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Everything you need to know about a pet's welfare needs

Basic needs

As responsible pet parents, we should always seek to create a safe and nurturing environment for our companion animals so they can flourish. To meet the basic welfare needs of our furry friends, they need access to appropriate food, water, ventilation, and protection from injury or ill health. Taking good care of your pet also means meeting their emotional needs.

With their needs met, dogs and cats won't suffer from:

  • thirst, hunger, and an unhealthy diet
  • discomfort
  • pain, injury, and disease
  • fear and distress.
  • Behavioural needs
  • Let your pets express their natural tendencies. Their needs will differ depending on their age, breed and individual quirks.

Out of the wild, into our homes

Domestication of dogs began around 23,000 years ago in the cold lands of Siberia. And, for cats around 8,000 to 9,000 years ago in the warmer climes of Cyprus. Despite thousands of years passing since their early domestic experiences, both animals still have a natural urge to express instinctive behaviours. A behavioural "need" is an animal's natural tendency to behave a certain way - an innate trait they can't help acting out. If animals can't exercise these instincts, they get frustrated. Giving them a chance to express these natural behaviours will improve their physical and mental health and curb bad behaviour.

Dogs adapt well to life in family groups, and most dogs prefer not to be left alone in the house for long periods. Destructive behaviour, barking, and going to the bathroom inside the house are signs that they're unhappy being left alone. A puppy or new dog should learn to cope with being left alone for short periods. You can do this by leaving them alone for short periods, to begin with - and gradually increasing time away.

Cat behaviours like scratching, hunting, and bursts of activity come naturally. Cats scratch to keep their claws in good condition, and scratching is a way cats communicate through scent and markings.

Building the bond

Both cats and dogs can form deep emotional bonds with humans, and positive human contact is usually healthy for pets.

Human-animal attachments can also improve pet owners' quality of life, and the benefits are greatest when the connection is strong. 

Here are some valuable ways to build and strengthen the bond with our pets:

  • Create an enjoyable time together. By spending time together, playing and sharing experiences, the relationship will become stronger
  • Communicate clearly. Cats and dogs respond to body language better than speech. When training, use consistent signals. Good communication is the basis of a strong bond
  • Use treats responsibly. Giving cats and dogs treats is a great way to encourage bonding and good behaviour when training them
  • Invest in training. Well-trained dogs enjoy life more and are a pleasure to have around. Training also helps reduce dogs' frustration since it's easier for trained pets to understand how to behave
  • Learn about pet behaviour. Take time to understand body language and facial expressions that might indicate happiness or stress. If pets feel their owner is safe and protective, they'll feel closer and more comfortable with them
  • Provide affection. Grooming and stroking sessions feel good for pets and help owners feel more relaxed. Affection, routines, and meeting a pet's essential needs will strengthen your bond.

Training

Well-trained pets are a delight to live with and can be more involved in their family's life - visiting other people's homes and even going on holiday. 

Α well-trained pet is more predictable and easier to keep safe. They will also behave reliably around others - especially kids.

 

Training should help a dog understand how to make good choices. They need to have a dedicated safe place in the home and be with a person they trust when away from home. This approach helps them deal with the unexpected and unfamiliar more calmly.

These key attributes and skills help a dog live a happy life:

  • confidence
  • being able to cope with surprises and with being touched
  • self-control and dealing with frustration
  • being calm
  • learning what is expected of them
  • being able to respond to requests
  • good manners
  • understanding the correct choices in different situations.

When home training, try to be calm and consistent. Sessions should be short, so the dog doesn't get overwhelmed or bored. A particularly effective way to train dogs is to reward good behaviour and ignore bad behaviour. Learning how to respond to basic commands such as "sit," "lie down," "stay," and "back off" are important for safety - mainly when out walking. Good recall when off the leash and good leash walking are essential for quality time outdoors.

Exercise and play

Tailor exercise to each pet's needs. For example, puppies' development can be slowed down by long walks, and dogs with joint problems benefit from short strolls to keep the affected joints mobile and flexible without overtaxing them. 

Always pay attention to the weather, and take special care to ensure your dog doesn't get too hot or cold.

Encouraging play is a fun way to promote good health and strengthen the bond between you and your pet. Play is stimulating and good for the body, and it helps pets express their natural instincts.

