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Basic Canine Education

Training a dog takes time, understanding, patience, and consistency. Here are a few common training challenges dog owners face, and some suggestions for working with them.

How Training Works
Dogs are pack animals, and as such are only comfortable when their role within the pack has been established. An established role allows the dog to predict the reactions and needs of the rest of his pack. Without a confirmed, consistent role, the dog never knows when punishment or rewards will occur, and will spend most of the time anxious and worried.

Basic obedience helps to establish pet parents in role of pack leader, and lays down clear behavior guidelines that the pack can follow. If none of the humans take this role, the dog is forced to attempt to assume it, since the pack must have a leader. The pack leader controls where the pack goes, when and what the pack eats, and how the pack behaves toward one another. Having these clear guidelines allows the dog to relax, since she knows what behaviors earn what types of attention.

Most trainers follow the 3-second rule in training. Dogs will connect praise or correction with whatever they were doing 3 seconds before the praise or punishment occurred. Be careful to only give your dog attention when appropriate, when current behavior, not past behavior, deserves it. If your dog is growling at strangers, don’t reward the behavior by attempting to calm him. This merely reinforces that there must be something scary happening. Instead, a gentle “No,” and a friendly greeting of the stranger on your part will be more reassuring to the dog than your calming attempts.

In the Beginning
Supervise dogs closely during the first few weeks. It may help to let your dog drag a leash around in the house so you can stop him before he misbehaves.

As you work with your dog, he learns the rules of your house and will look to you as his pack leader. It will be easier to correct or change bad habits in a new environment. Once the newness has worn off, if you try to change his already established habits, he can't figure out why all the rules have changed ("Why can't I sit on the couch?").

Puppies can learn too, but keep training sessions short and fun, no more than 5 minutes at a time. Don't be too hard on your puppy when he makes a mistake. Remember he wants to please you.

Crate training is a big favor you can do for your dog. It's his safe haven from the world. From his crate, he gets used to new sights, sounds, and people without feeling pressured to react. A crate relieves him of all that responsibility, and the opportunity to destroy the house. That's effective management!

If he will be left alone for several hours every day, start crate training now, even if you're just in the next room. He needs to learn he has to spend time without you. A dog that gets constant attention and then is suddenly left alone for eight hours may bark, chew, or develop other behavior problems due to separation anxiety.

Make training time play time too. Talk, laugh, and have fun with your dog as he learns to sit, down and other basic commands. Be over exuberant with praise at first, so he knows he got it right. "Good off!," "Good sit!," and "Good potty!" when said with happy enthusiasm, all signal to your dog that he has made the right choice and has pleased you. "No" tells him he made a wrong choice, and he will learn the difference very quickly.

Basic Commands
Heel: Most pet owners really want a dog that walks nicely on a leash without pulling. Positive training methods and proper equipment will help you teach this.

Sit: Great for putting on the leash, greeting people, giving medication, brushing, and other situations

Stay: Don't move from a specific position, such as ”Sit”

Down: A submissive position that is also more comfortable for the dog, especially if you want him to stay for more than a minute

Off: As in don't jump on me. 'Off' and 'Down' should mean two different things

Leave it: Put his attention back on you and away from something else that he is interested in.

Come: "Come here!" sounds friendlier to the dog. Probably the most critical command to teach. This command will take several months to teach completely

Go to your bed: A good place to be out of the way but still with you while you have company or eat dinner

Wait: Don't cross this line – such as a doorway. The dog doesn't have to sit or lie down, just not move forward

Note: The information on this Care Sheet is not a substitute for training. If you need additional information, please contact your K-9 trainer as appropriate.

Breeding your Bitch

To breed or not to breed
If you are wondering whether or not you should breed your dog, here is some information that might help you take a decision. The summary is that if you want to do it right, and get healthy and happy puppies, it is an expensive and time-consuming proposition involving a lot of work.

I want to supplement my income!
Breeding ethically and correctly starts with picking out a good bitch, waiting for her to be at least two years of age, picking out the best dog to mate her with, ensuring that she as well as the male are healthy; you have already invested a lot of time, effort and money. In addition to this will be the stud fee you might have to pay for the stud dog, the time and expenses during pregnancy and the possible expense of surgery at the time of whelping. And all this before even the puppies are born!

You need to keep the puppies for a minimum of 8 weeks before finding them their new homes; you need to advertise and find good homes for the puppies, you need to make sure they have had their first round of vaccinations before going. If some of the puppies die, or you have a smaller than usual litter, you may not get as much money from the sale of the puppies as you had though.

You are better off consulting with a financial whiz about investing the money you would otherwise spend and lose on breeding!

Breeders frequently thank their stars if they break even.

My kids should see the wonders of birth and life!
What if the whelping goes wrong and dead puppies are born? What if the bitch dies? These are all very real risks that you are undertaking. Switch on Animal Planet and let them watch it on TV!

I want another dog just like mine!
If you want to breed your dog so as to get another dog like yours, think about this for a moment. No matter how special your dog is to you, a puppy out of it is not guaranteed to be just like or even similar to your dog -- half its genes will be from another dog! It is much easier, often less expensive, and certainly less time consuming to pick out an existing dog that you like from the shelter or another breeder. Best yet, go back to the same breeder of your dog, if possible, and pick another puppy out of similar lines.

