If you're looking for a way to lower your stress, improve your health and get your children off the couch, part of the answer may be fish -- not eating them, but keeping them.
Whether you choose a small tank with a few freshwater fish or a stunning saltwater setup that makes you feel like a deep-sea diver without getting wet, you'll be getting some of the proven health benefits of keeping fish.
"It doesn't have to be difficult to keep fish," said Dr. Roy Yanong, a veterinarian with a lifelong love of fish-keeping that he pursued into a career with the Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory at the University of Florida.
"Depending on the species, you can start with a 10-gallon tank. But you always have to think about the water," he said. "Fish make ammonia, which is excreted through their gills. You need the right number of fish, and a bio-filter with the right set of bacteria. If you don't have that, the water will turn toxic, and that's when fish die."
But just as you don't need to be an ichthyologist -- a fish expert -- to keep healthy fish, you don't have to be a chemist either, says Dr. Yanong. All you need to make sure the water is right for your fish is to test it yourself with easy-to-find kits, or have it tested at a specialty aquarium store.
"Help with fish-keeping is pretty easy to get," he said. "You can talk to someone who's keeping fish successfully. You can also find sites online that can help."
Dr. Yanong has been working with fish since 1992, which is also when the popularity of keeping aquatic pets started to grow. While the more complicated and expensive saltwater setups have remained the interest of only a tiny percentage of dedicated hobbyists, keeping freshwater fish has risen steadily for the past two decades.
"That's a pretty good rise," said Dr. Yanong, who, despite having fish all around him pretty much all his working hours, still keeps a tank of mud-skippers nearby. "Aquaria is a where a lot of kids first got their interest in nature. I know I did. And while any pet can be an entry into the world of nature, the fascinating thing about fish is that you're not just keeping pets, you're running an ecosystem."
At a time when it's hard to get kids to put down the video console and get off the couch, experts say looking into a fish tank may be key to getting youngsters up and out the door -- perhaps to a career in science. And it can all start with a small tank and a couple of guppies.
(Video bonus: Training expert Mikkel Becker demonstrates the proper way to teach children to safely hold a cat or small dog (vetstreet.com/train/how-to-pick-up-and-hold-a-cat)
Is lighting behind
bird feather woes?
Q: Are fluorescent lights bad for birds? I have read online that they cause feather-picking. -- via email
A: I asked board-certified avian specialist Dr. Brian Speer (my "Birds for Dummies" co-author) for help with this one. He has his doubts that there's any problem with having birds in rooms lit by energy-saving compact fluorescent lights.
"Although there is a different flicker frequency that birds see as compared to ourselves, there is no confirmed direct causation between feather-damaging behavior and fluorescent lighting," says Dr. Speer, who owns the Medical Center for Birds, a birds-only practice in the Northern California town of Oakley.
He doesn't rule out CFLs completely, however, at least as a contributory factor to the problem. Feather-picking is complex behavior, he stresses.
"This type of light may function as a stressor, and it is possible that some stressors may trigger anxiety," says Dr. Speer. "Anxiety may be addressed by displacement behavioral activities, and of these, feather damage could be seen.
"But this is a bit of a simplistic 'cause and effect' assumption for a problem that more often than not is multifactorial in nature," he says.
Stopping feather-picking, in other words, will remain a difficult road for many bird owners, with a lot of strategies employed along the way to find the magic ingredients to the cure -- if it can be found at all. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disney crew includes
lot of veterinarians
-- Working for the Walt Disney Co. is no Mickey Mouse affair if you're a veterinarian. Dr. Mark Stetter, recently named as dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at Colorado State University, leaves behind a big job at Disney. DVM360.com reports that Dr. Stetter directed the company's animal-health programs around the world and managed a team of more than 500, including veterinarians, curators, zookeepers and aquarists. He also helped to oversee the company's international wildlife research and conservation programs.
-- Of the more than 150 breeds recognized by the American Kennel Club, 13 commonly get ear crops, 48 have docked tails, and 11 have both cropping and docking. Ear crops seem more likely to disappear as a common practice sooner, as fewer pet owners choose to have their puppies' ears cut into an upright posture, and fewer veterinarians are willing to perform the procedure. The American Veterinary Medical Association opposes ear cropping and tail docking when done solely for cosmetic purposes, and has encouraged the elimination of these procedures from breed standards.
-- A "three dog night" was once described by comedian Johnny Carson as a "bad night for a tree." But the term originates with the Inuit tribes of Alaska, who measured nocturnal temperatures based on how many of their sled dogs they needed to serve as bed warmers. -- Mikkel Becker and Dr. Marty Becker
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 affiliated with Vetstreet.com and 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.