Universal Press Syndicate
My first parrot, Patrick the little Senegal, was a reclamation project. He'd been abandoned at his veterinarian after attempts to combat his desire to pick himself naked failed, as did his first owner's enthusiasm for keeping a bird who looked like a, well, plucked chicken.
With the help of a top avian veterinarian -- my "Birds for Dummies" co-author Dr. Brian Speer -- we got most of Patrick's plumage to regrow. But the desire to self-destruct never truly left him, and he died after an attempt to repair a hole in his chest he'd dug himself, for reasons only his own troubled bird brain could fathom.
Eddie the caique parrot, who lives with me now, is a bird of far fewer physical and mental torments, and I've worked hard to keep him that way. The combination of a better start in life and an owner dedicated to keeping him healthy and happy shows in his healthy plumage and playful outlook.
But I know that this could change, despite my best efforts.
If there's one parrot problem that has both bird owners and veterinarians pulling out their own hair in frustration, it would have to be feather-picking, a bird's willful destruction of his own plumage.
The first thing you need to know about this problem: Feather-picking is a symptom of something else that's wrong with your bird. The only hope you have of "curing" feather-picking is finding out and treating what's behind the behavior. Feather-picking relates to a staggering variety of problems, and any one (or any combination) of the following can be at the bottom of your bird's plucking.
-- Health problems. Medical conditions behind feather-picking include allergies, parasitic infections, bacterial infections, abnormal growths (cysts) in the feather follicle, internal health problems, vitamin deficiencies and hormone-associated problems. And that's the short list.
-- Low humidity. Many bird species originally come from extremely hot and humid environments, and our houses can't hope to duplicate the conditions of a rain forest (we'd be miserable). The dry, cool air of most houses can be a factor in feather-picking and can also set the stage for some secondary medical problems.
-- Boredom and pent-up energy. Birds are active and intelligent, and they don't handle the strain of being forced to sit around in a cage all day very well. Without things to play with and stuff to destroy, and without being able to get out of the cage and exercise, birds may direct all their energy toward self-mutilation.
-- Psychological problems. Although birds need to have their wings trimmed for safety, a bad wing trim -- too short, with no allowance for an "easy landing" -- can upset a bird so badly that he starts tearing at himself. Obsessive-compulsive disorders can also trigger feather-picking.
-- Attention-seeking. You love how your bird looks. He starts tugging at feathers and you freak out, imagining your beautiful bird with the broiler-chicken look. Every time he touches his feathers -- even for normal preening behavior -- you rush over. See how this works? "Aha!" thinks your bird. "All I have to do to get attention is pull a feather!"
What can be done with the feather-picker? First, forget the over-the-counter and home-remedy "cures." They don't work, and some might even put your bird at risk.
See a veterinarian with experience in caring for birds as soon as the problem appears. Medical problems need to be addressed before looking at any behavioral strategies.
Do this sooner rather than later. In general, the longer your bird has been picking, the greater the probability of an unresolvable pattern of behavior being set -- as with poor little Patrick. Don't wait a few years before addressing a picking problem. When it starts, you need to start looking for a solution.
After your bird receives a clean bill of physical health, start making environmental adjustments to see whether you can ward off the picking. Prepare for the project to be a long one! Start a diary to record your changes and any effects they may have on your bird's behavior.
Start shaking things up, in small increments. A daily misting with a spray bottle and the addition of a room humidifier may be part of the solution. Also, consider these possibilities in the war against feather-picking: different toys, a smaller or larger cage, a new cage location, keeping a radio playing during the day, covering the cage to ensure your bird gets 12 solid hours of sleep, and more interaction and play with you.
Sadly, the definitive solution to feather-picking doesn't exist.
The best you can do is be patient, work with an avian veterinarian and be prepared to love your bird no matter what he looks like. In some cases, feather-picking is for life. In others, the problem is only occasional. Yes, some birds do become full-feathered again, but not every pet bird is bound for complete redress in the plumage department.
Toys, toys and more toys
The most important thing to know about bird toys is that they are not designed to last. In fact, they are designed to be destroyed with glee, and that's the way they should be.
Choose a variety of toys for your bird, rotate them frequently, and learn which varieties your pet likes best.
Food puzzles are especially good, because they make your bird work for his meals -- good exercise for the mind and body both. Other good toys are made of material that's fun for birds to shred.
Always buy from reputable sources, to be sure the materials and designs are bird-safe.
A constantly changing supply of bird toys is essential to the mental health of any avian pet and helps to combat behavior problems caused by boredom and pent-up energy. -- Gina Spadafori
Healing tears in paw pads
Q: My 3-year-old dog is scared of the water. My boyfriend was trying to show her that the water is OK. I kept telling him to pick her up, but he kept trying to drag her into the pool. This morning, I noticed there are parts of each paw where the pad is torn. Is there something I can do at home to get this healed? -- T.U., via e-mail
A: The footpad is the toughest part of a pet's skin, but that doesn't mean it is immune from injury. This thick, spongy structure can be burned from scalding asphalt, abraded by digging or rubbing on a rough surface, cut by sharp glass or fencing, or penetrated by foreign objects such as thorns or weed seeds.
Because they're in near constant contact with surfaces, footpads are often injured. And because they have a rich blood supply, they bleed like human fingertips when injured. With constant pressure on the pads, and since it's hard to keep pets off their feet, many footpad injuries are slow to heal. Sometimes these injuries require special accommodations, such as keeping pets in confinement, keeping bandages on to prevent licking and allow the footpad to heal, and using Elizabethan collars (yes, the lampshade!) to prevent access.
