Monday, December 17, 2007

Gerbils Are Fun, Friendly Small Pets

I was in Petco the other day taking a look at the white mice, hamsters, rats, guinea pigs, and gerbils. It brought to mind the time my daughter won a gerbil in a second grade science fair. It was a little, black gerbil my daughter named, Blacky.

My sons had hamsters and white mice as pets in the past, so I figured it was basically the same type of care for the gerbil. What I wasn't expecting was the personality Blacky had. He was very friendly, while the hamsters we had owned always bit. Blacky lived for five years, and never once bit anyone.

He also seemed to be very intelligent. He would sit on his haunches, reaching two paws outside the cage, beckoning for sunflower seeds. My daughter would hand him a seed, he would take it and carefully eat it while turning it over in his paws. When he finished the seed, he would reach out for another one. He never grabbed, or seemed frightened of us at all.

Another of Blacky's talents was house construction. We would put fluff in the cage, so he could build a nest to snuggle into, and each night he would reconstruct his home. It always had multiple doors, or windows (I'm not sure which they were supposed to be). When someone came into the room, he would pop his head out of one of the windows to take a peek. The next night, he would rebuild his home in a different design. These were intricate house designs, not just piles of fluff! I think he was a 'gerbil architect'.

Blacky would allow my daughter to hold him in her hand, or carry him in her pocket. He would also sit on her shoulder while she did her homework. He did occasionally jump down, or get out of the cage, but he would never run off like my son's hamsters used to. Blacky would not even leave my daughter's bedroom, although the door was open. When he was tired of being loose, he would stand on his back legs and look at my daughter until she picked him up and put him back in his cage.

It was a sad day when Blacky passed away, but he certainly taught me a lot about gerbils that I never knew before. I would never hesitate to give a gerbil as a pet, knowing how gentle Blacky was. I believe if you take care of a gerbil's needs, giving him a roomy cage, nesting material, an adequate water bottle, sunflower seed treats, as well as a well balanced gerbil food, and treat him gently, he will be a wonderful pet. We also used to put a gnawing bone in his cage to prevent his teeth from growing too long. Some pet stores recommend getting two gerbils, since they are social animals, but Blacky was fine alone; maybe that was just him.

Pet stores also carry entire critter habitats that come with running wheels, tubes to climb through and water bottles. They come in a variety of sizes. Children like these habitats for the little animals because they are very colorful and can be expanded. We just used a basic cage, and Blacky seemed happy. I would recommend a gerbil to anyone trying to decide on a small pet.

Here's a cute video of gerbils I found on YouTube:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Keep Pets Safe during the Holidays

"Tis the season to be jolly!" We all want to feel that way during the holidays, including your pet. Whether you own a dog, cat, bird, or ferret, make sure you pet proof your home during all the holiday festivities. You would be surprised the things your pet can get into when the house is decorated and all kinds of special foods are prepared.

Last Christmas, I thought my 11 year old beagle, Hunter, was old enough not to really have to worry about him during Christmas dinner. After all, he had been around for 10 Christmas's before this without an incident. My whole family was all seated around the dining room table for Christmas dinner when there was a crash and scuffling from the kitchen. I jumped up and on the floor was the pecan pie I had baked the day before. My beagle had already gulped down half the pie, whipped cream and all. By the time I reached him, the whole pie was gone! This all happened within about 30 seconds.

Well, Hunter looked at me with his big brown eyes, whipped cream on the bottom of his floppy ears, and I couldn't get angry with him, after all, it was Christmas. About 10 minutes later, his belly was bloated and he vomited the entire pie back up again. It was not too appealing to the rest of the family trying to eat Christmas dinner. Hunter was miserable for the rest of the day, just lying on his bed with a look of despair in his eyes.

This is only one example of what a pet can get into during the holidays. Fortunately, his stomach misery only lasted a day, but there are many other dangers to watch for when decorating and preparing for the holidays.

Cats love sleeping under Christmas trees, and sometimes climbing them. Make sure your tree is secure, unable to fall over on top of your pet. You will also want to be careful of glass ornaments, as they can shatter easily and your pet could cut a paw or even eat the shards of glass. This is especially likely if you make homemade cookie ornaments. Your dog can't tell the difference between a dog biscuit and a cookie ornament hanging on your tree. One lunge at the tree after a cookie ornament, and chaos will break loose.

Also, be careful of feeding your pet leftovers. If you do, double-check for turkey skewers and small bones. Either one of these things could lodge in your pet's stomach or intestines causing life threatening conditions.

These are only a few of the many hazards the holidays can present to your pet. If you are careful, and pet proof your home, all of you will have a happy holiday. Happy Holidays to all of you and your precious pets.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Is Doggie Day Care Right for Your Pet?

