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Exotic Birds FAQ

Q. How much space will my bird need?
A. Large birds and some of the smaller ones are very active and will need large cages and areas to play in. Consult your vet or pet storeowner as to what is best suited for your particular bird.

Q. Do I have the "time" for a bird?
A. This is the most important question you can ask. Birds are intelligent, playful, and most of all, "social" animals. Will you have time to play with your bird? To properly care for it? Will you have an opportunity to be part of your family? Also, consider time in this since birds are rather long lived. A little Cockatiel can live up to 20 years! An Amazon or an African Grey, could live 50 or 60, there are documented cases of some birds living to be 100! Can you commit to that?! It's not unusual for birds to be passed down to another generation. Don't ever buy a bird if you think you will quickly tire of it.

Q. What is the best way to train a young cockatiel?
A. I'm not sure what you want to train your cockatiel to do. But I'm assuming just to sit on your finger and enjoy your company. This is easiest with a cockatiel that has been hand-fed from an early age. If your bird was not hand-fed, have the feathers trimmed, take the bird out of the cage, sit it on your lap, and just spend time with it. Feeding the bird its favorite foods, such as millets sprays, from your hand will help. If the bird panics and keeps jumping off, sit on the floor in a small room, such as the bathroom, with it. And be patient, you can't force a human being to love you, let alone a bird. Time will work it out.

Q. I bought a baby African Grey parrot 3 months ago. It is very tame and sweet but makes no effort to talk. What am I doing wrong?
A. Nothing at all. African Grey parrots typically take as long as 1 to 2 years to start talking unlike the Amazon parrots that start talking at about 4 months old. Just take good care of him and let him think he is a member of the family and he will start talking when he is ready.

Q.My Yellow Nape Amazon only likes me. She hates my wife and kids. They can't touch her at all. Is there any way to change her? Everyone else is jealous.
A. Most parrots will bond to one family member and refuse to have anything to do with other people in the household. Unfortunately this is a basic part of the nature of these birds and there is not much you can do to change your Amazons behavior. If your wife and kids really want a bird to touch and hold I would get another bird just for them, preferably a bird such as a Cockatoo. Cockatoo's are pretty open-minded and do not usually direct their affections to one member of the family.

Q. My Macaw does not pluck or mutilate his feathers but he never looks as good as the birds I see on TV What can I do to make his plumage look better?
A. Apart from giving your bird a balanced and nutritious diet, you must remember that parrots are rainforest animals and must be misted with warm water from a plant mister everyday. Just fill a plant mister with plain old warm water and mist it up over your bird's head so it falls over the bird as gentle rain. Don't just squirt the bird directly. If you do this everyday your bird will be show quality in no time.

Q. What should I look for when I buy a bird?
A. You want to make sure you get a healthy, happy bird. In general look for:


1. An alert disposition. The bird should be interested in its environment. It should be active. Avoid puffed-up and sleepy-looking birds.

2. Feathering. Make sure feathering is shiny and without bare patches. On long-tailed species like Macaws, take a good look at the tail. If there are thin lines running across tail feathers, it's usually a good indicator of poor nutrition. Please note that baby birds often look rather tatty, with the feathers somewhat frayed. This is normal. Lutino Cockatiels will have a bald spot, which varies in size behind their crest. This is genetic and cannot be helped. Although do try to avoid cockatiels with extremely large bald patches.

3. Eyes. The eyes should be bright and clear. There should be no discharge. There should be no swelling.

4. Upper and lower parts of the beak (the mandibles) should meet cleanly, with no signs of separation. In Cockatoos, the beak should be grayish, covered with powder. Baby Cockatoo beaks will be somewhat shiny.

5. Feet should have all toes, although a missing toe or claw for a pet isn't a bad thing. It is however, out of the question for a show bird. More than one toe or claw gone will hamper the bird's perching ability. The bird should be able to grip its perch or your hand firmly. The feet of a young bird should be smooth and soft. Older birds have feet that are scalier. Excessive scaliness is not good, and can be indicative of vitamin A deficiency.

6. Breathing should be regular and even. No wheezing, snorting or straining allowed.

7. While the person has the bird, have them turn it over and check the vent area. It should be clean and clear of stains or pasted feces.

8. Ask to handle the bird yourself. Observe it. Is the bird steady? Calm? Does the bird come readily to you? Does it show good socialization behavior? Did it bite the hell out of you?

