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Popular Pets

The most popular pets are cats and dogs
The most popular animals to keep as pets
Img: huoadg5888 Pixabay

Animals make popular pets because they provide humans with physical and emotional benefits.

Pets, or companion animals, provide company and entertainment, and they give humans exercise and social interaction. People are themselves group animals who do not flourish in isolation.

They provide interaction and relieve the burden of isolation. That is the reason why older people who live alone, have a need for keeping pets.

An analysis done in 2019 of global research over 70 years involving 4 million people in eight countries indicated that dog ownership was associated with a 24% reduction in “all-cause mortality”. People who already had a heart attack had a 31% reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. A separate study in Sweden had a similar outcome.

These studies are observational and do not mean it has been proven. It is nevertheless a good indication of what to expect once in-depth research is done.

Pets provide social value depending on the needs of their human owners. Examples of the value provided by pets are”

  • companionship for the elderly,
  • companionship and learning for the young,
  • companionship and support for disabled owners,
  • service like that provided by detection (sniffer) dogs, therapy dogs, police dogs, search-and-rescue dogs, and herding dogs,

Common pet animals are

  • rabbits,
  • ferrets, pigs, rodents (hamsters, chinchillas, rats and mice), parrots,
  • fowls,
  • reptiles (turtles, lizards and snakes),
  • aquatic pets (fish and salt-water snails),
  • amphibians (frogs and salamanders),
  • anthropods (tarantulas and hermit crabs).

Research showed that people get pets for companionship, home protection or their perceived attractiveness and there is research that indicates that homeless people may change their behaviour if it threatens their pet ownership.

Dogs are excellent companions for children, teach them a variety of skills and can be therapeutic
Children and their pets
Img: IamFOSNA on Pixabay

Benefits of pets for children

“The greatest pleasure of a dog is that you may make a fool of yourself with him, and not only will he not scold you, but he will make a fool of himself, too.”

Samuel Butler. Novelist and Poet

Pets are a must for children because it not only teaches them skills, compassion and responsibility, but, especially dogs, can be good listeners for children who learn to read, and a living being with whom children can share their deepest feelings and secrets.

Exposure to animals creates resistance to common allergies due to exposure to bacteria.

Pets boost self-esteem in children because they are non-judgemental and they do not try to pro-actively teach the child anything. They aid in the development of trusting relationships, and they give children the opportunity to observe life events such as reproduction, illness, death and mourning.

More benefits of a family pet.
Why dogs and cats make babies healthier.

Dogs make good companions for elderly people
Pets for the elderly
Img: MabelAmber on Pixabay

Benefits of pets for the elderly

One of the negative factors of old age is the feeling of loneliness and doubt about one’s self-worth.

People who retire from their careers soon experience isolation as a result of a lack of interaction with other people. Once you retire there is no water cooler talk. Isolation leads to a feeling of worthlessness that often ends in depression.

A pet can fill a large part of the void left by the absence of family and colleagues, and energise senior adults who may feel isolated and neglected.


Pets such as dogs that are by nature pack or herd animals make good companions for the elderly and they are possibly the most popular companion animals because

  • they interact with humans by responding to attention and emotion,
  • require less care than most types of pets,
  • aler owners about someone approaching
  • act as protectors of the elderly.

Dogs mainly require food and attention, both of which is fairly easy to provide. If a companion dog is chosen based on the needs of an elderly parent, it should require little effort from the owner.

Pets provide a number of advantages to their owners:

Pets make their owners feel needed.

There is however research done in the USA which indicates that cats are more beneficial to socially isolated home-bound older adults. Cat owners reported, “significantly lower” levels of depressive symptoms than dog owners. There was no difference in the experience of loneliness between the owners of cats and dogs and both groups reported high levels of attachment to their pets.

I suppose much depend on whether the potential owners consider themselves dog or cat people.

Pets help their owners be more social.

Pet owners become social because they get out of the house to take their dogs for a walk and in the process, they meet like-minded people.

