M.W., Norman, OK
Tags: small pet Norman OK gerbil
Dec 11, 2011
My old gerbil has a lump on the lower part of his chest and partly over his tummy. It seems more swollen than usual, and I wonder if it is cancer. Should I take him to the vet? I guess it will cost me more than I paid for him, but he's worth it to me.
M.W., Norman, OK Dec 12, 2011
I am glad that you are not one of those people who say that seeing a veterinarian isn't worth the expense for an animal you paid only a few dollars for.
First, you should know that what you are seeing on the underside of your gerbil is a scent-marking gland that tends to get bigger with age. Rarely does it become cancerous. More often, it is a mild infection and inflammation that can be treated by careful cleaning and application of an antibiotic ointment the veterinarian can prescribe. Call first, tell them how old you are and ask what they might charge you after my provisional diagnosis. After applying the ointment, you should keep your gerbil actively distracted for as long as you can -- at least half an hour -- to stop him from licking off the medication.
D.K.W., Sarasota, FL
Tags: small pet FL Sarasota frogs
Sep 11, 2011
I took my son to our local pet store, and he was fascinated by the African dwarf frogs. He wanted me to buy a pair, but I said I would write to you first and get your opinion.
My son is 10 years old and loves animals, and I want to encourage his interest. The store manager told me the frogs were not taken from the wild but were "captive-bred."
D.K.W., Sarasota, FL Sep 12, 2011
Captive-bred or not, these are not domesticated animals, and they require proper habitat and special care. During the last couple of years, this variety of frog has caused salmonella infections in more than 200 people, most of them under the age of 10, and some 30 percent had to be hospitalized. Fortunately, there were no deaths. Terrapins (water turtles) pose a similar hazard.
While your son might be able to follow strict hygiene measures, I would not run the risk. Encourage him instead to join a local nature club or Audubon Society and learn about the wildlife in your state. Some school districts, in collaboration with municipal zoos, wildlife rescue and rehab centers and conservation organizations, have excellent in-field programs for children and internships for those in high school that can lead to a meaningful career or avocation.
B.K.G., Arlington, Va
Tags: bird small pet Arlington VA
Aug 14, 2011
We adopted a blue male parakeet who is still jittery around my husband and has nipped his fingers more than once. He's fine with me and likes to nibble and rub my ear. Sometimes I think he's courting me.
So what to do about his nipping? Is he jealous of my husband?
B.K.G., Arlington, Va Aug 15, 2011
Your bird is probably used to being around and being handled by women, since birds naturally imprint or develop strong attachments early in life. Ideally, therefore, they should be socialized with both male and female handlers and, where possible, with children.
Parakeets are highly social birds that live in large flocks in the wild, and I consider it borderline cruelty to raise and keep them alone in separate cages their entire lives. While they compensate to a degree by bonding with humans (even engaging in courtship behavior, as well as social preening as they would with a mate), they generally fare better in pairs or small groups in large flight cages. With time and patience, your "rival" husband may win him over. In the interim, wear a protective glove.
S.G.L., St. Louis, Mo
Tags: small pet MO St Louis
Aug 07, 2011
We have a small Dutch rabbit, and you can see her front lower teeth when she's sitting up. They seem to have grown too long, but my brother says it is natural and is best left alone. What is your opinion?
S.G.L., St. Louis, Mo Aug 07, 2011
Rabbits, like people, can suffer malocclusion, a condition often associated with a congenital deformity and misalignment of the lower jaw.
This can lead to uneven wear of the teeth. Unlike human teeth, rabbits' teeth continually grow. When there is uneven wear or a lack of wear, especially of the front lower teeth, the rabbit will have difficulty eating. Neglected teeth can cause injury to the inner lining of the mouth and lead to starvation and death.
Have a veterinarian examine your rabbit. Snipping the teeth is a simple and painless procedure, but it is not something you should do by yourself. One preventive is to provide the rabbit a piece of hardwood or boiled marrowbone to gnaw, which will help keep the teeth trim once they have been shortened as needed.
Tags: small pet
Aug 01, 2011
You never write much about small pets like gerbils and hamsters, or tropical fish, parakeets and other cage birds. Is there a reason for this, since I do have a fish question?
My son thinks his goldfish Goldie is lonely, and so he wants us to get him another one. How do we know they will get along?
Aug 01, 2011
I am generally opposed to people keeping wild-caught or captive-bred amphibians, reptiles, birds (especially parrots) and small animals (such as sugar gliders and hedgehogs). These animals take expert care and are rarely provided the proper environment for their health and well-being.
