The best way to keep from losing your pet permanently is to make sure he never becomes lost at all. And when it comes to pet birds, that ounce of prevention is worth even more than a pound of cure.
That's because birds have wings that make them almost impossible to catch once they've escaped. They can disappear completely, quickly traveling miles away from home. Or they remain tantalizingly close but just out of reach, in the high limbs of nearby trees.
The best thing you can do to keep your bird with you is to remove the power of those wings from the equation: Make sure that flight feathers are trimmed on a regular basis.
Birds with properly trimmed wings have a better chance of being caught if they do manage to escape. Trimmed wings also protect birds from potentially lethal indoor hazards, such as flying into ceiling fans or pots of boiling water.
Just as important as getting wings trimmed regularly is having them trimmed properly. A bird with properly trimmed wings should be able to fly gently downward to a safe landing, but not have the ability to fly up and away. Wings that aren't trimmed right can allow a bird to escape, or can cause psychological problems that stem from a fear of falling like a stone.
If you don't know how to trim your pet's wings, you have two choices: Have it done for you, by an expert at a veterinary office or bird shop, or have an expert show you how and then watch you do it until you're competent at the task. Either way, don't neglect this important aspect of caring for your bird.
So what should you do if your bird does get loose? Here are some tips that may help get your pet back.
-- Put fliers around your neighborhood, as well as at all veterinary hospitals, shelters and pet-supply stores in the area. Let local bird clubs know, too. Also contact all avian veterinarians in as large a region as you can -- a list can be found at the Association of Avian Veterinarians Web site (www.aav.org). Place an ad in your city's newspaper and in any community publications. It's probably a good idea to offer a reward as well, especially if your bird is of one of the flashy and expensive species.
-- Use knowledge of bird behavior to locate your pet. It's easier to find birds at just before dawn and just after dusk, when they are settled in one place and vocalizing. Enlist friends and neighbors to listen for parrot calls at that time.
-- If your bird is lingering nearby, set the cage out in your yard, and put food both on top of it and inside it. A bird may relish the chance to go home, once he realizes how thin the pickings are on the outside. You may also be able to keep him near by putting food on your roof, or putting his cage there. Be sure to check the cage frequently. Once he returns to the habit of eating inside his cage, you may be able to simply close the door on him.
-- If you can get close to your loose bird, don't try to grab him -- you'll likely scare him. Instead, offer him a perch or branch, and calmly give him the "step up" command if he knows it. He might just hop onto the perch out of habit, and then he's yours.
-- If you can't get close to your bird, you might be able to ground him by soaking him with the hose and then be able to capture him with a pillowcase.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Bird HotLine (www.birdhotline.com) works to reunite lost birds with their human families by offering a place for people to post and look for notices of birds lost and found. The site also maintains a group of volunteers, the Bird Patrol, who promise to keep an eye out in their area for pet birds who have escaped. To date, more than 2,000 people have signed up. The creators of the site are also on a mission to educate the public that a found bird likely belongs to someone, and the rule is not "finders keepers."
When the weather starts getting nippy, do-it-yourself mechanics start to think about getting fresh antifreeze in their cars -- and some animals will die as a result. Antifreeze is deadly stuff. A cat can get a lethal dose by walking through a puddle of it and then licking his paws. Protect your pet by being careful while working with this material, by keeping pets out of the work area and by quickly and completely wiping up all spills. Better yet, check with your auto-supply store for radiator filler that's safer to use around animals. The newer products have a different chemical makeup that reduces the risk to animals.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Thank you so much for your article about "too many pets." I am one of those people who have a very difficult time not adopting an animal no one else wants. My husband and I have two dogs and 15 cats, most rescued, all unwanted.
I take very good care of our animals. Six are on medication (another reason for our taking them), and our house and their boxes and dishes are kept very clean. Our animals do not bother anyone: The cats are indoors only, and the dogs are not barkers.
It does take a lot of time to take care of them, but it is my choice. My reward is knowing that pets no one wants, whether they have chronic illness or are very timid, will be loved until the day they die naturally. -- T.L., via e-mail
A: Sounds as if you're doing very well for your family, and I admire you for taking in those pets who didn't have a great chance at adoption. I'm always arguing with people not to ignore such animals, especially the older pets. Many people won't even consider an animal who's over the age of 2 or 3. But many animals don't start settling down and becoming the best of pets until about the age of 5.
I also think (and I bet you do, too) that animals know when they've been saved. "Last-chance" pets really do seem to appreciate the people who are dedicated to working through the problems and providing a home for life.
One thing you need to think about, though: What would happen to all your pets if something should happen to you? This is something every pet lover needs to consider, but especially someone who has a lot of pets, many with special needs.
Talk to your friends and relatives about what would happen, and get an attorney to help you get all the arrangements settled, including arrangements for whatever money needs to be set aside to help with the care of these pets.
Q: OK, I know this is weird, but my cockatiel loves to share food from my meals, especially Kentucky Fried Chicken. This strikes me as kind of sick, a bird eating a bird. Shouldn't she know better? -- W.I., via e-mail
A: Sharing "people food" is one of the best things you can do for your bird, as long as your diet isn't full of lots of junk. Fresh fruits and veggies are great for you both, along with such foods as pasta and rice, cottage cheese and lean meats such as chicken. (I'd substitute lower-fat preparations for breaded and deep-friend, though.)
The staple you should always be feeding your parrot -- and yes, a cockatiel is a parrot, as is a budgie or parakeet -- is one of the many pelleted diets that are on the market. These are designed to cover the basics in terms of nutrition. But don't stop with pellets. Bring variety into your bird's diet by offering any healthy food you can think of -- the more choices, the better. Give special consideration to foods that also fight boredom and provide exercise, such as nuts in the shell and corn on the cob.
Do keep your food and your bird's food separate, though. While I like the idea of sharing, it's better that you give your bird her own plate rather than let her pick off yours.
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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