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.
Along with a high, waggy tail, a happy dog will have soft eyes and floppy, relaxed ears that are not tense or flattened against their head. A relaxed posture is also a good indication that they’re feeling chilled – as is leaning into your hand when you stroke them. Happy dogs are playful dogs and play ‘bows’, where you dog gets down on her elbows with her back end higher than her front, tell you she’s feeling good and up for having some fun. Try play bowing back and see your dog’s face light up.
Cats are much harder to read than canines. Genetically hardwired to be solitary hunters who have to rely on themselves, felines tend to hide their feelings. Of course, as every cat owner will know, a purring kitty kneading your lap reveals your pet is pretty contented. Another way that cats show they’re feeling happy and relaxed is by resting their feet under their body with their eyes closed, or by rolling over and showing their belly. However, be warned, unlike a dog who is asking for a tummy tickle, this is not an invitation from your cat for a belly rub – if you try it the claws may come out. A slow blink from your cat is a sign of true affection – in the cat world, closing your eyes in the presence of another is a sign of trust. You can return the affection by slow blinking back.
Gentle, soft grinding of the teeth, almost like a cat purring, communicates contentment.Ears are like a rabbit’s radar, used for tuning in to what’s going on around them. Both ears back is a relaxed rabbit’s way of saying: ‘It’s all good and I can give my radar a rest’. Two bonded rabbits will groom each other and licking is your rabbit’s way of saying: ‘I like you’. To communicate that they are feeling very happy and playful, rabbits use the ‘binky’. This is an amazing acrobatic bunny jump accompanied by twisting the body or kicking the legs. A rabbit that is sitting still or grooming may suddenly flop onto its side and lay still. This can look rather worrying, but it actually means: ‘I’m just so relaxed’.
Gleeful guinea pigs
Guinea pigs are chatty little creatures and communicate how they’re feeling using several noises, including the well-known ‘wheek-wheek’ call – a sign of excitement or to find a friend – and a low ‘purring’ sound, which they make when they are feeling content and chilled out. They also emit a series of short ‘putt-putt’ noises when they’re happily exploring stuff. When really excited, guineas can jump straight up and down, often turning 90° in mid-air, performing a neat little move known as ‘pop corning’.
Once confident in your company, rats 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. And, just like humans, rats laugh when they’re happy. This was discovered in the 1990s by neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp, who used a bat detector to make their ultrasonic chirps audible. Rats laugh when they play with each other and when they’re tickled. Laughing rats playfully seek tickling from people just like dogs urge their human to play.
When ferrets are feeling happy, they’ll often perform the ‘dance of joy’. This involves puffing up their tail, baring their teeth and throwing their head back and hopping around in all directions. If your ferret is pawing at the ground, they’re inviting you or another ferret to wrestle with them. Happy, excited ferrets also produce bark-like vocalisations and chirping noises, known as ‘dooking’.
An important thing to ensure happy chinchillas is to let them sleep undisturbed for long periods during the day. As nocturnal creatures, night-time is when they’re likely to be more sociable. However, timid chinchillas prefer to interact with humans on their own terms and are generally averse to being picked up. A chilled chinchilla who has bonded with you will prefer you to sit on the floor and let them hop all over you, while they make little chattering sounds along with some excited tiny squeaks. Some may even enjoy a little snuggling. A really happy chinchilla will popcorn and bounce around excitedly all over the place.
If you’re wondering if your hamster is happy, check out their body language. A yawning hamster is pleasantly sleepy and comfortable. Relaxed grooming, stretching, burrowing in the bedding, collecting food, and lively acrobatics in the cage are all signs that life is good for your hamster pal. Leaping into the air signals high spirits and reveals he or she is in a very good mood indeed.
If your gerbils jump in the air, it’s a sign they’re excited – you may find that they do this when they see you first thing in the morning, or when you are playing with them as a way of letting you know they are happy to be socialising with you. Burrowing, tunnelling, or digging are positive signs in gerbils, revealing that they are merrily going about their gerbil business. A comfortable, relaxed gerbil will use his tongue to groom or wash his paws, belly, face, and tail – if he does this while being held by you, he’s revealing that he feels happy and calm. If your gerbils vibrate or purr when you pet them, this signals that they are very happy and relaxed.
Fine and dandy degus
Degus show affection towards each other by grooming one another – so if your degus start gently nibbling on your skin, don’t worry – it’s their way of showing they care. When you pet your degus and they make a warbling or chirping sound it means they are feeling very happy and content.
Did you know?
In the UK, it’s actually a legal duty for pet owners to make sure their pets are happy and healthy. The Animal Welfare Act 2006 (England and Wales) and Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) 2006 make a pet owner legally responsible for making sure any domesticated animal under their care has their five welfare needs met. All domestic animals have the legal right to:
- Live in a suitable environment
- Eat a suitable diet
- Exhibit normal behaviour patterns
- Be housed with, or apart from, other animals
- Be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease
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