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7 ways to… Be a better animal carer

This month, we're helping you to take better care of animal companions

Animals are amazing, so it's no wonder that so many of us share our lives with them. If you live with an animal companion, make sure that you look after them properly and do all you can to help them to have a happy, safe and stress-free life with you. Here are seven ways to help you to be the best animal carer you can be.

1. Practice responsibility

The first step to being a great carer to your non-human animal companion, whatever species or breed they may be, is to take responsibility for them. Often, if an animal is 'acting out', being aggressive or 'naughty', people put the blame on them, rather than considering they could be being a poor carer.

Companionship with an animal entails taking on the responsibility of learning about their breed and specific needs, as well as individual preferences.

For example, it's important to understand how much exercise they need, their diet, how much grooming they will require, how much space they need, toys essential for enrichment, as well as the products that will help you to correctly look after for them.

Regular vaccinations, worming and de-fleeing are also vital. Furthermore, it's important to get them spayed or neutered, so that they don't add more babies to a world already full of animals in shelters, in need of rescue.

Whilst it might be nice to let your dog have puppies or your cat have kittens, unless the babies stay with you or go to people you know, you can't be sure whether they will lead happy and safe lives.

2. Bond with animal friends

It is so important to create a strong relationship with animals in your care. Spend time each day giving them your sole attention. Get to know them - their likes and dislikes for food, handling, enrichment and environment. Let them know that you love them, and they will in turn, show you love.

A strong bond will not only allow your companion to lead a happy life, but it will bring you joy, too. As animals age, it can be easy to take them for granted.

But it is just as important to spend time with an elderly animal you've lived with for years, as it is a young one. So as the years go on, make sure that you still give them as much compassion and care as you did when you first came together.

3. Learn to detect signs of stress and illness

Whilst it can be easy (but not always!) to tell if human friends or family are feeling stressed, sad or sick, it can be more difficult to know when a non-human animal isn't doing so well. When an animal is stressed, cortisol levels are raised. Over time, high cortisol levels can bring about long-term metabolic conditions in your companion.

Signs of stress to watch out for:
• Avoiding or hiding
• Excessive yawning
• Excessively licking lips
• Hardening of the eyes
• Shaking dry when not wet
• Trembling

Likewise, illnesses can be tough to spot, since our furry friends can't tell us if they are in pain or unwell. If your companion is acting out of character, being withdrawn, or you suspect anything is up, take them to see a vet. Regular check-ups are also recommended.

Additionally, reduce stresses in your animal friend's environment - namely, by eliminating or lessening anxiety triggers. For example, if your companion animal is nervous about being alone, put on the radio whenever you leave them.

Drawing the blinds of your home also helps (especially for dogs who bark at every passer-by they see in the window!). The less stimuli your animal is exposed to from the outside world whilst they are alone, the less anxiety they will have about events outside their control, knowing you aren't there to protect them.

4. Consider their needs, not only your own

For most humans, our homes are only a part of our lives - we don't tend to spend all our hours inside them (although COVID-19 lockdowns have altered this somewhat!). Yet, for an animal companion, your home is their entire world, for the most part.

In our homes, it's easy to put our human needs first, for example, by placing animals' toys and other items where they are most convenient to us, rather than for our animals themselves. But this can easily stress them out. Make sure to consider the following:

• Does your animal companion have access to a secluded space to rest or seek quiet?
• Are feeding dishes, water bowls, toys and litter boxes accessible?
• Are lights inside too bright for them?
• Is the volume on the TV too loud?
• Are outside noises or light over-stimulating them?

It's also important to make sure that the home you share with them is safe. Check that your houseplants are all animal-friendly. Ensure that everything unsafe for animals (food or chemicals) is kept out of their reach.

Keep the toilet lid left down. And, cover and put away any rubbish. It's also super important to ensure that no wires are left dangling or exposed to be chewed.

5. Help them adapt to new environments

Young animals tend to be relaxed when transitioning to a new space. But mature animals often need guidance, so it is important to introduce them slowly to new environments. Moving to a new home can be an extremely stressful experience for an older animal - you are uprooting their whole world.

Pheromone sprays and familiar items, like favourite toys and blankets, come in handy for making strange spaces more inviting. It's also a good idea to place their food bowls and litter boxes in areas that aren't too dissimilar to where they were previously located.

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6. Plan for when you're away

It's not good to leave your companion animals alone for too long, since cats, dogs and other animals can develop separation anxiety. This can lead to destructive and attention-demanding behaviours.

Whenever possible, maintain a consistent schedule. If you work away from home, plan to visit your animal companion during the day, arrange for a friend to visit them or if you have a dog, organise a dog walker to take them out, or pay for them to go to day care, where they can play all day long!

There are also animal-friendly TV channels, pheromone sprays and tech, like automated treat dispensers, which can keep your companion entertained during the day.

If you are going away for a longer period of time, like on a holiday, it's best to leave them in the care of someone they already know, trust and have spent time with - like a friend or family member.

A familiar face will ease separation anxiety and stress. If you don't have anyone available, make sure to check them into a reputable kennels, cattery or small animal hotel.

6. Plan for when you're away

It's not good to leave your companion animals alone for too long, since cats, dogs and other animals can develop separation anxiety. This can lead to destructive and attention-demanding behaviours.

Whenever possible, maintain a consistent schedule. If you work away from home, plan to visit your animal companion during the day, arrange for a friend to visit them or if you have a dog, organise a dog walker to take them out, or pay for them to go to day care, where they can play all day long!

There are also animal-friendly TV channels, pheromone sprays and tech, like automated treat dispensers, which can keep your companion entertained during the day.

If you are going away for a longer period of time, like on a holiday, it's best to leave them in the care of someone they already know, trust and have spent time with - like a friend or family member.

A familiar face will ease separation anxiety and stress. If you don't have anyone available, make sure to check them into a reputable kennels, cattery or small animal hotel.

7. Keep them active

Whatever type of animal you care for, it's so important to keep them active. Energy levels vary between animals and their breeds significantly. Whilst dog breeds differ in how much exercise they need, they do all require it.

Dogs like border collies, greyhounds, Labradors and springers can have enormous amounts of energy. Take them for at least three walks a day, and ensure they are allowed to run around and engage in playful activities.

Cats don't have a significant exercise requirement, but outlets for play are still vital. For both dogs and cats, hiding treats around the home for them to find or using puzzle feeders are creative ways to engage your furry friend's body and mind.

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VeganLife

The lifestyle magazine written by vegans for vegans.