Here is the third instalment in our ‘What does pet health look like?’ series in which we are asking pet owners to tell us what pet health ‘looks like’ to them and their pets. Now we are approaching festive season, we talked to Rebecca Howells and her guinea pigs Lily, Lucia and Rosa to demonstrate the importance of companionship all year round and how a pet really is not just for Christmas.
Every pet owner must be aware of the importance of companionship for their pets. It is important for owners to recognise and nurture both the bond between owner and pet, but also to be aware that some animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs are very sociable creatures, and like to live in pairs or compatible groups so they can benefit from constant companionship all year round. We talked to Rebecca about how companionship is important to her pets, and how she has nurtured a bond with them.
Why are your pets so special to you?
Pets have always been special to me since I was very young. Growing up I always had a pet, starting with a cat called Tao when I was a toddler, then a dwarf lop-eared rabbit called Ben, followed by a big pond full of goldfish, and then came my love for guinea pigs. I think it is important to learn from an early age not only how to care for an animal on a day-to-day basis and understand that 'they aren't just for Christmas', but also appreciate the bond that you can have with another creature and how much happiness you can give to them and vice versa. Having left home and bought a house I still own 3 guinea pigs (Lily, Lucia and Rosa) and I have adopted an albino pygmy hedgehog called Ozzy. Even though they aren't our pets, we also help out the wild hedgehogs that visit our garden by providing shelter, and food & water on a daily basis. Although they are wild animals they still need our help due to their dwindling numbers.
What does their companionship/friendship mean to you?
My guinea pigs' companionship has meant a lot to me when going through school and coping with the stress of exams. Feeding them before school got me motivated each morning, and I would always look forward to cuddling them and spending time with them when I got home. They were a calming influence and never judged me. I liked to sit and watch them running around on the grass in their run squeaking and pop-corning. They always knew how to make me smile. Growing up, I suffered from a lot of mental health issues and a chronic illness, which causes a lot of pain and fatigue. Having the companionship of my pets and knowing how much they rely on me keeps me positive and happy. I treat my pets on the same level as I treat my fiancé; in fact, he knows they have to have their tea before he has his, else all hell breaks loose!
What makes your guinea pigs such good friends?
I have always believed that the more effort you put in with a pet, the bigger the reward you get out. I spend quality time with all of my pets every day and have done since they were young, which quickly makes them tame. My guinea pigs live indoors so they see me constantly and I am always talking to them (whether they understand me or not!). They have a hutch on the floor with the cage door open during the day so they can run around the dining room and into their indoor run and hutch when they want. I call them 'free range' pigs! Giving them everything they need in terms of food (fresh, good quality dry food and hay, and treats), water, clean and spacious indoor hutches, outdoor & indoor run and exercise means they are happy and healthy, and you can see that in their behaviour. They purr when they are stroked and lick my hands and chin!
Can you give us some examples of why your Guinea pigs have a good relationship with each other?
As soon as they hear me coming down the stairs in the morning to make a coffee they start squeaking. When the fridge is opened they squeak like mad for their breakfast! I open their hutch door and they all come running out pop-corning (in excitement) under the table and chasing each other around, playing a game. Within a week of having them I taught the girls the word 'tea tea' means 'fresh food time'. I say the words and they come running up to me in a line, squeaking! They love cleaning out time too as they are very nosy and inquisitive and keep jumping in and out the cage to see what I am doing and what treats and fresh hay have been put in there. At dinner time they run around our feet, playing and climbing on them and occasionally nibbling on my partner's slippers! They are sisters and love to run around and play together, although they do have the odd row (usually over food!), but then all sisters do, don't they?! They are constantly chatting to each other in guinea pig language and if one gets separated then they squeak to each other to check they are around as they don't like being split up.
The Importance of Companionship
Rebecca has demonstrated just how important it is to nurture a bond with your pets and spend quality time with them every day of the year, as well as recognising that small animals benefit from companionship themselves, by keeping each other company.
The festive season brings with it a lot of family days out and visits, so for more advice on how you can ensure your pets stay happy, healthy and loved when the family is out during the day, read our article here. You can also read about how to provide your pets with some additional winter warmth on our site here.
The ‘What does pet health look like?’ series will include a range of topics throughout the year such as cold-weather pet care; ticks, fleas, worms and skin conditions; responsible feeding, diet and exercise; grooming and dental care and travel healthcare.