Caring for a pet


Things you should know

  • Cats are territorial animals and become attached to things and places. Cats are naturally afraid of new places and smells and prefer to be in their familiar environment.
  • A cat needs access to hiding places so that it can avoid anything that might frighten it.
  • A cat needs regular easy access to an appropriate place to go to the toilet such as a favourite spot in the garden or a litter tray that will allow them to dig when the go to the toilet.
  • Living in a cold or wet place, without shelter, can cause a cat to suffer and become ill.
  • Cats are athletic animals and need space to run, jump and climb.
  • Cats are intelligent. A cat may suffer if it is bored and has nothing to do.
  • Cats are inquisitive and their curiosity may lead them to easily injure themselves if hazards are left around their environment.
  • Sleep is very important to keep a cat happy and healthy. Ensure that your cat has sufficient opportunity to rest throughout the day.

How to care for your cat

  • Make sure that your cat has a warm, dry, draught-free, soft place where it can rest, undisturbed.
  • Groom your cat regularly.
  • If you have more than one cat, make sure they have separate places to sleep and have the opportunity to get away from one another if they wish.
  • Your cat should have space to run and climb and find a safe hiding place if it feels threatened.
  • Ensure that your cat has easy access to a place to go to the toilet and make sure that this is separate from its food and water.
  • Your cat should have easy access to fresh, clean water at all times.
  • If your cat stays inside, make sure it has sufficient toys and things to keep it amused so that it does not get bored.
  • Remove any hazards from your cat’s environment.
  • If you move house, keep your cat inside for at least two weeks afterwards to ensure that it has had time to get used to its new home. Cats may try to get back to their previous homes if they feel unsettled.


Things you should know

  • Dogs feel pain and have similar pain thresholds to people.
  • Individual dogs and different breeds show pain and suffering in different ways.
  • Dogs are incredibly sociable animals and need plenty of attention to keep them happy and healthy.
  • Dogs are intelligent and need stimulation. A dog left at home all day will become bored and will suffer.
  • Dogs are vulnerable to a range of infectious diseases and other illnesses.A change in a dog’s behaviour can be an early sign that it is ill or in pain.
  • Punishing a dog can cause it pain and suffering.
  • Dogs are inquisitive. A dog may injure itself if left to explore on its own.
  • Dogs can become ill if they feel insecure or are stressed.

Selection of exaggerated physical features in some breeds leads to disease and inherited disorders that cause suffering and reduce the quality of life of a dog.

A dog that can be identified by its collar or, better still, by its microchip, is more likely to be reunited with its owner and to receive prompt veterinary care if injured. By law, a dog in a public place must wear a collar with its owner’s name and address either on the collar or on an attached tag. Fireworks can frighten and cause your dog to be stressed. Take sensible precautions to ensure your dog does not suffer during the firework season.

How to care for your dog

  • Make sure your dog has access to fresh clean water at all times.
  • Feed your dog in accordance with guidelines based on its size and age. Do not let your dog become obese or malnourished.
  • If your dog’s behaviour changes or you think that your dog may be ill or in pain consult a vet quickly.
  • Check your dog everyday for signs of illness or injury and take your dog for a routine health check with your vet at least once each year.
  • Ask your vet for advice about things you can do to protect your dog’s health, such as vaccination, neutering, and treatments to control parasites.
  • Get your dog neutered. Only breed from dogs where provision has been made to care for the dogs and their offspring.
  • Always check with a vet before breeding dogs to ensure their health and personalities are suitable for breeding.
  • Only use positive reward-based training. Never shout or harm a dog as a means of training it.
  • Give your dog plenty of attention and ensure that it has sufficient human contact.
  • Keep your dog under control, and never let it stray.
  • Be aware of dangers to your dog and take steps to keep it safe.
  • Only use medicines that have been prescribed for your dog and that are within date.
  • Groom your dog regularly.
  • Make sure your dog can be identified, ideally via a collar and microchip (ask your vet for advice), so that it can be treated quickly if injured, or returned to you if lost.


In addition to a healthy diet (see our section on caring for your dog), your dog will need plenty of exercise.

