PEOPLE often choose to live in rural and regional Victoria to have more animals in their lives – but too many buy pets without doing their homework on which species is best suited to their lifestyle and how best to look after them.
That is one of the key findings of a report released by La Trobe University last week, Bendigo-based researcher Pauleen Bennett said.
“Some of the results did surprise us in terms of what people just don’t know about looking after animals,” she said.
“And, also, what we just don't know about people’s behaviours and the way they look after pets.
“There’s been a lot of industry-led research about looking after animals in zoos or animals that are farmed – what they should be eating and what temperature they should be kept at, for example – but the point of our research was to find out what pet owners were doing and evaluate what they were getting right and what they were getting wrong.”
Among the findings were some concerning statistics: 63 per cent of dogs are not walked daily and up to 40 per cent of cats could be overweight without their owners realising it.
Under-exercised working dogs, rabbits left out in the heat of the day and “tree changers” not doing their homework before buying farm animals were among the examples pet owners in the bush and regional areas letting their animals down.
“We see a lot of working dogs who are tied up on a chain in the yard all day,” she said.
The director of regional operations for La Trobe’s School of Pyshcological Science and Public Health said that example broke one of the “five animal freedoms” identified by the report.
“It is about freedom of behavior, and the normal behaviour of working dogs is to expend quite a lot of energy.”
The report didn’t just look at dogs and cats, it also looked at more unusual pets like snakes, frogs and birds. Fourty-three per cent of ferret owners, for example, don’t let their pets out of their cage daily, while most reptile owners don’t have a large enough enclosure.
Farm animals were also included in the study and many who took up a rural lifestyle were doing so without first doing their homework.
“We have lots of people who buy four or five acres who’ve never lived on property before, who buy a few sheep or goats to keep the grass down without knowing anything about what those animals require,” Ms Bennett said.
The human-animal relationship researcher, who lives on a property in Mount Camel, said the pet owners in the bush needed to be more self-reliant when it came to looking after animals.
“One of the big issues for us is getting an animal to the vet if they are hurt or sick,” she said.
“For me to get to the vet is a 50-minute drive, in the city it might be within 10 minutes.
“So to some extent, if you live in the bush you’ve got to be better at looking after them yourself and got to be better at first aid and understanding when an animal might need care.”
A registered dog breeder, Ms Bennett owns a dozen dogs, five alpacas, around 30 goats, several horses, one black cat and runs a couple of hundred agisted sheep on her 120 hectare property.
The dogs, Lagotto Romagnolos, are a perfect match for Ms Bennett’s lifestyle.
“That’s one of the most important points: choose your pets carefully,” she said.
“For me, I really like Lagottos because they are a good size, I can carry them around pretty easily, they’re fairly energetic and I have 300 acres, they don’t shed and most importantly they are happy and friendly.
“And they don’t chase sheep.”
The research was part of the ‘Making Victoria Better’ For Pets campaign. To find out how best to look after your pet head to the campaign website.