Owners have a common interest and seeing someone who also has a pet is not only a conversation starter but helps in the decision whether someone is worth meeting.


Pet therapy utilizes trained animals to achieve physical, cognitive, emotional and social benefits for patients.

Although pets do not “talk” back, having something like a pet to talk to, is in itself therapeutic because it enables verbal expression and the feeling of being heard.

Pets can also help speed up recovery after illness by taking the patient’s attention away from the source of their problem and boosting their mood.

Health facilities are increasingly using pets and other animals such as horses to visit patients and serve as therapy for the sick.

There are indications that pets help older adults cope with health issues and to connect with other people, and research in Australia showed that Psychiatric Assistance Dogs reduced anxiety, kept patients in the present by “pawing”, interrupted undesirable behaviour and caused other desirable outcomes in patients.


Keep pets clean and healthy using products formulated for the purpose

Looking after a pet means the owner has to feed, water, groom and interact with the pet. This increases responsibility and the will to live for the future.

Daily chores such as caring for a pet keep elderly people occupied, help them fight boredom and give them purpose.


Pet ownership requires activity from the owner. The activity can vary from just feeding the pet to walking or jogging with a dog.

Pets need exercise and attention which in turn means increased activity, stimulation and focus for the elderly. Dog owners walk more than other people their age.

Stress reduction

Pets assist in making people mindful. Mindfulness is the ability to forget about the past and future and to focus completely on the present.

Mindfulness releases stress and makes people feel in control of the situation. It can have a big influence on the well-being of an elderly person.


Certain pets such as dogs can be protection for an elderly person or serve as a deterrent for people with bad intentions.


A big advantage of owning a pet is that the required activities add structure to your day.

This can be beneficial to elderly people who live alone and easily miss a meal or some other important activity. Dogs know when it is walking or feeding time and will remind their owners. This can be of value to elderly people but also to people who work at home.

One of the most under-estimated advantages of elderly people having a pet is the fact that pets are forgiving and do not judge. This trait of animals means there is no pressure on the pet owner to conform to their pet or avoid judgement by their companion.

It leads to a relaxed way of life.

How to choose a pet for a senior person

Questions peculiar to choosing a pet for an elderly person include:

  • Is the senior set in their ways? If the potential pet owner is not someone who likes change, getting a pet might disrupt his or her routine. That may be counter-productive.
  • Have they owned a pet in the past? Experienced pet owners are better candidates for pet ownership, but a person who is open to change and new commitments can make a good pet owner.
  • Does the intended pet owner need a pet to cope with disability or other limitation?
  • Does the breed personality correspond with the personality of the elderly person?
  • Can the senior person afford the pet?
  • How will the pet be cared for in case the elderly owner has to go to a facility where pets are not allowed, to a hospital or the owner passes away?

It is important that you do not give a pet as a gift to an elderly (or any) person because of what you think they want or need, but to first make very sure what their needs are.

How to choose a pet

The first question when choosing a pet is Why? Why do you want a pet?

  • Do you need a companion? Do you need a pet to teach children life skills and responsibility? Do you need a solution for your empty nest syndrome after the last child left the house? Do you need a pet to exercise with you?
  • Do you have a condition that requires a therapeutic or assistance animal, or do you need a service animal like a dog trained to perform tasks for an owner with a disability?
  • How do you lead your life? Is it an active life, a non-active life or an isolated life?

If you know the answer to these questions, you can start looking at what animal would make the best pet for you.

Dogs are the most popular animals to keep as pets, so, let us look at the types of dogs. Most countries, including South Africa, follows the dog breed groups of the American Kennel Club (AKA).