I rarely receive letters concerning the care of small domesticated species that you mention. Those that I do receive I usually publish, since proper care and understanding are important.
Goldfish, a member of the exotic carp family, can live for decades. They normally live in small groups and are highly social, so I consider it inhumane to keep a goldfish alone his or her entire life in a glass bowl. Studies have shown that they grow more and are healthier in pairs or small groups. Also, goldfish show signs of depression, becoming less active and disinterested in food when a companion fish is removed due to illness or death.
Their tanks must be cleaned regularly and filled with purified water, or municipal tap water first left to stand in a bucket for 24 to 48 hours to get rid of chlorine and other volatile chemicals. They should be provided plenty of swimming space with various environmentally enriching hideaways, and the tank should include a charcoal water filter and aerator to keep the water clear and cleaner longer. The latter are not essential for hardy goldfish but are for tropical fish, along with an immersion heater. A cover is advisable since excited fish can sometimes leap out of the tank or bowl and be found dead on the floor.
Quarantine any new fish for two to three weeks before introducing, and return to the supplier if any signs of illness appear, notably white spots or erratic movement.
S.G., Highland, NY
Tags: small pet Highland NY
Jul 04, 2011
Would you please comment on "Undercover TV," regarding the filming of mistreated livestock and dogs used for food in China.
It bothers me a great deal and I'd like to know if things have improved, because a lot of the videos are dated.
S.G., Highland, NY Jul 04, 2011
Many "undercover" films have been produced that document the cruel and ignorant mistreatment of "downer" cows going to slaughter and the unimaginable conditions under which pigs, hens, broiler chickens and veal calves are raised on factory farms and cows-and-beef-cattle feedlots. Check my website for my own photo-documentation. These food animal production systems must be phased out for animal health and welfare.
Being informed, thousands of people have chosen to become vegetarian or vegan or to only consume meat and poultry from certified, organic free-range systems.
Documentary films showing dogs and cats being captured and butchered in China and some other countries in the Far East are part of the process of social change. Making such undercover films is not without risk and could mean imprisonment in some countries, notably here in America, where states such as Iowa, Minnesota and Florida have legislation pending to make it a criminal offense for anyone filming what goes on in puppy mills and livestock and poultry factories, slaughter plants and animal-testing laboratories. Such legislation should be opposed, since financial interests should not trump ethics and compassion.
K.F.T., Stuart, FL
Tags: small pet Stuart FL diet food
Jun 05, 2011
I have a male red-eared slider turtle. He is approximately 4 years old. Normally, I feed him floating turtle sticks and a grape once a day, with an occasional bite of carrot. About once a week, I give him some cooked chicken that he seems to like particularly well. In the past, the turtle has stopped eating for periods of time. It usually lasts about a week. The first time this happened, I took him to the veterinarian who could find nothing wrong and, eventually, the turtle started eating again.
Recently, he stopped eating again, but this time it lasted about three weeks! I've tried everything: vegetables, fruit, turtle sticks and chicken. He completely ignores all of it, except the chicken that he will eat, but not every day.
His tank is kept clean, and I take him out of the tank for a while every day to just let him roam indoors. There have been times when he would follow me from room to room, almost like a puppy. He has a lot of personality.
What could be causing the loss of appetite? I would be most grateful for any suggestions.
K.F.T., Stuart, FL Jun 05, 2011
Yes, turtles and other wild creatures who habituate to captivity and show no fear can indeed reveal the distinct personalities they have. You might see even more if your turtle had the company of his own kind.
But, regardless of how much expertise you may have and how well you provide for the animal's physical and environmental needs, the fact remains that they are not domesticated. This means that they do best in their natural environments, and that is why I am opposed to their commercial exploitation and sale as "pets." Reptiles, notably terrapins, and amphibians like African clawed frogs have been the source of bacterial (salmonella) infections in children.
Both reptiles and amphibians will go through periods of anorexia in captivity. They often have a fungal or other infection, a nutritional deficiency or are infested with internal parasites. You should add crushed oyster shell or other sources of calcium to his food and check the Internet for more natural foods for your animal.
Turtles like and need to sun themselves and this could be an indirect source of vitamin D and subtle energies we have yet to fully understand. Many such species show significant improvement when given a full-spectrum artificial light over their enclosures during daylight hours, as with Vita-Lite or Dr. Ott's fluorescent light.
