consider?

Best wishes for a happy new year,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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31 Comments on “Way to Go AVMA!

  1. Renee, you made some excellent points. I have yet to have a vet give me a handout of dangerous foods, how to pill, etc. There are so many things that the AVMA could do to better the lives of pets instead of always worrying about protecting veterinarians who beat animals to death, who are drug addicts, and who have no business being veterinarians. When will lthey do the right thing and stand up for the voiceless? Probably , never.

  2. Any thoughtful animal guardian will disagree with one or more aspects of this list, but I think it is totally worthwhile for the casual or potential guardian who never thought too much about it. One of the things I truly appreciate is the part about respecting the rights of humans. So many animals get in to serious trouble just doing what they do without safeguards from their humans. Knowing that she was of a pariah breed, I felt that one of my key responsibilities to my late Chow, Lucy, was to keep her out of situations that could get her into trouble. Although she was never a biter, I didn’t allow strange children to approach her, and if she insisted on barking at passersby, I made her come inside so as not to annoy the neighbors. Too often, it is “the dog’s fault”, when the human could so easily avoided the entire situation, and of course, the dog pays.

  3. Dear Dale,
    I’m sorry to hear about your loss. Our 13 year old poodle has just been diagnosed with Cushings disease; we homemade her food but didn’t realize that a little bit too much oil cooking the lean ground turkey was her undoing. Poodles are pre-disposed to Cushings and Addisons, the flip side of Cushings. Vets are so busy, they need an aid. A really effective method of informing pet owners would be for veterinarians to be supplied with pamphlets to hand out to their customers each time there is a new patient, or when the need arises. There is a great campaign about heartworm disease; it has been fairly effective. Vets could have a handout with all the warnings/guidelines for dog ownership. It could include listing poisonous foods like onions, garlic, raisins and so on; too much fats including olive oil, directions to books and approved websites about nutrition. Their lives are so much shorter than ours, so mistakes’ effects appear all the quicker. Vets could help the public out by personally handing dog ownership information as well as the guidelines to their clients. AVMA should supply these more complete materials perhaps. Over many years of reading about nutrition, etc., I still didn’t have the full picture. I got a specific diet for my poodle when she became ill. I know the pet food/treat industry might put up a fight, but what are doctors here for? Much love for them, I do have a great vet. Breed specific guidelines for fats, proteins, ash, etc. would be appropriate to recommend. Blessings to you and your little friend; sometimes we have to learn the hard way, but in this busy world the AVMA could perhaps reach out a little more.

  4. I neglected to add one very important “guideline” for responsible vets. If you see a vet /vet tech abusing an animal, report that person to the proper authority. If you do not do this, you are complicit in the abuse, just as a person witnessing child abuse would be complicit if they didn’t report it.

  5. Dale, I am so sorry for your loss.
    Did you know that there is a very rich food which is sold in vet’s offices, that, if fed longterm, would most probably could cause pancreatitis? I would venture to guess that this food is sold to many a client without giving that warning.
    You made a common mistake and that may or may not have led to your dog’s death. But even if it did, you did not do it on purpose, and that is what you must remember. From your heartwrenching post, it’s clear how very much you loved your dog. I’m sure that your dog knew that, and that he or she would not want you to grieve over something that you did not do intentionally. As you said, the best that you can do is to try to use the knowledge that you gained from this tragedy to prevent it from happening to another beloved pet.
    If in time, you are able to welcome another pet into your home, take that dog to the dogpark and start up a dialogue with other pet parents, telling them what happened to your dog. Write a letter to the editor of your hometown newspaper, telling of your experience and warning others. You write very eloquently, and I am sure that your letter would be published, Scott.
    I am glad that you have found Dr. Kay’s posts as they are very informative and chock full of information that many first time pet parents may not realize. I have learned many things from her articles and her book, and am grateful that she shares this information with us.
    There is always something to be learned in caring for pets, so please don’t beat yourself up over this, Scott.
    Thoughts are with you.

  6. Dr. Kay, Some good suggestions except for your additional comment about not purchasing from a pet stor, on line, sight unseen. What about the shelters, rescues, humane societies that only take a stab at any history of the majority of animals in those situations. Unless an owner is honest and up front about a turn in, these entities are only guessing anything about that animal’s past. So do you advocate/approve of people buying pets from these entities from petfinder, face book ages, etc? If you agree that it is okay to make those types of purchases, then what’s the difference iwhenbuying from a breeder where they can give buyers a complete history and background? At this point in time NOONE has ever been able to come up with a logical answer, only that they are saving a shelter dog’s life. Just don’t say how many times that dog gets returned. Some find permanent homes, but a lot don’t either. I know from experience about many customers that tried that route, got burned badlywith the experience, and will never do it again.

