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Get used to that pet you got for Christmas

Aurorresident Jennie Cardenas 22 recently adopted Simb16-month old pit-bull mix from Waifs Strays Chicago.  |  Submitted

Aurora resident Jennie Cardenas, 22, recently adopted Simba, a 16-month old pit-bull mix from Waifs and Strays Chicago. | Submitted

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Updated: February 17, 2013 6:15AM

During the holidays, some families might have been introduced to a “special gift” not found wrapped beneath the tree.

Pets as Christmas presents can be a two-edged sword, as noted by the website. It notes that “3 to 5 million dogs and cats (are) returned to shelters each year.” Most of these returns occur in the first 30 days as reality sets in and families realize that owning a pet is a commitment that could last well over a decade.

Aurora resident Jennie Cardenas, 22, recently adopted a 16-month-old pit-bull mix from Waifs and Strays Chicago and faces many of same challenges as owners of puppies.

“My dog wasn’t left out of the kennel much, so he had to get used to having more space,” Cardenas said. “He basically has this 12-by-12-foot room at my house all to himself with his toys, and now he loves it.”

Experts say adding a new pet at this time of year involves patience, establishing a routine, and realizing that your previous life and schedule has changed.

“People need to make sure they set time aside for their pet to adjust and feel more comfortable in the new surroundings,” said Angie Wood, executive director of the Naperville Humane Society. “For cats, that could take as much as a month. When it comes to housebreaking a dog, you have to get your pet into a routine and keep to a schedule.”

Animals will require good nutrition and regular exercise, regardless of the weather, Wood adds. People who are working a 9-to-5 job need to consider options like dog walkers or day-care facilities where their pets can be cared for if owners must be away from home too long.

From a medical perspective, Dr. Shaun Fauley, of Naperville’s Care Animal Clinic, says puppies and kittens will require a series of shots during the few first weeks of their life but that the “medical issues are the easy ones.”

“A puppy will usually require a series of three or four shots every couple of weeks, ending with a final series along with a rabies vaccine,” Fauley said. “Each visit runs about $45, with the final one at 16 weeks at around $60. But taking care of those issues is the easy part.”

Like Wood, Fauley says the excitement of getting a new pet during the Christmas season usually wanes when the day-to-day reality sets in.

“People sometimes get upset when they realize the responsibilities they have and that the thing someone else was caring for before you brought it home is now yours,” he said. “People often have to ‘puppy proof’ their place when it comes to dogs because they are very curious and will chew and swallow almost anything.”

Beyond the shots, Fauley said, owners need to pay attention to respiratory, stomach and flu issues, which can affect pets, particularly in the early stages of life. Dean Daubert, Petco’s district manager of Chicago, said his stores work closely with experts to provide the right nutrition, pet activities and education to help owners have a successful experience.

“Our director of the Petco Foundation Beth Mars sits on the board of the Naperville Humane Society, and we are very connected with the various adoption agencies in Naperville,” Daubert said. “Hopefully, if people got a new pet this season, they did some research beforehand and looked into the breed and learned about its needs, behaviors and life expectancy. One of the most important things for any pet is stimulation, which is why something like training for dogs is so important. It’s a great way to spend time with your dog and get things regimented.”

New pet owners also might be new to some of the key components of caring for them. Here are a few tips to help make sure you and your new family member are happy and healthy:

Daubert said to be aware of your pet’s physical, emotional, social and mental health. “We are using this new initiative at our stores that runs the gambit from grooming to offering potty-training classes and having play days with other pets,” he said.

Wood says having a pet that is “suitable” to your schedule and environment is important. New pets particularly require socialization time, which means long periods of being left alone or caged will affect the animal’s adjustment period.

Fauley suggests that pet’s ears are often neglected and that keeping them clean and flushed out will help prevent infections.

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