Years ago dogs stayed home either tied outside, in a pen, or in the house while people were at work. The options of doggie day care, or dog walkers were not available. Pets had to stay at home, isolated and bored, waiting for their masters to come home.

Today, this has all changed. Doggie day cares have sprung up in most cities and towns. Most of these day cares are operated by people who really care about animals, but there are always a few bad apples.

I visited a combination doggie day care/pet shop in my area and was saddened by what I saw. The day care room had no toys, mats, or even blankets for the dogs. Each dog was tied with a leash to a different section of the room. There was no interaction of any kind between the dogs, or with people. They lay on the concrete floor, looking bored and lonely.

I'm sure this is not what the owners of these poor dogs had in mind when they brought them to day care. What would be the point?

If you are considering doggie day care, make sure you research the facility and the programs offered. The last thing you want is to enroll your dog in doggie day care and find he/she is more miserable than when he was home alone.

What to look for in a doggie day care:
  • Both indoor and outdoor play
  • Socialization – play time among the dogs and interaction with people
  • Exercise – a regular exercise routine with real people (not tied to a treadmill for 20 minutes
  • Ask if there are certified dog trainers on the staff to deal with any aggressive behavior.
  • Is the staff certified in Red Cross pet first aid and CPR?
  • Does the facility offer obedience training programs? These can be a lifesaver for hard working pet owners who find it hard to spend time training their dogs.
  • Check the sleeping areas. Does each dog have its own personal resting space?
  • Are staff members available and supervising the dogs at all times?
These are just a few of the many questions to ask when looking for a doggie day care. Your pet's care is the most important thing to consider. A friendly, stimulating environment is what every dog needs to have a happy, fun-filled day while you are off working to earn money for those expensive vet bills, dog toys, and pet food.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Convenience of Pet Strollers

I recently saw an episode of "The Dog Whisperer" with Cesar Millan. He was trying to improve the relationship between a dog and a cat in the same household. One of the solutions he suggested was to bring the cat for walks with the dog, using a cat stroller for the cat.

I have to admit that I had never heard of a cat stroller before. It seemed like a pretty good idea. The cat seemed to enjoy it and it supposedly, made the dog see the cat as part of his pack. In the end, the dog and cat walked together everyday, becoming the best of friends.

After I saw the episode, I decided to do some research on pet strollers. I found they are manufactured not only for cats, but for dogs, as well. They are even available in double decker models for a family with two cats, or a small dog and a cat. They also come with a model that connects to a bicycle.

Various sized pet strollers are available too. It doesn't matter the size or weight of your pet, there is a pet stroller for your dog or cat. There are super deluxe models and basic models to fit any budget. Some pet strollers are open like a pet carrier, while others have panels that close in case it rains. Most pet strollers also come with a sun awning to help stay cool in hot weather and have a pad to stay warm in the winter. They also come in all terrain models for easier hiking or walking on gravel pathways.

The pet strollers are a great idea if you like to go for long walks and your small dog has trouble keeping up. This gets your pet out into the fresh air, and you still get your strenuous exercise. You can run with the heavier duty models without a problem. I was surprised how much cats enjoy taking rides in the stroller. I thought they would be nervous around other people and traffic, but I guess they feel safe and secure inside the stroller.

Indoor cats also benefit from the pet stroller for obvious reasons. They get to go outside, but cannot get hurt or lost. It's a great break from the monotony of staying indoors.
So, even if you don't have a dog and cat that are trying to bond, like Cesar Millan's client, a pet stroller is still something to consider. It's convenient, folds up for storage and travel, letting you bring your pet wherever you go.

Simple Steps to Starting a Fresh Water Aquarium

Setting up a freshwater aquarium is fairly simple, but does require following a few steps to get the tropical aquarium environment safe for fish. Don't rush the process, or you could run into a lot of problems with the new fish you buy.

Be patient, making sure the water is the correct temperature, PH, and that healthy bacteria are living in the aquarium tank before adding fish. If any of these things are not done correctly, your new fish won't last very long.