  7. Dr Kay: Thanks for trying to help, but nothing is helping at the moment. Some of the things you mentioned had already occurred to me as a way to constructively channel my grief, but right now I am still devastated by what my ignorance has wrought.

    I am not a stupid man. I earned an engineering degree from the very same alma mater where you became a vet. And yet I have never felt as much a total imbecile as I have since I hurt our dog. I am apparently not alone, as estimates are that over half the entire dog & cat population are overweight or outright obese, with all the adverse medical problems and shortened lifespans that often accompany excessive weight. In 2007, the ASPCA’S Animal Poison Control Center received 130,000 calls…many of which were the direct result of ignorantly feeding animals common human foods. Obviously a significant portion of the general public (myself included, I am heartbroken to say) are not sufficiently informed to know how to provide good nutrition for their loved pets and which foods to avoid. And if even that most basic information is not being properly disseminated and understood, I’m not very confident that more subtle ones like these new AVMA guidelines will have much of a chance to be driven home and have much impact.

    I will try to take your advice and do what I can to turn this terrible tragedy I likely helped cause into some form of triumph, however meager. But at this point I honestly have no idea how I am ever going to get past this episode, which I am quite certain will haunt me forever. It’s the absolute worst thing that has ever happened to me in my entire life, and nothing I have done up till now has caused me so much raw guilt and self-condemnation.

    I would gladly give 5 years off my life to have read the article you wrote about pancreatitis last month at the time you wrote it…and not yesterday when it was already too late.


  8. Dr. Kay,
    I am all for these guidelines, as every pet that we’ve welcomed as family has been one that has been “thrown away” by owners….I consider myself a pet PARENT, not an owner, big difference. Owners are the ones who abandon their pets, and treat and think of them as chattel. Pet PARENTS are the one who adhere to the guidelines without having to be told.

    Although you did mention food, you failed to mention the importance of good nutrition and doing (or attempting to do ) the research on good nutrition , quality food, etc. (vets need to be better schooled in this area, too) . I’d also like to see a guideline stating that if everyone adopted a pet from a shelter, instead of going and buying one from a breeder, that would go a long way towards ending the needless deaths of thousands of healthy and deserving animals every day.

    I recently saw a woman (at our vet) with a dog with a tumor the size of a baseball on his hind leg. She just kept “thinking it would go away.” I would add that pet parents need to be observant and when a new behavior or symptom appears, do not ignore it, as just with people, early detection/diagnosis (unless you’re dealing with inept vets, as we were with Peach) is the best way to keep your companion animal healthy.

    Now, how about doing an article on guidelines for responsible VETS? That, I’d like to see,
    Here are some ideas:

    1. Treat your patients as if they are a beloved family member. Do not warehouse them. Do not abuse them physically. If you need to restrain them , do it by chemical means and not brute force.
    2. Do not cover for each other. If you make a mistake, admit it.
    3. Do not “doctor” records after a mistake has been made. It only makes you less ethical, and in the end, strips you of respect.
    4. Remember that there are responsible pet parents, and they are the ones who will, more than likely, know if you have made a mistake, and call you on it.
    5. Be honest with your clients, but do it tactfully. If an owner is neglecting their pet, tell them so. Do not sugarcoat the truth.
    6. Word of mouth is a very powerful tool. Always remember that, and if you treat your patients as if they were a member of your own family, you will have nothing to worry about.,
    7. Be respectful of those who have done research on REPUTABLE sites.
    8. Take the time to do research youself. There is plenty of information out there at your fingertips…avail yourself of same. It might be a good idea to devote an hour or two each week to reading the most recent research/journals, etc, to update your knowledge to better help your patients.
    9. If you have hired an employee that you feel is not respectful and compassionate to your patients, fire them. Do not engage in nepotism for nepotism’s sake. If you hire a family member for a specific job, make sure that that family member has the qualifications to do the job.
    9. Realize that your clients respect you if you respect them and most of all, IF you take good care of their family members. We do not expect you to be perfect, but we do expect you to exercise common sense.

  9. My one response would be a stronger response to reproduction.
    All pets should be spayed or neutered – with the exception of responsible breeders whose goal is to improve the breed and not make a few bucks. I think the spay and neuter ought to come first rather than at the end of that paragraph. Thanks
    Christy Powers and the Blackpak

  10. I think this is a good basis. One pet peeve (i know, punny) is that I do not like animals to be referred to as “IT” They are not objects.
    I also agree that proper training is crucial. I recently was involved with a beautiful 10 month old malamute who never had training or proper socialization; she is huge and mouthy, and guards things she steals. The new owner has small children and cannot put them in danger with this dog; she is not adoptable because of high liability, and will likely have to be euthanized, all because the idiot who got her as a tiny puppy never trained her how to behave. THAT is criminal, but it is the puppy who will die.

  11. Please add that pets are family, living sentient beings, not property and therefore the parent of a pet who is killed by an act of negligence or malice will be entitled to compensation for loss of companionship, emotional harm, and pain and suffering.