9. Aside from the bands, another way to tell a baby or younger bird is by looking at its beak and feet. In a young bird, these are soft and smooth. Older birds have scaly feet and beaks that show wear. Also, in some species, the eyes change color as the bird ages. Baby Congo and Timneh Greys have dark eyes that lighten. Macaws' eyes lighten, too.

Cats FAQ

Q. A friend of mine has two adult cats that have been together since birth. One day there was a loud noise that scared one of the cats to make a sudden turn and run into the other cat. This started a fight between the cats, which they had to be separated, Since then they have not gotten a long. This incident happened six months ago, and they still cannot be in the same room together without fighting. My friend has tried everything, any suggestions?
A. I'm not sure what your friend has tried, but this is what I would do. I would be sure to have two separate areas for each cat. Each with a litter box, food, water dishes and scratching posts, etc. That way, each cat has its own sanctuary to retire to. Then it's up to the individual cats to socialize in the "neutral zone." If they feel that they want to socialize, they can make the decision. Only time will tell. Sometimes it just doesn't work. I have three cats at home that refuse to socialize with the other four. Therefore, three cats live upstairs and four live downstairs. And that's just the situation that we've come to live with!

Q. Marc, do you have any suggestions for a cat who may have developed a litter-box aversion? She has decided to have accidents. Any suggestions on stopping this behavior? There are no problems with her, just her behavior.
A. That's a rough question to answer. It's always easier if the cat has a physical problem that is causing this. You say that you are certain that it's a behavioral one. With cats and litter boxes, remember these things: cats insist on a clean litter box. Some cats will not use a litter box even if they've only used it once! Cats want an accessible litter box and we seem to do our best to make it inaccessible as possible for the cat like putting it down in the basement and other such places. Some cats are choosy about substrates in the litter box. Try changing to a different litter such as recycled newspaper. The most cut and dry answer I can give you is if your cat insists on using one particular corner of your house, put a litter box in that corner. Sometimes you can't fight city hall!

Q. I bought my cat an expensive scratching post but he refuses to use it and claws my furniture instead. If I cannot get him to use the post my husband is going to get him de-clawed.
A. Your cat is using the furniture because it feels more comfortable using that instead of the post. First make the post more accessible to the cat. Put it right next to the furniture if that is what it takes. Then make the furniture unattractive to the cat by using a cat repellent spray or strategically placing pieces of double-sided tape on the furniture. Cats don't like the way it feels and you can remove it when you have company over.

You should also get one of the many cat repellent sprays available in pet stores. Now that you have made the furniture unattractive, you must make the scratching post attractive to the cat by rubbing catnip all over it. Once the cat has chosen to use the post of its own violation, you can slowly move it away from the furniture.

Dogs FAQ

Q. Is it all right to put human hand cream on the pads of your dog's feet?
A. Never use medications for animals without the approval of your veterinarian. If your dog have dry, cracked pads on the bottom of its feet, I have found the massaging vitamin E oil on the pads several times a day will most definitely help.

Q. Is there any natural flea and tick control I can use?
A. Any flea spray that contains pyrethrums, which is a chemical derived from certain flowers, is very safe for dogs, cats, ferrets, rabbits and even birds. It's important also to keep the animal's environment clean, as well as your house and although no veterinarian on the planet will agree with me, I have found that giving a dog or cat daily doses of Brewer's yeast and garlic pills will help keep fleas at bay, if you're starting with an animal who is not suffering from a severe infestation.

Q. I have a 1-year-old Bichon Frise dog, which has been paper-trained, but now I want to train him to do his business outdoors. Is it still possible to retrain him?
A. Its never too late to house train your dog to go outdoors. However, you have to be sure that that's the only place the dogs allowed to go now. You can't teach a dog to use paper in the house and then expect it to automatically go outside. The paper is no longer an option now for the dog. The best way to reinforce this fact is to confine the dog to a training cage when it is unsupervised. As soon as you take the dog out of the cage, take it outside to eliminate. If the dog goes, praise it thoroughly and allow it to run loose in the house. If the dog does not go, and you are sure that he didn't, then bring it back in the house, put it in the cage and try again in 5 minutes later. Consistency is the key in training any animal. If you could follow the dog around the house all day long, and correct it when it makes a mistake, it would learn right away. But in today's lifestyles, that is not possible. And this is where the training cage will make your life easier as well as your dogs.

