With Christmas only five days away, some people may soon be surprised when a cute and cuddly puppy or kitten walks into their lives. For potential pet owners who have never owned a loveable Lassie or friendly feline it is a lifetime of responsibility that requires conscientious effort and money to keep their pets disease-free and healthy. 'There are two times in a pet's life when there is a lot of work,' says veterinarian Kylie Griffin at The Ark Veterinary Clinic. 'Once in the beginning of its life and at the end.' She says it takes the first six to seven months, usually the time for de-sexing, of the cat's or dog's life to finish the initial health requirements and vaccinations. Griffin says Hong Kong people are becoming more careful about buying pets. 'A lot of people used to see a cute puppy in a pet shop and just buy it. Some people put more thought into buying their mobile phone than a pet. But I think it's improved and I'm seeing people being more responsible by [getting pets] from friends and reputable breeders.' New dog owners should budget for more than just vaccinations and de-sexing. 'They can chew up expensive shoes and wallets,' she says. 'But bigger dogs, such as Labradors, can destroy a whole kitchen if given the chance. You must realise there will be a lot of destruction. I remember one dog that chewed up the wiring in a serviced apartment.' Puppies and kittens are susceptible to infections as their immune systems are not yet mature. The veterinarian recommends vaccinating puppies and kittens three times, at about six to eight, 10 to 12, and 14 to 16 weeks of age. 'If you don't they will get sick and get a disease,' she says. 'People are coming in [to the clinic] with sick puppies all the time.' Griffin says many owners of pets that live mainly indoors do not have their animals vaccinated since they believe they will not be exposed to a virus, but viruses can attach to an owner's clothing, which would then be brought into the home. She recommends the basic flu/enteritis shot for all cats, while for primarily indoor dogs the basic distemper/parvo combination and kennel cough vaccination. Deworming should also start at an early age, every two weeks with puppies and kittens until they are three months old, then eventually every three months as adults. 'In any tropical climate, worms like the heat,' Griffin says. 'And anywhere there is dog poo, it only takes one dog before the whole neighbourhood has it.' It is estimated that in one gram of dog faeces, a female roundworm can lay some 10,000 eggs. These eggs and worms can then be transmitted through a dog's feet, working their way into its lungs and intestines, and commonly causing diarrhoea and vomiting. It is mandatory to microchip your dog when it is five months old, a procedure that takes mere seconds. Owners are also required to vaccinate their dog against rabies around this age and every three years after. Griffin advises all owners to have their dog or cat de-sexed at about six months. 'It's so silly not to do it.' By having your male cat neutered, your feisty feline will no longer mark its territory with urine any more, while female cats will stop making loud night-time meows associated with being on heat. Spayed female cats also have a very low chance of contracting frequently fatal mammary cancer, and they only have a small probability of contracting pyometra, a common life-threatening infection of the uterus that usually occurs in older females. Other issues to tackle are ticks and fleas, which are relatively easy to prevent with products that kill these pests within days. Having a dog or cat is rewarding, but with so much to do within the first few months of life, keeping it happy and healthy takes more effort than a walk in the park.