Bringing an animal into your home can be a wonderful life-changing experience. I fondly remember the bonds I made with my family’s cats when I was growing up. I recall how the first cat we adopted, a ginger tomcat (aptly named Tom), used to leap into my arms when he wanted to be held, snuggle up with his friend Timmy when he preferred feline company, and open door handles by himself when he wanted to go elsewhere.
These memories are precious to me, and the animals we choose to live with are precious to us all. Keeping their quality of life as high as possible is something everybody should agree with. But often, people don’t have the information or experience to know how to create the best life possible for their animals, from adoption to living together.
While the adoption process differs by country, some trends are fairly common: fewer people are adopting or can afford to care for their current animals, more animals are being abandoned or given to shelters, and those shelters are struggling more and more to meet the demand under increasingly difficult economic conditions.
With that in mind, it is more important than ever to start on the right foot. And before you do anything, you need to consider whether now is the right time to bring an animal into your home. Animals require love, time and money, including regular vet check-ups. There is also always the potential for unexpected issues and emergencies. Our Friends for LIFE – Am I ready for a pet? post is worth a read if you’re unsure, and if you’re not quite ready, that’s fine: someone will be waiting for you later down the line when you are.
Shelter or private breeder?
If now is the time, try to choose a socially-conscious shelter rather than a private breeder. You’ll give an animal a second chance at a happy home and will avoid the many potential issues with private breeders, including poor living conditions and welfare, inbreeding and creating more breeds with genetic ailments. It’s often a profit-driven rather than welfare-driven approach that works to fuel the overpopulation crisis rather than combat it.
Shelters, on the other hand, often spay/neuter and vaccinate their animals. They screen potential adopters and are working towards ending the overpopulation crisis. Neither is perfect, though, so whichever route you decide, make sure you do your research.
At the heart of why many animals end up in shelters are behavioural issues resulting from improper care. But with some understanding and a different approach, these animals could have a different path.
One of the main things people forget about cats is that they need playtime as a part of their natural daily routine. As predatory animals, they like to hunt: it’s natural animal behaviour, not linked to food, that makes them happy. So, as a cat owner, you need to replicate this hunting behaviour, especially if your cats live indoors and can’t go out and hunt for real. Luckily, though, with the right toys and some dedicated time, you can satisfy this need and have fun whilst doing it! Access to high vantage points, scratching posts, and safe enclosed spaces are also all very important for giving a cat a comfortable life as is not overfeeding.
Over the past couple of months, more dogs than usual are being taken to shelters for behavioural issues. It appears that there was a surge in people adopting dogs during the pandemic, but many were not given what they needed to thrive. Some of the main causes of behavioural issues are dogs being left alone for longer than the recommended time, a lack of walks and punishing training methods. Also, with the many restrictions on our daily lives, many puppies missed out on essential socialisation and training.
On Animals That Don’t Make Good Pets
Some animals, such as cats and dogs, have been through the process of domestication. Over thousands of years, generation by generation, they’ve become more suited to living with and around human beings. We can often read them better than we can other animals. Exotic species, such as reptiles, are the opposite of this. We simply cannot meet their needs in captivity.
It is important to thoroughly research what an animal needs before inviting them into your home. That way, you know you are giving them the best chance to have a happy, long life with you.
What can you do about animal behaviour issues?
It’s important to remember that many of the animal behaviours we see as problems are, in fact, natural behaviours, like cats bringing you gifts and dogs scent marking. If you meet their needs and fulfil their natural instincts, you may find their behaviour improves.
If your animal is developing a behavioural issue, it’s best to work on it as early as possible. There are many good online resources for advice, but if this doesn’t get you anywhere, one option is to consult a professional animal behaviour advisor. Just make sure you do your research first and only speak to those that use kind methods.
Darren Talbot, MSc Animal Behaviour and Welfare, Volunteer Blog Writer at OneKindPlanet