They distinguish between 7 groups of dogs:

  • Sporting Group – Dogs such as Labrador, Pointer and Spaniel.
  • Hound Group – Dogs like Bloodhound, Dachshund and Greyhound.
  • Working Group – Boxer, Great Dane and Rottweiler.
  • Terrier Group – Bull Terrier and Scottish Terrier.
  • Toy Group – Chihuahua, Pug and Shih Tzu.
  • Non-Sporting Group – Bulldog, Dalmatian and Poodle.
  • Herding Group – Border Collie, German Shepherd and Welsh Corgi.

The group best suited to elderly owners is the Toy Group while some dogs from the Sporting Group like Labradors may be welcomed by children, as would the smaller Terriers.

Birds make good pets but are less responsive than dogs and cats
BIrds as pets
Img: Daniel Tuttle Unsplash

Birds as pets

Birds don’t require to be walked and they live in cages, which means they demand little time and space.

They keep themselves clean and the owner only needs to clean their cages and feed them. Something that is much less trouble than walking.

Birds are smart, they can learn tricks and tasks and they can become attached and loyal to their owner. Some birds can live up to 100 years, which makes them good pets for people who fear losing a pet. That can also be a problem if the bird outlives its owner.

Cats as pets

The popular saying about cats is that people don’t keep cats, cats keep people.

Cats are intuitive animals and that enables them to observe the feelings of humans. Cats know when their owners need love and support during strenuous times.

They are easy to keep. They do not need as much attention as dogs, don’t require to be walked, are generally quiet and can play by themselves. At the same time, they can be playful with humans.

Cats only need care, food, water and a clean litter box. In return, they keep your house rodent-free and is a comforting animal to have around.

Horses as pets

Horses can provide companionship, help you build self-confidence and provide exercise when riding them.

The downside is that horses are expensive to keep, need large spaces to live and exercise, and cleaning stalls and grooming your horse takes time and effort.

Rodents such as Hamsters and Guinea Pigs make popular pets but need lots of attention
Rodents as pets
Img: Jaroslaw Slodkiewicz Unsplash

Do hamsters make good pets?

Hamsters are solitary pets, they prefer not to share a cage with other hamsters, but they do form bonds with owners who spend time playing and cuddling them outside of their cages.

They do not make good pets for small children as they require careful handling and may bite when they feel insecure. They must be fed in a dish, as they can easily ingest their bedding if it is mixed with their food.

Hamsters groom themselves and are actually very clean little animals. They do not like old food, so their food needs to be changed every day. Special care should be taken with hamster bedding as they don’t react well to non-organic bedding. Bedding should be hay, grass or a similar product.

Their cages need to be cleaned at least weekly because they use their bedding as a toilet. Bedding should be cleaned every six months with a small part of the old bedding retained to ensure the hamster feels secure.

Make sure you know the difference between hamsters and guinea pigs. They are not the same and don’t eat the same food. Guinea Pigs are larger than hamsters.

Pet reptiles

Reptiles are good pets for people with allergies and families who need a low-maintenance pet.

Some reptiles like snakes only eat once a week which makes them easier to care for. They need less care but they need specialised care otherwise they easily experience health consequences from the wrong diet, wrong handling or wrong habitats.

Reptiles can be plant-eating, insect-eating or meat eating. They cannot control their body temperature and need to be housed in appropriate heat and humidity housing.

You need to research the reptile you want to keep as a pet, because they all need different forms of care. They don’t need much attention but are fascinating to watch. Reptiles are inexpensive to own, and they live long. You will need to have a vet that knows reptiles.

Other reptiles that are kept as pets but who require proper research and knowledge before you acquire one, are

  • turtles,
  • tortoises,
  • snakes,
  • bearded dragons,
  • lizards

It is best to get a reptile that was bred in captivity as they are healthier, live longer and you don’t encourage the illegal pet trade by buying animals caught in nature.

Choose your pet well. We hope you have years of pleasure and companionship from your pet.

Read more about animals suited as pets.

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What you need to know about dogs

Know about your dog before getting one as a pet

What you need to know about dogs

Dogs are descended from wolves, but modern dogs are weak representations of their earliest ancestor and you should know certain things about your dog before you get one as a pet.

