5 Simple Ways to Give Your New Pet a Happy Fulfilling Life

Smokey (brown) & Pepper (grey) - Gerbils are highly social and love to play together. 

My work as a pet photographer, 14 years as a pet keeper, and close relationship with people in pet care has not only put me in contact with more animals than I could possibly dream of shaking a very chaseable stick at, but also given me great insight into the welfare and pitfalls of pet ownership. I say ownership very loosely as our beloved animals are more like members of the family and should be loved and cared for in the same way. 

This morning I lost Pepper - one of two gerbils who I've loved and cared for for three years. She passed away quickly after suffering a stroke, survived by her sister who will need twice the love and attention to help her through her loss. You see, even small animals have feelings, the more social the animal, the more love they require. Although there was nothing I could have done to prevent Peppers passing, the simple act of making her comfortable and tending to her sister made me think. Do we know what we should know about basic pet care? There are things we can all do to improve the quality of life for our cherished furry friends. 


 

1. Plan for the long term - what is the expected lifespan of my pet?

We absolutely have to consider the normal lifespan of our pets. Keeping animals is a long term commitment.
So, how long on average should our pets live for?

  • Hamsters - 2 to 2.5 years, and some species like Roborovski hamsters can live for 3 years 
  • Domestic Rat - 2 to 3 years
  • Gerbils - 3 to 5 years
  • Guinea Pig - 4 to 5 years
  • Degu - 6 to 8 years
  • Rabbit - 8 to 12 years
  • Cat - 12 to 14 years 
  • Dog - 12 - 13 years.
  • Horse - 25 - 30 years.

Of course, these are averages, and under perfect conditions, with no illness or complications it is very possible for your pet to outlive these estimates. The oldest recorded living rabbit lived to be 18 years old!


2. Provide a good home - how can I keep my pet comfortable?

The health and happiness of your pet depends on you providing a suitable environment in which they can live and play. Different species need different environments however the majority of our warm blooded pets; dogs, cats, gerbils, mice, rats, hamsters, degus, simply prefer an environment that we find comfortable. 

If it's too hot or cold for us, it's likely too hot or cold for them. 

Consider a comfortable place to for them to sleep, safe from dangers and noise, and away from draughts.  Consult your local vet for information about pet safe bedding and your pets individual requirements and risks - for example, Pine shavings are toxic to Gerbils, and it is a good idea to avoid plastics and long threaded fabrics with animals who chew / gnaw. 

 


Entertaining your pet doesn't have to be expensive. Sometimes simple games and safe items can be fun for your animal.

3. Keep your pet entertained - how do I keep my pet happy?

Like children, most pets need to be engaged and entertained to be happy. A life of only sleeping, sitting, and eating will lead to behaviour disorders and most likely depression, which can lead to an early death. Yes, animals are just as, if not more susceptible to depression as us humans. 

Provide pet-safe toys and engage with your pet.  This is easier with dogs and cats as you can actively walk or play with them. With smaller animals, providing cardboard tubes to chew, running wheels for exercise, and introducing them to new safe environments occasionally can aid in their development and happiness.  

Talk to your pets and ensure they are in sight of people as often as possible, this helps to tame them, and keeps them engaged. 

Many small animals are social creatures and are happiest in groups - ask the breeder or vet if you should take your pet with a friend.  Be careful if introducing a friend to a pet you have at home however, as they may not be guaranteed to get along, resulting in further stress, and in some cases could pose a significant risk to the new younger animal. Always consult an expert such as your vet before introducing new animals to an established environment. 


4. Feed your pet well - what food should I give to my pet?

An appropriate diet is critical to your pet's health, and with so many to choices it can be hard to know which to go for. It is important to ensure your pet receives all of the essential vitamins and minerals, and proteins without excess sugars, fats, while avoiding toxins and allergens.  We're being told not to over feed our pets, and for good reason. Sounds familiar? Pet health care is very much  like our own. 

The very best advice I can give is to enroll your pets into a preventative care scheme; meaning regular checkups at your local vet to check your pets overall health. This will give you the opportunity to discuss your little friends diet and create a tailored plan. Don't buy into hype or advertising, simply look for a food that is good for your pet. 


5. Remember they will grow old - how do I help my pet through old age?

Your pet ages faster than we do, and often won't show many visible signs of old age, so it can be very easy to forget that they aren't as young as they used to me. They may begin to slow down, eat less, and sleep more. Their personality may change and they may be more easily confused or scared.  Some animals will decline slowly and gracefully, some will appear normal right up to the last few days.  It is important to remember that as your little friend grows old, they will require more care. There is no reason for the last years or months of their life to be any less happy and fulfilling than the first.

Arrange more frequent checkups with the vets, and be ready to deal with any complications. Keep their food and water accessible to them, and ensure they have a warm place to rest, lots of love and gentle attention, and most of all, be patient with them.  

Enjoy your pets lives to the fullest and make many memories. 


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