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Thursday, June 30, 2011

Picture of the Week, Caught in the Act

I Can Hazz your Shoe? by gilmorec, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  gilmorec 

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Fish Tank Barometer

Did you know you can use your fish tank as to predict the weather? That's right, you're home aquarium might be more accurate than the local weather man if you know what you're looking for. They can be used to predict upcoming storms, the passing of a front, or even let you know there's a tornado about to strike!

Storm Front 4 by mrpbps, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  mrpbps 

To use our fish tank in this manner, we need only have live fish in it. Fish possess an organ called a swim bladder. It's a large sack of air in the fish's innards that helps to keep it neutrally buoyant. It basically helps the fish to remain where it is in the water, without sinking or floating. The size and shape of this bladder can vary depending on the species of fish. Many catfish have a small one, or none at all, to keep them on or near the bottom of the water they are living in. Others, like the flying fish, have a very large one that can help keep them near the surface of the water at all times.

So what does this have to do with the weather? Because fish rely so heavily on this organ, just to remain in one place, changes in air pressure can have gigantic effects on a fish. If the air pressure goes up, a fish's bladder becomes slightly compressed. I'm sure the fish feels like it has really bad gas. The result is a sluggish fish that doesn't move too much. The fish would be "weighted down" and would not be able to perform at it's peak. On the flip side of this, when the air pressure drops, a fish has the opposite reaction. Many fish can perform better and this shows in their activity. As any good fishing guide could tell you fish become much more active when the air pressure drops. If your normally peaceful and calm aquarium, suddenly becomes an active parade of color, you can bet the air pressure dropped and there is some weather on the way.

One fish in the pet industry displays this attribute so readily, it's been called the weather loach. A slender eel like catfish, that prefers to hide almost all the time. It burrows in the gravel or under decorations, unless the air pressure has dropped. When weather is on the way the weather loach, also called a dojo loach, becomes extremely active. This is a fish you never see in your tank, that suddenly is racing and darting  the whole length of the aquarium.
Golden Dojo Loach by Rhizae, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Rhizae 

While owning an aquarium might not be the ideal barometer for weather predicting purposes, it is a fun trick if you already have one in your home. The next time you know the weather is coming, check out your tank, you might be surprised at what you find. You can see for yourself that when air pressure drops, your fish become happy!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Product Review - Nature's Miracle

I've often been asked, by many a frustrated dog owner, "What is the secret to house training a puppy?". Some would say patience while others might provide insightful knowledge into their methods of crate training. But truly, the one thing that can make house training a success, is Nature's Miracle Stain and Odor Remover. 

Accidents are inevitable when house training a new puppy. When a puppy goes in your house, it leaves a scent. The puppy uses this scent to determine where it's bathroom is. If you clean the scent, then the puppy won't be inclined to keep using that area as it's bathroom. This sounds easy enough, just get some carpet cleaner or bleach, and scrub away, right? Wrong, traditional cleaners will clean up a pet mess, at least enough that you or I would never know it's there, but a dog's sense of smell is many times more sensitive then ours, and they can pick up even the smallest traces of urine in your carpet padding. What may look like nothing to us, will stand out like a neon sign to your puppy, calling it to continue to use a certain area as a bathroom.

Natures Miracle Stain and Odor Remover is an enzyme solution, that actually "eats" the small particles of urine that may be left over after cleaning up a mess. Not only can it remove a stain so it's not visible to us, it can remove all particles so even the dog cannot tell it's there. It's a necessity for any pet owner, and can clean up any pet stain, not just urine.

When bringing a new puppy home for the first time, a bottle of Nature's Miracle is a must. It will save hours of frustration and help to keep your home clean. With the odor's gone, housebreaking your new puppy will be a snap, and you and your new puppy will both be happy!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hamsters And Gerbils As A First Pet

The Teddy Bear Hamster is undeniably one of the most popular pets used to introduce children to the responsibility and joy of pet ownership. They are small and active and keep children's attention for long periods of time. Almost everyone has been mesmerized at some point by a hamster running for miles on a hamster wheel. They are relatively inexpensive, and it's not uncommon to be able to purchase everything someone would need to keep one of these fuzzy little animals for under 50$. It sounds like the perfect pet for a trial run with a small child, and they can be. Teddy Bear Hamsters are not the only option though, and sometimes they are not the best.