Domestic dog breeds are the result of the need people have to manipulate their environment. People bred dogs to strengthen the features they required.

Every modern dog breed caters to a human need.

Dog groups according to the American Kennel Club

  • Sporting Group: bred to assist hunters. The group includes Spaniels, Pointers, Retrievers, and Setters. They are good pets for active families because they need plenty of excercise. The sporting group include Golden and Labrador Retrievers.
  • Hound Group: scent dogs used for tracking and hunting. They make good pets but some need more excercise than others. The hound group include Beagles, Greyhounds and Dachshunds
  • Toy Group: this centuries old group was bred to act as companions for humans. They are small dogs that are easily carried around and are true lapdogs. Dogs in this group include Chihuahua, Japanese Chin, Maltese and Chinese Crested.
  • Non-Sporting Group: Group of dogs that do not fit into any other group. They can be small or large dogs. Dogs in this group include Chow Chow, Dalmatian, Poodle, Bulldog, French Bulldog
  • Working Group: Dogs that work as sled dogs (traditionally) and in modern times as security dogs, military dogs, guide and service dogs. Dogs in this group include Boxer, Bernese Mountain Dog, Great Dane, Doberman and Mastiff.
  • Herding Group: Group of working dogs traditionally used to gather, herd and guard livestock. Dogs in this group include Border Collie, Welsh Corgi, German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd.
  • Terrier Group: Dogs bred to kill vermin and guard homesteads. SOme like the Dandy Dinmont Terrier were used to hunt otters and badgers. Dogs in this group include American Staffordshire Terrier, Bull Terrier, Silky Terrier, Boston Terrier, Dandie Dinmont Terrier
Chinese Crested WIkipedia
Chinese Crested Wikipedia

What role do dogs play in the life of humans?

Dogs are truly man’s best friend. We breed them to be what we want.

We have dogs for different purposes:

4apet toys for puppies
  • Assistance or companion dogs.
  • Guide dogs.
  • Hearing dogs
  • Mobility assistance dogs.
  • Diabetic alert dogs
  • Seizure alert dogs
  • Seizure response dogs
  • Psychiatric service dogs
  • Autism support dogs
  • Fetal alcohol spectrum disorders (FASD) dogs.
  • Allergy detection dogs.

There seems to be a dog for every human ailment. A dog’s true value lies in its ability to be a companion for humans. If we understand dogs better we will appreciate them more because they enrich our lives immeasurably.

Are dogs loyal?

Yes, dogs are loyal because dogs are pragmatic.

Like any living creature, dogs have a natural inclination to survive and to do it in a way that requires the least energy.

Dogs are “loyal” because they want to be in a group (pack) where it is safer and food can be obtained with the least use of energy.

Loyalty is one of those human emotions that we apply to animals forgetting that animals do not think or reason like humans. As long as we understand those differences, there is every reason for humans and dogs to benefit from our association.

What colours can a dog see?

Dogs can see yellow, blue and grey but their red and green perception is limited to the extent that it is equal to a colour blind human.

However, dogs see a range of yellow and blue combinations. A dog sees greyish brown, dark yellow, light yellow, greyish-yellow, light blue and dark blue. Red is a difficult colour for a dog to see.

The ability to see colour depends on cone cells which are photoreceptor cells in the eye. Humans have between 6 and 7 million cones in an eye that respond differently to different wavelengths of light and allow us to see different colours. Cones allow us to see light levels and motion. Humans have three cone cells that give us trichromatic vision.

Dogs have two types of cone photoreceptors which make them dichromats. Their vision developed to aid hunting and they have good vision for moving objects.

Humans have more cones so we can see more colours and dogs have more rods which enable them to see in low light and to see movement better.

What all this means is that choosing a red toy for your dog is not such a bright idea. Your dog probably sees dark grey or even black where you see red. Read more here. It may be better to buy your dog a yellow or blue toy or a combination of the two colours.

