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5 ways to get the whole family involved in pet care this Valentine’s Day

February is the month of love – along with Valentine’s Day (14 February) there’s also National Love Your Pet Day (20 February). Make it a love-in that all the family can enjoy by helping your kids learn what it takes to be a caring, loving pet owner.

From being involved in looking after a pet and learning a sense of responsibility, to fun activities you can all do together, we’ve 5 IDEAS to get all the family involved.

  1. Make your pets a family project

Encourage your children to learn all about pets by making it into a fun project. Get them to look up information online – there are lots of great resources, games and make-and-do activities from websites as National Geographic Kids and the RSPCA. Encourage your kids to write about what they’ve discovered, draw pictures and share fun facts with other family members.

Kick things off by asking them to find the answers to a few questions, such as: Where do chinchillas come from? What’s the smallest dog breed? How many hours a day do ferrets like to sleep? Why do cats scratch furniture? What are baby rabbits called? Where do hamsters store their food?

  1. Help your kids become pet wardens

If the younger members of your family are rather reluctant to help with pet housekeeping, try turning it into a reward-based game that will help them learn about animal care and welfare.

Start by making a list of pet care responsibilities and talk with your children about which tasks that they feel they can handle. Discuss why each task is important and what could happen to their pet if the job is not done (the pet could go hungry or get sick, for example).

Get all family members involved, and share out the tasks, making sure they’re age appropriate. For example, a four- year-old can’t be expected to clean the guinea pigs’ hutch, but they can line the bottom with newspaper, help put in fresh bedding and refill the water bottle. Create a star chart so that when a task is completed, each budding pet warden can proudly add a sticker to show how well they’re doing.

  1. Plan some play activities that humans and pets can enjoy together

From ‘treat-seeking missions’ to indoor circuits or getting creative with cardboard box activity centres and paper bag wraps, there are all sorts of pet play activities to try out.

  • King or Queen of the Castle What cat, rabbit, ferret or rat wouldn’t like their very own castle? With a little imagination you can create a noble playing place out of cardboard boxes with towers and turrets and holes cut out for your pets to climb in and explore.
  • Circuits challenge From dogs to cats, chinchillas to ferrets and rabbits to rats, why not encourage your pets to get some exercise on rainy days with some indoor agility? Use boxes, books, brooms, towels, cushions, or whatever you’ve got to hand to create your own indoor obstacle challenge.
  • Play for the hay Most bunnies like to play and throw toys around, particularly if there’s sometasty hay A willow ball or cardboard tube stuffed with hay is ideal for batting about.
  • Create some bunny forage trays. Rabbits love to dig and forage – it’s something they’d naturally do in the wild. Forage trays are fun and easy to make with kids. Get a shallow tray or planter and fill it with some tasty, sweet-smelling feeding hay, some healthy treats and a few fresh herbs such as mint or parsley – and enjoy watching your pets have lots of bunny fun.

Find more play and activity ideas here >>

How to play games with cats of all ages >>

Games to play with your rabbits >>

How to make on-lead walkies more of an adventure for your dog >>

Craft-loving kids? From a homemade ring ragger for dogs or a forage weave for rabbits to a maze for hamsters, mice and gerbils, we’ve all the info you need to create DIY pet toys >>

  1. Grow some healthy herbs for small furries

If you have rabbits or guinea pigs, you could help your children plant a potted herb garden for them. The Royal Horticultural Society has a step-by-step guide. Good choices are basil, coriander and parsley – Real Seeds has a good selection of kitchen garden seeds. As well as being a great introduction to gardening, imagine the pride your child will feel when they can feed their small furries with herbs they’ve grown themselves.

  1. Learn some animal lingo together

While every animal lover wishes they had the linguistic skills of Dr Dolittle – who “got to learn the language of the animals so well that he could talk to them himself and understand everything they said” – there’s still lots of things we can all learn about animal communication. Here’s some information to get you and your family started on a fascinating journey of understanding how our animal friends communicate:

  • Become a dog communication expert It’s not difficult to tell if your dog is really happy – that waggy tail and soppy smile is such a giveaway. However, there are lots of other, more subtle signs that reveal how your four-legged pal is feeling >>

  • Cat chat While cats use a range of vocalisations such as yowling, hissing and growling to communicate with each other, meowing isn’t one of them. This is a behaviour they’ve adopted just for humans. But what are they trying to tell us? >>

  • Bunny talk Learning to speak rabbit means spending lots of time engaging with and observing your bunnies. Not only will you gain a fantastic insight into your rabbits’ world, you’ll also be able to provide them with a more fulfilling life as you begin to understand what makes them happy, stressed or cross >>

  • Lost in translation? Guinea pig speak explained Guinea pigs are sociable, chatty creatures who generally have plenty to say, using around 11 different noises to communicate how they're feeling>>

  • Decoding gerbil communication Can gerbils purr? What does it mean when a gerbil yips? Why do gerbils make thumping sounds? Discover the secrets of gerbil communication >>

  • Ferrets use scent to communicate with each other – they can tell if another ferret is male or female, strange or familiar and if the mark was left recently or a day ago, just by sniffing a mark left by the other ferret. Just like dogs and cats, ferrets show how they’re feeling via vocalisations and their body language. Find out more with our ferret Q&A >>

  • Hamster behaviour explained Did you know that hamsters use all sorts of ways to communicate how they’re feeling – from body language and scent messages to various sounds >>

  • Chinchillas communicate with each other through a variety of soft, high-pitched grunting noises, chirps, squeals and barks, which is why it is essential that pet chinchillas have another chin to chat to. Find out more with our chinchilla Q&A >>

  • Rats, once confident in your company, will happily sit in your lap or on your shoulder, grinding their teeth to show they are quite content – this is called ‘bruxing’ and is similar behaviour to a cat purring. What’s more, rats laugh when you tickle them >>

  • How to tell if you have a happy pet With some pets, it’s pretty easy to work out if they’re happy. Dogs, for example, are such a giveaway with their wagging tails and big sloppy smiles. With other pets, signs of happiness can be rather more tricky to figure out >>

CARE MORE – 5 more ways for your whole family to show your pets the love

This Valentine’s Day, why not make a pledge to your dog, cat, rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, ferrets, hamsters, degus, gerbils, rats or mice that you’re going to be the best pet owning family you can possibly be. A good way to show your pets the love they deserve is to learn more about them. Start by knowing the five animal welfare needs.

The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) and Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 makes pet owners legally responsible for ensuring any domesticated animal under their care has their welfare needs met. All pet animals have the legal right to:

  • Live in a suitable environment – this should include the right type of home with a comfortable place to rest and hide as well as space to exercise and explore.
  • Eat a suitable diet – this can include feeding appropriately for the pet’s life stage and feeding a suitable amount to prevent obesity or malnourishment, as well as access to fresh clean water.
  • Exhibit normal behaviour patterns – the ability to behave naturally for their species, for example: run, dig, jump, forage, hide, play.
  • Companionship – to be housed with, or apart from, other animals as appropriate for the species, for example: company of their own kind for sociable species such as rabbits or guinea pigs, or to be housed alone for solitary species such as Syrian hamsters.
  • Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease – and treated if they become ill or injured

Is your pet a Burgess pet? Join the Burgess Pet Club for exclusive offers and rewards.


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