  12. I think the message is certainly adequate; but addressing a training modality would be unnecessary if the message also included the impact of early education while the dog is still a pup instead of waiting to look for training solutions after problems have already developed.

  13. In my opinion one reason that the AVMA will not suggest that the public never buy from a pet store, on-line, etc is because of the number of veterinarians that make a majority of their income from working with commercial breeders. In my state, Missouri, there are over 1,000 licensed
    commercial breeders, read puppymills. Veterinarians take care of these dogs, using the term “take care of” loosely. Many veterinarians offer coupons to the commercial breeders to put in packets for new owners.
    Commercial breeding is big business for veterinarians, food manufactures, pharmaceutical companies, etc. Follow the money.

  14. Just read the AKC dog owner’s pledge. Regular bathing? Dogs don’t need bathing and if they have proper coats there is generally little to no grooming needed either. None of my livestock guardian dogs are being bathed and they have gorgeous coats, no doggy, dandruff odor or mats. I just had one of them at the vet on Saturday, this was a “city vet” and he commented on how gorgeous and great shape she is, patting her on the ribs made a little dust cloud rise and we chatted about my dogs digging caverns to go underground (they do have a choice of coming into the house via a doggy door, but digging is a favorite pasttime). Dogs are not furry children and we should consider what their real needs are and not confuse them with our own feel good needs.
    To Dale S. I am sorry about your dog’s illness and I hope she recovers. I don’t believe that eating turkey or other specific foods are to blame, my own dogs certainly get plenty of meats, cheese, yoghurt, eggs etc. When dogs get ill after sharing holiday foods with their owners, it’s most likely the sudden change in diet such as a larger amount of fat or fatty meat than they are used to. Dogs are designed to thrive on meats and fats, but if their system isn’t used to it, that’s when it causes problems. Some dogs may also be genetically predisposed to have problems with their digestive systems.

  15. Never purchase from an online site or site unseen? That’s really not realistic. It’s not likely someone finds a breeder of an uncommon breed nearby or a rescue dog of such an uncommon breed. If the right dog is hundreds of miles away, sometimes somewhere across the country it’s rather common that people get a dog site unseen. We don’t have local rescue groups for my breed, instead it is a National effort and it is very common that a dog has to travel a thousand miles or more to get to its new forever home. I know any future puppies I buy will likely come from out of State and I won’t be able to pick them up myself. If we want to promote that people do their research and select the dog that best meets their needs, we also have to acknowledge that the right dog may not be located nearby. And not everybody has the luxury to be able to travel for a variety of reasons.
    Does AVMA have any guidelines for basic education veterinarians should provide to new puppy/dog owners such as info on local dog ordinances, educating owners why dogs running loose are a problem, how to prevent unwanted litters (other than pushing for spay/neuter), laying out a sensible plan for routine healthcare for the next year or two and providing information about socialization and basic training such as sitting for greeting, crate training, getting the dog used to being handled and groomed etc. ? I believe with veterinarians being often the only animal professional that new dog/puppy owners will ever be exposed to, they have a unique opportunity to get new owners off to a good start. I don’t expect the average dog owner to check the AVMA site for pet owner guidelines. And even if they did, to tell somebody they should provide appropriate socialization, nutrition, training, vet care etc. isn’t really that helpful without telling them what appropriate means. Most people do not intentionally mistreat their animals, it’s usually lack of knowledge. Maybe there should be some AVMA approved resources to give animal owners a chance to be the best owners they can be.

  16. To Dale S.: My heart goes out to you and your family. The fact that you have posted your tragic experience here, may very well save the life of a dog or cat because the pet owner is reading this. Peace to you and your family.

  17. Thanks for the timely posting! I am hoping to review member guidelines for our breed club at an upcoming meeting and this document is a useful starting point for that discussion.

    Thanks again! KT

  18. If the AVMA is in revision mode, I sincerely hope they will FINALLY get rid of their gas chamber endorsement for pounds.

  19. I think it’s very appropriate, I don’t particularly think defining the training modality is as important as impressing upon people to seek professional guidance when their dogs are still young and before problems manifest in potentially dangerous ways.

  20. I agree with all the comments…and these guidelines should be requirements. I’d add in the local ordinances segment that pets should not be left in cars while unattended. Leave your pets at home! Too many times I’ve seen mostly dogs waiting, usually impatiently or in distress. High temperatures and low temperatures can quickly cause pets to be in physical distress. Even a problem in good weather if something were to prevent owner from returning to car!

  21. I basically agree with the guidelines, Nancy, with the exception of: “• Providing preventive (e.g., vaccinations, parasite control) and therapeutic health care for the life of the pet(s) in consultation with, and as recommended by, its veterinarian.” It reads well, but just last week a vet in NJ didn’t want to accept a Rabies certificate that was only 4 months old and insisted on revaccinating the dog. The owner was trying to comply with the rescue contract and when she asked if vaccinating the dog so soon could be harmful, her vet told her “no.”

