By Dr. Laurie Hess
It happens in malls across America every weekend. Somewhere between Build-a-Bear and the food court, an 8-year-old races up to the pet store window, presses his face against the glass, points to the large parrot perched inside and shouts, "Mommy, Daddy, can we get him, PLEASE?"
The parents see the colorful bird dancing on the other side of the glass and their child's longing expression, and all reason leaves them. Before they know it, they are swiping their credit card and trying to cram their SUV with a big metal cage, bags of food, and a large, feathered family member who is now squawking loudly in the back seat.
Parrots -- from parakeets to macaws -- can make wonderful companions, but many are purchased impulsively. Parrots are highly intelligent creatures that require a great deal of attention and care. They can thrive in the right homes, but they are often bought by people who have little knowledge of what they require. As a result, many birds end up being relinquished to shelters or re-homed. Or worse, they remain in homes where they are ignored, becoming unhappy and self-destructive.
Before you purchase a parrot, ask yourself four questions:
-- Do I live in a home conducive to owning a parrot?
This really means: Can you and your family tolerate noise? Parrots naturally chatter and squawk early in the morning and at dusk, around feeding time. Also, large birdcages take up a great deal of space. Small apartment dwellers or light sleepers might not be able to tolerate these restrictions. Additionally, little children and large birds often don't mix. Parrots are commonly scared by kids' quick movements and loud cries, so they may bite, chew their feathers or scream in reaction. If you have a baby or a toddler, you might pass on the parrot until the kids reach elementary school.
-- Do I have time to care for a parrot?
In the wild, parrots live in flocks of hundreds or thousands. They are social animals that need constant contact and interaction with their flockmates (in your home, this means you) to prosper. When they are ignored or left alone for long periods, they may scream and pick at their feathers or skin. Also, they need water and food (including fresh produce) twice a day, plus weekly cleaning and daily spot cleaning of their cages. This adds up to several hours a week in playtime, feeding and cleanup -- not something those of us who work long hours outside our homes can readily spare.
-- Do I have a lifestyle suited to owning a parrot? Parrots are homebodies and generally don't like change. When they are moved into new environments, they sometimes stop eating and can take days to adjust. Plus, we already noted how attached they become to their flockmates. As a result, they sometimes don't acclimate easily to unfamiliar surroundings, such as boarding kennels. If you travel a lot or if you're gone from morning until midnight, a fish or two might be better pets.
-- Do I have the finances to care for a parrot?
While many people will shell out hundreds of dollars to purchase a parrot, few consider what happens next. Parrots require fresh food daily, which will add to your grocery bill, and some will chew up expensive toys in under a minute. And what happens when your parrot becomes ill? Few people take their birds for regular veterinary checkups, and even fewer take out parrot pet insurance policies -- as many do for their pooches. So when the birds get sick, a person may be hit with an unexpected vet bill. If purchasing a parrot will max out your budget, you may want to wait and save up, so you can have funds available for medical care.
That all said, if you can answer these questions with an honest "yes," then a parrot can be an entertaining and loving lifelong companion.
Dr. Laurie Hess is a board-certified avian specialist who cares for birds and other exotic pets, such as rabbits, ferrets, guinea pigs, smaller rodents and reptiles at the Veterinary Center for Birds & Exotics in Bedford Hills, N.Y. Dr. Hess previously served as head of the Avian & Exotic Pet Service at the renowned Animal Medical Center in New York City.
Crusty ears on rabbit
may mean pesky mites
Q: My rabbit's ears are kind of scabby and crusty inside, with flakes that look kind of papery and gray, and he's really scratching at them a lot. Do rabbits get dandruff, or could he have an infection? -- via email
A: There's a good chance that your rabbit may have ear mites, also known as rabbit ear canker, especially if he is also tilting or shaking his head, and scratching hard at the ears all the time.
Ear mites are tiny parasites that think the inside of a rabbit's ears are as great a vacation spot as Miami Beach. They like the warmth, humidity and darkness of the ear canal, dig into the skin to feed, and then start reproducing. The next thing you know, your rabbit's ears are itching like crazy. He may scratch at them so much that the skin around the ears becomes red, raw or even bloody, and the inside of the ear flap becomes crusty and scaly.
It's important to treat rabbits with ear mites as soon as you realize there is a problem. If they go uncared for, the mites can cause secondary bacterial infections of the skin, invade the middle or inner ear with resulting neurological symptoms that affect balance or gait, or even spread over the bunny's entire body, resulting in severe itching everywhere, plus hair loss and skin sores.
To relieve your rabbit's itch, take him to the veterinarian for medication to kill the mites and prevent them from coming back. Ear mites don't affect people, but they are contagious between rabbits. They are spread by direct skin contact or contact with bedding or other objects belonging to a rabbit with mites. If one rabbit in your household is diagnosed with ear mites, any other pet bunnies also should be treated for them. Ear mites can survive for up to three weeks away from their cozy home on your rabbit, so thoroughly clean your rabbit's hutch, bedding and anything else he has been in contact with or he could become reinfested. -- Kim Campbell Thornton
Feeding pets puts
a bite on the earth
-- Paw prints on the kitchen floors and counters are bad enough, but do you know that our dogs and cats leave significant carbon paw prints on the Earth? According to sustainability researchers from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, more than two acres of agricultural land are required to provide the meat and grain necessary to sustain a medium-sized dog for its lifetime. Researchers estimate that 154,440 square miles of land are required to feed the cats in the world's top 10 feline-friendly nations. This is the equivalent of bulldozing the entire state of California to grow Meow Mix.
-- A study published in the February issue of the Veterinary Record found that many owners don't realize their horses are overweight. The study ranked horses' body scores from 1 to 5, with over 3 being overweight or obese. More than 20 percent of horse owners said their animals are overweight or obese, while the trained researchers classified 55 percent of the horses as overweight or obese. Additionally, 53 percent of owners ranked their horses at least one grade lower than the researchers did.
-- Using treadmill tests, researchers at the National Academy of Sciences found that the most dazzling and deadly frogs are more physically fit than their dull and drab non-toxic cousins, Science Daily reports. Unlike other poisonous animals, such as snakes, which make their own venom, poisonous frogs get their toxins from food. Non-toxic frogs generally are fairly stationary when waiting for insects to move along their path. However, poisonous frogs have to search out ants and mites, which are not found in large groups, but in small patches, which means the frogs have to travel long distances to find their food, which links their eating habits to their fitness prowess. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Mikkel Becker and Ed Murrieta
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.