We’re known as a nation of animal lovers – according to the Pet Food Manufacturers Association (PFMA) more than 58.4 million animals are kept as pets in the UK. But how much do we really know about what our pet animals need to be healthy and happy? This Valentine’s Day, why not make a pledge to your dog, cat, rabbits, guinea pigs, ferrets, hamster, degus, gerbils, rats or mice that you’re going to be the best pet owner you can possibly be.
One of the best ways to show your pets the love they deserve is to learn more about them. Start by knowing the five animal welfare needs, gen up on your pets’ specific nutrition requirements, and get to grips with body language and vocalisations. It’s also good to understand the importance of enabling pet animals to exhibit their natural behaviours.
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
Re-evaluate your pets’ feeding plan
For dogs and cats, lifestage foods can play an important role in helping them maintain good health throughout different stages of their life. Recipes are nutritionally balanced to meet specific needs – for example, puppies require a little more protein to support their growing muscles. Older dogs benefit from added glucosamine for optimal joint mobility. Neutered cats require fewer calories, as their body has less work to do. So, as your pet goes through life, take time to check they’re getting the most suitable nutrition.
Small pets should always be given food that’s specially formulated for them. Never feed rabbit pellets to guinea pigs as piggies require food that’s high in Vitamin C as they don’t have the ability to make their own. Rats need a range of essential amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins and minerals from their diet that they cannot produce themselves – food designed for guinea pigs or hamsters won’t meet rats’ nutritional needs. For rabbits and guinea pigs, high quality feeding hay should form the bulk of their diet.
If you have small pets, check out The Burgess Excel Feeding Plan. This is a simple five-step guide to help owners understand the high levels of beneficial fibre required by small animals to maintain dental, digestive and emotional health using a combination of feeding hay, nuggets, snacks, fresh greens and fresh water.
Could your pets’ environment do with a makeover?
Do your pets have accommodation and resources that provides them with everything they need? For dogs, that means a comfy bed in a quiet space that’s all their own. For cats, this means scratching posts and places up high where they can perch and observe the world. For small pets, it means plenty of space to exercise in, toys and tunnels to explore and snug sleeping areas. Research ways you can add a few home improvements so that your pets have more opportunities to exhibit their natural behaviours.
For example, hamsters will love a multi-level cage with different platforms to explore and wire sides to allow them to climb around the bars. Chinchillas will enjoy having lots of shelves at different heights to provide climbing and jumping opportunities and a shallow ‘bath’ filled with chinchilla sand, which they’ll use to keep their fur clean. Degus love to dig – it’s a powerful, natural instinct for them and also great exercise – so supply a deep layer of bedding on their cage floor for them to tunnel into.
The more you find out about your pets the more fun it becomes thinking of ways to enrich their lives. You can find lots of advice on the Burgess blog. Simply type in the pet you want to find more about in the ‘Search the blog’ box and you’ll find all kinds of useful and informative articles.
Make a regular grooming date
Not only does daily or weekly grooming keep your pets looking their best, it’s also a brilliant opportunity to give them some special one-on-one attention and build your bond with them. Dogs and cats, of course, love attention from their human – but so do small pets. Regular grooming sessions with rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and ferrets helps them to build up trust in you. It’s also a really good way to keep check of their health – taking a close look at coat, skin, ears, eyes, mouth and feet will help you spot if there’s anything out of the ordinary that needs attention outside of your normal vet check appointments.
Brush up on your understanding of how animals communicate
While dogs may be the easiest pets to read, there are still postures and expressions that we humans sometimes get wrong. Cats, while notoriously poker-faced, give lots away via their body language. Small pets have lots of different ways of showing if they’re happy, sad or scared. Learning about body language and vocalisations will open up a whole new world. After all, if you love your pets, wouldn’t it be great to recognise when they’re showing you that they love you back?
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