ROTATE A VARIETY OF TOYS FOR YOUR BIRD – AND BE PREPARED TO REPLACE THEM OFTEN
And Gina Spadafori
Parrots are incredibly intelligent, and for anyone who doubts this, we point to the late Alex, Dr. Irene Pepperberg's well-known African Grey, who showed by matching words to objects the parrots are anything but "bird brains."
And yet, we too often see these brilliant beings kept as little more than decorative objects, prized for their plumage and locked for nearly all their lives in cages that are too small, no matter how large. Is it any wonder so many pet birds die young, or rip out their own feathers in frustration?
Toys are essential to maintaining the physical and mental well-being of parrots large and small. Playthings help keep pet birds fit while fighting the boredom that can contribute to behavioral problems, such as feather-picking.
Although you can buy toys by major manufacturers from the big chain stores, it's also nice to choose from the variety of playthings lovingly made by a cottage industry of bird lovers and available from independent bird shops, through catalogs and on the Internet.
Some basic rules apply when shopping for toys, to ensure they are suitable and safe for your bird. Look for the following when choosing bird toys:
-- Materials: Toys are subject to your bird's healthy urge to destroy, which means safe components are a must. Wood, rawhide, plastic or stainless steel chain, rope, cloth and hard plastic are among the more popular materials that make up safe toys. Choose toys that break down into pieces that can't be swallowed. An exception: Toys made to hold food items, such as dried corncobs or fruit chunks. With these, eating is a large part of the fun.
-- Construction: Challenging toys, the best choice for busy birds, feature pieces combined in ways that make it hard for the birds to pull the whole product apart -- but not too hard. Indestructible toys are not appropriate for most birds, because the time and energy used to rip apart the gadget is part of the reason toys fill such a need.
-- Size: Little toys for little birds, big toys for big birds. A big bird can catch and lose a toe in a toy made for a smaller bird, and small birds can get their heads trapped in toys made for their larger relatives.
Some birds are apprehensive of new toys. If yours is one of them, try to set the toy outside the cage (but within eye range) for a day or two, and then put it on the floor of the cage for another day or two. Once your bird starts to play with the toy, you can go ahead and attach it to the cage.
Don't overwhelm your pet with toys. Instead, keep two or three in the cage and rotate new ones in regularly. Shopping for bird toys can be fun, but the costs do add up, especially if you have one of those gleefully destructive parrots. With some creativity, you can make your money go further by complementing store-bought bird toys with alternatives.
The cardboard cores of toilet paper and paper towel rolls are perfect for shredding, especially for smaller birds. Other cheapies include ballpoint pens with the ink tube removed, pingpong balls, old plastic measuring cups and spoons, and plastic bottle tops. Toothbrushes are another bargain toy, sturdy and colorful. The hard plastic keys on a ring sold for human babies are also a budget-wise buy that birds love. (Wash in hot soap and water, rinse well and air-dry before offering such items to your bird.)
Keep your eyes and mind open for playthings your bird can enjoy -- you may surprise yourself with the possibilities!
Preparation is key
when flying with pets
Q: Regarding your recent column on flying with pets, will you let readers know about the risk of losing a pet in the airport?
Most people don't realize that if they take a pet as carry-on baggage, they'll have to take the pet out of the carrier and hold the animal while the carrier itself goes through screening. I found this out the hard way with a cat who hates to be held!
Everyone who takes a pet aboard a plane as carry-on luggage should have a harness and leash in place to avoid having the animal take off running through the airport. -- J.P., via e-mail
A: You're absolutely right. While a small dog having a bit of a freak-out at the airport can probably be held firmly and without too much difficulty, a cat in full flight-or-fight mode can really create a dangerous scene. That's why your suggestion is important: Make sure any pet -- but especially a cat -- is equipped with a harness and leash before removing the animal from the carrier at the airport screening station.
I've flown with pets as carry-on a few times and have put larger pets in cargo a few times more -- never (knock on wood) with any problems whatsoever. I've always found airline staff to be caring, helpful and understanding of the needs and worries of pet lovers.
One myth about flying with pets that just won't go away is the assumption that pets need to be routinely tranquilized for flights. Not only is this not true, it's also dangerous. Tranquilizing limits the ability of their bodies to function normally, and they need all that ability to cope with the stress of flight.
The default mode for pet air travel should be no tranquilizers, although there are exceptions, so a pre-flight talk with the veterinarian is a must. (You'll need to be there for a pre-flight health certificate anyway.)
Talking to the airline for pet reservations and conditions is a must, as is checking en route for any pets traveling in cargo holds. With all precautions in place, air travel with pets should go smoothly -- and it usually does. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Moving with a cat?
Limit his options
The best way to move with your cat is to confine him before and after moving day in a "safe room."
Choose a room where your cat isn't going to be disturbed, and outfit it with food and water, a litter box, a scratching post, a bed and toys.
Confining your cat not only reduces his stress, but also prevents him from slipping out, which is a danger at both the old home and the new. Your cat could easily become scared, take off and get lost, even in his familiar neighborhood, if he gets disoriented.
Your cat should be confined in his safe room the day before packing begins, moved to his new home in a carrier, and then confined again in his new safe room until the moving is over, the furniture arranged and most of the dust settled.
Trying to force a scared and stressed-out cat to do anything he doesn't want to do is hazardous to your health. After you arrive at your new home, don't pull your cat out of his carrier. Instead, put the carrier in his safe room, open the carrier door, and let him come out into the room when he wants to. After he's a little calmer, you can coax him out with some fresh food or treats if you want. But don't rush him and don't drag him out -- or you may be bitten or scratched.
When you have the rest of the house settled, open the door to the safe room and let your cat explore his new home, on his terms. -- Gina Spadafori
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.