Q. I have spoken with dog owners who regularly feed their dogs vegetable matter. What are the benefits of doing this? Are any guidelines or suggestions to follow when preparing vegetables for my dogs to eat?
A. The ancestors of dogs are wolves, and wolves really cannot digest properly any vegetable matter. Primitive man, who kept tame wolves, would not, of course, give them the best, juicy cuts of meat when times were bad. These tame wolves were forced to live on whatever the primitive masters gave them. The tame wolves that could survive this diet lived and reproduced and their offspring were also able to survive on less than meat diet. So therefore, we can consider today's modern dog an omnivore rather than a carnivore. Therefore, vegetable can be part of a dog's diet. All dogs love to eat raw carrots and my wife cooks a vegetable stew of carrots, potatoes, leeks and all sorts of stuff and feeds it to our dogs whenever she has the time. In a situation like this "if it's good for you, it's good for your dog".

Q. How do I determine if a brand of dog food is good or not?
A. Read the label. If the first ingredient listed is pure meat product, such as chicken or lamb, that is O.K. If it says that the first ingredient is poultry-by-products, look again. If the first ingredient is a grain like corn then that dog food is surely not good. Remember that dogs cannot see color, so if the dog food has colored bits in it you know that is put in for your benefit, not the dogs, so since the dog is eating it don't worry about the color. It is all a matter of being an educated consumer.

Q. I have the dumbest dog in the world. My father said we could hire a dog trainer. Is it better to give the dog to the trainer or to have the trainer come to our house?
A. Actually you should look for a trainer that gives group-training classes. You need to be trained as well as the dog and you won't learn anything about dog behavior if the trainer takes the dog away. In a group class your dog will benefit a great deal from interacting and socializing with the other dogs and you will also get to socialize with other owners of dogs "dumber" than yours.

Ferrets FAQ

Q. What are ferrets? Do they make good pets?
A. Ferrets are domestic animals, cousins of weasels, skunks and otters. They are not rodents; taxonomically they're in between cats and dogs, a little closer to dogs. They are friendly and make excellent pets. If you've never met one before, the easiest way to think of them is somewhere between cats and dogs in personality, but rather smaller. They can only see reasonably well, but they have excellent senses of hearing and smell. Some are cuddly, others more independent; they vary a lot, just like other pets.

A ferret or better, two or more, can be a very entertaining companion(s). They are smarter than cats and dogs. They are also very inquisitive and remarkably determined, which is part of their charm but can also be a bit of a bother.

They can be trained to use a litter box and to do tricks, and most of them love to go places with you, riding on a shoulder or in a bag. They sleep a lot, and don't mind staying in small places (a cage, for instance, or a shoulder bag) temporarily, although they need to run around and play for at least a couple of hours a day. Ferrets typically live about 6-10 years.

Like kittens and puppies, ferrets require a lot of care and training at first. Ferrets have their own distinct scent, which bothers some people. Although most ferrets get along reasonably well with cats and dogs, it's not guaranteed, so if you have large, aggressive pets (particularly dogs of breeds commonly used for hunting), keep that in mind. Likewise, small children and ferrets are both very excitable, and the combination could be too much.

Q. My question is about fleas and my 9-year-old ferret: I am never sure what is safe to use for flea control for my ferret. I have dipped her before and tried the flea pills, however, no one was ever sure what the correct dosage should be. Do you have any suggestions as to the best way to control fleas on my ferret?
A. Splash (Marc's ferret) says that the best flea spray for ferrets is Marshall's Flea Spray or Flea Shampoo, which is sold in pet stores. It's a pyrethrum-based solution that not hurt your ferret if used properly. Keep your house very clean, as ferrets are on the floor all the time, going in dusty corners where fleas breed.


Q. My ferret never goes outside. Do I have to get him inoculated for Rabies?
A. Actually the possibility of your ferret contracting Rabies is probably nonexistent. However, there is always the possibility that someone could claim that your ferret scratched or bit them. If that happened your local health dept. will ask to see a certificate from you that proves that your ferret was inoculated They will give both you and your ferret a hard time if you cannot produce the certificate, so it is well worth the peace of mind to get your ferret inoculated.

