At this time of year people are more conscious about seeing their friends, recommencing with distant friends who they may not have seen or spoken to at all, and being more aware of visiting those who may be on their own. We all know how amazing it feels to know that someone is there for you, and we all know how difficult it can be when we feel we are alone.
How many of you have animals or pets that do not share their lives with their own species? I constantly hear people complaining that their horses (herd animals) do not like leaving their friends; I constantly see signs of physical and emotional stress in horses who are not in fields with other horses, and so are prevented from interacting with them in a natural way. Herd animals must live with others of their species to avoid long term stress – this does not mean seeing a horse over the fence! They need to groom each other, play with each other and interact e.g. they will bunch together if they perceive a threat or danger.
Similarly I know many people who have one dog, cat, guinea pig or rabbit. This can cause real stress on the animals. We put our worst offenders in solitary confinement, and this has been used for years as a form of torture, yet we feel it is acceptable for animals. Being isolated from members of your own species is very stressful for virtually all animals (there are a few exceptions). However much time we spend with them, we are not the same species and we see the world through different eyes / ears / smells etc. Dogs that are left alone for long periods always show signs of stress (sometimes the owners are not aware of this); small animals such as rabbits get very depressed and stressed when they do not have others to interact and snuggle up with, and any owner of multiple cats knows how they love to cuddle up together! Birds are generally very sociable too!
So what can we do to ensure our animals do not feel lonely at this time?
For those of us with horses make it your commitment to ensure they have daily turn out with a herd of horses – a minimum of 3 is normally Ok. This will allow them time to groom, play and interact with each other as they choose. If this is not immediately possible then negotiate some free play time in a school and start looking for a new yard!
For those with dogs on their own, arrange walks and play time with other dogs; offer to dog share whilst people are at work; take your dog with you as much as possible; consider getting a companion for them!
For cats on their own – if possible get another cat (there are loads of amazing rescue cats looking for a new home) and introduce them gradually – rescue centres or I can advise how to make those initial introductions a success!
For small animals such as rabbits and guinea pigs again investigate getting them a friend (introduce gradually and with expert advice), spend as much time with them as possible and give them as much space as possible.
You will be so thrilled with how grateful your animal is – they are our best friends, now let’s make sure they have a best friend of their own! Happy Christmas!