We love our pets - they have an incredible impact on our lives! They can positively influence our levels of physical activity; lowering blood pressure and heart rate. They help us to cope with stress and can stop us from feeling lonely (Chandler, 2019; Vormbrock and Grossberg, 1988; Wells and Rodi, 2000). They can even stimulate social interaction, preventing social isolation and helping those with autism, for example (Hayden-Evans et al., 2018; Ward et al., 2017). It’s no wonder that 40% of UK households have at least one pet (PFMA, 2019)!
The Five Welfare Needs
Caring for a pet is a huge responsibility! The PSDA (2019) discovered that 72% of pet owners feel informed about The Five Welfare Needs (shown below) - owners feel most confident about the need for a suitable diet (91%), whereas companionship is the least well-known attribute (78%). Their study showed that 21% of pet owners did no research before getting their pet.
Research prior to obtaining a pet is crucial so that the associated commitment, costs and needs of an animal are consistently met. When these costs and needs cannot be met, animals are often abandoned, surrendered or rehomed - causing stress for the animal. In 2018, the RSPCA rehomed 40,738 animals (RSPCA, 2018). Responsible pet ownership is incredibly important, we have to understand our pet’s role within our families; why we would like a certain type of pet and where to obtain our new pet from (Westgarth et al., 2019).
Selecting a species/breed should take almost as much time as researching their needs. The species you choose needs to suit your lifestyle and personality. An intriguing study suggested that owner personality differed between types of animals owned. For example, turtle owners were hard-working and reliable, snake owners were unconventional and novelty-seeking and bird owners were socially outgoing and expressive (Kidd et al., 1983)!
What about ZooLab's animals?
Giant African Land Snails
Giant African land snails are very low-maintenance pets and can be handled. However, they aren’t particularly engaging so children may become bored over time. Potential owners must be willing to deal with any eggs appropriately. Giant African land snails may be a suitable pet for those with a busy schedule.
Tarantulas are also very low-maintenance pets, but frequent handling is not advised as they are very fragile and some individuals may not tolerate handling very well. Care must be taken when sourcing tarantulas and other exotic animals as many are taken from the wild as part of the exotic pet trade.
White’s Tree Frogs
White's tree frogs are quite low-maintenance pets, though they cannot be handled without sterile gloves as they have very delicate skin that can be harmed by the chemicals on our hands. They tend to be greedy so owners must make sure that their frogs do not become overweight!
Leopard geckos have fantastic personalities, especially with their smiley face! It can take some time for them to learn to trust you and not all individuals will enjoy handling. They must be kept on their own. They are a perfect pet if you have a moderate amount of time to spend with your pet. Find out more about how to care for your leopard gecko here.
Corn snakes are well-known for their docile nature and ease of care compared to other snakes. Corn snakes can make a perfect addition to the family if you enjoy watching your pet and have a moderate amount of time to spend with them. It is worth noting that corn snakes will likely tolerate rather than enjoy handling and they must be kept on their own.
Rats are like miniature dogs- due to their intelligence and levels of activity. They require a good amount of horizontal and vertical space along with plenty of enrichment. They are incredibly social and can become severely depressed if they are on their own, so it is necessary that 2-3 rats are kept as a minimum. Baby rats will also need same age company to facilitate proper development. Rats will form a strong bond with their owner and they can enjoy cuddles, though some may not be able to keep still for very long!
Your new pet is home, now what?
Bringing your new pet home is so exciting, but this is where the work really begins. Your new pet will need time to settle into their new home before you work on building your bond. The length of time needed to settle will vary; some rats may need a day and some snakes may need 2 weeks. Once they are used to their new surroundings and your presence then you can begin handling them. Handling should gradually build up in frequency and length and be a positive experience for the animal.
Before introducing your new addition(s) to existing animals in your home, you may need to quarantine them (in the case of small mammals and amphibians namely). This protects each animal from new diseases and allows the new animal(s) to adjust to their new surroundings without the stress of a new social situation. Introductions should be done in a way that minimises stress and risk to each animal. You can find information about introductions via specialist websites and pages.
Depending on the species, you will likely need to teach your pet appropriate behaviours such as litter training, friendly ‘hello’s and how to behave at mealtimes. This training should also include desensitisation to touch and noises, for example, and socialisation. Desensitisation allows for easy health checks and for less anxiety when hoovering etc. Socialisation encourages positive interactions with other humans and animals.
There is a wide range of information available about the care of each species and not all of it is correct. The best thing to do is cross-reference a variety of sources such as websites, vets and specialist groups. Specialist groups are often useful for seeing other peoples’ enclosure set ups. Be willing to change your set up, what you feed your pet at the start, etc once you have new information!
If you would like more information about how to go about purchasing a new pet, feel free to visit howtobuyapet.org.uk.
Chandler, C.K., 2019. Chapter 6 - Eight Domains of Pet-Owner Wellness: Implications for Counselors and Counselor Training, in: Kogan, L., Blazina, C. (Eds.), Clinician’s Guide to Treating Companion Animal Issues. Academic Press, pp. 103–114. https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12-812962-3.00006-X44
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Hayden-Evans, M., Milbourn, B., Netto, J., 2018. ‘Pets provide meaning and purpose’: a qualitative study of pet ownership from the perspectives of people diagnosed with borderline personality disorder. Adv. Ment. Health 16, 152–162. https://doi.org/10.1080/18387357.2018.1485508
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PFMA (Pet Food Manufacturers' Association). (2019) Pet Population 2019 Available at: https://www.pfma.org.uk/pet-population-2019 [Accessed 18/02/2020).
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Westgarth, C., Christley, R.M., Marvin, G., Perkins, E., 2019. The Responsible Dog Owner: The
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