Every bitch should have a litter!
This is a complete misconception. Bitches are not improved by having puppies. Nor is it beneficial for her physically. In fact, an‘entire’ (unspayed) bitch who has never had a litter is at a much higher risk of mammary cancer and pyometra. There is absolutely nothing wrong with spaying a bitch without her having a litter.

But my dog is registered!
Well, yes, but that really does not mean too much. A registered dog simply means that the dog's parentage is known.

Most registries do not make any assertions of quality in the dogs they register. They do not restrict the breeding of their dogs and hence there is no guarantee that a registered dog is a good specimen of its breed.

So when should I breed?
The only reason you should be breeding is that you honestly feel that you are improving your breed by doing so. There are far too many dogs around to breed without good reason. A dog in a breeding program must have a good point to contribute to the benefit of the breed, whether that is in good conformation, good performance or whatever. Such a dog must have some evidence of external evaluation. That usually translates into titles, whether for conformation, obedience trials, or whatever is appropriate for that breed. Such a dog should also not have any hereditary problems in its lineage or pedigree.

Potential Hereditary Problems
Every breed has a different set of potential problems for it. Hip Dysplasia, Progressive Retinal Atrophy (PRA), Patellar Luxation, Heart Diseases, von Willebrand’s Disease, Epilepsy, poor temperament, are some of the problems that are hereditary.

Medical Checks before Breeding
Both the dog (sire) and the bitch (dam) should be in good general health. The dam must be healthy, to withstand the stresses and rigors of a pregnancy. They must both be up to date on their vaccinations and deworming.

Do not breed any animal that has temperament problems. In particular, this has been the cause of the degeneration of many breed's general temperament: Doberman Pinschers, Rottweilers, and so on. If your animal is untrustworthy around people, overly aggressive to people, excitable, or is a fear-biter, do not breed it. If it is shy or submissive, don't breed it. Look for happy, confident and obedient animals, and consider carefully the particular temperament requirements for your dog's breed. If your dog is not a good representation of its breed, do not let it reproduce. It is much easier to improve a few faults than to try and get excellent pups with a mediocre dog. Check the breed standard for your dog and ask a knowledgeable person for their evaluation of your dog.

Considerations for Stud Dogs
First, remember that it is extremely difficult to come up with a top quality stud dog that people want to use. After all, they will look around and pick out the best male they can find. So your dog has to be pretty impressive to be noticed in the competition.

Your male should be in top condition. He should be certified clear of joint problems and any hereditary diseases. An unproven dog (that has no previous puppies or only puppies too young to evaluate) will command a much lower stud dog fee than a proven dog (with a record of puppies to examine).

Other issues to consider
Many dogs and bitches require assistance during mating and this can be quite a challenge for novice breeders.

After the puppies are born, it is your responsibility to find good homes for the pups. So many dogs end up unwanted and abandoned because of hasty decisions being taken on the spur of the moment.

If you have still decided to go ahead and breed, then good luck, and remember since the choice is yours, the responsibility of placing the puppies in good loving homes is also yours.

Destructive Chewing in Dogs

Chewing things in the house is a common behavioural problem in dogs. To be able to correct this, one needs to understand the underlying causes.

There are several factors that could lead to destructive chewing:

  • Puppies, especially of large breeds with a lot of unspent energy exhibit this problem and are known to chew on furniture, doors, shoes, etc. This kind of chewing should not be confused with teething. Owners can inadvertently encourage this behaviour by playing tug of war with their pets.
  • In adult dogs chewing may be associated with stress (e.g. separation anxiety- when the owner is not around, or moving to a new place) or fear (e.g. of loud noises, fire crackers). Boredom, inadequate exercise, or lack of attention can also cause destructive chewing.
  • Medical conditions like liver diseases, mouth disorders, etc can lead to abnormal chewing behaviour.

To successfully control and manage chewing problems, the following can all be tried.

  • Increasing exercise- playing (puppies), walking/ running (adult dogs)
  • Provide toys and chews- encourage the dog to chew his toys and praise/ reward him when he does.
  • Confine the dog to a single room, if left alone.
  • Do not give your dog clothes/ rags/ shoes to play with. He cannot tell the difference between your old sneaker and your new sandals!
  • One useful technique is to spray an aerosol perfumed spray close to, but away from the dogs nose. Most dogs do not like the hissing sound of a spray close to them. The same perfumed spray can then be sprayed on to the furniture that the dog is chewing, to create a "smell aversion".
  • To create a taste aversion put a small amount of an unpleasant tasting substance in the dog’s mouth - then coat the object being chewed, with it. Pepper powder, mustard, bitter apple spray, citronella oil and other substances have all been used successfully in this way. Be careful not to use any substance that will stain your furniture and more importantly, be toxic to your pet!

With patience, love and perseverance you will be able to correct your pet’s annoying and destructive behaviour.

