Pet subjects: Is there anything wrong with keeping my rat in my pocket?

Posted by Big Rat on Campus on Apr 30, 2012 in Rat News | Subscribe

We have two Border collies who are generally well-behaved and good-natured
dogs, having been socialised with other dogs and adult humans through the
Kennel Club’s Good Citizen Dog Scheme. Our first grandchild is expected in
summer. What’s the best way to prepare the dogs for little visitors? NB,
Co Down

It’s a good idea to take steps now to familiarise your dogs with babies and
young children. If they’re as well-behaved as you say, this shouldn’t be

Perhaps you — or your children — know someone with a young family, and they
may be equally keen to teach their children to become comfortable with
well-behaved dogs; this can work both ways. A short visit, several times a
week, to a household with a scattering of young children should be enough.

After the birth, you should bring some of the baby’s clothes and bedding
around to your home, to allow the dogs to learn about the new smell. When
the child arrives for its first visit, try to give the dogs their normal
level of attention rather than focusing entirely on the baby.

Most dogs adapt very well to young children, but remember that even when
everything seems to be going smoothly, you can never safely leave a dog and
a young child together without close adult supervision.

Do cats have a tin opener in their collective unconscious? My two
12-year-old cats, Guinness and Big Blue, have eaten pouches all their life,
but every time a tin opener comes out they go into an ecstasy of
anticipation, even if it is just a tin of kidney beans. AW, by email

I’ve noticed other cats behaving like this and I can think of one proven and
two unproven possible reasons. The proven reason is that cats have a
remarkable ability to remember highly rewarding events.

In the past, even if you’ve only fed them pouches, they are likely to have
witnessed tasty tinned food being opened, such as tuna or salmon. The
combination of the sight of the tin opener, the distinctive sound that it
makes when it’s used, and the resulting delicious smell that fills the air
would make a strong impression on them.

This has now been lodged in their memories, hence the anticipation when they
see a tin being opened.

The other two possible reasons are less likely, but more fun: the collective
unconscious theory that you suggested, with the memory from previous
generations passed down in the cats’ DNA, and the idea that cats have a
spooky mind-reading skill. Tempting as it is to believe these latter two
ideas, they’re highly unlikely to be based on reality.

We live on a remote farm, and my four-year-old son wants a dog. It would
need to be reliable with children and farm animals and not wander off. Also
we love cycling, so it would have to have the stamina, sense and obedience
to follow a bicycle on long day trips on and off road. Can you please
suggest any suitable breeds? SF, Devon

I’m often asked to recommend breeds and I always start by suggesting
a cross-bred rescue dog instead. Many animal sanctuaries are highly skilled
at matching owners with dogs needing homes. For the same money that you’d
spend on a pedigree dog, you’ll be able to have a new pet that’s vaccinated,
neutered and microchipped, and you’ll be helping to save a dog’s life.

You can easily seek a rescue dog with the attributes that will suit his life
with you. When it comes to choosing a specific breed for someone’s needs,
there are some online breed selector websites that have useful
questionnaires (for example,

You answer questions and the computer programme comes up with a list of
appropriate breeds. You may wish to do this, even if you’re just planning to
get a cross-bred version of the suggested animal.

Have you tried being vegan or vegetarian?

After being challenged about my normal meat-eating habits, I agreed to become
a vegan for February. I’ve been eating only plant-derived food: no meat,
dairy products, eggs or even honey. So far, so good, and I’m learning that
it’s easier than I’d expected. Read more about my vegan challenge at here.

  • Send pet problems to We regret that he
    cannot answer all letters personally. All sick animals should, of
    course, be taken to a vet

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