The biggest pet welfare problem in Australia is owners not taking care of their animals’ mental health, a vet behaviour specialist is warning.
“We know that at least 20 per cent of dogs have some kind of anxiety issue, which is about the same rate as in people,” Dr Kersti Seksel.
“I think the biggest ethical issue is that people won’t treat their animals for their mental health issues… for me that’s the welfare issue for the dog.
“It’s nice to see we’re finally putting some money into dealing with mental health for humans and hopefully that’ll roll across and we can look after our pets better as well.”
Dr Seksel is one of the country’s only behaviour specialists for animals which means she’s a psychiatrist for pets.
She deals with all kind of ethical issues like owners asking for their pets to be put down because they can’t deal with them any more.
“We unfortunately see that a lot if the owners don’t come to me early in the piece… we try and help as many dogs as we can and sometimes the owners are at the end of their tether and they don’t know what else to do,” she said.
“I always try and explain to the owner what’s going and what the pet’s doing… for example the dog’s not trying to be bad or dominate but it’s actually distressed and once owners understand that it’s easier for them to look after their pet.”
Joey, 16, hired a dog counsellor and trainer because his pets seemed unhappy.
“I didn’t know the dogs were anxious but knowing that now I hope that they feel less anxious cause this is their house and we want them to feel comfortable,” he says.
His dogs have the equivalent of anxiety, stress, ADHD and boundary problems.
According to their counsellor, Nathan Williams, it’s because these dogs didn’t grow up with their mum so they didn’t learn how to deal with their mental health at a young age.
Nathan says pet owners often project human behaviours onto their animals which can be a cause of mental health problems for dogs.
“Dogs are so different to people and that’s why everyone has problems because of anthropomorphism we have this perspective of dogs that they must be like us,” he said.
Bailey, 19, has had pet birds for most of his life.
His current bird Shakira is a cockatiel and Bailey says she offers a lot to his house.
“Sometimes dinner, breakfast lunch she just hangs with us and eats a bit of food… yeah she’s just self sufficient she’s there for us we’re there for her,” he said.
Bailey says he thinks about his bird’s feelings to make sure she’s comfortable.
He thinks Shakira is just as sentient as other animals despite being a bit of an obscure pet.
“Whenever I come home she’s always going crazy like she knows as soon as I wake up or when I walk in the door she knows I’m home… you can tell that she enjoys it,” he said.
“I think we all enjoy having her here… she’s just a good part of the family to have around.. I think we care for her pretty well and she enjoys it.”