Toilet training

Toilet training should not be too difficult if it is tackled in the right fashion. The secret is not in punishing the accidents but preventing them from occurring. Puppies need to go out after eating and playing and immediately upon waking. They should be taken out immediately after these events; 5 minutes later can be too late. Puppies do not have the bladder or bowel control that adult dogs have. They need to ‘go’ almost every hour when they are. Allowing them out should ensure that the pup is given plenty of opportunities to ‘perform’ in the required area and reduce the chances of accidents occurring in the house.

When the pup is in the desired area encourage it to ‘perform by speaking in a gentle tone. Do not play with the pup at this time, to avoid distracting it from its ‘job’. When it performs praise the puppy lavishly and you may reward it with a treat. If you live in a house with a garden, don't just lob the puppy outside and hope for the best, it will most probably hang around near the door and wait to be let back in. Should an accident occur in the house, do NOT "rub the dogs nose in it", hit the dog (with a newspaper or anything else), or reprimand the pup harshly. There is absolutely no point screaming at the puppy 2 hours after it has made a mess. It will just not associate your screaming with its past mistake. Dogs are oriented to the present.

Remember that if the dog had an accident in the house it means that you didn't take it out often enough.

Be more diligent and the training will take care of itself, pups will naturally prefer to go to the toilet outside.

Keeping your puppy on a consistent schedule will also go a long way to help in its toilet training. Food, water (what goes in on schedule, comes out on schedule) and exercise at the same times daily. Use a high quality food formulated for puppies and don't change it. Sudden dietary changes can cause intestinal upset and ruin training efforts.

Lastly, remember, your puppy needs your love, encouragement and above all tons of PATIENCE to get the whole business of toilet training right!

Common Cat Health Problems

Cats are good at self-care, but even your finicky feline can't prevent some of the more common cat diseases and health issues. To help you care for kitty, here's a brief outline of six of the most common cat health problems.

Common Cat Health Problem:

1. Vomiting
Vomiting is a very common cat health problem, with causes ranging from eating something poisonous or inedible (like string, wool), to infection, urinary tract disease, or diabetes.

Symptoms are usually obvious, and include drooling and abdominal heaving. Vomiting can quickly leave your cat dehydrated, so if kitty continues vomiting or acts ill, call your vet right away. Since it is hard for a pet owner to tell the difference between vomiting and regurgitation, collect a sample of your cat's vomit and take it with you to the vet.

2. Feline Lower Urinary Tract Diseases (FLUTD)
About 10% of cats brought to the vet have feline lower urinary tract disease (FLUTD), which is actually a group of feline diseases with multiple causes.

Female and male cats can get FLUTD, and it often occurs in cats that are overweight, unfit, or who eat dry food. Stress, a multi-cat household, and sudden changes can all raise a cat's risk of FLUTD, and treatment depends on the type of FLUTD your cat has. FLUTD symptoms include:

  • Straining to urinate
  • Bloody urine
  • Urinating in unusual places
  • Crying when urinating
  • Licking around the urinary area (often because of pain)
  • Depression
  • Dehydration
  • Lack of appetite
  • Vomiting

It's always an emergency if your cat can't urinate. Call your vet immediately if you suspect your cat has a urinary tract problem.

3. Fleas
Fleas are a very common external feline health problem, but one that can easily be treated. Signs your cat has fleas include:

  • Flea dirt on their skin (they look like tiny black dots)
  • Constant scratching
  • Frequent licking
  • Red or irritated skin
  • Hair loss
  • Skin infections or hot spots

Fleas can live for more than a year, and your pet risks anemia if the problem becomes serious, so make sure to treat your cat's flea problem and prevent future infestations.

Talk to your vet about which flea control would be best for your cat. Treatments include oral medication, powders, foams, and topical medication.

4. Tapeworms
One of the most common feline health problems inside your cat, tapeworms, live in your kitty's small intestine, sometimes growing as long as two feet.

Symptoms of a tapeworm infection can be subtle, but may include vomiting and weight loss. The easiest way to tell if your cat has tapeworms is to look at its feces and around its anus. If you see small white worms, or what look like grains of rice or sesame seeds, your cat likely has tapeworms.

Treatment options include injection or oral medication, but because cats almost always get tapeworms as a result of swallowing a flea, make sure to handle any flea problems your cat has before tackling tapeworms.

5. Diarrhoea
Many things can cause diarrhoea in cats, including hairballs, eating spoiled food, allergies, infection, liver disease, cancer and more. Symptoms of diarrhoea are loose, watery, or liquid stool. Depending on its cause, diarrhoea can last for a day, a week, or even months. If your cat has diarrhoea, offer your pet plenty of fresh, clean water to prevent dehydration, then remove kitty's food for no more than 12-24 hours. Take your cat to the vet if he or she still has diarrhoea after a day, or immediately if you notice vomiting, dark, or bloody stools, fever, lethargy, loss of appetite, or if you cat is straining to defecate.

6. Eye Problems
Eye problems in cats can be caused by a number of things, including cataracts, glaucoma, conjunctivitis, trauma, viruses, inflammation, and retinal disease.

A few symptoms that may mean your cat has eye problems include watery eyes, tear-stained fur, cloudiness, red or white eyelid linings, goo in the corners of the eye, squinting, pawing at the eye, or a visible third eyelid.