Why do dogs lick you?

If you believe that licking means your dog is kissing you, you may be “humanizing” your dog by attaching human acts and emotions to your pet’s behaviour.

It could be that your dog is just licking the saltiness from your skin or it may lick your mouth to entice you to regurgitate your lunch. Because that is what dogs in the wild do. It could however mean that your dog is just greeting you as licking seems to be a way of greeting in some wild dog species.

Apart from the above, it could also be a sign of submissiveness says the American Kennel Society. But there are more reasons why dogs could lick their owners.

The most popular explanation is that your dog licks you to show affection, just as dog mothers lick their puppies.

What can dogs not have?

Dogs can eat many things that humans can, but there are some things dogs should not have.

  • First on the list is chocolate and that is for a very good reason. Chocolate contains methylxanthines a unique drug derived from Xanthine which produces stimulants such as caffeine and is used in medicines and the manufacture of pesticides. Certain methylxanthines are used to alleviate asthma and bronchitis.

The methylxanthines in chocolate could lead to disruption of your dog’s metabolic process and large amounts could lead to seizures, irregular heart function or even death.

  • Avocado is the second bad dog treat to be aware of. Avocado contains persin, a toxin that occurs in avocados and which the fruit uses to defend itself against parasitic fungi. Many animals and pets are affected by persin in avocado. These include rabbits, birds and mice. But avocado is less of a threat to dogs than to other animals.
  • Next are onions and garlic which kill the red blood cells in dogs even when it is consumed in small quantities.
  • Grapes and raisins can cause kidney failure in dogs.
  • Milk and dairy products create problems in dog becasue they do not have the enzymes needed to break down the sugars and fatty acids in cow’s and goat’s milk.
  • Then there are macadamia nuts, sugar, caffeine, salt and yeast dough, with the latter fermenting in the dogs stomach and creating alcohol poisoning.

How long does a dog live?

Smaller dogs tend to live longer than larger dogs but in general, dogs live 10 to 13 years.

What it means is that the ageing process in dogs does not occur in a straight line like in humans. Let’s see what that means in ordinary language:

  • The equivalent of a one-yard old dog (or cat) is a 10 – 15-year-old human. A one-year-old dog generally has reached full growth and sexual maturity
  • The second dog year is equal to 3 – 8 human years in terms of physical and mental maturity.
  • Every dog year after that is equal to about 4 or 5 human years,

Dog years are not calculated on the human concept of calendar years but on the life stage reached. We might say human stages are reflected as calendar years to make it comprehensible and to have a common measurement. Just as human development is reflected in numbers of years so we can understand it, so is dog development reflected in human years for us humans to understand the dog’s age.

Because dogs do not grow and mature at the same rate as humans there is a difference in years between a dog’s age and a human’s age.

Asking how old a dog is, is the same as asking how old a toddler is, or a teenager or a retired person.

The average lifespan of dogs.

Are all dogs loyal?

Yes, dogs are loyal and will defend you with their lives because you are part of their pack. You will care for your dog to nurture the emotional satisfaction that it gives you to care for a living creature and to get loving “kisses” from your dog.

Dog loyalty exists because dogs are pack animals and pack animals are dependent on the pack. They owe their survival to the pack. Your dog sees your family as its pack and will do what is necessary to protect members of the pack and, in its own way, to promote the welfare of the pack.

Loyalty by dogs is not culturally or emotionally motivated emotions as is often the case in humans. Humans may be loyal because their religion, culture, or upbringing requires it, but dogs – in fact, all animals – show loyalty as far as it makes survival probable.

Humans call it “loyalty” and will show “loyalty” meaning a value of society. Dogs don’t call it any name and show “loyalty” from a much more practical point of view and that is survival with the best guarantee and the least effort.

Dogs do not defend you from harm because they are loyal, they defend you because you are the pack leader and the provider of food and care. Read more about it here.

It is a prime example of different motives but mutual benefits.

