Just like their human counterparts, animal parents have many jobs. While the young of some species are left to fend for themselves after birth, many more are nurtured by one or both of their parents. Most of our domesticated pets fall into the latter group. And just as our human children’s lives are shaped by what they learn in their formative years, so do our pets in their first months of life.
Physically, young animals derive their nutrition from the mother for their first weeks of life. Although some species are shorter, the average nursing period for most types of companion animals is 8 weeks. While survival is possible if removed from the parents sooner, it can be detrimental to the young animal’s health. Commercially produced milk replacers are available, but none is as beneficial as the mother’s milk. Good nutrition in these early days of life provides the animal with a stronger immune system and solid foundation of health upon which to grow. Animals that were removed from their parents too young tend to suffer from more health issues and have an overall shorter lifespan. In addition to feeding, animal parents have other jobs in their roles as physical caretaker. They clean and groom their young, keep them safe and warm, and stimulate them to urinate and defecate. As the young animal grows, these responsibilities lessen and the teaching begins.
Once the baby is old enough to support itself physically, the parents’ priorities shift to that of a life coach. Animals are born with many instinctual behaviors which are related to survival and procreation, but parents must teach social skills. They teach their young about appropriate behavior and how to read behavior in other animals. The majority of this is taught in the first 3 months of life. If taken away from their parents too early, many critical skills are left unlearned. These animals tend to have more behavioral problems upon entering their new human home. Some can be corrected, but training and socialization are much more difficult. These animals also tend to be less secure and confident and suffer from anxiety issues throughout their lifetime.
Once the young animal has left its parents, its human family assumes the role of teacher and protector. They must continue to teach and reinforce accepted behavior, discourage undesirable behavior, supply nutrition, shelter, safety, and love. Having a well-behaved, loving and healthy pet takes much work and is a long-term commitment. Pets depend on their human family to provide for their needs. In return, they give unconditional love and will bring happiness into their humans’ lives.