Unless you know what's causing your cat's eye problems, there isn't much you can do other than wipe away any gunk with a damp cotton ball. After that, call your vet.

Toilet Training your kitten

Cat Toilet Training

By the time most kittens leave their mother & come to live with their new family they have already been toilet trained, making life easy for the new family. This is because mother cats often train their kittens’ proper toileting habits. However, sometimes it will be necessary to train your new kitten or cat how to use the litter tray. This may be the result of the kitten being orphaned or being taken away from its mother too early. What you will need:

  • Litter tray
  • Cat litter
  • Litter scoop

Which type of litter tray?

This depends on the cat. If you are training a young kitten then a smallish tray with low sides is best to start off with. If you are training an older cat then a larger tray will be necessary.

Some types of cat litter:

  • Clay
  • Clumping
  • Crystals
  • Recycled paper

It is not advisable to use clumping litter with kittens.

How to train:
Confine your kitten to a small area. Cats are fastidiously clean & by nature, bury their urine & faeces. So, if you provide your cat with a litter tray, and some fresh, clean cat litter and no other possible places to go to the toilet such as a pot plant, then the chances are your cat will take to the litter tray immediately.

After a meal or a sleep, pick up your kitten & place it in the litter tray. Take its paw & gently scratch the cat litter with it.

If you see your kitten sniffing & beginning to dig in a corner, immediately pick him up & place him in the litter tray, again gently take the paw & scratch the litter with it. When the cat follows through & eliminates in the litter tray, give lots of praise.

Location, location, location:
Cats like privacy, so make sure you place the litter tray in a quiet & private spot. They also don't like doing their ‘job’ near their food bowls.

How many litter trays do I need?
The rule of thumb is one litter box per cat, plus one extra. So, if you have one cat, you will need two litter boxes, if you have two cats you will need three litter boxes etc. Some people get by with less litter boxes, but this is the general rule of thumb to go by.

How often should I clean the litter tray?
Cats are fastidiously clean animals, and it is of great importance to make sure their litter trays are scooped at least once a day & regularly changed. Failure to do so may result in your cat refusing to use the litter tray. Put yourself in your cat's shoes, would you like to use a filthy toilet?!

Never punish a cat that has had an accident, this will not teach it to use the litter box, it will however teach it to fear you.

When cleaning up accidents, be careful which product you use. Anything with ammonia in it will encourage your cat to return to the spot. Pet shops & veterinarians will also be able to supply you with various products, which not only clean up cat waste but also eliminate the smell too. If the smell isn't eliminated your cat will quite likely continue to return to the same spot!!

How to tell the age of a kitten

Kitten Age - How To Tell The Age Of A Kitten
Birth: At birth kittens usually weigh between 90 - 100 grams.

  • 0 – 3 days: The umbilical cord is still attached.
  • 7 - 10 days. The eyes begin to open.
  • 2 - 3 weeks: The kitten begins to stand, the eyes and ears open.
  • 4 weeks: The kitten begins playing and exploring its environment.
  • 5 weeks: They should be fairly confident on their feet by this age.
  • 6 + weeks: The kittens are extremely active.

Teeth are also a good way to determine age.
Baby teeth:

  • 2 weeks: Deciduous or milk incisors (the small teeth at the front) begin to come in.
  • 3 - 4 weeks: Deciduous or milk canines (the long, pointy teeth next to the front teeth- incisors) begin to come in.
  • 4 - 6 weeks: Deciduous or milk pre-molars (also known bicuspids, these are the teeth located between the canine and molar teeth)  begin to come in.
  • 8 weeks: All baby teeth have come in.

Adult teeth:

  • 12 - 16 weeks: Incisors come in.
  • 4 - 6 months: Canines, pre-molars & molars come in.
  • 7 months: All adult teeth should be fully developed.

Diet Supplementation in Birds

Diet Supplementation
We are what we eat. Birds, like people, "are what they eat." Therefore, in order for them to be healthy, they must consume all of the necessary nutrients (protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water) and do so in the proper proportions. A number of reputable pet food manufacturers have developed and are marketing specialized processed foods for caged birds. These foods should be a part of your birds diet and are available from pet stores, vets and breeders.

Vitamin supplementation for birds is highly recommended. Powdered vitamins should be sprinkled over table foods, fruits and vegetables to which the powder will adhere. The powder does not adhere to the seed and moreover the bird usually discards the shell so it won't get the benefit of the vitamins.

Liquid vitamins and minerals are water- soluble and can be used quite effectively. DO NOT distribute this type of product over seeds because of the risk of the seeds becoming rancid. The water containers should be scrubbed out thoroughly and changed 2-3 times daily because liquid vitamins and minerals tend to promote bacterial growth. Vitamin supplements for birds must contain Vitamin D-3 because this is the only D vitamin that can be utilized by birds. You may even provide your bird with a cuttle bone or a mineral block that you purchase from the pet store.

The vitamins and minerals supplements represent an "insurance policy" in case your bird's diet is lacking in one or more types of nutrients. The main thing is to make sure your bird gets a balanced and varied diet.

Hygiene and pet birds

Hygiene and Pet Birds
Many things go into keeping pet birds healthy and happy, but one of the most important points to remember is to practice proper hygiene around your bird. Here are some simple hygiene tips that will help make sure that both your bird and your family aren't put at risk for illness or disease. 

