It is estimated that around 80 per cent of Australian households have pets, with dogs and cats being the most common types. We love having companion animals in our lives for many reasons and many of us consider them to be one of our best mates and important members of the family.
Most pet owners will be able to pin point a time in their lives when they needed a friend and their special pet was there for them. They have a knack for being a comforting presence and positive uplifting company which can help us through times when we are feeling down or just having a bad day.
A report put together by Beyond Blue and Deakin University in 2010 found that caring for and having contact with pets encouraged owners to spend more time outdoors and socialise, added meaning to their lives and generally enriched and enhanced their sense of wellbeing.
With Victoria celebrating mental health week, we thought we could use this chance to return the favour to our much loved family pets.
How to keep a happy healthy pet
When considering introducing a new pet into your home and life it is important you consider factors that could potentially affect your pet’s wellbeing, or you need to consider what it means to be a responsible pet owner.
- For a dog can you commit to a minimum of 45-minutes each day throughout the year to exercise and training?
- Is your home adequate to the needs of your pet? Is the pet you are considering best suited to a house with a big back yard, or will a small courtyard be ok?
- Do you have a stable lifestyle? For example, will you be travelling or moving house frequently? Do you plan to introduce a new child to the family? Remember dogs can live up 10 to 15 years on average, while cats can live in excess of 18 years.
- Can you make the financial commitment? A dog costs around $1,800 per year without any large vet bills, and $1,200 for a cat.
Once you have introduced your new pet to your home, it is important to understand that your role as an owner does not stop at merely feeding and going out for a walk. You need to be able to interact with your pet time and give them plenty of your time, it is also crucial that you are in tune with your pet’s mental health.
Dogs and boredom
Characterised by excessive barking, whining, escaping and destructive behaviour, boredom is a common to dogs but can be prevented with training, exercise and mental stimulation.
Some useful tips include:
- Walking! Do not underestimate the benefits of taking your dogs out for a walk. It’s not only good for your pets, but it’s also great for your physical and mental health!
- Rotating toys: Approximately 5-6 toys can be rotated around your home or garden each day to keep your dog stimulated
- Hide and Seek: hiding food including raw meaty bones and treats around the yard will help keep your dog stimulated.
Dogs with separation anxiety will show similar signs to boredom. Other signs specific to the anxiety may include trembling, compulsive behaviour such as licking, tail chasing or self-mutilation.
Separation anxiety can be a complex issue and its treatment is often involved and time consuming. Generally it requires a combination of training or desensitising measures coupled with drugs to reduce anxiety. The management of separation anxiety requires veterinary and often specialist supervision.
One key tip is not to make a fuss about leaving or arriving home and reward your dog for being calm. Put your pet dog outside for 15-minutes before you leave so that he/she can settle with you at home, then just before you leave give him/her something really nice to occupy him/her while you are away.
Please consult your vet for specialist advice if you suspect your pet may have separation anxiety.
Always consult your vet
Remember, these are general tips and always consult your vet for specific information relating to your pet.
Our feline friends get their turn this Sunday as we look at how to care for the mental health of cats.