  • The amount of exercise required will depend on the size, age and health of your dog, but in general a dog should be walked at least twice a day to ensure it is getting enough exercise and stimulation.
  • Taking a dog for a walk is a key part of the bonding process between a dog and its owner and helps the dog become confident in its surroundings.
  • A dog should never be expected to exercise itself and leaving a dog on a long lead all day does not mean that it has been exercised.
  • A daily walking regime is essential for the health and well being of your dog and the good news is, that it should improve your health and fitness too!


Grooming your cat or dog using a suitable comb or brush (dependant on the type of fur they have) is essential for keeping your animal’s skin and fur healthy, comfortable and looking good.

  • If you have a long-haired dog, consider whether its coat needs to be trimmed in the summer. A dog groomer will be able to give you advice on the best treatment for your dog.
  • Unlike cats, dogs do not lick themselves clean and your pet dog will need to have regular baths to keep them healthy and smelling fresh.
  • Use bath time as a way of having fun with your dog and always remember to use a shampoo that is suitable for dogs.

Building trust

  • Grooming is a good way to bond with your pet.
  • The more a pet is groomed, the more it will learn to trust and respect you and the stronger your relationship will become.
  • This is particularly important for rescue dogs who may have been treated badly by humans in the past and who may not be used to being handled. Grooming can be used as a way of building their trust again.

Grooming for good health

  • You can also use grooming time as a way of checking your pet for health problems, such as ticks or fleas, cuts and soars, lumps or inflamed areas of skin.
  • Remember, that the earlier a problem is caught, the easier it will be for your vet to treat the problem and the happier your pet will be.

Cat Grooming

  • Long-haired cats can suffer from matting if they are not groomed regularly.
  • In some cases, the fur will need to be shaved off to remove the mats. If this happens seek the advice of a professional animal groomer to ensure that your cat is not injured during the grooming process.

It is all too easy to nip a cat’s skin when removing matted fur….and your cat will not thank you for it!

If you do not have the time to devote to grooming a long-haired cat, then consider getting a cat with a shorter, more manageable mane.


Have you noticed that your dog or cat has been scratching recently? Noticed any tiny brown creatures hopping on your pet or around your home or any black specks of dirt in your pet’s fur? If so, you may have been visited by fleas and the black specks you have found could be their droppings.

Imagine how it feels to have a furry coat overridden by scurrying hopping flees all intent on making you their next snack.

Fleas aren’t just irritating to pets and their owners (they are not averse to feasting on humans if they get the chance): they can cause your pet to suffer allergic reactions, weaken frail animals through blood loss and can pass on diseases such as tapeworm.

That it is why it is so important to treat your cat or dog regularly for fleas and ensure that your home is a no-go zone for fleas.


Your vet will be able to prescribe flea treatments suitable for your pet.

  • Flea treatments are specific to different animals so never give a cat flea treatment prescribed for a dog as it can be toxic to cats.
  • Always ensure the flea treatment is within the ‘best before’ time-scale on the packet. Many animals are made ill each year as a result of using out of date medicines.
  • The life cycle of a flea contains a number of stages as it turns from an egg into a larvae and eventually into a flea.
  • Evidence suggests that the vast majority of fleas live in your pet’s bed and its environment rather than actually on your pet.
  • As well as treating your pet it is, therefore, essential to ensure that your home is cleaned thoroughly to remove fleas at each stage of their life cycle.
  • Particular attention should be paid to soft furnishings such as carpets, sofas and bedding, as these are ideal breeding grounds for fleas.

Leishmaniasis (Sandfly)

This is very common in Malta and often a fatal disease. Leishmaniasis is a zoonotic parasitic disease transmitted through the bites of the phlebotomine sandflies and is the third most important disease worldwide.

How is it spread?

The disease is carried from dog to dog by a microscopic parasite called Leishmania infantum, which is spread by sandfly bites.
Dogs can be bitten up to 100 times an hour during the sand fly season, which begins in May and ends in September.
When an infected sandfly bites a dog, parasites are deposited on the skin. A tiny skin lesion – called a chancre – appears at the site of the bite, usually in the muzzle or the ear.

The parasite then invades the dog’s cells, spreads into the internal organs and may begin to damage the immune system.

Signs and symptoms

Signs of the disease are highly variable and in some cases, may take several years to manifest.
Affected dogs may have a fever, show signs of hair loss (particularly around the eyes), lose weight and develop skin sores and nail disease.

Unfortunately, over time, many organs may become involved leading to problems like anaemia, arthritis in many joints, and eye and kidney disease. Without treatment, the dog will die.