If you do choose a hamster for a first pet, you should know they do have some habits that may be undesirable in your home and around your children. First, hamsters are nocturnal. This means they sleep during the day and are awake at night. They are also very active while they are awake. They will literally run for miles every night, while you're asleep. This can prove a little inconvenient when your hamster is making noise all night long, running on its wheel, and shuffling around it's cage. It also won't even be awake during the day when you most want to interact with it.

The second habit a hamster has that you may find difficult to adjust to, is it's solidarity. Hamsters are not social creatures. When two hamsters are placed together they will often fight to a gruesome death, and the winner will cannibalize it's opponent. If you're not expecting this, it can be an uncomfortable thing to explain to a small child. Pet stores are often deceiving because they do keep many, sometimes hundreds, of hamsters in the same enclosure. The hamsters they have are all very young, and have not yet developed the instinct to kill their own kind, but I assure you, they will. Behind the scenes, you might be surprised to find how many hamsters are actually killed at a pet store, when one hamster happens to stick around long enough to grow into this instinct. Also, because hamsters are unsocial by nature, they won't usually look for interaction from their human owners. To a hamster, a human is just nothing more then something to else to explore and climb on.

Finally, a hamster has very poor eyesight. Hamsters tend to perceive their world mostly through smell and sound. Unless a hamster has been hand raised, and exposed to being handled by a human, they will bite. They bite almost everything, in an attempt to understand the world around around them. These bites can be painful, and will often draw blood. Definitely not the best situation for a small child.

So what do you do? You've already purchased the cage, litter, and toys for a hamster. Is it time to head to Ebay and pawn these things off on someone else? No! There are still options. You can still have the life learning experience, for nearly the same price. There is another pint sized fur ball that can be your savior, the Gerbil!

Gerbils look very similar to hamsters, with one exception, their tail. A hamster has a very small bald tail, and the gerbil has a longer, hairy tail. Although they look similar, and cared for in exactly the same way, their personalities are like night and day, almost literally!
Sweeties by Tazmany, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by  Tazmany 

Gerbils are diurnal, meaning they sleep at night and are awake during the day. They will be most active during the day, and ready for interaction while you're awake. You'll be able to see them eat and play! There won't be a squeaky hamster wheel while you try to sleep.

Gerbils are also social animals. They don't kill their own kind, unless it's an extreme circumstance. Their social nature will lend them to crave interaction from you.Gerbils actually enjoy being in your presence, and love to be held. Many will actually feel comfortable enough to fall asleep in a shirt pocket, or in your hand.

Lastly, they have great eye sight. As a rodent they will chew everything that seems hard enough to wear down their teeth. The difference is, they won't bite just to see what your hand is made from. Gerbils don't naturally bite, unless they have been abused in some way and have learned humans are a threat.

The only difference between the  husbandry of a  gerbil over a hamster is the wheel. A gerbil's wheel must be fully enclosed, not one of the squeaky metal ones that we are all familiar with. A gerbil's tail can sometimes become caught between the rungs of a metal wheel, and injure the animal. 

When choosing your child's first pet, it's best to be informed on the difference between the species that are available to you. Although they look very similar, the differences between a gerbil and a hamster can be the deciding factor in making your child and your pet happy!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Product Review - FURminator deShedding Tool

As the weather warms up and the summer heat comes, our pets begin to shed their winter coats. There are lots of products out there to remove pet hair from your clothes, upholstery, and flooring but they can be expensive and only mildly effective. Even a few hours after you clean your personal items of pet hair, you can see it needs to be cleaned again. The FURminator deShedding Tool takes managing your pets shedding to a new level. The FUrminator deShedding tool attacks shedding at its origin, your pet.

At first glance the FURminator appears to be just an overpriced brush, but the price is well worth it. The FURminator can do what no other shedding tool can do, it can get to the source of the problem. With just a few swipes across your pet, you can manage to brush out entire handfuls of your dog's undercoat. Within 15 minutes, you can fill an entire garbage bag with the hair. Don't believe me? Check out this video.

