Should you have an only pet?

Most pets needs friends of their own kind. Find out why…

Posted: 10 February 2017

Should you have an only pet?

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Some pets, such as dogs, can thrive happily with other doggy friends or as part of their human family. Cats and hamsters can also be content as only pets, but other animals have very specific needs when it comes to company…

Cats are curious creatures who often prefer to be an only pet – but not always. Naturally solitary in the wild, territory is very important to a cat and they can find the sudden appearance of another animal on their patch incredibly stressful. That’s not to say that cats are antisocial – they enjoy interactions with their human and some get on well with a friendly family dog. Some felines become firm friends and may happily live with other cats (preferably related cats, such as siblings). However, introducing another cat as a ‘friend’ because you think they need some company may not work out too well. Many cats prefer to have you and their home all to themselves.

Hamsters – at least the Syrian, which is the most common and one of the largest types, also known as the golden hamster – is a naturally solitary animal. If you try to keep Syrians in pairs or groups a hamster battle will ensue – even breeders have to be careful to introduce mating pairs only when the female is in season! Dwarf hamsters, however, enjoy company of their own kind but it’s best to keep a pair or group of females as males tend to fight each other. Never, ever mix the two species!

Ferrets are part of the Mustelidae family, which includes otters, stoats, weasels and badgers and are a domesticated version of the European polecat. Although they enjoy human interaction, ferrets are likely to be happiest in pairs or small groups, ideally littermates of the same sex or neutered males and females – lonely, bored ferrets can develop behavioural problems. Ferrets can also become friends with other household pets, such as friendly dogs and cats, but they should always be supervised if playing together. It’s not ideal to keep ferrets if you have rabbits or other small rodents that are prey animals as even the scent of a nearby ferret can be very stressful for them.

Chinchillas are not happy alone, so you should get two at the same time if possible. To introduce a new chinchilla to one you already have, introduce them slowly to avoid brawls. Put them in separate cages side by side, about 10cm apart so they can smell each other without physical contact. Give each chinchilla its own dust bath, but swap these over daily so that they get used to each other’s scent. Over a week or so, move the cages and beds closer until the chinchillas are sleeping next to each other. When the two seem to be living happily side by side, put the existing chinchilla into the new chinchilla’s cage. It’s usually easier to introduce animals of the opposite sex (make sure the male is neutered first) or to introduce a young chinchilla to an adult.

Rats are intelligent and enjoy human company, but they also need companions of their own kind. Rats living in pairs or groups will have lots of fun chasing each other around, grooming each other, sleeping in a heap, playing tug-of-war with food, wrestling and communicating – essentially having a much more fulfilling life than if they lived alone. To avoid unwanted babies, the best option is usually a pair or group of the same sex.

Guinea pigs are sociable and ‘chatty’ and should never be kept in solitary confinement. In the wild they live in close family groups of five to 10 individuals. Sometimes, several groups live in close proximity to form a colony. GPs can only be truly happy as one of a pair or as part of a small group of the same sex. If you’re planning to keep a male and female together, it’s essential that the male is neutered to avoid unwanted babies. Never keep guinea pigs in the same hutch or run as rabbits, as there is a risk the guinea pigs will be bullied and seriously injured. Rabbits can also give guineas serious diseases and they have different dietary requirements.

Rabbits evolved to live in groups. In the wild they naturally rely on each other for ‘safety in numbers’ and that instinct is still present in domestic rabbits – they’ll feel more confident living with others of their own kind. They are hard-wired to be sociable and wild rabbits form complicated social structures. Always keep rabbits in pairs or small groups. The easiest pairing is neutered male/spayed female. Same-sex pairs can be tricky, but it’s possible to keep two males or two females if they have grown up together. Paired bunnies regularly lie next to each other, eat together and groom each other – a vital natural behaviour in rabbits – and it’s fascinating to watch their repertoire of behaviours.

Gerbils are team players and it’s not fair to keep one on its own. If you buy two or more baby gerbils of the same sex – from the same litter or harmonious group – they should get on well. However, adult gerbils (those over 10 weeks old) can be aggressive towards any newcomers. Females are often more aggressive than males. If you’re introducing an older gerbil, split their gerbilarium with a wire frame so they can see and smell but not injure each other, and swap sides so that the tank picks up the scent of both gerbils. After three or four days they should settle together without a barrier, but keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t pick a fight.

Degus are part of the Octodontidae family of rodents, in the sub-order caviomorpha, which means they’re related to guinea pigs and chinchillas – although recent studies show that they may actually be closer in relation to rabbits. In the wild, they live in groups of up to 100 in complex burrows, which have nests and food stores. They love human interaction and enjoy living in busy, active homes. They also rely on their degu friends. Degus carry out a range of social behaviours including playing, grooming, foraging and burrowing and, if kept alone, will become depressed and even physically ill. Degus should always be kept in pairs or small groups, although male groups shouldn’t be kept near females as this can lead to sparring matches between the boys.

Sources: rspca.org.uk, bluecross.org.uk, icatcare.org, thepetsite.co.uk, nfrs.org, degutopia.co.uk

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