Here are five top tips for fun and safe play:

  1. Choose playtime carefully - the best time for play is often when cats and dogs are well-rested and eager for human attention
  2. Give lots of praise and encouragement - this helps make the experience fun and rewarding
  3. Encourage appropriate play - avoid scratching or nipping, and stop play immediately if pets misbehave, but don't punish
  4. Have fun, but avoid overexcitement or chasing - particularly when kids are around
  5. Keep play at ground level to avoid jumping up.

Bathing and grooming

Regular bathing and grooming are essential for maintaining good skin and coat, though different breeds or types of dogs and cats have different needs. Long haired cats and dogs can develop mats in their fur, resulting in tightened skin and discomfort. Short haired dogs require grooming about once a week and baths once every six weeks, and shorthair cats need grooming only occasionally, and some may never need bathing. Other dogs can be groomed as required, with some long or curly-haired breeds needing daily grooming.

Here is a list of tips to help you choose a good groomer:

  • Look around and check the condition and cleanliness of the equipment and space
  • Make sure the place is safe and secure for pets
  • Select a groomer who seems likely to respond well to your pet's behaviour
  • Find out whether the groomer requires dogs to have up-to-date vaccinations - if not, look elsewhere
  • Ask to see qualifications and whether the groomer is a member of a professional body if one exists
  • If in doubt, look elsewhere.

Microchips and tags

Cats and dogs should have some form of identification (ID) on them so they can be located if they ever stray far from home. A collar with an engraved tag showing a telephone number is one of the best forms of ID, though these can be easily removed or lost. 

When travelling, remember: different countries have different laws, so make sure you know whether your pet must wear a visible ID at all times.

Microchipping is a simple, safe, quick, and relatively pain-free procedure in which a vet inserts a microchip just under the skin - usually at the base of the neck. The microchip is in a database with the owner's contact details. If a pet goes missing, the owner can notify the microchip database, which will issue alerts to vets and other animal authorities to help locate the lost animal.

When found or dropped off at shelters, staff scan pets for chips, which increases their chances of being reunited with their owners. Owners should always keep their address and contact information up-to-date with the microchipping company. Microchips do not have GPS functionality and can't pinpoint where a dog or cat is.

House cats

Many cat parents living in densely populated areas like cities now keep their cats exclusively indoors. Cats can spend between sixteen and twenty hours a day sleeping. As long as they have access to food, water, places to rest and hide, and a litter tray, cats can have a great time indoors. Indoor cats flourish when they have opportunities to exercise and follow their instincts.

Cats love to climb and jump, and they relish being high up, where they feel safer and can better observe their environment. Vertical surfaces for climbing (cat trees and climbing poles), high platforms for sitting and watching, comfy spots for sleeping and resting, places to hide, and scratching surfaces help create an excellent environment for an indoor cat. Food puzzles and other fun feeding methods stimulate an indoor cat's natural hunting instincts.

Travelling safely by car

Always put safety first when travelling with pets. Here are some valuable things to consider and tips about travelling when it's hot. 

Your pet must remain in a secure place while in the car so the driver doesn't get distracted. A secured pet will also be safer for other passengers in an accident or if the driver has to brake suddenly. 

There are several options for dogs: you can use a crate or guard rail that keeps them in the backseat or a harness connected to the seatbelt sockets. Some dogs love to stick their heads out of a moving car window. However, this does put dogs in danger of injury from passing objects, and the wind can cause eye and ear problems. 

A roomy carrier, well-ventilated and secured in the car, avoiding direct sunlight, works best for cats. 

Don't forget to make regular stops for toilet breaks and leg stretches.

Five top tips for safe car travel, especially on hot days:

  1. Is travel necessary – does your pet really need to travel?
  2. Take a supply of cool water
  3. Make sure your pet is secured in a shaded spot and has enough space to move around freely, away from direct sunlight
  4. Plan multiple stops in case of a long trip, so your pet can stretch their legs, rest and drink
  5. Your pet may start panting, become disoriented, and excessively thirsty because of the heat. If you're concerned, contact a vet immediately, move the pet to a cool area, and cool them down with cold water and cold, wet towels. 

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Written by:
Waltham Pet Science Institute
In partnership with:

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