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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Unrequited Lovebirds

Parrots are one of the most misunderstood pets in the industry. When most people acquire a parrot as a pet, they have no idea the time or energy involved in caring for it, but they also don't realize how rewarding a bird can be if it's properly cared for. Some of the best friends I've ever had have been birds. Large birds are some of the most loyal and affectionate animals, if you know the behaviors it uses to show it. To understand your bird's attempts to communicate with you, it must be understood first how it relates to other members of it's flock in the wild.

 by libookperson, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License 
One immediate, sometimes off-putting behavior of birds is biting. Many parrots can no doubt inflict a severe wound with their beaks, but not all "biting" is bad. A bird uses its beak not only to eat and defend itself, but to communicate affection to fellow birds. Despite it's appearance a bird's beak is very sensitive. The most useful sense to a bird next to it's eyesight is it's sense of touch. They will put their beak on everything. This is how they investigate and perceive their world. Their beak can give them massive amounts of information from edibility to temperature. As most bird owners know, a gentle mouthing by your bird is an everyday occurrence,  and should be welcome. Most of the time when a bird "bites" it has nothing to do with aggression,they are merely curious, and if you can be patient and control your fear, you'll find they aren't biting hard at all.

Another affectionate yet misunderstood behavior of birds is vomiting. If your bird vomits on you, consider yourself lucky! Your bird loves you! Starting from the moment they are hatched, birds throw up on each other. We've all see a mother bird regurgitate her food for her babies, but most people don't know this behavior doesn't stop when the bird becomes grown. All birds have an organ called a "crop" in their digestive tract, just before their stomach. The purpose of this organ is to hold small amounts of food, to be regurgitated on a whim. In a flock, adult birds often share small amounts of this food with each other to strengthen their bond, and communicate what kinds of food individual birds are finding in the area.

Before you dismiss a large bird as aggressive, or even insulting. Look at the bigger picture of your bird's behaviors. You might just find you had a best friend that was just showing you love, the only way it knows how!

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Sunday, April 17, 2011

Drunk Doggies, Crocked Cats, and Plastered Parrots

Your puppy is  an alcoholic! Every time you break out the spirits your pet wants a drink. What's the harm in it? Everyone likes to cut loose every once in a while, and who better to have a beer with than your best friend? Well you better cut off Fido before the first one.
Dog beer by AMagill, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  AMagill 

Alcohol when used in moderation can be a pleasant experience for humans. But that "buzz" we chase after to forget our woes, is actually the result of your body being poisoned. In smaller animals this can lead to some unpleasant results. There's no need to panic if your pet ingested a small amount of a forgotten beer. Alcohol is a naturally occurring substance, and many wild animals actually ingest it from time to time in fermented fruit. But don't ever intentionally give your animal a drink from your glass.

Dogs are probably the best equipped to handle a little alcohol, but the effects are greatly magnified, both psychologically and physically. For us, a little disorientation in a crowded dance club can be empowering, but we bring that feeling on ourselves, and know what to expect. From your dog's perspective it could be quite scary. Dogs can become easily confused and the result would be aggression. Their sudden loss of balance would be absolutely terrifying, and I'm sure they would feel as if they are fighting for their life. The physical effects of alcohol on a dog are much worse than a human. As little as a beer or two could lead to severe alcohol poisoning and even death, in even a large dog. Like in humans, alcohol is weight dependent, and in a smaller dog, maybe even a few sips could be very dangerous. We have adapted over thousands of years to be able to process alcohol, dogs have not, and with their increased metabolism, things can go from bad to worse very quickly.

Cats are no different then dogs when it comes to the devil water, with one exception, its worse! Cats are usually much smaller then dogs and as true carnivores, they just do not have the capacity to process grains, which alcohol is made from. A wild canine may run across some fermented fruit from time to time, but your kitty's ancestors never even tried the stuff. A few sips can lead to kidney failure, and it would be a good idea to get your cat to the vet immediately if even a small amount is ingested. A cat's body processes alcohol differently then a dog or human and it can cause some severe damage pretty quickly.

