MIX AND MATCH PERCHES FOR A HEALTHIER PET BIRD
Gravity being what it is, even a creature made for flying spends a lot of time on his feet. This is why it's a shame that too many bird lovers give perches too little thought, forcing their pets to spend their lives on the plain wooden dowels that come as standard equipment with most cages.
The good news is that poor perch selection is easy to remedy, with lots of choices in specialty bird shops as well as bird-supply catalogs and websites.
Remember three things when it comes to perches: safety, variety and destructibility. Safety because, well, that's kind of obvious. Variety because a wide array of shapes, sizes and materials will help keep your bird's feet comfortable and healthy. Destructibility? Perches, like toys, are appropriate targets for the demolition urges that help keep birds busy, fit and free of boredom.
Here's what you'll find when looking for perches:
-- Wooden dowels. There's nothing really wrong with these standard-issue perches, but you can do better by your bird. While it won't hurt to leave a wooden dowel in the cage, take out the extras and add variety to your bird's environment.
-- Rope. Great stuff! Rope perches are both comfortable and entertaining. They're easy to clean, too. Just run them through the washer and dryer, or put them in the top rack of your dishwasher. One kind of rope perch -- the bouncy coil -- is truly wonderful, combining the best elements of a rope, a swing and a bungee cord. These coils are great fun for your bird, and help to keep overweight "perch potatoes" more active.
The downside to rope is the possibility of your pet catching a toe on a frayed part of the perch or swallowing loose strands of the rope. Watch closely and replace these perches when the rope gets stringy.
-- Mineral. Almost every bird should have a mineral perch, also called a concrete or cement perch. The rough texture feels good underfoot, and the surface is great for helping to keep nails blunt and beaks clean and well-groomed (birds like to wipe their beaks against the rough surface).
-- Skip the sandpaper. Sandpaper perches are uncomfortable and have been known to cause foot problems, and they should be replaced with a mineral perch. Read the packaging material to choose the right diameter for your pet.
-- Plastic. Two kinds of plastic, acrylic and PVC, are both popular because of their sturdiness and relative ease of cleaning. If you choose acrylic, be sure to add other chewable perch options to your bird's environment. In general, acrylic is better than PVC, because the latter can too easily end up causing problems in a bird's stomach. (PVC perches can be great for supervised use, though.)
-- Tree branches. Most fruit and nut trees (almond, apple, prune and all citrus) are fine to use, as are ash, elm, dogwood and magnolia. If you can get your pruners on some manzanita, go for it -- it's a hard wood that can stand up to a lot of abuse. Leave the bark on all branches for your bird to peel off.
Cut the branches to fit in the cage, scrub with soap, rinse well and air-dry. Be sure to break off and discard any insect pods before putting the branch in the cage.
Check all perches regularly, looking for wear and safety problems. Think of perches as replaceable cage furnishings, helping to fight boredom and keeping your bird comfortable and healthy. The extra labor and cost involved in keeping a fresh variety of perches in the cage is more than offset by the benefits of good perches for your bird.
Dry, flaking skin
needs vet's check
Q: Our cat's skin seems to be really dry and very flaky. Would a humidifier help? We do live in a very dry climate. -- via Facebook
A: I would guess that low humidity is not causing your cat's skin issues. After all, cats are descended from desert-dwelling creatures, and dry conditions alone shouldn't cause a massive amount of flakiness.
Treating symptoms is never as good as treating the condition itself; in fact, it can more expensive, and even deadly. Before you start adding more moisture to the air, oil to the diet or any other quick-fix solution, your cat needs to see her veterinarian. Once the problem is correctly diagnosed, it can be properly treated.
By the way, other pets actually do have a problem with the dry air of the modern home, most notably birds. Many species of pet parrots originally came from hot, humid environments. For these, dry air presents a problem and may contribute to feather-picking. That's why parrots need to be offered frequent opportunities to get damp, such as by being misted or being allowed to bathe. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Q: Is catnip really safe for my cat? -- via Facebook
A: A catnip high is harmless and nonaddictive, so you can stop worrying.
Every cat reacts in his or her own way to catnip. Some will be giddy, some dazed, and a large percentage won't react at all. (Kittens under the age of 3 months are not affected.) The ability to appreciate the herb is genetically programmed, with slightly more cats in the catnip fan club than not.
Catnip contains a substance called "nepetalactone" in its leaves and stems, and this is what sets cats off. Rolling, rubbing, leaping, purring and general uninhibited happiness are all normal for a few minutes after exposure. -- Gina Spadafori
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Renters' pets get
to keep their claws
-- Property owners in California can no longer demand that renters debark dogs or declaw cats in order to keep them in a rented home. The law was popular in the statehouse, passing the state Senate by a unanimous vote before getting the governor's signature. The legislation has teeth, with a $1,000 fine for violations. It was the second attempt for the legislation: An earlier version had been vetoed by the previous governor.
-- Most cat lovers have never been very interested in pedigrees: Plain ol' domestic cats of all backgrounds, markings and coat lengths are by far the most popular. Among cats with papers, the most popular breeds are Persians, Maine Coons, the Exotic (a shorthaired Persian), Siamese and Abyssinian. In the United Kingdom, what Americans call DSH (domestic shorthair) and DLH (domestic longhair) cats go by the much more endearing name of "Moggy."
-- Lost dogs are found more often than cats. Overall, 71 percent of lost dogs were recovered, compared to only 53 percent of lost cats. The primary reasons given for the difference, according to a study in the AVMA journal: About 47 percent of missing dogs had identification on them, but only 14 percent of missing cats had any ID. -- 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.