Our animal friends are growing up fast

A year ago I wrote a column on the subject of sleep, inspired by my then two-month-old first-born son Alexander, who seemed to be struggling with the concept. Incidentally, the column was wrongly attributed to my colleague Sam, whose friends were surprised to hear of his wonderful news. His wife, however, was more than a little concerned.

So here we are a year on. The parental sleep deprivation continues, though it is no longer every night. Our baby is now a toddler, is almost fully bipedal, has conquered stairs (initially without his parents noticing) and has developed a sort of language that he understands, but other members of his species definitely don’t. He can pretty much feed himself.

Humans are remarkable animals, but it might be interesting to look at how my offspring compares with his year-old mammalian contemporaries.

The vast majority of domestic mammals are adults at a year old. Dogs, cats and rabbits will be due their first annual booster vaccination, all are sexually mature and most are fully grown. By contrast, at 2ft 6ins, my son has achieved a mere 40 per cent of his adult height.

Alexander’s ability to climb stairs puts him ahead of a Dalek, but he is outclassed by everything else. Puppies and kittens are fully mobile by three or four weeks, and the majority of our farm and equine patients are born walking. Many rodents are born completely helpless, but a mouse has generally raised its first family by two months old and is past it by 18 months.

While Alexander has something approaching language, his ability to say ‘baa’ when he sees a sheep means that he is perhaps more able to communicate with them than us. Language is, of course, something that separates us from our animal cousins. Mutually understandable barks are learned within a few weeks, and moos a few hours.

When it comes to feeding, use of tools puts him ahead of his contemporaries. Chimpanzees, one of few other animals able to use tools to eat, don’t learn this skill until their second or even third year. Chimps have a five-year ‘childhood’ very much like our own and are almost completely dependent on their parents during this time. When it comes to domestic species, all can find their own food by a year old.

So there we have it, the briefest of trips through the subject of ‘why animal babies are just better’. The next addition to our household is almost certain to be a furry one.

By CHRIS GREEN, Director and Senior Vet