  22. “…I would add one more item to their guidelines as a means of working towards the extinction of puppy mills. That item would be, “Never, ever purchase a puppy from a pet store or online site and sight unseen.”

    I so support this. Our little dog is suffering congestive heart failure and now in her last weeks, or if we are lucky, months. She was a shelter adoption, history unknown 10 years ago. Somehow, with all of her health problems, I imagine puppy mill parents and petstore in her past.

    We’ve just started thinking ahead to the next dog. I’ve surfed Petfinders and small breed rescues to get an idea of what’s out there although it will be some time before we are ready to adopt. I spent about a half an hour at a small breed rescue online with a large contingent of dogs available. Tragically, they were nearly all mill dogs, retired breeders, etc. So so sad.

    The written descriptions try hard to put a positive spin on animals that are clearly damaged physically and mentally/emotionally. I have the utmost respect and admiration for the people who care for and adopt such unfortunate animals. Our little Maggie had her share of hereditary issues so I can understand a little of what they are up against. It makes me livid that we allow puppy mills in the first place.

  23. Hi Dale,

    I’m truly so sorry for your loss. It is apparent that your heart is truly aching. It is clear that you are racked with guilt over your little Lhasa. I encourage you to focus on your intentions for him. No doubt, from what you have described, your intentions were never anything but the very best. Unfortunately, as we go through this life, we all have to endure some very tough lessons. While it may be way too early to feel like this situation has any silver linings, it has educated you more about caring for your beloved pets and may well prompt you to take action to educate others. While I’m not optimistic that you could successfully change labels on food packaging you certainly could write of your experiences for others to read. Consider submitting articles about pancreatitis to newspapers and magazines a few months prior to the holidays. Talk at a local dog club or dog park association meeting. Help spread the word so others may learn from your hardship. Not only will this help others, it may help ease your pain as well. My heartfelt best wishes are with you during this difficult time.

  24. We had to put our beloved Lhasa Apso to sleep Saturday night due to a severe case of pancreatitis. I am coming to believe that this condition was brought on or at least exacerbated by overfeeding him turkey and ham during the holiday season. We had no idea that this could result in a fatal outcome, and as I research the topic I am becoming so racked with guilt that the pain is unbearable.

    Apparently this gross ignorance on our part is all too common, as I have read that vets see a big spike in pancreatitis after the holidays. There are millions of animal lovers out there just like us who have no idea that feeding their pets some scraps from their holiday meals can make them extremely ill and even kill them. We are now going to have to live with this despair for the rest of our lives, and if I live to be 100 I don’t think a single day will pass by without my thinking that we inadvertently killed one of the dogs that we loved so deeply.

    I guess my question is, how can we better educate other pet owners so that they don’t make the same tragic ill-informed mistake that we did and will forever regret? We are not stupid or irresponsible pet owners…we simply didn’t know any better. No animal lover would ever do anything to intentionally harm the pets they cherish. Something as trivial as a brief warning on some foods like holiday turkeys and hams would have been sufficient enough to have given us pause before feeding scraps to our dogs. It might have been a simple yet effective means to at least raise peoples’ awareness a little and alert them to the possible danger that we have so painfully learned only recently.

    How can we potentially save thousands of pets from needlessly getting sick or dying and spare their owners from the grief and remorse that we are now feeling? Do you think it might be a worthwhile effort to try to get food manufacturers to put simple warning labels on some especially dangerous foods to our pets, or is that a fool’s errand?

    I’m sorry for rambling, but we have hardly eaten or slept since our dog got sick. If there was just some way, any way, that we could help atone for our darling Dusty’s death and spare other pets and their owners the same fate it might help ease the terrible guilt and regret we are now suffering.

  25. I appreciate the guidelines about appropriate socialization, exercise and mental stimulation but agree that a guideline for appropriate training should be included, i.e. training and communicating with the pet through positive and pet friendly techniques.

  26. Absolutely agree with these guidelines and also agree with you that there should be something about puppy mills included. My only hope is that these are “shouted from the hilltops” and that all pet owners will read and make the promise to follow them.

  27. AWESOME and ABOUT TIME! Having a guideline, something in writing should have an impact. There are still too many irresponsible pet owners that irk me. The animal always pays for the poor choices people make. Bravo is all that I can say!

  28. I’d suggest adding something about using positive reward based training methods since there are still a lot of abusive and outdated methods being promoted.

  29. I think a blurb about owner training as well as training for pet/s is appropriate. I find that once we have taught our students how dogs think, which explains why dogs do many of the things they do that seem so…..unexplainable, anger and punishment are replaced with understanding and training.