This time of year, many families decide that it’s the right time to take on a new pet. Animals are often used as adorable presents for loved ones, and it can be hard to say no.
The old trope goes “A dog is for life, not just for Christmas”. While that is still completely true, the reality is that no animal is just a Christmas present. From a hamster to a puppy, they are a new family member with needs and specific care requirements that aren’t going anywhere once the Christmas decorations come down.
It is very important to do proper research and find out whether the recipients are able to take on that level of responsibility. Pets can be time consuming and expensive, so new owners need to be fully aware of what they are getting themselves or someone else into before jumping in.
Food, water, shelter, and love are essentials for all animals, but what are some of the most popular pet’s individual quirks and needs that people should be aware of?
Caring for Dogs
Many are unaware that 80% of dogs suffer separation anxiety when left alone, with almost half of them not showing any telltale signs of distress. There are training techniques that can help with these situations, but success will take a dedicated owner who has a lot of time and energy to give. Having plenty of interaction with humans and other animals is imperative to most dogs’ well-being and happiness. Grooming is also essential, however the frequency at which it is needed heavily depends on the dog’s specific breed.
Dogs also require vaccinations to help prevent them from contracting diseases. This starts as early as six to nine weeks old, and booster shots will be required for the rest of the dog’s life. These vet bills, among all the others that could potentially crop up, can become very pricey even with insurance. It is vitally important to make sure the potential new owner is financially stable enough to take on the added expense.
Adopting a dog means bringing a highly social, intelligent, playful, inquisitive and athletic animal into the family. They need to exercise regularly, maintain a healthy omnivorous diet, and be stimulated by their surroundings whether that be through toys, human interaction, or otherwise.
Caring for Cats
Cats are sometimes mistaken for being a lower maintenance option when people don’t have time for a dog. Although feline friends may do less begging for attention and tend to display a little more independence, they are still a massive responsibility with a long list of requirements. They also do not typically like to be left home alone for extended periods, contrary to popular belief.
Cats need space to be active, a litter tray that is ideally changed at least once per week, and plenty of interaction from humans and other animals.
Like dogs, cats need to be regularly groomed, and also require vaccinations from a young age that will need boosters approximately every 12 months. This makes cats quite expensive on top of the toys, meat-based food, litter tray, and various other accessories they will need to keep them happy and healthy.
Caring for Rabbits and Guinea Pigs
Firstly, it is important to note that while they have similar (but still differing) needs, rabbits and guinea pigs should not be kept together in the same enclosure. Rabbits may kick and injure guinea pigs, and otherwise bully them due to their size difference. Also, they are unable to be proper companions because they cannot communicate with each other the way they can with their own species. They need to be kept with another of their kind, as they can become lonely and depressed if housed by themselves.
Both animals need to consume a diet of suitable dry pellet food, fruits and vegetables, and hay. The supply of hay needs to be unlimited as it aids their digestive systems and helps keep their ever growing teeth shaved down to a healthy level through constant gnawing. It should account for about 80% or more of their diet.
Like humans, guinea pigs need supplementary vitamin C in their diet as they are unable to synthesise it on their own. This can come from leafy greens and other vitamin C rich fruits and vegetables. While rabbits still need to have these foods as part of their diet, they do not specifically need lots of vitamin C as they are able to synthesise it themselves. Some fresh produce is not safe for these animals to eat, so it is very important to make sure what they are being fed is suitable and nutritious.
Enclosures for guinea pigs and rabbits need to be of sufficient size and will require spot cleaning every day and a full clean every week. This includes having enough bedding to keep them warm, hay, food, water, and chew toys to maintain healthy teeth and reduce boredom. They are prey animals which means they will also need places to hide in order to feel safe. Guinea pigs require at least 1 hour per day of exercise outside of their habitat, while rabbits need at least 3 hours per day.
Guinea pigs can live up to eight years and rabbits up to 12, meaning they are not a short term responsibility and will be a part of the family for the long run. While these little ones may be very cute, that does not necessarily equal easy to look after. It is worth making sure that whoever is potentially taking them on has the time, energy, and money to properly care for them.
Caring for Hamsters
There are many types of hamsters. Some of the most popular include Syrian, Dwarf, Roborovski and Chinese varieties. All of these breeds except Syrian hamsters can be kept in pairs or groups. However, it is important to keep a close eye on those living with others to make sure they are not exerting violent or aggressive behaviour. If this is the case, they will need to be separated. Syrian hamsters are highly territorial and will fight with others once they mature, meaning they must remain solitary. This is due to the way their breeds exist in nature.
All hamsters require an adequately sized cage that is cleaned regularly and filled with various accessories to enrich their lives. This includes plenty of bedding, places to hide, food, water, a wheel to run in, chew toys for their teeth (which are always growing just like guinea pigs and rabbits), and a sand bath which they can use to clean themselves in and/or as a litter tray. They need a dry food mix as well as a small portion of safe fruit and/or vegetables each day.
Something that people may not be aware of before deciding they want a hamster is that they are naturally nocturnal. This means they need to be in a warm, quiet room for most of the day, and are only really sociable and excited to explore at night. Hamsters must always be handled with care as mishaps can cause serious injuries to their tiny bodies.
For such a small creature, hamsters have complex needs that vary from breed to breed. Despite their cuteness, caring for them is definitely not an effortless endeavour.
All pets need a high level of care to meet their varying and complex needs. It is very important to consider this before taking on an animal at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
Featured image: © Jaclou-DL on Pixabay