To get started on an aquarium that you and your family can enjoy for years to come, follow these few simple tips:

Supplies You Will Need before Setting Up the Tank Environment:

  • 30 -55 gallon aquarium – don't go any smaller than this. If you are going through all the work of developing an aquarium, you want it big enough to add the fish you would like.
  • Aquarium Stand - Be sure to purchase a stand sturdy enough to hold the tank filled with water. Most people are surprised at the weight of a tank, once filled.
  • Aquarium Tank Canopy – Fish are very active and can jump right out of the tank if it is not covered.
  • Aquarium Light – The lights are available in different tones. Some look like sunlight, cool light, or spot lighting for emphasis on plants or ornaments.
  • Aquarium Water Heater – Tropical fish require a warm environment.
  • Thermometer – These are available as floating thermometers, inside suction thermometers, or outside the tank(stick on- my favorite)
  • Filter – The water must be filtered to remove food debris and keep the water clean. There are a wide variety of filters: under gravel filters, inside the tank filters, or filters that hang on the outside. Check your pet supply store and choose the filter you feel would be the best for you.
  • Pump – You will need this if you are using air bubble wands.
  • Gravel – Choose whatever type of gravel you like. The gravel is important because it actually houses the good bacteria your tank will need to stay healthy.
  • Test Kit - This is a must when first setting up your tank. After the aquarium is established, you won't really need to test it. The test checks the levels of PH, Nitrite, Nitrate, Ammonia, and CO2. Once these levels check in the safe zone, it is time to add fish.
  • Stress Coat – This is added to the water. It helps protect the fish when adding them to a new environment.
Those are all the necessities needed for starting a fresh water aquarium. Now comes the fun part. Choose the decorations you would like for your tank. Once again, pet supply stores carry all types of theme decorations. You can get driftwood, colored gravel, plants, moss, bubble wands, back drops, and various stones.

Time to Set Up the Tank:

1. Place the fish tank stand out far enough away from the wall to allow the filter to hang over. Also, it is best to situate the tank where it will not be in the direct sunlight. This could cause an algae problem.

2. Rinse the gravel to remove any dust particles and place in the bottom of the tank. Slowly add about 2" of water to the tank. Bottled water will not need to be treated, but if you use tap water, use a chlorine remover.
3. Set up the equipment: heater, filter, thermometer, pump if needed.

4. Decorate with ornaments. Spread them out so the fish have enough room to swim around.
5. Fill the tank with water. Turn on the filter, heater, and pump. Let it run for 24 hours and test the water. Make sure all levels are correct before adding fish. Sometimes, it can take up to a week for good bacteria to grow. If you visit a pet store, ask if you can take a little water from one of their established aquariums. This can help the bacteria grow quicker in your tank.

6. Time to add the fish – Start with only a few hardy fish to be sure your tank is safe. Once you have the fish for a few weeks, add a few more. The typical recommendation is one fish per gallon, so the size of your aquarium will determine how many fish you can have.
7. It is best to have at least two bottom feeders to help keep your tank clean: cat fish are great for this. You will also want at least one algae eater to keep the algae under control. Choose some peaceful community fish like: neons, barbs, tetras, and danios. Many fish will nip at each other, so be sure to check if the fish you are buying are community, semi-aggressive, or aggressive. You really can't mix these types of fish.

Hope this guide helped you set up the perfect fish tank for you. Now that all the work is done, you shouldn't have to do anything but change about one quarter of the water every couple of weeks. You can also use a siphon vacuum to clean the bottom of the tank of you think it needs it. Enjoy your new tropical aquarium.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What Should I Feed My Kitten?

A kitten is so cute and cuddly that many people cannot resist the temptation to take one home. This is great, but making sure you have the most nutritious food for a growing kitten is very important.

Kittens are no different than people. They need a food that has all the nutrients required for a balanced diet. You can go with either natural, organic foods or another quality kitten food from your pet store. Also, decide if you would like to use canned or dry food. Dry food is very convenient, staying fresh for long periods of time. Some people prefer the variety of flavors offered in canned foods, feeling canned food is more appealing to the kitten.

The best thing to do is to ask your kitten's breeder, or the pet store personnel what type of food the kitten is used to eating. You don't want to upset the kitten's digestion. Keep feeding the same food, or gradually mix the new food you have chosen with the previous one. It may take a couple of weeks for your kitten to become accustomed to the new formula.

Be sure to read the labels and purchase a food developed for kittens. You want to make sure that meat, poultry, or fish are in the first few ingredients. This will give your kitten the protein and amino acids it needs for proper growth. Feed only the quantity the label suggests. You don't want your new member of the family to become bloated, or overweight.

Kittens eat several small meals per day, rather than once or twice like an adult cat. Ask your vet for a recommended amount and frequency of feeding to keep your kitten healthy.

Most people think a kitten needs to drink milk, but this is not true. Once the kitten is weaned from its mother's milk, it should start to drink water. Cats and kittens are actually lactose intolerant and will become ill if they drink too much milk. They don't need it for a balanced diet, so it is best to avoid milk altogether.

It is also a good idea to check the FDA for a current list of recalled pet foods, especially after the rash of contaminated pet food a few months ago. You can also read the standards the American Feed Controls Officials have established for nutritional pet food. The AAFCO will also be printed on the pet food label if it meets their standards.

Enjoy your new kitten!