  • Wash your hands. Though it's true that there are some diseases people can catch from pet birds, it's far more common for pet birds to catch diseases from their owners. Make sure that everyone stays healthy by washing your hands both before and after you handle your bird.

  • Keep the cage clean. Making sure that you clean your bird's cage properly can go a long way in reducing bacterial growth in your pet's living space -- which therefore reduces the risk of illness to your bird as well as any people that come into contact with it.
  • Be careful sharing food. While sharing fresh foods with your bird is a great bonding exercise, bacteria can be transmitted between you and your bird if you allow him to eat or drink from dishes that you are using. To stay on the safe side, fix a small dish of food especially for your bird. He will likely enjoy having his very own plate! 

If you keep these tips in mind, you will greatly reduce the chances of passing disease to your bird, as well as catching a disease from your feathered friend. As always, its better to be safe than sorry!

Parasites in Birds

Parasites in Pet Birds
Parasites can affect birds tremendously, just as they can affect other animals and people. More than just worms or mites, parasites can come in many forms. Because parasite infestations can be critical, it's important to for bird owners to familiarize themselves with the most common parasites that infect birds and the symptoms that they cause. Knowing this can help you make sure that your pet receives prompt veterinary attention. 

Internal parasites
Internal parasites, or endoparasites, are small animals that live inside the bird’s body, whether on the respiratory or digestive tract. They are a serious threat to the bird’s health, since if untreated they can be lethal. There are several types of parasites and its identification is very important to determine the treatment. The diagnosis is usually made with the help of a blood or faeces analysis.

Example of internal parasites
Protozoans are unicellular or single celled parasites that lodge themselves in different parts of the body. Coccidia are one of the most commons protozoans in pet birds. They attack the intestine walls, causing serious inflammations. Protozoans cause faeces with blood and diarrhoea. Other types of protozoans, like the C. parvumou or C. hominis, can attack the respiratory system causing nasal discharges, sinusitis and cough.

Nematodes and Cestodes
Nematodes can be found in different parts of the body, like lungs, esophagus, intestine, and also on the blood. Ascaridia and Capillaria are among the nematodes that are most common on pet birds. They especially affect Budgerigars and Cockatiels, since these birds look for food on the ground, where there can be contaminated organic material. A deworming can be applied on the food or water, but birds usually don’t like the flavour and may resist the medication. When the nematodes start to die due to the treatment, you can usually find in the bird’s faeces small white threads that are the dead parasites.

Cestodes aren’t as problematic as the earlier parasites, but they can occur in birds kept in flight cages with plants or flora growing through them. In order for these parasites to develop, the bird needs to eat an invertebrate animal (like insects) that is infected with the parasite. If the cage is cleaned, and free from other crawling animals, the probability of having cestodes is very low.

External parasites
These are very small animals that live between the bird’s feathers. Some have their entire life cycle on the bird, while others just use it to feed. These parasites cause great discomfort and can make the bird pluck its own feathers. Inflammation, loose skin and feather plucking are common symptoms.

Depending on the species of Mites, these can cause great damage to the skin and plumage of the bird. They affect the areas where the skin is exposed, around the eyes and above the bill. If mites aren’t eliminated, they can cause deformations to the bill. Offspring (chicks) are especially vulnerable to this blood sucking mite and can rapidly become anaemic. When it sucks blood, the red mite leaves behind other parasites that are introduced in to the blood stream. These also contribute to the further debilitation of the bird. 

Ticks are seen in pet birds though not as commonly as in other animals. It’s not difficult to detect a tick, since they form a very visible lump. Ticks can usually be found on the head of the bird and should be removed right away. They can be lethal if not removed.

Lice that are lodged in the bird’s feathers aren’t a threat to humans. Lice that attack birds usually bite, feeding of the bird’s feathers. Lice that suck blood are less common in pet birds. Lice are different from mites because they have a longer body, while mites are more rounded. Like mites, lice can also be easily eliminated with a proper spray sold in pet stores or through veterinary clinics. Get advice from your vet before purchasing these products.

Pet birds can also be attacked by fleas, but such cases are rare. In order for a pet bird to have fleas, it needs to in contact with birds where fleas are more common, like poultry, for example.

Extra precautions The elimination of the parasites goes beyond medicating the bird, It’s important to wash and disinfect everything that has been in contact with the bird: cage, toys, etc, so that parasites don’t make a come back.

Talking Bird Species

African Grey
African Greys are one of the most intelligent bird species. They quickly pick up words and phrases and are even able to mimic sounds such as the telephone, alarms and even dogs and cats. They are large birds, 12 to 13 inches tall, they may live 50 years or longer. African Grey's are very affectionate; however, they become bored easily and need daily stimulation and exercise.

Amazon Parrot
Most Amazon Parrots are quite vocal and enjoy learning new words, phrases, and sounds. These quick-witted and comical birds are fast to pick up on things that you say to them, and for this reason, many Amazon owners insist that you "watch your mouth" around their feathered friends. Amazons range from 10 to 15 inches and live about 50 years. They are very active and boisterous and require a large area in which to "clown around."

