Universal Press Syndicate
Nothing is more important to your bird than the cage you buy and where you put it.
You want your bird to be safe and feel secure in his cage. He should also feel included as part of the family, even when he's confined. A proper cage -- well-designed, large, and made of safe and sturdy materials -- and proper placement can achieve all these goals.
A good rule of thumb on size is to choose the next cage larger from what the labeling says. Your cockatiel will be far happier in a cage designed for a small parrot, for example. If you can afford it, go even bigger, but make sure the bar spacing isn't so wide that your pet can get his head caught.
Look for smooth welds and no paint chipping. Your bird will be working as best he can to destroy his cage, so you don't want him breaking off any toxic pieces.
Choose a location where your bird can be adjacent to family activities but not in the center of them. A bird will feel most comfortable if his cage is against a wall, so he can watch the goings-on without having to worry about anyone sneaking up on him. For the same reason, place the cage where your bird cannot be frightened -- for example, away from large furniture that may block his view of the room, and the coming and going of family and friends. Birds don't like to be startled.
Position the cage far enough away from a window that direct sun rays don't fall on your bird and possibly overheat him, since he cannot escape. Putting the cage near (as opposed to next to) a window so your bird can see out isn't a bad idea, though, especially if the window overlooks a changing panorama that can help keep your pet entertained.
Although the kitchen may seem like an ideal place for your bird's cage, it's really not a good idea. The potential for your bird to breathe deadly fumes, such as those from overheated nonstick cookware, is too high in the kitchen. These products can kill your bird before you even realize there's a problem.
Probably the best place to situate your bird's home is the family room or any other place, aside from the kitchen, where the people in your home hang out.
After choosing the location, set up the cage. Two or three well-chosen toys are a must to keep your bird busy. Use a variety of natural (cleaned tree branches) and store-bought perches, and be sure to position them so they aren't directly over food and water dishes. You don't want to encourage your bird to poop into his dishes.
Line the cage bottom to make cleanup easy, and you're ready to introduce your bird to his new home. Don't be surprised if he reacts with horror, though. It's only natural.
You can help your bird conquer his anxiety by putting the new cage next to the old one for a few days if possible so your bird can observe it. Even if the new cage is his first and you have no choice but to put him directly into it, be patient and understanding during the transitional period. Your bird will soon be enjoying his new environment.
Toys are essential to maintaining the physical and mental well-being of parrots large and small. Playthings help keep pet birds fit while fighting the boredom that can contribute to behavioral problems such as feather-picking.
Shopping for bird toys can be fun, but the costs do add up, especially if you have one of those gleefully destructive parrots. With some creativity, you can make your money go further by complementing store-bought bird toys with alternatives.
The cardboard cores of toilet-paper and paper-towel rolls are perfect for shredding, especially for smaller birds. Other cheapies include old toothbrushes, hard-plastic baby keys, pingpong balls, old plastic measuring cups and spoons, and plastic bottle tops. Wash them in soap and water, rinse well, and air-dry before offering them to your bird. -- Gina Spadafori
Mini's new Clubman has room for dogs
The Mini Cooper, in both the coupe and convertible edition, has never been anyone's idea of a DogCar. But with the introduction of the Clubman, dog lovers can now enjoy the sporty little retro-styled darling, too.
The Clubman wagon isn't all that much bigger than the regular Mini -- about 3 inches wider and 6 inches longer. The nonexistent rear-seat leg room -- plus the contortionist-required way of gaining access -- almost guarantees its use as a two-seater where two-legged passengers are involved.
But we're all about the dogs, so how does the Clubman rate for the four-leggers? It's about as good as it gets in the small-car category.
With the rear seats dropped flat, the tiny Clubman is amazingly spacious -- 33 cubic feet of cargo space, nice and square to accommodate dogs and gear. The headroom and legroom for front-seat passengers are so generous that getting in the car is like a magic act, a mind-blowing presto-chango from the tiny exterior to the comfortable interior.