Although the FURminator can be one of the priciest hair care products for your pet, the money it can save you on lint roller refills will more then pay for itself. It's sturdy design can withstand dropping or sitting on it, and the ergonomic handle provides a comfortable grip for brushing your dog or cat.

As the seasons change, your pet no longer needs this insulating undercoat and it dies and begins to fall out. FURminator doesn't hurt your pet, it merely pulls the dead undercoat out from underneath the top coat of fur. It's long metal tines, have the ability to get through a thick top coat and massage the undercoat out from underneath it. There is nothing comparable on the market. So if you have a seasonal shedding problem, check out the FURminator to cleanse your pet of it's thick undercoat. Your pet will be cooler and happier, and you'll be happier with the time you save!

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

You Always Hurt The One You Love

The first job I ever had was pet sitting for neighbors and friends. One of those friends had a male cat, that I had the pleasure of watching one week while they went on vacation. It was a frisky feline and friendly as could be. He would rub all over my legs and meow for attention every time I arrived and I was more than happy to oblige. This cat had a particular personality trait that I had never encountered before. Whenever I would sit down and get comfortable, he would climb on my lap. He would then purr and meow for my attention, and when he got it, he would jump up and bite me on the head! I was scared the first time it happened. I had never been attacked by any animal at that point, and I certainly didn't expect it from this loving cat on my lap. I wasn't hurt, but it was still a jarring experience. Unfortunately for the cat, for the remainder of the week, I didn't sit down and spend quality time with him. I did try a few other times to remain calm and allow the cat on my lap, but every time he eventually attacked my head and bit me.
Bite by pestbarn, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  pestbarn 
For more then a decade, I never had another encounter with a male cat. My family always kept female animals, and as luck would have it, none of my friends ever had a male cat. That all changed a few years ago, when we added a little male kitten to our family. I had completely forgotten about my experience as a pet sitter, until our male cat started behaving the same way. At first it was just a playful nip when we were rough housing, but it soon turned into an every day occurrence. He never bites hard, in fact he's never drawn blood or left a mark of any kind. That doesn't change the fact that he has sharp little teeth that hurt. I had just dismissed that one cat from the past as "having an attitude problem". But when our little kitten started biting, I made the connection and did a little research.

As it turns out, this is normal for male cats! What I interpreted as aggression, was actually the cat's way of telling me he loves me. How can this be? The kitty is actually biting the hand the feeds it! You would think this would be against any animal's instinct,  but this is not the case for the male cat. To understand why your male cat continually bites you, we have to understand how your cat reacts to others of it's own kind. In a male cat's world, biting and pain are synonymous with any interaction with the opposite sex. When mating, the male cat climbs on the back of the female and bites the back of her neck. This act is not to hold the female in place as it may appear, but to inflict pain. The female cat actually needs the pain to trigger her to ovulate. Her body uses this feeling as a guide to know when she has a strong fertile male ready to mate with her.

Now obviously, you and your cat are not trying to make little kittens, but he has no outlet for his affection. There are a few exceptions in some of the big cats, but as a whole, felines are solitary creatures. Males rarely allow another male in their presence, as they prefer to cover a large territory of real estate that encompasses many females. In a more domestic situation, when the cat is always around you and other animals, he just doesn't know how to express himself in a more polite manner. There are products that claim to help biting cats, such as Feliway Cat Pheromones. These products do in fact help, but they will never get your cat to stop. Many cat owners learn to live with the feline's habits. I feel a male cat biting is one of those things that you cannot make him stop doing. That's like asking him to stop loving you. The only way I've been able to train our little feisty fur ball, is to just stop giving him affection when he bites. He has learned over time that if he want's to continue to receive attention, he must control his urges. There are still nips now and again when he gets a little too excited, but he's become a much more nurturing cat. If you have a male cat that bites, the best prescription is a little patience and understanding to make you and your male cat happier!

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Product Reveiw - Pedipaws Pet Nail Trimmer vs. Dremel

PediPaws Pet Nail TrimmerI received not long ago the Pedipaws Pet Nail Trimmer as a gift from a family member, for our two dogs. The late night infomercials had been convincing! It appears to be a Dremel type tool that can safely grind down your pets nails, without having to worry about cutting too close to the quick. I always cut our pets nails with traditional scissor style pet clippers, but our two black labs have black nails. As anyone who has cut black pet nails knows, its almost impossible to tell where the quick is. It seemed the Pedipaws Pet Nail Trimmer had come up with the perfect solution! I was sure the plastic nail guard would keep my pet's nails safe, and it seemed the high powered sander would make quick work of my dog's nails.