Sutures don't hold very well in footpads (unlike in the skin), because every time the pet stands, the pad compresses. This puts a strong outward pressure on the edges of the laceration, causing the sutures to tear out. Many veterinarians use a medical grade of super glue to glue the edges back together.
In fact, in an emergency -- such as if you're far away from a clinic camping or it's late at night -- your veterinarian may ask you to clean a lacerated footpad and use a household version of the super glue to close the wound and stop the bleeding. For minor footpad injuries such as your dog's, your veterinarian may have you clean and soak the footpads with povidone iodine, Chlorhexidine gluconate or Epsom salts. Also, the application of aloe vera gel early in the course of treatment has been found to provide relief and promote more rapid healing.
And by the way: Not all dogs are meant to be swimmers. Your dog is probably one of them! -- Dr. Marty Becker
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dog cars," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or visiting PetConnection.com.
Keep pets cool during the 'dog days'
The "dog days" of summer -- in July and August -- derive their name from the constellation Canis Major and its brightest star, Sirius, which is named after the hound who belonged to Orion the hunter from Greek mythology. During the dog days, Sirius, which is also known as the Dog Star, is at its most visible. Dog days, then, have nothing to do with heat and everything to do with what's going on overhead.
The term, by the way, traces back to Ancient Rome.
During the dog days, don't let up your vigilance about the hazards of summer heat. Dogs -- especially those with dark colors, thick double coats or both -- don't handle heat well and can overheat to deadly levels in just a few minutes. If your dog shows signs of heat stress -- rapid, frantic panting and glassy eyes -- get him to a veterinarian immediately for emergency care.
Swimming is a great way for dogs to stay cool, but remember that not all dogs can swim (dogs such as bulldogs sink like rocks), and even a pet who's an enthusiastic and strong swimmer can get into trouble if pushed to exhaustion or if caught in dangerous currents. -- Gina Spadafori
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Handling important for new kitten
When you bring home a new kitten, hand-feed the kitten to show that you are the new "mom" who will provide food, water, shelter, play, mental exercise and companionship.
The proper way to greet a feline is by offering one finger to sniff. After allowing your kitten to sniff your finger, use that finger to pet your kitten all over just as a mother cat would lick and groom the kitten.
Kittenhood is the best time to shape the gentle, friendly personality you want in the adult cat. Hand-feeding with gentle handling builds trust in human hands as powerful, friendly providers of food and affection.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are the authors of "On Good Behavior." For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
Urinary problems mean a cat needs a vet
The No. 1 reason cats are taken to a veterinarian (outside of preventive care) is for Feline Lower Urinary Tract Disease (FLUTD), a serious disorder that affects the urinary system of cats.
FLUTD often causes cats to urinate outside the litter box, a classic warning sign of illness that you can see -- and smell. Other symptoms include cats straining to urinate, crying out in the box or going more frequently.
Sadly, these signs are often misinterpreted as behavioral problems that end up getting the cat sent to a cage in a shelter instead of to a veterinarian for the medical treatment he needs.
While FLUTD may strike any age or gender of cats, it is more frequently seen in middle-aged and overweight cats. Factors that increase the risk include lack of exercise, stress and chronic dehydration.
Tips for avoiding FLUTD include:
-- Hydration. Some cats will drink more if the water seems fresh, such as with fountains that keep the water filtered and circulating.
-- Breaking up meals. Feed your cat several small meals during the day instead of one or two larger meals.
-- Chill your cat out. Decrease stress in the environment by providing your cat with scratching posts, window perches or kitty condos, and by playing active games with him.
-- Keep home sweet home. Be more aware of changes in your cat when there are changes in your life such as new pets, a home remodel, a move, etc.
-- Feed for health. Ask your veterinarian if new therapeutic diets for urinary tract health are appropriate for your cat. One innovative new food contains clinically proven antioxidants, omega-3 fatty acids, and controlled levels of minerals and vitamins to maintain a precise urine pH and work to help treat or prevent FLUTD. More important, these new diets don't use increased salt levels to increase water consumption and urination. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
More the merrier
According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 40.6 percent of all households in the United States owned at least one dog in 2002, a figure largely unchanged from the two previous surveys in 2000 and 1998. The total number of dogs owned per household has increased, however, to an average of 1.6. In 2002:
Number of dogs owned Total dog owners
One 65 percent
Two 23 percent
Three or more 12 percent
PETS ON THE WEB
Remembering the pets of presidents past
With the attention that presidential candidate Mitt Romney got for transporting his dog in a carrier on the roof of the family station wagon -- more than 20 years ago, but still a really bad idea -- it's a good time to revisit the pet peeves and problems of presidents past.
The Presidential Pet Museum's Web site (www.presidentialpetmuseum.com) is the place to go for a fairly comprehensive list of all presidential animals, from the hounds and horses of George Washington to the dog and cats of George W. Bush. The animals kept by presidential families started out being more purposeful than companionable, with horses and milk cows commonplace.
By the turn of the last century, though, animals were welcomed just for keeping the president and his family company. Theodore Roosevelt brought in the new era with eight dogs and cats and a pack of presidential guinea pigs. You'll find pictures and much more on the Presidential Pet Museum's site, which is both attractive and easy to navigate. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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