One of my best friends doesn't practice preventive care with her dogs. She also lets her cats roam the neighborhood (disappearing at the rate of about one a year). She does just about everything with her pets contrary to current advice, right down to feeding her cockatiel nothing but sunflower seeds.
She truly loves her pets, but she insists on following pet-care standards that are at least 20 years out of date.
The bird likes seeds, she says, so what's the harm? Children like candy, I tell her, but you don't let them eat it all day. And then, we agree to disagree, on this point as on all others pet-related. Sometimes you not only can't change the world, but you can't even influence your friends.
If birds love seeds -- and most crave them -- doesn't it follow that they should be eating what they want? Avian veterinarians are pretty consistent in arguing against seeds these days. An all-seed diet will make most birds sick over time, the experts say, denying the pets the nutrients they need for long-term survival and weakening them to the point where other diseases might be able to take hold.
The trend in recent years has been toward pelleted diets, and pet birds are healthier as a result. Pelleted diets are readily available from many reputable manufacturers and can be purchased from any bird shop or from many veterinarians who work with birds.
Pelleted food is a blend of grains, seeds, vegetables, fruits and various other protein sources. Manufacturers mix the ingredients and then either bake and crumble them or extrude them, ending up with pellets of a proper size for any given species (large pellets for large birds, small pellets for small birds).
This process produces a food that is superior to the "smorgasbord" way of feeding -- the bird cannot pick out his favorite foods and ignore the rest. Pellets also are convenient for bird owners. These commercially prepared diets are easy to buy, relatively inexpensive and store nicely in a cool, dry place.
Pelleted foods should be the foundation of your bird's diet -- some 70 percent to 80 percent -- but they're not a good diet on their own. Your bird also needs a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, along with other "people foods" such as pasta, eggs, breads, rice and unsalted nuts in their shells. Excessively fatty foods or overprocessed foods should be avoided, since many pet birds are perch potatoes, prone to obesity. A good rule of thumb: If it's healthy for you, it's good for your bird, too. Do keep pellets and fresh, clean water available at all times.
In addition to rounding out a commercial diet, fruits, nuts and other people food gives your bird something to keep him occupied and entertained. To that end, leave fresh food in as natural a form as possible. Clean it, of course, but make your bird work some to eat it. Corn left on the cob is a great example of good food that also offers a fun challenge to eat.
Do you really need to deny your bird a treat as appreciated as seeds? The phrase "all things in moderation" definitely applies when it comes to seeds. Given in small amounts, seeds are a wonderful way to help teach your bird tricks or to reward him for good behavior. But seeds should be a treat, not a staple, to ensure proper nutrition for your bird.
Birds love seeds, and it's fine to give them now and then. But as a diet for these pets, they are strictly not for the birds at all.
PETS ON THE WEB
Pet birds do not live by food alone -- they need to be kept occupied. The Birdbrain (www.thebirdbrain.com) is one of the best sources for toys and other things to keep your bird busy. Proceeds from their sales go to one of the best bird charities around, the well-respected Colorado-based Gabriel Foundation (www.thegabrielfoundation.org).
The Birdbrain offers all kinds of parrot-related items, from perches to food containers to cleaning supplies, but the toy selection is truly outstanding. The shop breaks them down into categories such as "noisemakers," "foot toys" and "destructible," and will even suggest toys for birds with disabilities. I visited the Gabriel Foundation/Birdbrain in Colorado a few years back, and took home a rather large collection of toys for my Senegal parrot. Great stuff!
Although you can find a special thermometer for pets in any pet-supply catalog or well-equipped pet-supply store, you can also use an ordinary glass mercury or digital-readout "people" device from your pharmacy. (If you want to pay more -- around $80 -- you can now get a digital thermometer for pets that reads temperature from the ear canal, very nifty!)
To take your pet's temperature, lubricate the thermometer with petroleum jelly or a water-based lubricant, such as K-Y. Gently and slowly insert the thermometer about one or two inches into your pet's fanny.
Leave the thermometer in place for a couple of minutes. In a normal cat or dog, the temperature should be between 100 degrees and 102.5 degrees, and the thermometer should be almost clean after it's removed. Anything much above or below that range is cause for concern, as is any blood or other matter on the thermometer.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I recently had to board my dog. I'm looking at keeping him there for at least three months until my new home is finished. Is that too long? Also, the boarding facility has stated that because of the possible stress, I should keep my visits to the very minimum. Do you agree with this? -- T.R., via e-mail
A: I would rather see your dog with a family for that duration, such as with a friend or relative. Is it possible for someone to do that for you, if you paid the bills? Three months is a long time in a kennel, but if that's your only option, you really haven't much choice.
As for visiting, my advice would depend on the dog. Some dogs have very adaptable, love-the-one-you're-with personalities, and such a dog would probably be fine with visits. The one who'd mope and carry on for days after you left would probably be better off settling into the kennel routine without visits.
I'm dealing with a similar situation, having moved out of one house and waiting for the escrow to close on another. The three dogs and I were living with my brother, but I've had to send my 9-month-old toy spaniel to live with a friend because my brother's fences are old, with lots of places for a small, curious dog to escape. We patched the fence as best we could, but after Chase's second outing I decided it just wasn't safe for him to remain with me now. (My big dogs are neither interested in getting out nor small enough to squeeze through the gaps in the fence line.)
Chase is staying at his Aunt Tami's house for about six weeks in all, and I decided it would be easier on him if I didn't visit. He has settled into his temporary situation well, and I have no doubts he'll do the same when he's back with me in our new home.
Q: My calico cat licks any blanket she can find around the house until it is soaked with kitty spit. I've never had a cat who did this before. What's behind it? -- O.B., via email
A: This condition is called "wool-sucking." Although it's very common in Siamese or other so-called "Oriental" breeds, it's certainly not uncommon in the general cat population. Behaviorists aren't really sure what causes it and aren't sure how to cure it. The best I can offer is some "might help, can't hurt" suggestions.
You should definitely put away anything that's too nice to be damaged. Keep bedrooms off-limits by closing the doors to protect the blankets on the beds.
Set out some "decoy" blankets, and apply a deterrent such Bitter Apple, Tabasco, hot pepper oil, etc. This might break the habit, but maybe not. Spraying fabrics lightly with perfume is also a common recommendation.
Some experts believe that increasing the fiber in the cat's diet may also help. You can do that by adding a little canned pumpkin on a regular basis -- it's also good for hair balls. More activity is also recommended, such as playing with your cat regularly with a cat-fishing-pole toy or other lure object.
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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