What does a dog eat?

Dogs are carnivores and hunters so, by nature they are meat eaters but they will eat any food that has an acceptable taste.

Most modern dog foods are manufactured on scientific principles, so if you buy your dog’s food from a well-known manufacturer or you buy a reputable brand, you should be OK. You can prepare your own dog food if you have the time or want to save money.

Dogs do not eat “civilized” like (most) humans, they gulp down their food and look for more and there is a reason why they will keep eating as long as you feed them.

Dogs, like all pets and many animals in human care suffer from the fact that we “humanize” animals. We say animals “smile” when exposing their teeth looks like a human smile but we forget that animals show emotions in other ways. Dogs wag their tails they don’t smile, they lick your mouth for a purpose they don’t “kiss” and they find safety in the pack, they are not “loyal”.

Dog owners often are surprised that their dog does not defend their property while they are absent, but allow people who feed them meat, onto the property. Dogs do not naturally refuse food from strangers, they need to be trained.

How often should a dog eat?

Ah, now here we have one of those topics that have as many answers and convictions as there are pet websites on the Internet.

Most advice really boils down to how your life is organised. If you have to feed your dog outside you may find that leaving food out attracts birds, rodents and ants. If you only see your dog in the early morning and then more than 12 hours later, you may find that being without food for more than 12 hours is detrimental to your dog’s health.

Based on their metabolism dogs should eat every 12 hours. How you can fit in with this time schedule will dictate when you feed your dog.

Some advisers prescribe that pets should not be left with a bowl alone during the day but that advice seems to be based more on your schedule than dog habits. By nature, dogs are browsers which means they will eat what they need as they move in their area. The same applies to a dog bowl that is accessible at all times. The dog will browse and may leave but will return to the bowl as it needs nutrition.

You could also use a slow bowl to let your dog only feed when it really needs the food.

If you lead a scheduled life you can easily let the dog follow your rules because dogs are creatures of habit and will adapt themselves to your feeding times.

Understanding my dog

You can understand quite a lot of what your dog wants to tell you if you know your dog and are observant.

Dogs react to their surroundings the same way we act when the doorbell rings. What you should know is that a dog is not a human and cannot understand human language. Dogs understand some words which they learn by associating them with your behaviour and they learn the meaning of voice tones.

Your dog’s abilities of smell and hearing are so much more than yours that communication only become possible once you and your dog understand each other’s reactions.

If you get up to open the door when the bell rings your dog will quickly learn what the doorbell means and what reaction is needed when it happens. Your dog may walk to the door with you or it may just observe but you can be sure that it knows to expect to see a human when the door opens.

The “non-communication” part happens when your dog becomes aware of something that you cannot hear or see.

Next time you walk your dogs observe their interaction with other dogs along the way

My experience

I sometimes look after my granddaughter’s dog when they are away. When they are about a kilometre away her dog starts to get active and may even howl. The dog knows they are near long before I even think of checking Google Maps to see where they are. The same happens with smells. Your dog may smell something that you are totally unaware of.

How we can understand our dogs better and communicate with them more effectively is to notice their behaviour and learn their reactions to specific sounds, smells or “events” in their observation of the surroundings.

Listen to how a dog barks and you may soon understand what it is telling other dogs and yourself. I often experience that dogs further away in the neighbourhood bark but sometimes dogs around my house do not respond while they may respond quite aggressively at other times.

When you are watching TV and your dog suddenly sits upright and points its ears it is telling you something. If it then barks or starts making soft whining sounds you may know that someone who the dog knows and likes may be approaching. If it barks loudly you know someone unfamiliar may be approaching and if the hair on its back stands upright you may expect unfriendly company. Your dog shares information with its pack and it is alert to the messages the pack members send to it.

Understanding what your dog says bark-for-bark may not be possible but you can go a long way in understanding what your dog wants to tell you if you listen more and speak less. This is generally good advice in life also!

Want to read more about what your dog is saying?