Budgies are probably one of the most underrated of the talking birds; they have a gruff voice and speak very quickly which makes them difficult to understand. Female budgies are unable to talk, however, males can have a very large vocabulary. A budgie named Puck is listed in the Guinness World Book of Records as "The Most Talkative Bird" with a vocabulary of over 1700 words. Budgies live for 5 to 8 years and stand about 8 inches tall.

Indian Ringneck Parakeets
Indian Ringneck Parakeets can speak so clearly that the monks in their native land once held them as sacred after hearing one of the birds repeat the prayers that they said every day in the garden of their monastery. They need a lot of handling or they may become unfriendly and difficult to handle. They stand 16 inches tall and live between 25 to 30 years.

Quaker Parakeets
These birds might be small in comparison to African Greys or Amazons, but they can talk with the best of them! In addition to learning words, Quakers usually learn to pick up on household sounds such as beeping microwaves and ringing telephones. They are about 13 inches tall and live about 30 years.

Eclectus Parrots
Eclectus Parrots prefer a calm environment and will quietly talk to their owners. They can mimic a variety of sounds and love to make soft bell sounds as well as coos and squeals. They are thought to be one of the best talkers in the bird world. They are about 10 inches tall and can live for 50 years.

Macaws, Cockatiels, Lories and Cockatoos are able to mimic sounds and have the ability to learn to speak; although the female Cockatiel usually does not. Macaws can learn to speak, but they really enjoy making very load squawking sounds. Lories speak very clearly and can mimic sounds; Cockatoos can learn to speak but are usually not very clear.

Signs of a sick bird

Is your bird feeling a bit "under the weather?" Would you really even know if he was? Protect your bird by learning to recognize when it's time to go to the vet. 

What to Look For When a bird gets sick, it is often very serious. Although birds can be very effective at hiding signs of illness from their owners, there are a few telltale symptoms that owners should be on the lookout for in order to have the best chance of saving their pet. If your bird exhibits any of these symptoms, he needs to be transported to a vet immediately.

  • Unusual Droppings: The color of your bird's droppings will vary slightly depending on what you feed him. Nonetheless, you should watch out for droppings that are yellow, rusty brown, or tarry black. These can be indicators of internal bleeding, amongst other serious problems. You should also notice if there is a major change in the consistency of your bird's droppings. If they are too runny or too firm, it can cause complications for your pet. 

  • Ruffled Feathers: Birds that sit with their feathers fluffed out for prolonged periods of time are often affected by respiratory problems or other disorders. Ruffled feathers are also good at concealing weight loss, which can be life threatening for a bird. If you observe this behavior in your pet for more than a day or so, you should contact your vet as soon as possible. 

    Red, Inflamed, or Runny Cere: Your bird's cere is what we perceive as his nose -- the little patch above his beak that holds his nostrils. Pay close attention to your bird's cere. If you observe any redness, inflammation, or discharge, there is a very good chance that you pet could be seriously ill. Make sure to keep your bird wrapped up and warm on the way to the vet. 

  • Cloudy Eyes: If your bird's eyes look cloudy or have a discharge coming from them, he may be affected by a respiratory, nervous, or muscular disorder. You should rush to the vet as soon as possible as your bird needs immediate treatment. 

    Reduced Appetite: Birds have extremely high metabolisms, so it is vital that they receive adequate nutrition every day. If your bird stops eating and begins to lose weight, it may be a sign of an intestinal blockage or impaction, in which case he could die very quickly without medical attention. Make sure to clean out the bottom of your bird's cage every day before you feed him. This provides an easy way to monitor food consumption, not to mention changes in droppings.

  • Open-Mouthed Breathing: Respiratory problems are among the most common bird illnesses, and unfortunately the most serious. If you see your bird breathing with his mouth open while at rest, there is a good chance that he is not only sick, but has been for quite a while. This is one of the most serious symptoms of illness in birds, and requires immediate veterinary attention, with probable hospitalization.

  • Dirty Feathers: Birds are, by nature, hygienic animals that bathe often and preen their feathers daily to keep them clean. If you notice feathers around your bird's face or rump that appear messy, clumped up, or stuck together, it is an indication that your pet could be sick. Food consumption and droppings should be monitored closely for a day or so, and any changes noted and relayed to your vet as soon as possible.

  • Weight Loss: Many sick birds ruffle their feathers when they don't feel well, effectively concealing any changes in body mass and loss of weight. Weight loss can be devastating to a bird's health, not only in terms of reduced strength, but inhibition of organ functions as well. Weigh your bird regularly so that you will know if your pet is having trouble maintaining his weight.

  • Tail Bobbing: As with many common signs of illness in birds, prolonged and repetitive bobbing of the tail can be indicative of a respiratory infection. Unlike people, birds lack a diaphragm to separate the chest cavity from the stomach. The muscles located at the base of the tail help birds breathe by playing a part in expanding the lungs to take in air. If a bird is having trouble breathing, the tail muscles will work harder, causing the tail to bob up and down. Tail bobbing is often not noticeable until later, more serious stages of illness, so if you see your bird behaving in this manner, report to the vet immediately.

