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5 ways to make 2014 a happy new year for your pets!

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As the last few hours of 2013 tick away, let me remind you that the animals who companion our lives deserve these 5 basic courtesies and general care in the coming year.

5. Know what your pet needs. Before you commit to adding an animal to your life and home, do the research. My friend Beth at the Critter Camp Exotic Pet Sanctuary has hair-raising and heart-wrenching tales of pets that end up with her because the people who surrendered them simply weren't prepared for the care that particular animal entailed. Most of us have at least some idea what a cat or dog needs, but what about the fairly popular rabbits, gerbils, ferrets, hedgehogs and rats? Which have smelly cages? Which need fresh food as well as pellets/kibble? Which of those are herbivores and which are not? If you don't know, you need to find out before contemplating adopting one of these animals.

4. Do the math. This is another area you will, we hope, have considered before bringing an animal home. Pets cost money. And not just the cost of purchase/adoption, or even the cost of the initial equipment, whether cages for small animals or collars, beds, food and water dishes, toys and so on for dogs and cats. Ongoing expenses include food, vet care, and "day care" or kenneling for times when you can't take care of an animal needing attention throughout the day. Vet care can be expensive enough that pet insurance is gaining popularity. Can your budget take the ongoing expense?

3. Make the time. Too many surrenders, of dogs and cats to general shelters everywhere, of ferrets to the Greater Chicago Ferret Association, and of all sorts of small exotics to Critter Camp, happen because the families who had these animals didn't make the time to bond with the animals they'd brought home. Perhaps they hadn't done enough research to know what to expect as well, because insufficient or inappropriate handling has turned many of these animals into nippers or biters. Sadly, a biter of any species has a small to nil chance of adoption into a better family.

2. Provide the basics - and so much more. Yes, you need to get the right food, the right housing, adequate water (and for reptiles and other more exotic animals, appropriate temperature and humidity!) and comfortable bedding, but animals require more than this to thrive. They require toys, attention, and - just like the human toddlers they sometimes resemble - they require discipline and training to become good-mannered members of the household. And yes, this is part of keeping them happy, both because training keeps them from becoming bored and because animals with good manners are welcomed in more situations and thus they get to enjoy more of your life along with you.

1. Share the love. Your animal will thrive if love and attention are part of the daily experience. But so will you, as the giver of that love and attention, as shown by the many studies indicating that both people and their pets experience wellness benefits (emotional calming, mood raising, lowered blood pressure, for instance) from such interactions as petting and grooming an animal you love. So, by providing a happy new year for your pet(s), you're likely to be improving your own experience in the coming year as well.

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