If you've ever struggled with getting a pill down the throat of a dog or cat, the good news is that you can't give a pill to your pet bird, so you'll never be asked to. The bad news is that there isn't really any easier way to get medication into a bird, and the options you do have might make you yearn for the ease of wrapping a pill in a piece of hot dog.
But birds get sick just as dogs and cats do, and chances are that you'll need to give your pet medication at some point in your bird's life. You'll need to discuss with your veterinarian which method of medicating your bird is best for you and your pet, and then you'll need to make sure you're comfortable with whatever method you'll be using.
Ask all the questions that come to mind, watch your veterinarian demonstrate, and then practice under his tutelage before you go home with your bird and the medication. If you run into problems at home, don't be shy about calling for help. Above all, don't take your bird home and skip the medication. It won't do your pet any good if little or none of it gets in him, after all.
Here's a rundown of the options when it comes to medicating a sick bird:
-- Adding water-soluble medications to drinking water. Adding medication to water is easiest, but it has its drawbacks. You have little control over dosage because you can't count on your bird to drink any set amount of water. Some species drink little water at all, and other birds may not feel up to drinking when they're ill.
-- Offering medicated feeds. This has the same pros and cons as medicated water. It's easy to offer medicated feed, but you have no way of making sure any of it gets inside your bird. And some medicated feeds apparently taste awful, so even if your bird feels like eating, he may not touch the stuff with medicine in it.
-- Using a syringe or eyedropper. Accuracy of dosage is a benefit of giving your bird medication orally -- assuming you get the stuff in him instead of dribbling it everywhere but down his throat. You can get the appropriate amount in an eyedropper or a syringe with the needle removed and slide the tip into the side of your bird's mouth. The downside you've probably already guessed: Your bird isn't likely to sit still for this procedure, so you'll have to restrain him with a towel. Once he's restrained, a bird who has been hand-fed as a baby will usually go along -- the sight of a plastic tip nearing his mouth will usually get him to open up.
-- Giving an injection. High marks for accuracy, and once you're used to injecting your bird, high marks for ease as well. As with oral medications, though, you'll likely need to restrain your bird with a towel to inject his medication. Some people get really good at injecting their bird, even after initial reluctance.
One final thing to remember about medications: Don't stop giving them because your bird seems to feel better, at least not without clearing it with your veterinarian first. It's always important to give the medications for as long as they've been prescribed.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Animal Medical Center in New York City is one of the most influential organizations in veterinary medicine, with a staff that includes specialists as top-notch as those at any college of veterinary medicine, and with more than 80 veterinarians, just about as large. The AMC's Web site (www.amcny.org) offers an overview of the hospital's history and a tour of its facilities, along with news updates, a collection of pet-care information articles, and some good links and nice pictures. For those who are close enough to Manhattan to make use of the AMC's facilities, the site offers tips on how to navigate the crush -- the hospital sees more than 60,000 animals a year, including exotic birds and reptiles.
What goes around comes around. I once offered a recipe for Liver Brownies, a treat any dog will love. As is my habit, I long ago forgot about the recipe, and certainly had no idea where to find it if someone had ever asked about it. I was delighted this week to hear from a reader who has been making the treats for years, and so I asked her for the recipe. Here it is again:
1 cup water
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 cup beef liver
A pinch of garlic powder
Mix the ingredients in a blender until smooth, then spread into a well-greased brownie-sized pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes. When cool, cut into bite-sized pieces.
The brownies freeze well, and the reader who shared the recipe with me notes that her dog, Hooper, even likes them frozen.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: In regard to your article on raising puppies: Puppies belong with their mothers. It is cruel to separate them and use them for self-interests. Dogs are not property, companions and child substitutes for humans.
It is cruel to order dogs around, and it is cruel to put dogs in training classes. Dogs have a right to live a free and natural life in the wild with other dogs. -- S.J.S., via e-mail
A: For better or worse, dogs are the results of our own meddling with nature. There is not a "wild" option for dogs, and they are incapable of surviving free. When was the last time you heard of a free-roaming pack of Yorkshire terriers, bulldogs or poodles?
We have made dogs into what they are, and we are responsible for their stewardship. And let me assure you that in human society, there's no dog who has more freedom than a well-trained one. There is also no dog who is happier.
Dogs with good manners are welcome in many places, and can even run free in the increasing number of parks set aside for that purpose. People who haven't taken the time to bond with and train their dogs end up with animals they can barely tolerate and will eventually ignore. These pets are more likely to end up in shelters. Once there, the chances of adoption are not good: No one wants an animal who's out of control.
The natural habitat of dogs is in our own human society. It has been that way for thousands of years, and it isn't going to change now.
Q: We're having a problem with our cat, who doesn't want to seem to stay put after our move. Our new home is two miles from the old one, and Rocky keeps going back to the house where he grew up. The people who live there now keep calling us to pick him up, and we don't know what to do to keep him home. Any suggestions? -- L.W., via e-mail
A: Because cats bond to places as well as to people, some cat lovers find that their free-roaming pets keep showing up at their old home after a move, especially if the new home, like yours, isn't very far from the old one. My best suggestion for you is to convert your cat to an indoor pet, because crossing streets to go "home" considerably ups his risk factor for getting hit. Remember, indoor cats in general live longer, healthier lives.
If permanent confinement is not possible, bring your cat inside for a couple of weeks. While he's cooped up, dedicate extra time to playing with him, especially interactive games such as with a toy on a string. This play helps to relieve him of some of his stress or excess anxiety and also aids him in forming attachments to his new home and to the idea of you in it.
After a couple of weeks, let him out for short periods into your yard with you, and take him back in when you go inside again. You should be able to get a feel for when he's starting to recognize the new digs as his home, and increase his freedom accordingly.
Make sure the new people at your old home aren't encouraging your cat to stay. Ask them not to feed him or pet him and to use a squirt bottle or a noisemaker to deter him from staying if they see him around.
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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