As it seems, this particular infomercial was deceiving. After opening the box and inserting the batteries, I was pleasantly surprised at the quietness of the device. I could hardly hear it running and thought this was going to be a breeze, I knew my dogs would not be afraid of such a small sound, and I was right. Unfortunately, this was the last feature of the Pedipaws Trimmer that I would be pleased with.

When I attempted to use the trimmer on my dog's nails, I found that two of it's best features are flawed. I have always used scissor style nail trimmers, because I've found that it's always difficult to get my dog's nails into a guillotine style nail trimmer. The Pedipaws saftey guard proved to have the same issue. If I was able to get the dog's nail into the guard at all, I wasn't able to keep it there.

The Pedipaws trimmer uses sandpaper instead of stone like a traditional Dremel. After just a few seconds my dog's nail began to tear the sandpaper, and I'm not even sure if the paper was a coarse enough grade to make any headway on the nail at all. It did come with another finer grade head for detail work, but I didn't even attempt that, as the first head was already destroyed by my dog's nail.

 If I wanted to use a Dremel style trimmer for my pet's nails, I would definitely opt for the brand name Dremel. It's got the motor power to get the job done, and the heads are quality material that won't be damaged within a few second's of using it. It might be a little louder, but that's only because it has a motor that can actually do the job. It is slightly more expensive, but the Dremel name guarantees you'll get what you pay for. Dremel 7300-PT 4.8-Volt Pet Grooming Kit

At the end of the day, I always go back to my scissor style nail trimmers. They are simple, durable, and easy to use. They get the job done, with little inconvenience to you or your pet. They won't break, and they always have the power to get the through the nail.

Trimming your pets's nails can be a daunting task for some, and many groomers offer a nail trimming service for around five dollars, if you truly feel uncomfortable doing it yourself. If you do choose to do it yourself, the simplest solution is usually the best. I'd stay away from the fancy items that seem too good to be true, and stick with the tried and true. This will help keep you and your pet truly happy!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Keeping A Clear Fish Tank, And A Clear Conscience

I remember my first aquarium. I was so excited, I had been perusing the local fish stores for weeks looking at all the beautiful fish from all over the world and I couldn't wait to make my first little ecosystem in my own room. I set up my ten gallon and it was perfect. The water was crystal clear, the plastic plants carefully arranged, and a small rock formation placed ever so carefully so my new fish could hide but I could still see them. I was very proud, and very naive. I went to the pet store and picked out about a half dozen of the prettiest fish I could find. I brought them home and placed them in my fish tank, the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
My Fish Tank by ryarwood, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  ryarwood 
But like most people, it didn't last. As I slept that night, with visions of colorful fish darting to and fro in my fish tank, nature took over and crushed my dreams. Within a day, the water had turned cloudy. Two days later the tank was so cloudy I couldn't see anything, and my fish began to die. It was hopeless, or so I thought.  It wasn't until years later when I learned what had really happened in my aquarium that week, and how it could have been prevented. 

When we have an aquarium, we are caring for a complete ecosystem in a glass box. If we don't put something that is necessary into this system, it won't be there. Likewise, if we don't take out things like fish waste, they will remain there forever, building to lethal levels. Nature is willing to give us a hand with a natural process that happens constantly in the world we live in. It's called the nitrogen cycle. It is the constant recycling of nitrogen in our environment, so levels don't get too toxic for life.  This cycle runs constantly in a healthy aquarium, processing toxins from fish waste and converting them to non-toxic compounds. It's like a very slow motor, constantly driving the process of life in your fish tank. 
Like a very slow motor, it has to get up to speed before it runs efficiently. Each step in this cycle takes 2-3 days to complete. After your fish tank goes through this cycle the first time, it is a constantly occurring process. When I added fish to my tank the way I did, I basically inserted fish waste into the tank, and started the cycle. At day two, my tank was still probably only on the fist step, and the fish waste was being converted into ammonia. If I had only known I still had two more steps to go through before my tank would be safe for my fish! This is why my tank turned cloudy after a day, and the fish began to die after two.

