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SWISS TRADITIONS

EXPLAINED: Which pets can’t be kept alone in Switzerland?

One of Switzerland’s most unique laws is a prohibition on keeping ‘social’ animals alone as pets. But which animals does this rule apply to?

Guinea pigs must be kept at least in twos in Switzerland. Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash
Guinea pigs must be kept at least in twos in Switzerland. Photo by Bonnie Kittle on Unsplash

Most people get pets to counter their own loneliness – but what happens if the pets themselves get lonely? 

Like the clown who entertained the village but was never able to laugh or smile, the lonely pet is a sad tale. 

Fortunately in Switzerland, loneliness among pets has been outlawed – or at least minimised, through a series of 

Certain animals which are considered to be ‘sociable’ cannot be kept alone, nor can they be kept in small cages or enclosures.

Under Article 13 of Switzerland’s Animal Protection Ordinance (TSchV), these animals must be accompanied by another animal of the same species, i.e. providing them with the company of another animal – or that of a human – will not be sufficient.  

Which animals does Switzerland consider to be ‘social’?

Working out which animals are considered social and which are not can be difficult, especially as the section itself does not lay out an exhaustive list. 

In practice however, there are several animals which are considered social and must be kept in pairs as a minimum. 

These are guinea pigs, mice, gerbils, rats, degus (Chilean rodent), chinchillas and ferrets. 

READ MORE: The 12 strange laws in Switzerland you need to know

Rabbits can be kept alone only after they are eight weeks old, as younger rabbits are considered social animals. 

Hamsters on the other hand can be kept alone – in fact, ‘gold hamsters’ are loners and should be kept alone, according to the Swiss Veterinary and Food Safety Ordinance

Dog owners are recommended to allow their animal to have contact with other dogs, however this is not mandatory. Cats can be kept alone but should be allowed outside regularly. 

The list isn’t limited only to mammals, however. 

Goldfish must also be kept in pairs, along with budgies, lovebirds, Japanese quails, macaws, cockatoos, parakeets, parrots, canaries and finches. 

Where one animal dies, you are required to quickly replace it, so that the one which remains is not lonely

If you cannot, the Swiss authorities ask that you give your animal to a home or another pet owner, so it won’t be lonely for too long. 

There’s also Zurich’s ‘guinea pig rental’ service, whereby you can get some temporary company for your pet in times of need. 

While it may sound like a laughing matter to some, more and more is being understood about how animals interact and deal with stress. 

Animal behaviour such as plucking out feathers or scratching fur is now being understood as a consequence of loneliness. 

“The law reflects our perception of how animals are kept in a species-appropriate manner,” Jean-Michel Hatt, Professor of Zoo, Home and Wildlife Medicine at the University of Zurich, told Germany’s Welt newspaper when the law was passed in 2008. 

“Especially with budgerigars and guinea pigs, the legal obligation to keep at least two of them is really the minimum.”

What happens if you break the rules? 

Generally speaking, you will receive a caution and an explanation about the rules at first instance, as presumably many would be unclear about the laws and how they apply. 

However, there are some relatively harsh penalties for those who continue to refuse to observe the rules. 

Persistent violations could see you receive a fine of up to CHF20,000, which is a lot more expensive than an additional budgie. 

At worst, you could even find your own loneliness increasing exponentially, as animal neglect carries with it a maximum jail term of 180 days in Switzerland (at which point you’ll probably begin to understand how the guinea pigs feel). 

What other rules should pet owners consider? 

In addition to reflecting animals’ social nature, it also seeks to protect their privacy. 

An animal enclosure must allow for space where the animal can retreat in private wherever it likes. 

So if you’re thinking of building something and want to stay consistent with Swiss law, try and construct something like a share house for your pets, with both a common area and a place where it can get some well-deserved privacy. 

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SWISS TRADITIONS

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?

'Flying cows' is possibly one of the more curious myths people hear about Switzerland. But is there any truth to it?

Do Swiss cows really get airlifted down from the Alps after summer?

If you talk to foreigners and ask them a surprising thing about Switzerland, many will mention the “flying cows”, and pictures of the animals being taken by helicopter up and down the Swiss Alps are not difficult to find.

“The cows in Swiss are taken to the highlands by helicopters for grazing during summers and brought down back again by helicopters in the winters!” wrote one person in an English-speaking forum.

The pictures of airlifted cows can be found all over the Internet, adding fuel to the myth – but the images are not fake.

So, are cows airlifted in Switzerland once the summer is over?

Yes, cows really get a free helicopter ride up and down the Alps, but only when necessary.

Injured cows that cannot make the journey walking will not be left to die in the cold mountains during the winter season. Instead, they are taken down to the area where the rest of the herd will join them via helicopter ride.

Healthy cows going down the Alps are also a sight worth seeing. In the alpine regions, the yearly march of the cows from grazing in the Alps is called “Alpabzug” (something like “drive from the mountain pasture”).

In the French regions, the march is known as “Désalpes”.

Farmers and shepherds will wear traditional clothes and decorate their cows.

The event takes place in early autumn, usually late September or early October. It is determined by the lack of grass, or if any cold spells start, so it depends on the region and can vary year by year.

The Désalpes festival

The event becomes a party in Switzerland, and people meet up in their villages to see the cows on their journey from the Alps.

They share food (especially cheese) and wine, and there are musical presentations (such as an alpine choir), yodelling, and of course, the cow bells making it known that they are coming through.

The cows leading the procession are usually the best dairy cows and receive decorated headdresses. The event has become a significant tourist attraction in the Alpine regions.

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