Q. What are the different ferret colors?
A. Ferrets often change colors with the seasons, lighter in the winter than in the summer, and many of them lighten as they age, too. Different ferret organizations recognize different colors and patterns, but unless you're planning to enter your ferret in a show, the exact label isn't particularly important. Some of the more commonly accepted colors are described in general terms below:

• The albino is white with red eyes and a pink nose. A dark-eyed white can have very light eyes and can possibly be confused with an albino. These can actually range from white to cream colored with the whiter the color the better.
• A dark-eyed white (often called a black-eyed white) is a ferret with white guard hairs but eyes darker than the red of an albino.
• The sable has rich dark brown guard hairs with golden highlights, with a white to golden undercoat. A black sable has blue-black guard hairs with no golden or brownish cast, with a white to cream undercoat.
• The chocolate is described as warm dark to milk chocolate brown with a white to golden or amber undercoat and highlights.
A cinnamon is a rich light reddish brown with a golden to white undercoat. This can also be used to describe a ferret with light, tan guard hairs with pinkish or reddish highlights. Straight tan is a champagne.
• A silver starts out grey, or white with a few black hairs. The ferret may or may not have a mask. There is a tendency for the guard hair to lighten to white evenly over the body. As a ferret ages each progressive coat change has a higher percentage of white rather than dark guard hairs. Eventually the ferret could be all white. White patches on the throat might be called throat stars, throat stripes, or bibs; white toes, mitts (sometimes called silver mitts), or stockings go progressively further up the legs.
• A blaze or badger has a white stripe on the top of the head, and a panda has a fully white head.
• A Siamese has an even darker color on the legs and tail than usual and a V-shaped mask; and a self is nearly solid in color.

Q. Do ferrets smell bad? What can I do about it?
A. Ferrets have an odor all their own, just like any pet. Some people like the musky scent, a few can't stand it, and most are in between. If the ferret isn't yet altered, having that done will cut down on the odor a lot; whole (un-neutered) males, particularly, have a very strong smell. Young kits also have a peculiar, sharp scent which they lose as they get a bit older.

Descenting a ferret doesn't change the day-to-day smell. Only the scent glands near the tail are removed, which prevents the ferret from releasing bad-smelling musk if it's frightened, but doesn't stop the normal musky oils that come from glands throughout the skin.

The two big things you can do to cut down on your ferret's odor are to bathe him less - yes, less - often and to clean his bedding more often. Most of the musk stays in the cloth, on the litter or paper, and on your floors and furniture, not on the ferret himself. Cleaning them can be a big help. Also, right after a bath the ferret's skin glands go into overdrive to replenish the oils you just washed away, so for a few days the ferret will actually smell worse. Foods containing fish may make your ferret, or his litter pan, smell worse than those with chicken, lamb, etc. You may also find that your ferret smells more during shedding season in the spring and fall.

Reptiles FAQ

Q. What do you think about snakes as pets?
A. I've always had snakes, and I always will. As a responsive pet, they definitely don't rank but humans have had a fascination with snakes since the time of Adam and Eve. Many children feel this fascination and want to keep a snake of their own which is discouraged by most parents. Any interest on a child's part, in taking care of any living thing, should always be encouraged, as it could only help in making your child a more humane adult. Taking care of snakes, though, is a lot of work, so don't buy a snake unless you're prepared to take care of it in the correct manner and are willing to spend the money to provide the environment that it needs.

Q. My Iguana has a swollen jaw and his front legs are also swollen, he looks like Popeye! What can I do?
A. Your Iguana is suffering from a lack of calcium in his diet. I don't know what you are feeding him but you must sprinkle a phosphorus free calcium supplement such as Rep-Cal over his food every time he eats.

Small Animals FAQ

Q. I notice that pellets I buy for my guinea pig cost more than the ones I buy for my rabbit. They look the same to me. Why can't feed my guinea pig rabbit pellets?
A. Guinea pig pellets are different in that they contain vitamin C. Guinea pigs and humans are alike in the fact that vitamin C must be a dietary staple. If you fed your guinea pig rabbit food it would quickly develop a disease called "Scurvy" which is caused by a lack of vitamin C.

Fish FAQ

Q. I set up a freshwater aquarium tank set up 2 weeks ago and now the water is very hazy. I cleaned out the filter but the water is still hazy. I changed the water and it was clear for a day but now it is hazy again. Why doesn't my filter work?
A. Your tank is only 2 weeks old and suffers from "New Tank Syndrome" the haze you see is actually the reaction of the water to the Ammonia that the fish are giving off. Fish produce Ammonia as part of their metabolism. You cannot filter this out of the water. In time, Bacteria will spontaneously appear in the tank and they will consume the Ammonia as fast as the fish produce it. This Process is called "Cycling" and takes between 3 to 6 weeks. Anything you do such as water changes, etc., will only delay the process. So be patient wait it out. Remember not to add any fish the tank until the water clears and the water tests negative for ammonia.