As part of the week's test, I took the Clubman on a trip from Northern to Southern California. The car had no problem keeping up on the North-South Autobahn, although with so many SUVs and minivans on the road, you sometimes feel as if you're driving in a high-walled canyon if you stay in the middle lane.
Minis are mini, make no mistake.
In city driving, the Mini's sharp handling will get you to the dog park with delight, and as for parking ... if there's even a tiny space near the vet's, it's yours.
The Clubman, like all Minis, is built low to the ground, and that means even an older dog should have no problem getting in once you open the novel "barn doors" on the back. Crates won't be an option for big dogs, but ample anchor points make safety harnesses easy to use.
Price for an entry-level Clubman starts around $21,000, with fuel-efficiency rated at 28 mpg city/37 mpg highway for the manual version, 26 mpg/34 mpg for the automatic. -- Gina Spadafori
New vets graduate at a steady rate
-- The 28 U.S. veterinary schools graduated 481 new animal doctors in 2008, a number that has remained flat for the past 20 years. Colorado State University graduated the most new veterinarians, totaling 136 graduates (117 of them women), followed by Ohio State University, with 134. DVM Newsmagazine reported one of the most unusual graduation stories from the University of California, Davis, where a mother and daughter graduated together. (The husband and father of the pair was also a veterinarian; he died in 2000.)
-- A couple in Liunan, China, received a caution from police after they were caught trying to teach their dog to drive on a local expressway.
-- Occupational asthma is a risk for veterinarians, who are bombarded with animal dander, powder from latex gloves, powdered medication and more. In fact, the Journal of the Veterinary Medical Association reports that the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology identifies veterinarians as one of the professions at highest risk.
-- The biggest cat in history was an Australian, weighing in at 46 pounds, 15 ounces, according to the Guinness Book of World Records.
-- Rats multiply so quickly that in 18 months, two rats could theoretically have more than a million descendents. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker Shannon
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a monthly drawing for more than $1,000 in pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
Help for cats who chew on clothing
Dogs will chew on almost anything, especially when they're puppies. Destructive chewing is a common behavior complaint made by people with dogs, but there's a destructive chewing problem in some cats, too.
It's called "wool-sucking," because wool sweaters and blankets seem to be the most attractive to cats who have this behavior. (Some wool-sucking cats, in fact, prefer plastic materials, such as those found in common plastic grocery bags.) The chewing isn't quite like a dog's total destructive gnaw-it-up, either: Wool-sucking cats typically work the same spot on a piece of cloth, sucking and chewing on that one spot and returning to it if distracted.
Some have attributed this behavior to a kitten's being weaned too early, or to the taste of lanolin in wool cloth. In fact, the behavior most likely has a hereditary component, since it's most common in the so-called Oriental breeds such as Siamese or their mixes.
In some cases, adding more roughage to the diet (such a pureed pumpkin) can reduce a cat's desire to destroy wool clothing and other household items. The best advice, though, is to put away what you don't want the wool-sucker to destroy and be sure your cat gets enough exercise. The more interactive play the better to help reduce nervous energy. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
Thinking inside the box
There's a case to be made that the invention of the litter box is what turned barn cats into house cats. More facts about the fixture and filler most feline fans deal with daily:
Cat owners with litter boxes: 83%
Cat owners who buy clumpable litter: 72%
Cat owners who have more than one box: 21%
Cat owners who buy litter deodorizer: 41%
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Breath freshener? Try apple slice
Looking for a quick breath-freshener for the dog who has eaten something you wish he hadn't? Try a couple of slices of fresh apple.
Many dogs love the sweetness and crispness of apples, especially if you're sharing your treat with your pup. And the fruit does a pretty good job of eliminating doggy breath, albeit temporarily. Apple slices are a natural treat that, like baby carrots, are often recommended as a better choice for pudgy pets than a steady flow of commercial treats.
Of course, if your dog (or cat) has an ongoing problem with bad breath, you need to visit the vet. Chronic bad breath is often a symptom of dental problems that may mean constant suffering and pain for your pet -- and potentially more serious health problems down the road.
An apple slice a day won't keep the vet away, in other words. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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