The Biggest Mistakes Pet Owners Make

pet owner mistakes

Story at-a-glance -

  • A question posted to veterinarians on Reddit — “What common mistakes are we making with our pets?” — turned out more than 9,600 answers from professionals
  • Top pet owner mistakes include letting your pet get overweight, blaming your pet for bad behavior that’s actually the result of boredom and not taking care of pets’ teeth and nails
  • Not properly socializing puppies beginning at 8 weeks and continuing throughout the first 9 months of life and skipping annual veterinary visits are other common mistakes that can have lasting implications for your pet’s physical and mental health

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

A simple question posted to veterinarians on Reddit — "What common mistakes are we making with our pets?" — turned out quite a slew of answers from professionals, more than 9,600 in all.1

There were some common threads to be seen, often with well-meaning pet parents contributing to health issues or behavioral problems simply due to a lack of information or misunderstandings. In order to give your pet the best life possible, browse through the list that follows to see if you may be inadvertently making any of these common pet owner mistakes.

1. Letting Your Pet Get Overweight

The majority of cats (60 percent) and dogs (56 percent) in the U.S. are overweight or obese, but many pet owners are oblivious to this fact.2 What you may perceive to be just a little extra of your pet to love can add up to serious health issues for your pet, including respiratory disorders, orthopedic disease, chronic inflammation, cancer and metabolic conditions.

Many pet owners equate food with love when it comes to their pet, and either overfeed at mealtimes or give too many treats (or both). This, coupled with poor-quality, high-carbohydrate food (especially kibble) and lack of exercise, quickly leads to pets carrying around excess weight.

Most pet food companies also overestimate the amount of food pets need, and those recommendations are reflected on their feeding instructions on the bag. Many pet parents feel guilty if they feed less than what the bag suggests, which is exactly what the company wants. 

Species-appropriate (low-carb), fresh, whole foods for your pets are always best and, when provided in the appropriate portions, will help your pet achieve and maintain an ideal weight. In addition, dogs need a minimum of 20 minutes a day of exercise that will keep their heart rate up, and more if they're overweight.

I recommend you strive for an hour of rigorous exercise a day with your dog. If you're not sure if your pet needs to lose weight, here's how to tell if your pet is overweight — and detailed information on what to do about it.

2. Blaming Your Dog for Bad Behavior — Caused by Boredom

"Many behavioral problems can be solved with ample exercise daily," said one Reddit veterinarian, and this is entirely true! Bored, under-exercised dogs often develop behavioral problems or undesirable behaviors, which manifest as an outlet for the dog's energy. Just as you wouldn't expect a high-energy toddler to sit quietly for an entire day, you shouldn't expect your high-energy dog to behave equally as calm if he hasn't first had a chance to run, sniff and stimulate his doggy mind.

Many dogs are lacking in the type of vigorous, heart-pumping, not to mention mentally stimulating, exercise they need. To resolve some of your pet's boredom-induced bad behavior, take him on power walks, sign up for a nosework class or engage him in other types of cardiovascular exercise like swimming, fetch, Frisbee, agility competition, flyball or dock jumping.

You could also take a bike ride alongside your dog using a special dog bike leash. You'll need to commit to some activity daily or consider enrolling your dog in a doggy gym.

3. Not Taking Care of Teeth and Nails

Most pets have signs of periodontal disease by the age of 3,3 which increases their risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes, not to mention leads to bad breath and pain for your pet. While animals fed a species-appropriate, fresh food diet tend to have lower rates of dental disease, even this isn't a guarantee that your pet's teeth will remain perfect without any intervention.

Regular brushing is extremely important and can help to keep your pet's teeth clean and minimize dental issues, along with keeping the need for professional dental cleaning (under anesthesia) to a minimum. Your pet's nails also need regular attention to prevent injury to your pet from a nail that catches on something or curls under and digs into her paw. While it may take some getting used to (especially if your pet isn't yet used to having her paws handled), it's possible to trim both your dog's and cat's nails with ease.

4. Not Properly Socializing Puppies

Puppies who aren't properly socialized during their first 3 months are at dramatically increased risk for behavior problems like aggression, fear and avoidance. Lack of socialization after that point can also dramatically and negatively affect dog behavior for the rest of their lives.

Dogs with problems stemming from lack of early socialization fill animal shelters and rescue facilities across the U.S., through no fault of their own. The fact is, your puppy goes through several important development stages in her first weeks and months of life, and it's up to you to be sure she has a variety of positive exposures and interactions during this time. For instance, within the first 2 months your puppy should:

  • Be introduced to as many healthy and safe people, animals, places, situations, sights and sounds as possible in a positive and enjoyable manner and at a pace that matches your puppy's personality (in general I suggest meeting at least three new living beings a day)
  • Be encouraged to explore and investigate her environment, with supervision
  • Be exposed to lots of toys, games, surfaces and other stimuli
  • Take daily car rides with you to new, unfamiliar environments

You'll want to continue with socialization and training into adulthood, but if you miss this crucial early window it can have lasting repercussions for your dog's mental health.

5. Skipping Annual Check-Ups

If your pet is healthy you may assume that taking her to the veterinarian is unnecessary, but if you've been a subscriber here for a while you'll know I completely disagree with this approach. If you wait until your pet is already sick to seek veterinary care, in most cases you have waited too long; you're being reactive.

The goal of proactive veterinarians, like myself, is to prevent disease from occurring. We can't do this if the only time we see the pet is when they're sick, because we never have the opportunity to intentionally create wellness through a lifestyle plan created specifically for your pet. 

Proactive vets create wellness protocols when pets are well to keep their bodies in a state of balanced vitality throughout life. The truth is: if you aren't intentionally creating health through wise lifestyle choices, then you are passively allowing health to slip away. Maintaining health is an active process, you must work at it or it won't sustain itself.

Proactive vets address your pet's breed/genetic predispositions, activity level/exercise regimen, environmental stress/mental well-being, chemical load, diet and other factors in a pet's life to formulate wellness plans for each stage of your pet's life. If you aren't interested in proactive medicine, then at a minimum I still recommend you take your pet to the vet at least once a year for titers, a weigh in and to check your pet's organ function (heart, liver and kidney health, for example).

Most pet owners do their best to provide the very best care to their pets. By paying attention to these common pet owner mistakes, and being sure you keep your pet at a healthy weight and provide adequate physical exercise and mental stimulation, along with proper early socialization and regular attention to hygiene and veterinary care, you'll avoid some of the most common pet pitfalls and ensure your furry family member lives a long, happy and healthy life.

Interestingly, nutrition didn't come up on this survey for obvious reasons; conventional vets don't have issues with feeding highly processed foods to pets their entire lives. I do. I believe food is the foundation of health and that ignoring species-appropriate nutrition is one of the biggest mistakes pet owners make.