  • Changes in Vocalizations: Much like humans, birds that don't feel well often become less talkative than usual. Pay close attention to your bird so that you can learn his normal vocalization patterns. If you stay in tune with the way your bird behaves, it's possible to pick up on clues to that way that he feels. If you notice any changes in frequency or general tone of your bird's vocalizations, he should be monitored for additional symptoms for the next few days. It is always better to be safe than sorry.

Early Diagnosis: The Key to Recovery
As far as your pet bird's health goes, its better to be safe than sorry. Birds have very delicate systems, and even a minor illness can turn into a serious threat in the blink of an eye. Early diagnosis can be vital to saving a sick bird's life. Examine your bird daily for any signs of infection and remember your bird depends on you to maintain his good health.

Common Guinea Pig Problems

Guinea Pigs: Common Health Problems
Guinea pigs are generally very active animals, and signs of any health problems become immediately visible. In addition, the deterioration rate of the guinea pig is very fast and if not treated immediately, it could result in sudden death. Some of the common problems seen are:

Respiratory Problems
A variety of viruses and bacteria can cause respiratory ailments in guinea pigs. A guinea pig suffering from a respiratory problem may experience sneezing, lethargy, discharge from the nose and/or eyes, loss of appetite and difficulty breathing.

You can help prevent respiratory infections in guinea pigs by keeping the cage clean, keeping the cage in a draft-free room, and quarantining any new guinea pigs. If you suspect your guinea pig is suffering from a respiratory problem, contact a veterinarian right away.

Lumps on a guinea pig’s body can be caused by a number of different problems, including an abscess, tumor, cyst or fatty lipomas. Abscesses are bacterial infections usually resulting from a wound or injury. Abscesses are round and often have a thick discharge. Tumors can be benign or cancerous, and cysts are often sebaceous and located just below the skin. Fatty lipomas are usually benign and consist of fat that has been deposited under the skin.

It’s difficult to prevent a guinea pig from developing any of these types of lumps, although early detection is important to treatment. Examine your guinea pig every day, and take it to a veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis if you find a lump on its body.

Vitamin C deficiency
Like humans, guinea pigs cannot synthesise Vitamin C (ascorbic acid ) from other food substances so they require a direct dietary source of Vitamin C. This is usually supplied sufficiently by feeding fresh leafy green vegetables or with small quantities of vitamin C rich food such as citrus or kiwi fruit. Alternatively, a Vitamin C supplement can be added to their drinking water.

Vitamin C deficiency related disease usually involves swollen joints and haemorrhaging (bleeding) into skeletal muscle, the intestines and other tissues. Affected guinea pigs may be anorexic, lethargic, weak; move with difficulty and appear painful when moving. They may also have diarrhoea and a rough coat, among other symptoms. Vitamin C deficiency causes the guinea pig severe pain and discomfort and is a preventable condition. 

Dental Problems
The teeth of guinea pigs grow continuously and must be worn down by gnawing. If the teeth do not wear down normally, because of the way the guinea pig’s mouth has developed, the small animal has a condition called malocclusion. This is usually a genetic problem and occurs because the teeth are not aligned.

Guinea pigs with overly long teeth, repeated infections in the mouth, ulcerations on the lips or tongue, and difficulty eating may be suffering from malocclusion.

You can’t prevent malocclusion, but you can manage it by having your small pet’s teeth trimmed regularly by a veterinarian.

Gastrointestinal Tract Problems
Guinea pigs can become constipated easily if not fed the right diet. They can also develop diarrhea. Both of these conditions are dangerous and can be life-threatening if not treated right away.

Guinea pigs suffering from constipation may strain to defecate. You may also notice a lack of feces in the cage, a distended abdomen or lethargy. Diarrhea shows up as loose or runny stools, and messiness underneath the tail.

To help prevent constipation, make sure your guinea pig gets fresh green vegetables every day, and provide access to clean, fresh water. To prevent diarrhea, keep its cage clean and introduce new foods gradually. Don’t feed your guinea pig anything containing processed sugar as this can interfere with normal gastrointestinal function. Keep fruit treats to a minimum.

Take your guinea pig to the veterinarian if it shows any signs of constipation or diarrhea. Your vet needs to diagnose and treat these problems right away.

Skin Problems
Many skin problems in guinea pigs are caused by an external fungus. This infection usually starts on the face and spreads to other parts of the body, although it may be present in more than one place at a time. You’ll see missing areas of hair on a guinea pig’s body, sometimes covered with scales or sores. The spots may be itchy, so you’ll see your guinea pig scratching them repeatedly.

Guinea pigs can also develop skin problems from parasites such as lice and mites. Lice are tiny, wingless insects that live in a guinea pig’s hair. Signs are scratching and loss of hair. Mites can also cause a loss of hair. Some guinea pigs infested with mites will run wildly in circles.

To help prevent skin problems in guinea pigs, keep humidity levels low in the animal’s environment. Keep your small pet’s cage clean, and don’t overcrowd guinea pigs in cages.

If you suspect your guinea pig has a skin problem, contact an exotics veterinarian immediately for a diagnosis and treatment.