So what should I have done differently? I should have set up the tank and added a small amount of bacteria to get the process started. This can be done by buying a bottle of bacteria from your local pet store, or adding 1 or 2 very small fish, depending on the size of the tank. In a small tank like a ten gallon, buying a bottle of bacteria culture would have been my best bet. Even one fish in a ten gallon tank or smaller, can have a gigantic impact on the cycle. 

The second thing I should have done, is the most difficult task of any aquarium owner. I should have done nothing. I should have let the tank sit empty, with the filters running for a week. To be a successful aquarium hobbyist, patience is a virtue. After a week has gone by, and the tank has gone through it's first cycle, then fish should be added 2-3 at a time. Every time fish are added, you should wait another week before adding more. This will allow the cycle to catch up to the new amount of waste you have added to the tank.

If you find yourself in the same position as I did, there is still hope. Since we are in control of this ecosystem, we have the ability to physically remove the toxins ourselves. We can do this by doing water changes. If you have added fish to your tank too soon, and your water starts to become cloudy, you can take out 25% - 50% of the water and replace it with fresh dechlorinated water. This will drop the levels of ammonia down to a safer level for your fish. These water changes must be done every day to keep the levels safe. Anyone who attempts to do this for the first week will be thankful mother nature takes care of this for us! If we didn't have bacteria converting toxins to safer chemicals, we would have to do this constantly to keep fish alive in an aquarium.

Learn from my mistakes. When you take the plunge and set up an aquarium for the first time, patience will guarantee you success. When the proper precautions are taken during the initial setup, an aquarium can be a gorgeous addition to any room. Fish and other aquatic creatures are interesting and relaxing to watch, so take your time, and you will keep your fish and yourself happy!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Product Review - Fooey and Bitter Apple Biting/Chewing Deterrent

Chewing or biting by your pet can be an unpleasant habit that at times seems impossible to break. Some animals, such as dogs, chew objects to ease stress. Birds, ferrets, and other small animals bite objects to get a sample of their smell, taste, and texture. Biting and chewing is a natural behavior of our pets that helps them to perceive their world.  I like to chew on everything, even cargo by Bukowsky18, on Flickr
Unfortunately, when they are trying to perceive your finger, or your kitchen table's legs, the results can be pain or the destruction of your prized possessions. There are many products available that claim to deter your pet's natural behavior. The most effective of these are the sprays Bitter Apple and Fooey.
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License
by  Bukowsky18 

The first of these, Bitter Apple, is a spray that you apply to any object you don't want your pet to chew or bite. It is non-staining and can be applied to almost any object. It's secret is it's ingredient, pure alcohol. There can be a slight odor when applied, but it dissipates quickly as the alcohol evaporates. The evaporation rate of alcohol is also this product's downside. While the taste is unpleasant, it doesn't last long. If the animal is curious enough to try and put the object in their mouth a second time, it's likely they will learn the taste starts to go away.

In my opinion, a more effective deterrent is the Fooey Ultra Bitter Spray.  I have personally tasted both of these products, and I tell you from experience, Fooey is exponentially worse tasting. It still has a bitter taste, but it doesn't evaporate like Bitter Apple. Once the taste gets on your pets tongue, beak, or lips it is there to stay. Some dog owners have found that their dog actually enjoys the taste of Bitter Apple, but this will not happen with Fooey. Fooey is not made with alcohol, but grapefruit skin extracts. It also has no odor, and won't stain. Fooey can even be used topically on a dog that may be chewing at itself, and it won't burn an open sore like the alcohol in Bitter Apple could. If I have had to choose between these two products, I would definitely choose the Fooey for every occasion.

While it may be impossible to prevent your pet from biting and chewing, it is possible to deter them from biting or chewing certain objects. Both of these sprays are effective at making your pet think twice about chewing anything the spray is applied to, including fingers. By directing you're pet's chewing behavior to more acceptable objects like toys, you'll be able to make both you and your pet happier!

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Thursday, June 2, 2011

Picture of the Week! Beautiful Horses!

Bud and Rufus from Fountain, Florida (Reader Submission)