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Do you have kids? What about fur-kids or feathered kids? Or do you have just one kid or one pet?
 
Whether you’re travelling or not, seems everyone has an opinion about the merits or problems of having an ‘only child’ whether human or animal – are they lonely? Do they get spoilt?
 
Longtime friend, Veterinarian and CEO of Pets Australia Dr Joanne Sillince is her to help answer the question… “Are Solo pets OK?”
 Includes full transcript if you prefer to read.
 
 

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TRANSCRIPT

KAYE:
Do you have kids? What about fur kids or feathered kids? Or do you just have one kid or one pet? Whether you're travelling or not, it seems everyone has an opinion about the merits or problems of having an only child.  Whether human or animal are they lonely? Do they get spoilt?

BRIAN:
Oh Yeah!

KAYE:
Talk about a can of worms when someone starts chatting about solo pets over happy hour!
Everyone has an opinion… but luckily, we have a wonderful new network of scientists and experts that can help us on Food, Wine, Pets, Travel.

Introducing long-time friend, Veterinarian and CEO of Pets Australia Dr Joanne Sillince to help answer the question. . . ’Are solo pets okay without another of their own kind?’

Dr.  JOANNE:
Well, the short answer is it depends on what pet you are.  I mean, there's some animals, whose innate nature is social.  And the dog or a bird is a really good example of that.  And some animals whose innate nature is solo. And a really good example of that is the cat. And so for those animals that are social, you need to put them together with something for them to be really happy. And this is actually part of the reason why so many cockatoos go stark raving mad because they're on their own very much.

They,  more than most birds, will collapse with nervous breakdowns if they're not part of a flock. Budgies seem to do okay. But they do better when they're in contact with wild birds. The problem with that, of course, is then they share diseases.

BRIAN:
Just to interrupt you Jo, how big is a flock, though? Is it two? Or more?

Dr.  JOANNE:
Look, the short answer is the flock is normally a ‘bunch’, so it's normally more than two. But having said that, a lot of herd or flock animals will do quite well when there's two of them. And in fact, they'll often do quite well when there's only one of them if there's someone else with whom they can relate. So dogs which are pack animals will survive quite happily as solos if their pack becomes their family. But of course, the solo dog whose family is out all day is often the one that succumbs to chronic barking and part of the reason they succumb to chronic barking is they're saying, COME PLAY WITH ME! COME PLAY WITH ME! especially if you've got a close family.

And by that, I mean close to the dog. They will often survive quite long periods solo because they know that the family is there and it loves them and it'll come back and all the rest of it. And in a one dog family, a dog tends to become an extension of the people population. So they will respond very closely to people. A two dog family tends to become more like a human pack and a dog pack side by side.
But it also means that if the family's away quite a bit the other dogs can talk to each other for want of a better phrase, but a lot of it depends on how well adjusted the animal is.

Solo cats tend to do quite well. In fact cats forced together will often fight because they're innately solo. So cats in big bunches have to actually learn social skills.

KAYE:
We've often get asked quite a lot... “I feel guilty leaving my dog at home all alone. Should I get another dog?” I mean, it's a very common question. I think the answer is always that it depends, doesn't it?

Dr.  JOANNE:
Very much. . .  and the age of the dog and how well connected the dog is to the family. And whether there's a dog over the fence next door and quite a few dogs will bond very closely to a Teddy Bear. So for some individuals they'll bond really nicely to their best friend. So it really depends on the dog. I guess there's a good indicator, right? If you've got a solo dog that is barking a heck of a lot, you have to ask a question. Is it bored? Is it lonely? Should I do something? And that's when you start trialling some options. So you leave them a good meaty bone to munch on and it takes their mind off the fact that there isn't another dog there. Or you did as I did in one of my houses remove one of the palings from the fence so it can talk to the dog next door if they get on well together.

It's not a good look if they don't (LAUGHS!) or you try the Teddy Bear trick or something like that. The local school kid comes and drops afternoon tea off.  It's part boredom part loneliness.

KAYE:
And so cross species is okay to them?

Dr. JOANNE:
Again it depends very much on the animals, for those that are group animals across species… and there's plenty of instances of goats and cows becoming best friends and even goats and dogs becoming best friends and Maremma dogs and sheep and goats becoming best friends. Again some dogs bond really well with cats and vice versa at other times they try to kill each other. Yes, for those that are pack animals, they will often do well by having an additional something.

KAYE:
Well, I think our little girl does very well with a little something. It's very old, much travelled around the world three times. A stuffed doggy which survived our other previous four dogs actually!

BRIAN:
Yea!.. it's very interesting because we often go and tell people that we had four dogs who used to travel with us in a smaller caravan than we've got now. She's more trouble than all four put together and it's absolutely true! Believe me, if you want a good night's sleep and you're going to sleep with Chica, forget it.

KAYE:
Yeah… she's fine. And look, Jo has some really cool ideas. She's been around in the industry for a very long time and she takes a different perspective… perhaps a global perspective of how we are all getting along with pets.  

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