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Expert Advice: 5 things you need to know about pets

Julie Ashton

Author: Dr Julie Ashton, for Delta Society Australia

As featured in Prevention Magazine – February / March 2018

Australia is a nation of animal lovers and, with 62% of us counting a companion animal as a member of the family, we have one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world. Last year it was estimated that there were more than 24 million pets in Australia – equalling the number of people!

Welcoming a pet into your family is an important responsibility, and one that mustn’t be taken lightly. Companion animals rely on ‘their humans’ for the basics of survival such as food, shelter and healthcare, but just as important are the emotional factors of love, connection and companionship.

While you might think you know all there is to know about caring for your pet, here are five things you may not have thought about.

Respect their space

When you welcome a pet into your home, it’s important to think about how the environment might impact them. While you may love the smell of lemon-scented candles, your furry friend may not be such a fan! A dog’s sense of smell is around 40 times greater than ours, so try and keep strong smells in their environment to a minimum. Pets will also benefit from a quiet area where they can relax and just chill out, away from stimulating noises, smells and touching – this is especially important in open plan apartments and houses.

‘Walkies’ aren’t just for dogs

Most dog-owners are really good with making time to walk their dogs, but have you considered the exercise needs of other types of pets? Exercise is important for cats too, although you may struggle to get them to walk on lead! Wand toys are a great idea for our feline companions, as they help them to use their predation skills to stalk and hunt the feathered stick. Rabbits, guinea pigs and other furry friends all need time for exercise too.

Brain games

Physical exercise on its own isn’t enough – you need to make sure your pets are using their brains too! Spend time training your pets using positive reinforcement, and offer their food in puzzle feeders or feeding toys so that they need to think about how to get to their food. Many animals will also benefit from more intensive training, such as agility training, or even learning some clever party tricks.

Remember, pets aren’t actually people

‘Anthropomorphising’ – or applying human traits to animals – is something that many pet owners do, and can in some ways help us to connect with them. However, while it may be tempting to think of your pets as small, furry humans, it’s important to remember that they aren’t actually people! Some pets can find human behaviour like bear hugs or kissing on the face stressful, and giving your pets human treats (including scraps from the dinner table!) can lead to obesity and associated health concerns. Attaching human reasons to dog behaviour – such as saying a dog has chewed up the furniture because he was mad for being left alone - can also hinder the effectiveness of any training. You need to try and understand your pet’s behaviour from their point of view, not yours.

Pets are for life

Making the decision to bring a pet into your home is something that needs to be thought about long and hard. That pet will rely on you for the rest of its life, so pets should certainly never be an impulse purchase.

Pets can play an incredibly important role in our lives, and bring a profound sense of connection and companionship. However, owning a pet is a big responsibility, so, for your sake and theirs, make sure you’ve really considered all of the above issues before bringing your four-legged friend home.

Delta Society Australia (Delta) is a national not-for-profit organisation with one core belief: that the human-animal bond remarkably improves our quality of life.  Established in 1997, Delta has developed an enviable reputation in the pet therapy sector and trusted relationships with more than 850 health and service facilities across the country. www.deltasociety.com.au.

About the Author

Dr Julie Ashton is a practicing Veterinary Surgeon and Member of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists, in Animal Behaviour. She holds two degrees from the University of Bristol (UK) in Veterinary Science and Animal Behaviour and Welfare.  In 2014, Dr Julie established Life on Four Legs, a Veterinary Behaviour Consultation Service delivering optimal outcomes for both patient and owner as well as the referring Vet or trainer.

For more information and advice about caring for your four-legged friends, follow the Delta Society on Facebook @DeltaSocietyAus, on Twitter @DeltaSocietyAus

Resources: Animal Medicines Australia (2016), Pet ownership in Australia