Foot Sores
Guinea pigs can develop sore hocks from living on a wire-only cage bottom. Their hind legs become red and swollen on the bottoms, and they lose some of their hair. If the problem is bad enough, the guinea pig may not want to move around because of the pain.  If you suspect that your guinea pig is foot sore, take it to the vet right away. The vet may give you antibiotic ointment to put on its legs, and will suggest that you change your cage flooring.

To prevent hock sores, provide your guinea pig with solid flooring. If your small pet lives in an outdoor hutch, make sure at least 1/3 of the cage floor is solid to offer relief from the wire.

Guinea pigs can develop heatstroke easily in hot weather, especially if left in a car or in direct sunlight. Signs of heatstroke include laying in a stretched out posture, panting, rapid breathing and drooling. If your guinea pig is overheated, get it out of the hot environment and put a cold, wet towel around its body. You can also try bathing your guinea pig in cool water (not cold). Take your small pet to a veterinarian immediately.

To prevent heatstroke, keep your guinea pig’s cage out of direct sunlight. Situate the cage away from radiators and other heat sources. Never leave your guinea pig in the car on warm days.

Eye Problems
Guinea pigs sometimes develop eye problems as a result of another condition, such as a respiratory infection, diabetes, teeth problems or dehydration. Eye problems caused by these problems can include signs like crusty or watery discharge, protruding or receding eyes, or cloudy eyes.

Guinea pigs can also develop corneal ulcers as a result of injury to the eye. The eye may appear swollen and watery. The guinea pig may squint or paw at the eye. The eye may also become cloudy.

Guinea pigs can also develop cataracts, either as a result of diabetes, old age or a genetic tendency toward the disease. Some guinea pigs are born blind, while others can go blind as a result of old age. Blind guinea pigs are usually able to live relatively normal lives.

To help prevent eye problems in your guinea pig, keep its cage clean and provide a quality diet. If you suspect a guinea pig is under the weather, or if its eyes seem irritated or swollen take it to your veterinarian right away. Remember, better safe than sorry!

Common Hamster Problems

Hamsters: Common Health Issues
Hamsters are pretty hardy pets, but are so small that injuries and illness can quickly become serious. If you notice any signs of illness in your hamster, you need to see a veterinarian as quickly as possible. Signs to look for include loss of appetite, inactivity, huddling in a corner, ruffled or unkempt coat, sneezing, discharge from the nose or eyes, wheezing, wetness around the tail, and diarrhoea. Hair loss can be a symptom of skin disease or parasites, and also merits a trip to the vet.

If a hamster is ill or injured, keep the hamster warm, and encourage it to take some food or water (by dropper if necessary) until your vet has seen it.

Abscesses: these are pockets of infection, which can form from fairly minor breaks in the skin. Pus accumulates under the skin, sometimes forming a sizable lump (which may sometimes begin draining on its own). Abscesses can form from cuts or scratches on the skin and also in the cheek pouches if abrasive food material causes scratches in the lining. If a hamster continually looks like it has food in packed in its cheek pouches, there may be an abscess or an impacted cheek pouch present. Abscesses require veterinary attention for draining, flushing, and treatment with antibiotics.

Respiratory Infections: hamsters can get respiratory infections that can lead to pneumonia. Signs include sneezing, discharge from eyes or nose, wheezing and labored breathing. Occasional sneezing is not too worrisome, but if there is any loss of appetite, decreased activity, wheezing or difficulties breathing, immediate veterinary attention should be sought.

Wet Tail: also called proliferative ileitis and regional enteritis. This is a highly contagious disease, and most common in recently weaned hamsters. The cause is uncertain, but a bacterial species called Campylobacter jejuni may be responsible, and in some cases the disease is associated with stress, crowding, and diet changes. Affected hamsters may die very quickly, exhibiting signs such as diarrhea (causing wetness around the tail), lethargy, loss of appetite, and ruffled coat.

Diarrhea: a number of infections can cause diarrhea (including but not limited to wet tail), along with diet changes and treatment with antibiotics. Over feeding vegetables and other fresh foods is a fairly common cause of diarrhea, but in this case there is usually no loss of appetite or decrease in activity. Dehydration is a real concern, so make sure the hamster is drinking if diarrhea occurs, and a veterinarian should be consulted. With diarrhea, withhold fresh foods for a few days and resume only if the diarrhea is completely resolved, and start back onto fresh foods slowly.

Skin Diseases: hamsters can be infested with a number of mites, which can be identified by a skin scraping by a vet and treated accordingly. Ringworm (a fungal infection) can also occur, and requires treatment by a vet. Allergies and skin infections can also occur. Hair loss is not all that unusual and can be seasonal or happen in older hamsters. If there is flakiness or redness of the skin or any lesions on the skin, or the hamster appears to be itchy and scratching more than usual, a vet should be seen. Hamsters do have scent glands on their flanks, which can be dark and sometimes alarm owners. These occur on both sides of the body and do not appear irritated or bother the hamster. Cedar bedding can also cause skin irritation or allergies in addition to lung problems so should be avoided.

Teeth Problems: Without proper care or access to chewing material, hamsters can develop dental problems. Hamster teeth grow throughout the animal’s life and must be worn down by chewing. If this doesn’t happen, the teeth can grow too long, causing abscesses. