Universal Press Syndicate
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 behind 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 humid environments, and our houses can't hope to duplicate the conditions of a rain forest (we'd be miserable). The dry 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 well the strain of being forced to sit around in a cage all day. 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, 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.
Make sooner, rather than later, your emphasis. In general, the longer your bird has been picking, the greater the probability of an unresolvable pattern of behavior being set. 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 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 12 solid hours of sleep, and more interaction and play with you as possibilities in the war against feather-picking.
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.
What's the best reptilian pet?
Q: My 10-year-old son wants a pet iguana. I've done enough research to know we're not going to go that route. I don't want to be left with a 6-foot lizard when my son goes off to college. But I'm getting conflicting information on what would be better. What do you recommend in the "scaly, slimy" pet group that's appropriate for a kid and a busy mom? -- T.W., via e-mail
A: You're right: Iguanas are popular but are not really suitable for any but the most dedicated of owners. These reptiles have care requirements that can be difficult to meet, and if they are cared for properly, dealing with a 6-foot lizard will present another set of challenges.
The Pet Connection staff has previously polled a panel of experts to get a list of low-maintenance reptiles and amphibians for the first-time owner. The consensus picks:
-- Bearded dragon: Best overall. While young bearded dragons can be reactive, as adults these pets will calm down with appropriate handling and become gentle pets that never get too large to handle.
-- Leopard gecko: Geckos are smaller than bearded dragons and less scary-looking (which may be a plus or minus, depending on your child). They're easy to care for and are entertaining to watch.
-- Corn snake: Captive breeding has produced wonderful colors and color variations in these calm snakes. Corn snakes are easy to care for and aren't usually inclined to bite.
-- Ball python: Bigger than corn snakes, these pets mature at about 4 feet in length. They love wrapping themselves around their owners, though, so at the very least your son will need a tolerance for that behavior and an education on how to unwind his pet.
-- Pac-Man frog and White's tree frog: Two of the larger species of frogs available in the pet trade, these pets are colorful and vocal. Neither will get exceptionally large, and unlike the other pets, frogs shouldn't be handled.
Once you've chosen a pet, have your son check out the reptile and amphibian resources at pethobbyist.com, which includes one of the oldest communities of reptile and amphibian fans on the Internet.
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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 email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Foul-mouth bird teaches others
-- The New York Post reports that the foul-mouthed parrot who became famous in England for cursing out a priest has been teaching other birds at the wildlife sanctuary where it lives its colorful language.
-- The domestic cat traveled the same ancestral road as humans, according to researchers from the University of California, Davis. The publication Veterinary Forum reports on the study, writing that the cat can trace its ancestors to the Middle East, to the area known to humans as the cradle of civilization.
-- Alternatives are being sought for drugs from animals, reports The New York Times. Chopped pig pancreas may not sound appetizing, but cystic fibrosis patients eat a refined version of it three times a day. And the blood thinner heparin comes from pig intestines. Worries about a virus in pigs jumping to humans have been long-standing and are among the reasons why research continues into developing alternatives to animal products. Companies such as Altus Pharmaceuticals of Cambridge, Mass., are working on synthetic versions of these animal-based drugs using enzymes derived from microbes that come not from animals but from bacteria and fungi.
-- Switzerland is the last European Union nation where hunters can still kill cats -- not only feral cats, but also pet cats who've strayed more than 200 yards from their homes. The New York Times reports that tanners pay about $5 for each pelt, which is then made into coats, hats and blankets.
-- Saw a doggie T-shirt in Hawaii: "My Dog Can Lick Anyone!" -- Dr. Marty Becker
'See Spot Sit': Fun with dog-training
Want to learn a lot about dog training while enjoying a lovely little read? Pick up a copy of Carol Lea Benjamin's "See Spot Sit: 101 Illustrated Tips for Training the Dog You Love" (Skyhorse Publishing, $11). It probably should instead be subtitled "101 really sneaky ways to get people to train their dogs without realizing it."
"Wow," I thought as I read it, "I bet (name redacted to protect the guilty) wouldn't even know I was sending her a dog-training book if I gave her this, and it might finally make her get why her dogs have so many behavior problems."
And then it struck me: Everyone should read this little book of dog cartoons, because it slips in its sensible, humane, effective message with such gentle humor that before you catch on, you'll find yourself nodding, smiling and reaching for a dog cookie to see if your dog, too, will do what's shown in the book.
It's funny and it's cheerful. And it's neither rooted in outdated training concepts nor is so firmly allied with any single school of training that it will get anyone's resistance up or lead owners astray (no choke chains, no "alpha rolls," but also, no clicker-training). It's just subtle enticement down the path of teaching you how to communicate with your dog so that the two of you don't get into trouble.
All of that is wrapped up in a little stacked-by-the-cash-register paperback package -- which means anyone you give it to will just think it's a witty little book of dog doodles. That's so deviously smart! -- Christie Keith
PETS BY THE NUMBERS
I love the way you love me
According to a survey by the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, here are the top reasons why dog lovers enjoy having a canine companion (more than one response allowed):
Source of affection: 89 percent
Feel safe in home: 83 percent
Beneficial to health: 78 percent
Helps me relax: 77 percent
Pet allergies blooming now
Spring can mean allergies for pets, too. The difference is that while sneezing is one of the primary symptoms in people, pets are more likely to get itchy.
In dogs, inhalant-related skin allergies are typically seen around the eyes and mouth, in the ears, under the legs, around the anal area and on the lower legs and belly. Cats may show allergies on their faces or with hair loss.
Because skin conditions can be a result of many different underlying problems, it's never a good idea to guess at the cause of itchiness, or to attempt to treat by throwing different foods at your pet or by adding vitamins or oils to meals.
An itchy pet is in constant misery and needs a trip to the veterinarian for proper diagnosis and treatment. In more severe cases, an animal may need to be referred to a veterinary dermatologist. -- Dr. Marty Becker
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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