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Looking after your pet

beauty mask_dog_07_06_12Looking after a pet takes time, energy, and patience – not to mention money. But if you’re prepared to put in the work, you’ll reap the rewards…

They can hog the bed, demand breakfast at 5am and hang upside down from the curtains – but we love them regardless. Pets are family members to love and laugh at. They’re great company and it’s been scientifically proven that they’re good for our health. So, here’s what you need to do to keep them healthy and happy.

Food and water
The bare necessities are essential
It’s simple but true. Just like humans, without enough food and water your pet will not survive.

Dogs
Your pooch will need quality grub and constant access to water. It’s up to you whether you feed your dog dry or wet food, or a mixture of both – though your dog may indicate which he prefers – but if you go for dry food, he’ll need more water. Depending on breed, you’ll have to feed your dog either once or twice a day. Smaller dogs often need frequent feeding, so twice a day may suit them better, while some larger dogs tend to bolt their food which can cause gut problems, so smaller portions twice a day, instead of one large meal, may be more appropriate. Always consult your vet if you’re not sure what feeding routine would be best for your dog.

Cats
Most kittens will start to nibble on solid foods at three or four weeks of age, so you should provide a specially formulated kitten food. Older cats like a mixture of good-quality dry and wet food as well as clean, fresh water to drink. You can feed cats raw bones, but never cooked bones as these may splinter and cause internal damage. Also, don’t give them cow’s milk as most are lactose intolerant and milk may cause a tummy upset or even diarrhoea.

Rabbits
Hay (alfalfa, timothy or oat) should be available to your rabbit 24 hours a day, and it should make up around 75 to 80% of his food. Important for health, it helps push through hair he may ingest from grooming. Vegetables, mainly greens, should also be included in a rabbit’s diet. You could also add carrot tops, parsley, broccoli, turnip greens, endive, romaine lettuce, kale and spinach. Rabbits are very susceptible to diarrhoea, so when trying out new veggies, only introduce one at a time for a period of a week each. That way, if your rabbit gets diarrhoea, you’ll be able to pinpoint the cause and avoid giving it again. Avoid beans, cauliflower, cabbage and potatoes because these are known to be problematic for rabbits, and iceberg lettuce, as it has no nutritional value. You should add pellets to your rabbit’s food as they help to keep the diet balanced. Finally, make sure he always has access to clean, fresh water whenever he needs it.

Fish
A goldfish can be fed twice a day with specialist fish food – but only feed them with a pinch of dried food at a time. If they eat it straight away, drop another pinch into their bowl. Continue for up to two minutes but only as long as the fish eat it immediately. Uneaten food will simply rot, causing the water to become dirty, leaving your fish vulnerable to disease. Fish need their staple food, and like all other animals, they like the odd treat, too – treats for fish are available, but, as with all other pets, don’t overfeed them or they will become unhealthy.

Guinea pigs
Diet is important – they need a mixture of meadow hay and washed fruit and vegetables. Guinea pigs cannot synthesize their own vitamin C, so they’re at risk of losing weight and suffering from weakness and swollen joints. Special vitamin pellets are available from all good pet shops to help protect them against a deficiency.

Hamsters
These nocturnal pets need a daily mixed feed made up of seeds, grains, nuts and washed fruit and vegetables.
 

Home comforts
Make your animals feel happy and secure
A comfy bed is as important for your pet as it is for you! Here’s what they need to be content:

Dogs
A simple cardboard box will work well as a temporary shelter for a puppy and can be replaced with a sturdy, washable bed once your dog becomes fully grown.

Cats
All any cat wants is a cosy place to sleep. Some like cat beds, but many will prefer a chair or your bed instead. There are numerous specially designed beds available for cats. Some have been constructed to hang from radiators while others have roofs and work on the basis that cats love going into things in order to feel protected.

Rabbits
A large, warm, dry and secure hutch with a separate nest area and plenty of dry bedding, plus a large exercise run, will provide the perfect home environment for your rabbit.

Fish
Your fish tank or aquarium should be positioned out of direct sunlight, and the bigger the tank you have space for, the better – a small goldfish will need an aquarium with a capacity of at least 10 gallons of water for itself. And, although it might sound daft, your fish’s home needs to feel as natural as possible, so decorate it with aquatic plants, and even some tank ‘furniture’, such as caves and shipwrecks, to keep him entertained. If goldfish are going to live to their full potential (25 years), they’ll need 25% of their water changed every two to four weeks, and a filter in the tank to keep it clean in the interim, an aeration pump to regulate the oxygen in the water and a thermostat to keep a constant temperature.

Guinea pigs
A large, weatherproof home raised off the ground that is protected from direct sunlight and strong wind will keep guinea pigs happy. There needs to be a separate sleeping area for each animal and a layer of wood chippings on the floor.

Hamsters
Buy as large a cage as you can, as hamsters need a lot of room, especially at night. One that’s made of plastic and has a raised lid is ideal. Provide plenty of nesting material (good-quality hay, shredded paper or cardboard).


This article was first published in at home with Lorraine Kelly in April 2012. [Read the digital edition here]


Picture credit: Shutterstock

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