D.W., Arlington, Va
Tags: small pet Arlington VA
Mar 21, 2011
Our 12-year-old son is pleading for us to buy him a pet iguana and a hedgehog. He has recently become interested in animals, and we think this is good for his education. Since visiting a big pet store and seeing these animals, he fell in love with the two he wants. I worry about proper care and wonder what you might advise.
D.W., Arlington, Va Mar 21, 2011
In my professional opinion as a veterinarian, conservationist and animal-rights advocate, both state and federal governments should outlaw the trade of importing and captive breeding of exotic, nondomesticated species. Many are harvested from the wild, including tropical fish. Others are smuggled, and many die in transit. Those that are captive-born generally do not adapt to the domestic environment, become easily stressed, require considerable expertise to be properly cared for, and can have diseases transmissible to humans and other animals.
Children can learn much and develop empathy caring for conventional cage pets, such as hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs. Your son is at a good age to start volunteering at the local animal shelter or wildlife rehabilitation center where he can help clean enclosures and wash out food bowls, learning the basics of animal care. I did the same at his age.
G.S., Miami, FL
Tags: small pet
Mar 13, 2011
I have a Congo African Grey parrot (22 months old), who began to feather-pick about five months ago, mainly on her chest. She is sweet, but also hyper. Her diet consists primarily of African special pellets; the remainder is veggies, fruits and treats.
I have tried both sprays once a week, and every night I spray just her chest. It seems to get better for a while, but she resumes picking again. We also tried using the cone, with moderate results. She is a great talker and loves to please. Any suggestions?
G.S., Miami, FL Mar 13, 2011
Feather-picking (often to the point of extensive disfiguring and self-mutilation) is an all-too-common problem with caged birds, especially parrots.
An avian veterinary specialist must rule out possible physical causes like feather mites and nutritional deficiency. Then focus on possible psychological causes and try various remedies for the same. These causes can include boredom, prolonged confinement, lack of exercise, and stress associated with the placement of the cage near a noisy or high-traffic part of the house and any other environmental factors that could make your bird fearful.
Many birds improve when given more freedom, a large flight cage and a compatible, adopted, healthy bird of the same species from one of the bird-rescue and rehabilitation centers across the country.
The bottom line for me is to see the phasing out of people keeping parrots as caged animals, because so many do not adapt well (with rare exceptions) to such a deprived, abnormal existence. They need space and the companionship of their own species, in many ways more highly developed than ours. Many become refugees in adoption and parrot refuge centers.
Many people engage in the commerce of breeding parrots and other nondomesticated species in captivity, which they erroneously equate with conservation. But unlike goldfish, hamsters, ferrets, guinea pigs and other species that have been selectively bred over thousands of generations to adapt to being kept captive in our homes and thrive when properly cared for, these are captive-bred wild species.
Many captive-bred, nondomesticated species like your parrot develop behavioral disorders indicative of stress and maladaptation to their environments. Other species become too difficult to handle, and some that are released into the wild, like pythons and other reptiles and amphibians, pose ecological problems, most notably in Florida. There are also public health, humane and environmental reasons to set federal and state laws to prohibit the breeding of all captured wild and captive-bred wild species (and hybrids thereof, such as those of wolf and dog, house cat and wild South American or South African cats) for commercial purposes.
J.F., Virginia Beach, Va
Tags: bird small pet Virginia Beach VA
Oct 24, 2010
I have a 35-year-old male Amazon parrot that has developed weakness in his feet and has trouble gripping his perches. After blood tests revealed nothing, the vet determined that his diet was to blame. He had been eating mostly seeds supplemented by nuts and a few vegetables and fruits. The vet recommended we switch to Harrison's High Potency Organic Coarse Pellets as his only food. Unfortunately, he doesn't care for it. I continue to encourage him by removing it and adding fresh pellets, but he barely nibbles at it. I have eliminated his seeds and have added more variety of veggies, fruits and scrambled egg. He has variety of perch sizes, and I encourage exercise.
J.F., Virginia Beach, Va Oct 24, 2010
A grow light or Vita-Lite that emits full-spectrum light may help your poor bird. Many caged birds develop bone and joint problems in part owing to a lack of natural sunlight, so artificial lights may help. Your bird should also benefit from a vitamin and mineral supplement, especially vitamin D, calcium and magnesium that he probably needs. If you have a blender or food processor, include the shell in any egg you feed him.