Become A Bunny Whisperer
Unless you are Dr Dolittle, chances are you cannot speak with your pet, which makes understanding what it wants much more complicated.
But just because your companion animal cannot ‘speak’ our language, it does not mean it cannot communicate with us. Here are some common things you may observe it doing and what it means, as explained by an animal behaviourist.
Rabbit Thumps its Feet
Thumping is a natural reaction when rabbits perceive danger in their environment. In some cases, rabbits may also display thumping as a fearful response, perhaps when they are uncomfortable with being picked up.
If you notice your rabbit thumping, try to look around to see if anything could be scaring or annoying your rabbit in any way. It could be loud sounds, bright lights or odd smells that are causing discomfort to the animal.
If your rabbit continues to show signs of distress, you can speak to a professional animal behaviourist on ways to desensitise your rabbit to the source of its discomfort.
Dog Walks in Circles before Settling Down
Long ago, feral dogs would walk in circles to make a "nest" – an area with flattened grass where they could sleep. They might also have done this to drive away predators like snakes or large insects that could be hiding in the area. Also, dogs may defend important resources like territory, and walking could be a way to tell other dogs to stay away.
While this is normal, constant circling, especially when the animal is not trying to settle down, may be a sign of a larger behavioural, psychological or health issue. If you realise that your dog has started pacing in circles out of the blue, this could be caused by pain, cognitive dysfunction or prior welfare issues. If this is observed, do consult a vet first to rule out any medical causes. You may also need to consult a qualified canine professional to treat the abnormal behaviour, especially if it is causing harm to the animal.
Dog Growls when You Pick It Up
Dogs growl for a variety of reasons – fear, guarding (territory or object), pain, or while playing.
Depending on the situation, they might be trying to convey different messages to you. For example, if you tend to pick your dog up when it is time to leave the park or when playtime is over, it might be voicing its displeasure that the fun is ending.
Some dogs dislike being picked up, but you can help to gradually make the act less threatening by rewarding it for appropriate behaviour at small stages – when you touch its chest, support its rear legs, and lift it off the ground. Be sure to take it slow and keep yourself safe, as a dog may quickly escalate to snapping or biting in defense.
If you realise your dog is growling more frequently, bring your dog to the vet to eliminate the possibility of any medical ailments. If all else fails, consult a qualified canine behaviour professional to help change the behaviour.
Hamster Bites When You Try to Touch It
If your hamster is not used to human touch, it may try to bite you when you attempt to pick it up. It is biting out of fear because it is unfamiliar with being handled and may feel a need to defend itself.
If you notice this in your furry creature, there are steps you can take to reduce the fear your tiny pawed pal has of you and at being handled. To do this successfully, the goal is to desensitise it to the presence of people and provide positive reinforcement to change its feelings towards the handling process. This process takes a slow and steady building of trust between you and your hamster.
Here are some tips to aid you in this:
Let your hamster get used to your presence by spending at least 30 minutes near its cage every day.
Try placing your hand in your hamster's cage for a few minutes, a few times daily. You can also refill its feed bowl by hand.
Try hand-feeding your hamster food and treats.
Try petting and picking up your hamster after it is used to your presence. If your hamster starts to bite, do not shake your hand to dislodge it. Instead, use your other hand to gently loosen its grip and set it down in its cage.
Help your hamster get used to your smell by washing your hands with fragrance-free soap before handling it.
This could take some time to see an effect so do not be discouraged if you do not see immediate results. Be patient, repeat each stage and soon you and your hamster will get along just fine.
Cat “Making Biscuits”
You may have caught your cat engaging in a kneading motion numerous times, an action some have referred to as “making biscuits”.
According to the 2016 Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, this instinctive behaviour is said to have started when they were kittens when they stimulate milk flow from their mother’s teats. This kind of kitten-type tactile behaviour might be carried into their adulthood due to genetic influence while being domesticated.
Hence, this kneading action can be seen as a way for cats to express happy and positive emotions and communicate their pleasure to their non-cat counterparts.
Of course, this action could just be your cat having a good stretch which is not an uncommon sight after it takes a long nap!
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Text by Chong Qi Ai
About the writer
Chong Qi Ai is a manager with the Animal & Veterinary Service. She has a Masters degree in Applied Animal Behaviour and Welfare and a Bachelor’s degree in Zoology. As an animal behaviourist, she studies how animals interact with each other and their environments, applying this to her work with the goal of improving the welfare of animals in her care. A typical day at work involves socialising, training and rehabilitating animals. She is also responsible for developing new programmes, initiatives and policies to improve animal lives and help them integrate better into communities.
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