Where needs meet . . . Print E-mail
News - Rubrieke
Saturday, 24 February 2018 13:39
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Dr Liesel van der Merwe is a small animal medicine specialist. Send her your questions: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Dr Liesel van der Merwe

Last month’s column drew some comments from the readers. I want to talk about what dogs and cats need for a good quality of life and how we can choose our pets to fulfil our personal needs without any negative impact on the pet’s needs.

Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is a theory in psychology comprising a five-tier model of human needs, often depicted as a pyramid. The theory states that people are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs take precedence over others.

Our most basic need is for physical survival and this will be the first thing that motivates our behaviour. Once that level is fulfilled the next level up is what motivates us. The needs are: Biological and physiological; safety; love and belongingness; esteem; and self-actualisation.

The basic rights of animals are shelter, freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition, freedom from discomfort, pain, injury and disease, freedom from fear and distress and freedom to express normal behaviour.

I then wanted to apply this to what people believe are pets’ needs and in this context it probably mainly applies to the freedom to express normal behaviour.

Many complexes, if they allow pets, will say that only small pets are allowed. This is an incorrect assumption. It is the dog’s nature which decides what kind of property it will need. Many of the small breeds are extremely active, energetic and have territorial natures, which causes them frustration in a small yard, makes them aggressive towards neighbours and passers-by and results in excessive barking.

Daschunds, Jack Russels and terrier crosses can be the worst offenders with this. Other small breeds such as Pekingese, smaller Yorkshire Terriers, Chihuahuas, pugs, poodles, Pomeranians and min pins are a little more relaxed and earn the name ‘lapdog’ more readily. 

Many of the larger breeds, specifically Irish wolfhounds, Great Danes, St Bernards and Mastiff breeds, are actually quite lazy and once mature don’t need much space. Medium-sized breeds, such as spaniels, bulldogs, chow chows and whippets, are also a good fit for a smaller area.

A proviso to smaller yards / indoor lifestyles is that they are taken out daily for regular walks. This is healthy both physically and psychologically, where they can sniff and see what they have been hearing about all day. They get one-on-one time with their owner and they get exercise. 

I have practiced in the UK and many dogs live mainly indoors. They are much more relaxed and better behaved than the average South African dog because they are better socialised.

Dogs are social animals; space is generally of secondary importance if they have good human interaction and their human-animal family group is functional and healthy. I have seen many larger dogs that live in large spaces with anxiety related behaviour disorders, such as excessive licking, causing sores.

When I mention that part of the problem is due to boredom, the owners often answer, “But he has the whole yard to run around in”. But does he have a companion (human or animal) to run around and play with?

To summarise: Smaller pets could easily live a mostly indoor lifestyle, as long as breed selection is appropriate. A single pet is fine for a retired person, as they generally spend a lot of time at home. For people with long working hours, then at least two pets should be together. I know of people who ‘day-care’ their dogs with each other so that they still only have one dog, but the animals have company during the day.

Working dogs, such as border collies, beagles and hunting dogs, require intensive time, activity and space and are not a good fit for older people, busy working people or a small property.

I believe body corporates should get educated opinions as to what is suitable for their specific situations. Pet owners should behave with courtesy towards non-pet owners: pick up poo; find a solution if your dog is barking; sterilise your pets; keep your cats in at night; be prepared to pay a little extra levy for pet management issues in the complex. Your right to own a pet does not trump those of your neighbours to have a pet-free lifestyle. 

If you need advice, there are veterinary animal behaviour practices registered with the South African Veterinary Council as well as properly qualified non-veterinarian animal behaviourists.

Besoek die Suid-Afrikaanse Departement van Gesondheid se webwerf vir alle amptelike inligting en opdaterings rakende COVID-19 by www.SAcoronavirus.co.za

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