Whether you prefer cats, or dogs, or poisonous tree frogs, the animals we keep in our homes are important to us. More than just entertaining, most pet owners will agree that they make us feel happy in a way nothing else really does. They cheer us up when we’re feeling down, and help us cultivate empathy. Even the act of caring for our pets can be therapeutic for us. So why shouldn’t we want to make them happy too? Here are five tips to do just that.
The Right Food
One benefit of the modern world is how many options we have for just about every aspect of our lives. Pet food is no exception, so check with your vet to make sure you’re feeding your pet the right type of food and the right amount. Don’t assume free-feeding is best for your little pet. Some animals are more susceptible to overeating than others.
Research about what foods you should or shouldn’t feed your pet. Some of the results might surprise you. You’ve probably heard dogs can’t handle chocolate, but did you know avocados, caffeine, and grapes are also toxic to them? Likewise, rabbits can only eat leafy greens and carrots sparingly.
Whenever you change your pet’s diet, pay attention to changes in their behavior, energy levels, and droppings. You may find that a particular ingredient upsets your pet’s stomach.
The best way to keep your pet healthy is to keep regular checkups at your vet. Without the ability to tell us their pain verbally, pets rely on us to bring them to veterinarians. Get your furry friends collared and tagged, and ask your vet about a microchip too. If your pet escapes and is injured, you’d both be most comfortable if it were recovering at home with you.
An important part of pet ownership is maintaining pet hygiene. Regular bathing and grooming is a healthy habit in general, but you may not know that it can also prevent a variety of illnesses. Additionally, it’s a good opportunity to notice any lumps or sores. Minimize the stress of bathing your dog or cat by using baby shampoo so it won’t sting their eyes.
Good hygiene extends to your pet’s crate, cage, or tank. If your pet has access to your whole house, it might be necessary to do some tidying or even pet-proofing your entire home. You don’t want dangerous items like pill bottles or cleaning chemicals within reach of your more curious animals. Especially for the rodent-owners out there, you’ll want to keep wires out of reach or coat them with bitters to deter them from nibbling.
Playtime is about fun, but so much more. For many mammals, play provides a bonding experience. Play can help them practice using their own bodies and build a trusting relationship with their owner. If you have multiple animals, they will also learn how to interact with one another during play. (Puppies, for example, learn how to be gentle to each other over the course of some nipping and yelping.)
Playtime is also a great opportunity for exercise! Like us, if our pets sit around all day, they can get overweight. They are physical creatures with bodies that need physical activity to stay healthy. In particular, mammals need to get out and stretch their legs. For some animals, this simply means providing toys. Mice, gerbils, and hamsters enjoy running wheels and exploring the house in exercise balls.
Larger rodents such as chinchillas, guinea pigs, rabbits, rats, and ferrets exercise by exploring hidey holes, tubes, and tunnels. Set up a boundary with a small fence, or close off an entire room if you can. Fill it with these sorts of toys, and you’ll be sure to see some happy bunny kicks. Word to the wise, those sorts of toys can get expensive. Feel free to keep it simple with some creatively-cut cardboard boxes. Your pets won’t brand-shame you!
Dogs absolutely love to go outside and survey the property. If you are blessed with a fenced-in yard, exercising your dog might be as easy as letting her out. Add a ball or frisbee for a game of catch. Cats, on the other hand, go crazy for laser pointers. In both cases, you get your pets to move without having to move much yourself. If you want to get in on the action, try taking your pet for a walk. Dogs love to explore new places, new smells, and to familiarize themselves with their greater surroundings.
When you get your first pet, you may not recognize the importance of boundaries. After all, it’s sweet when a puppy wants to cuddle on the couch or sleep with you in bed. However, it’s not as sweet when you’re jolted awake by a 75-pound canine pouncing on your sleeping body. Instead of confusing your pet with inconsistent rules and exceptions, set solid boundaries so they’ll know better know how to please you.
The more pets you own, the more important this concept of “boundaries” becomes. Look into the amount of space each pet needs. When two or more animals share the same space, they will often want a private area to retreat to. For some animals, gender is a factor. (For example, two Betta fish in the same tank will attack one another.) Hopefully, your pets will get along but know that there is often a dominant personality or an aggressor among them, so a “home base” will greatly ease the tensions.
For dogs, consider a crate. For cats, get a cat tree, (or other vertical structure) for your feline friend to escape to when the home environment gets overwhelming. Cats have a strong sense of boundaries and territory, so it’s also important to have at least one more litter box than the number of cats you own. That way, they’ll always have one more option if another cat is blocking the way.
Most people are more comfortable when they can anticipate at least a rough outline of their day. The same is true for our pets. Keeping them guessing with random changes in location and routine can be stressful for them. Setting a consistent routine will make your lovable companions much happier. That includes waking and resting, eating and playing.
Your own sleep, work, and play schedules are significant too. That isn’t to say change is bad, but when you can, make big changes gradually. The more routinized you are, the more predictable your pet’s behaviors will be too. You will likely even find that your pet’s bladder and bowel movements start to become predictable. Knowing your pet’s needs from morning to night—playtime to potty-break—will make them even happier and more trusting. Remember, Happy pets make happy owners!