Lastly, I've seen more people try to give their birds alcohol then any other pet. Maybe it's because parrots tend to be more curious then other pets, or maybe because birds tend to be a bit more entertaining and we think they'd be hilarious if drunk, but as they are as bad at handling alcohol as humans are good at it. Even a large bird can not handle more then a few sips. Birds maintain an extremely high metabolism. Their bodies run at a hundred miles an hour all day every day, it's crucial for their survival. Aside from the toxicity of alcohol, it's a depressant. Birds can not handle having their heart rate slow down even slightly.

Alcohol poisoning can happen in all animals just as humans, only much quicker, and with less alcohol. The symptoms are the same, vomiting, frequent urination, confusion, and loss of balance. The best course of action if you think your pet has gotten into some alcohol and showing these symptoms will be to get them to a vet, immediately.

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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Dirt On Litter

I walked into my local pet superstore the other day to get some cat litter for our three lovely ladies. Holy cow! There is an entire aisle just for cat litter! Isn't cat litter supposed to be the easiest thing to purchase for your cat? It's just litter, right? Well, actually there are many different types of litter, and they all have a specific purpose.

The first type is the most common, clay litter. This is what almost everyone thinks of when someone mentions cat litter. It looks like tiny little rocks, and just as the name implies, is made up of ground up clay. It's very absorbant, and dominates the litter market. Even amongst the clay litters there is a great variety. Decoding the differences can help you make a better decision for you and your kitty.

Price is a great judge in the quality of the litter. The higher the price, generally, the less dust and the better the deodorizers that are used. Is one better then the other? Not really. I'll admit, the very low end litters can be a bit messy when you change the litter box and giant cloud of dust comes out of the bag. But your cat can likely not tell the difference. Most clay litter companies have come up with "multi-cat" versions of their litters. The only difference is the amount of deodorizers. I wouldn't spend a few extra bucks for multi-cat, but often times they are exactly the same price.

The second type of litter is clumping litter. Clumping litter is just like clay litter, except it has Sodium Bentonite added to it. This makes the clay stick together in clumps when it gets wet, how convenient! Now you can use a scoop and remove the waste on a daily basis instead of changing all the litter every couple of days. Clumping litter can be great, but sometimes it should not be used. One instance in particular is when a cat has recently been declawed, or has had any other surgery. Because clay litter clumps so well in moisture, it has a tendency to stick to fresh wounds. It sets up like concrete, which is great if your trying to remove liquid urine from your cat box, not so great if it adheres to your cat's sensitive stitches.

Price again, seems to be the best judge on quality for clumping litters. The higher the price, the finer the litter and the better it clumps. If you use an automatic litter box, that self cleans, you MUST use a high quality clumping litter. Anything less can damage the box's motor.

The third type is a paper or wood based litter. These are made from compressed pine or recycled newspaper. Some consider these a little more environmentally friendly, but what I like about them is their texture. These all come in the form of pellets, that are rather large compared to the tiny pieces of other types of litters. This makes them great for a recently declawed cat. The pellets are too large to get stuck in between the toes, and when they do break down they don't stick to anything.  The are probably the worst for odor control, but hopefully it would only be used for a few weeks while your cat heals.

The fourth type is the silicone based litters. These look like little white balls. When they first appeared on the market they seemed like they were something designed by N.A.S.A. An entire bag usually only fills a small litter box about an inch deep, but the absorbancy of these pellets is amazing. You could fill your litter box with water, and within minutes, one bag would absorb every last drop of it. It sounds too good to be true, and it almost is. If all your cat did in the litter box was urinate, silicone based litters would be the perfect solution. However, they are not very good at dealing with solid waste. In my opinion they almost make the solid waste worse to clean up. However great they are in dealing with liquids, they are as equally bad in dealing with solids.

Don't be overwhelmed the next time you try to pick out the equivalent of your cat's toilet paper. Clay litters and clumping litters are the most common, and do the job quite well.

