Nothing you buy is as important to your bird as a cage.
A cage is your bird's home, the place where he will spend much of his time -- maybe even all his time, in the case of small birds such as canaries and other finches. A cage not only protects your bird, but it also protects your possessions. Any bird can leave a poopy mess behind, and many pet birds are capable of reducing prize antiques to toothpicks with their powerful beaks.
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. Assuming you have a proper cage -- well-designed, large, and made of safe and sturdy materials -- 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.)
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 any more than we do!
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 at all. 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. Since you can't guarantee you'll never overheat a saucepan or cookie sheet, the best thing to do is keep your bird safely away from the potential danger.
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. Don't get too enthusiastic about toys. Two or three well-chosen ones are fine, but more might be overwhelming to your pet at first. Use a variety of natural 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 (newspaper is fine for this purpose), 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.
Predators always consider the possibility that something new in their environment may be edible. Prey animals have to figure out if the addition is something that could eat them. Is it any wonder, then, that our pet birds, who are considered a tasty mouthful by many creatures in the wild, may not react with enthusiasm to changes in the world around them?
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.
PETS ON THE WEB
When photographer Genaro Molina and I both worked at The Sacramento Bee newspaper a few years back, he showed me a collection of achingly sad and lovely photographs of his cat, Ferris. The animal had been diagnosed with ringworm and had been shaved of his coat of beautiful long fur as part of the treatment. Molina's photographs traced the cat's way back to beauty, and also to the decision to let Ferris do what he so desperately seemed to want: to go outdoors, if only to the safety of a secured back yard.
Molina is now with the Los Angeles Times, and with the help of writer Patricia Housen, Ferris is now both on the Web and in print. The "Ferris in Exile" site (www.ferrisinexile.com) shows a few of the best pictures from the book, which Molina and Housen ended up publishing on their own. You can enjoy Ferris on the Web, but the book is what you'll want to have. It's $7.95, plus $2.30 shipping and handling. You can order it on the Web site, or from Ronin Books, 1718 Sunset Ave., Santa Monica, CA 90405. Molina says if you ask, the book will be sent to you autographed.
The big office-supply chains are pushing paper shredders as gifts, so certainly there'll be a lot of these appliances gift-wrapped and given out during the holidays. While shredding credit-card receipts and the like may be a good crime-stopping practice, these machines do present a danger to pets.
In recent weeks I've received letters from two people whose curious dogs got their tongues shredded in the machine. One of the dogs was so severely injured he had to be euthanized. If you get or plan to give a paper shredder, make sure safety is kept in mind. Never leave a paper shredder unattended, and always unplug it when not in use.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: How would you go about traveling with a cat who doesn't sit still for very long? I took her on a trip to my grandmother's home a while back, and she wouldn't sit still. We don't have a cage or cat kennel or anything of the sort. -- R.K., via e-mail
A: If socialized to travel early in their lives, some cats learn to accept a life on the road with grace. I know of people who live in their motor homes, and they wouldn't think of traveling without their cats. And show cats certainly get used to being in cars or planes, and staying in strange hotel rooms.
Still, cats aren't exactly keen on changes in their environment, and most probably would prefer to stay home in surroundings they know well. That's why I usually tell people to leave their cats behind in their own homes, with a friend, neighbor or reputable pet-sitter checking in a couple of times a day.
If you decide to take your cat anywhere, you'll need to get a carrier. They're not expensive. Low-end carriers start at less than $15 in catalogs, pet-supply superstores and on retail Web sites. Your cat will feel more secure in a carrier and will be less likely to distract you when driving or to injure herself out of fear.
Your cat sounds like an antsy traveler, so I would recommend leaving her at home on your next visit to Gram's. And when your cat absolutely must hit the road (to see her veterinarian, for example), make sure she's comfortable and safe in her own carrier before the two of you step out the door.
Q: I was very interested to read in your recent column about Kong toys. We've had them for years, and you're right: Dogs love them. Our Rottweiler is capable of destroying them, however, and we've not been able to get one replaced at our pet store. They say it's not the company's policy. You said it is. What gives? -- H.W., via e-mail
A: What gives is that I blew it ... sort of. While the Kong Co. does not have a lifetime replacement policy, it will work with individual customers on a case-by-case basis.
"The only time I typeset the word 'indestructible' is in the phrase 'no toy is indestructible,'" says Jim Golden, a representative of the Golden, Colo.-based company. "Our guarantee is that your dog will love it or we'll buy it back."
Clearly, a dog who destroys a Kong loves it plenty, notes Golden. The company has replaced Kongs that have been quickly reduced to pieces by strong, enthusiastic chewers, but believes a Kong that lasts for months has provided the customer with his money's worth.
Golden says a lot of times people choose the wrong Kong for their pet, or the wrong size. Some models are designed for retrieving, not nonstop chewing. The large black Kong is the model of choice for strong chewers and should hold up well for most dogs.
"Our products are so well-made that people think they're indestructible, but that's not true," says Golden. "We figure it's like tires. The best will last longer, but they still wear out."
Maybe so, but I wish I had tires on my car that last as long as Kongs do in my house. The oldest Kong I have, a medium-sized red one, I bought when my dog Lance (who died 12 years ago) was a puppy. The year of his birth: 1978.
You can reach the Kong Co. by phone at (303) 216-2626, or through its Web site at www.kongcompany.com.
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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