Prevention and control

Treatment may be complex, expensive and often non-curative, so prevention is best. You can help protect your dog from sand flies for the whole of the sand fly season, by using a collar containing deltamethrin, which also controls infestation with ticks for five to six months.

Also never walk your dog at sunrise or sunset. If a dog is infected any sand fly that bites it may pass the disease onto another dog close by.


Just like humans, our pets can become overweight. When that excess weight reaches a stage where it starts to affect an animal’s quality of life, the condition is referred to as obesity.

While some animals, such as neutered cats and certain breeds of dogs, may be more prone to obesity than others, the cause of obesity is generally accepted as taking in more calories than are expended through day to day living and exercise.

Just as in humans, obesity can be addressed by ensuring that your pet does not eat more food than it burns off in a day’s activity.
The bad news

As well as impairing an animal’s ability to move and to carry out natural behaviours such as grooming and exercising, obesity is associated with numerous health complications. These include:

  • Bone disease
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Diabetes
  • Skin diseases
  • High blood pressure
  • Cancer

How can I tell if my pet is overweight?

It is not always easy to tell whether your pet is overweight. You can check by asking yourself these simple questions:

  • Look at your pet from above: can you see the indentation of your pet’s waist?
  • Look at your pet from the side: is its stomach neatly tucked against the rest of its body or is it protruding towards the ground?
  • When you feel your pet’s sides can you feel its ribs or is there a layer of fat covering them?
  • If your pet doesn’t have a neatly tucked in waist or has fat accumulations around its ribs then the chances are it is carrying more fat than it should be.

The good news

The good news is that obesity can be prevented and reversed by making changes to your pet’s lifestyle.

Your vet will be able to help you with an eating and exercise plan that will keep your pet on track to a lean and happy life.


Worms in cats and dogs can cause suffering and death to animals and, in rare cases, disease in humans.

As a responsible owner it is important for you to worm your cat or dog regularly.

Puppies are most at risk from worms, which may be passed from the mother in the womb and after birth through the mother’s milk.

Puppies should be wormed from two weeks of age every two weeks until they are twelve weeks old and then every month until they are six months old.

Adult dogs should be wormed every three months with a preparation prescribed by your vet. It is not always possible to tell that a dog has worms, although sickness, diarrhoea and a swollen abdomen are often signs in puppies.

Worms may appear in the vomit or faeces. Because worms can be picked up at any time from the environment and, in the case of tapeworms, from fleas, it is important that your cat or dog is wormed and treated for fleas regularly.

To reduce the chances of worms being spread to other animals or disease being spread to humans, always pick up after your dog and ensure that any outside areas your pets live in is kept free from faeces.


All pet owners should consider whether to neuter their pets to prevent the suffering caused by unwanted pregnancies.

Dogs and Cats adopted from the MSPCA Re-Homing Centre are always neutered, but if you have got a pet from another source and it has not been neutered, then you should consider the benefits of neutering.

Un-neutered female dogs usually come into heat or season twice a year. When in season a female dog is more likely to roam in search of unneutered male dogs and can attract unwanted male attention.

Such roaming can lead to your pet getting into fights, being permanently lost or being injured or killed in a road accident.

In addition to the tendency to roam looking for mates, un-neutered cats mark their territory by spraying objects with urine and are frequently involved in fights. Sexual contact and fighting, increases the chances of your cat coming into contact with fatal viruses.

Female cats and dogs are neutered (or spayed) by removing their ovaries and uterus under a general anaesthetic.

Neutering removes the possibility of unwanted pregnancies, false pregnancies (where a female dog will nest as if about to give birth and display potentially aggressive behaviour to defend that nest) and of potentially fatal uterine infections and cancer of the mammary glands.

  • Neutering male cats and dogs involves the removal of both testes under a general anaesthetic.
  • Neutered males are less likely to display the behavioural problems underpinned by the drive to reproduce.
  • Neutered male cats are less likely to spray urine, fight and roam than non-neutered males and are protected from testicular cancer.

Your vet will be able to give you the best information about when to neuter your pet.

There is no need for a female cat or dog to have a litter before it is neutered.

Your vet will also be able to discuss the costs of neutering. These will depend on the species, sex and age of your pet.  (Other pets such as rabbits can also be neutered.)

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