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Sunday, April 3, 2011

Everybody Poops, But Not Everybody Eats It.

Its called Coprophagia. Its common in most dogs at some time or another. It's disgusting. It's eating poop! Why would they do that?! Believe it or not, it's not a bad thing.

To lessen the disgust factor, lets look at what poop is. It's what gets left over after a body digests food and takes out what it needs. A body doesn't take everything out though! This is why our dogs eat it. What's better then food? Food that's already halfway digested! In survival mode, this makes sense. Someone else's body does all the work of digesting, and all you have to do is eat. It's practically free energy, and it's instinctual for your dog. As domesticated, and sometimes "human" as your dog may seem, its ancestors were still wild animals that had to fight every day for survival. This was just another trick of the trade.

Puppies in particular can actually be healthier from it. Puppies will eat their mother's feces to gain much of the beneficial bacteria they need in their stomachs. Without this crucial step in their development, many puppies would fall ill or even starve at a very young age.

I know what you're saying, "This is great and all but it's still gross! How can I get my dog to stop?!" Its actually very easy. There are a few great products out there that make the feces taste bad, or at least taste worse. One of these is called Deter by 8in1. I've used it myself and it works after only a few days. As a bonus, it's also the cheapest one on Amazon. But it can only be used on dogs.

If other animal's feces are the problem then a little creativity is needed to make it stop. Cat tootsie rolls are also a very common treat. Covered litter boxes hidden where the dog can't get to them usually stop it. Another trick is to face the covered litter box toward a wall, the cat is usually small and agile enough to still get in, but the dogs are usually stumped.

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Saturday, April 2, 2011

What Did You Eat?!?!

Your dog just came in the house and after relaxing for a minute, vomits all over the new carpet. Gross! Get the carpet cleaner before it stains! Is our puppy ok? Should I rush it to the vet? When a dog becomes ill, it can be a roller coaster of emotion and confusion. This should not be the case. As disgusting as it can be at times, your dogs bodily functions can be a great way to asses their health.

Vomiting is one of those functions that can be very scary. It's one of the first symptoms of poisoning or severe infections, and you're right to be concerned. However, at the most basic level, it is just a bodies way of dealing with foreign objects that it cannot digest. Dogs in particular, seem to eat anything sometimes, and any dog owner will tell you vomit is on the agenda quite frequently. So how can you tell if you should be concerned or not? Look at the contents of the discharge and it can tell you the story of whats going on in your pets life.

If Fido just threw up a giant pile that's actually a good thing. I've seen dogs throw up pounds of food, or gallons of water, particularly right before or during exercise. This is most likely just the dogs body preparing itself to run. It's normal. The dog's body is just trying to shed excess wait that might slow the animal down. It's not pleasant, but it's also not a sign that something may be wrong with your dog. The best thing to do, is just make sure the dog has access to food and water after the stress or exercise is over with, and the the pup has had a chance to calm down.

Many times a dog may throw up pieces of objects. Shoe laces, couch cushion foam, or pieces of your child's favorite toy. This is also good, these objects are not digestible, and the body regurgitating them keeps them from getting lodged further in the digestive system, which can cause impaction and become a serious health issue. Things to look for that could be dangerous include plant matter, glass, or pieces of anything else that could be sharp. If you see anything like this a vet visit may be in order. Some plants can be poisonous and you definitely don't want the dog passing anything sharp.

The third situation I've seen is when a dog vomits virtually nothing. We call it the "dry heaves". This is probably the one that should cause the most concern. When a body tries to vomit but nothing comes out, the body is trying in vain to expel something that could be dangerous for your pet. Whatever that object or substance is, it is probably passed to far in to the digestive tract, and could become a danger rather quickly. Infections can also cause this as the body makes any effort to get the disease out. Infections will usually be accompanied by other symptoms such as trembling, drooling, heavy panting, and lethargy. This definitely requires a vet visit to get the problem fixed and should not be taken lightly.

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