Tolerance for mess is a good thing when you share your life with a bird. If you're uptight about things being out of place, about dust, about food crumbs and, especially, about bird poop, you're going to have a hard time enjoying your pet.
Dogs are messy. Children are messy. Even cats have been known to leave the odd hair -- or hairball -- about. But birds ... oh my, are they slobs! Food, feathers, poop: You name it, they fling it far and wide. Little birds are quite capable of making a big mess, but big birds are really talented at it.
But tolerance for mess is a good thing only to a point. Cleaning isn't just about neatness -- it's also about health. Clean, fresh food and water are essential to your bird, and so, too, is keeping his environment as free as possible of bacteria, fungus and molds, all of which can lead to disease.
Cleaning up after birds requires constant effort, but it's not hard once you get the hang of it. Put together a collection of bird-friendly cleaning supplies just for your pet. Here's a list of goods every bird owner should have.
-- Newspapers. You'll be going through a lot of newspaper, so if you don't subscribe to your local paper for your own sake, do so for your bird's. Another option: Some papers sell the end of newsprint rolls, offering an inexpensive, ink-free alternative to old newspapers.
-- Cloth towels. Make a collection of "bird towels" -- faded or worn towels you're cycling out of your own linen closet. The auto section of discount stores is a good source for inexpensive, plain terry towels; thrift stores and garage sales are another. Cloth towels are great for laying over clothing, and for providing solid footing on bird-safe exploration areas. Take them out of rotation when they get so frayed that a bird could catch a toe. Relegate these towels for drying off wet dogs or muddy feet, but don't let them near your bird.
-- Paper towels. Keep a roll handy at all times, and consider installing a hanger or using one of those vertical towel-holders. Buying in bulk is a good idea with paper towels because you'll go through them very quickly.
-- Spray bottle with cleaning solution. Since birds are sensitive to so many fumes, skip the ammonia, pine solutions or any other strong cleaners. Simple soap and water will do for everyday touch-ups, although you might also consider products developed just for bird poop.
-- Handheld vacuum. Buy one just for your bird's room and mount it close to the cage so you can always find it when the feathers fly.
-- Mat for under the cage. The heavy, clear plastic mats intended for under desk chairs and sold at office-supply stores will keep most of the gunk off your floor --especially important if your flooring is carpet.
-- Hamper. For convenience, keep the bird towels separate from the others in the household by using a hamper. That way, you can hold them in one place until you have a load for the washer. Put the hamper near the cage for maximum convenience.
-- Trash bin. Again, place it right by the cage. Every time you change the cage lining, you won't have to carry it around. Just lean over and put it in the trash.
-- Old T-shirts. Parrots love to nip little holes in cloth, even if the cloth is part of the shirt on your back. Even if you're careful to keep a towel over your clothes when playing with your bird, poop happens, and you're going to get it on your clothes eventually. Wearing clothes you can change when you need to and don't mind getting dirty is a good deal.
-- Scrub brushes and bleach. Not necessary for everyday use, but you'll need both for regular in-depth cleaning.
In the next column I'll offer some tips on using these tools to make cleaning easier, what you need to clean, how to do it, and how often.
I have a stainless steel pet bowl I bought for my very first dog more than 22 years ago. I still use it every day to water the dogs I have now. Stainless steel bowls offer lifelong quality: They're durable and chew-proof, and they sterilize wonderfully in the dishwasher. "Crock"-style bowls of high-impact plastic are another good choice, with the added benefit of offering the choice of colors. Both stainless steel and high-impact plastic bowls come in sizes to suit pets from mice and hamsters to parrots to the largest dogs. They're a great investment for the life of your pet.
PETS ON THE WEB
Sure, it's a come-on, but it's a good one. The pet-supply catalog retailer Doctors Foster and Smith (www.drsfostersmith.com) will give you a free pet name-tag just for visiting and filling out the form. I ordered a red plastic heart (the company offers lots of choices of color and shape, in plastic or metal), and I was surprised to see it was of pretty decent quality. The tag came packaged with the latest catalog, in which I promptly found something to order. Oh well. If you've more willpower than I do, you'll be fine. The company's slick Web site does offer plenty of shopping opportunities, but it also has a fair amount of good information on caring for a cat or dog.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I've got another suggestion about introducing cats. One little trick that sometimes works (and this only counts if people groom their cats) is that I will brush the resident cat and then the new cat without cleaning out the brush between, then back to the resident cat and vice versa. This way it seems like the new cat doesn't smell quite so "new." I figure it is always worth a try. Thanks for all of the great information. -- P.G., via e-mail
A: All these little tricks we try to help cats get along! Cats are so territorial, and you're right that anything to help one cat smell familiar to another is well worth trying. Still, the most important factor in introducing cats is to let them warm up to each other in their own time -- you just can't rush it. Separate parts of the house, separate bowls, toys, cat trees and litter boxes are a must, and some cats may never share.
That said, it's often worth the trouble to add a cat -- for your cat's sake as much as for your own. At a recent doctor's appointment, I spent a few minutes trying to help him sort out a problem with his indoor cat. My doctor works long hours, and when he's home, his cat won't leave him alone. My diagnosis: lonely, bored cat. Prescription: more toys, more playtime together -- and another cat.
The doctor and I did eventually get around to the reason I was there, by the way, but only after solving the cat problem. Any cat would agree we had our priorities right.
Q: This cat showed up one day, and my daughter gave him a can of tuna. Needless to say, he has adopted her. This cat is a male, and he is probably about 2 years old. He is not neutered. Can we have this cat neutered at his age, and he will not spray any more? My neighbor says that if cats are not neutered by the time they are a year old, they can still spray after being neutered. -- N.F., via e-mail
A: Your daughter's new companion most certainly can be neutered, and the sooner the better. The health benefits of the surgery cannot be argued, and neutered cats make better pets since they're not spending all their energy thinking about mating.
While there are no guarantees with a cat who's sexually mature, there's a good possibility the urine-spraying -- a territory-marking behavior -- will diminish or even disappear after the surgery. Fighting and roaming should also diminish, which is good news for the cat, and for your daughter's budget for veterinary care.
Neutering is a very common and safe procedure. The cat's testicles will be removed through incisions in the scrotum. After-care normally involves keeping an eye on the cat, and making sure the area stays clean and dry. Your veterinarian may recommend keeping the cat inside, and using shredded newspaper in place of litter until the incisions close, which usually occurs within three to five days.
We're in the height of kitten season now, which offers the best reason of all to have this cat neutered: to remove the possibility of having him contribute to pet overpopulation.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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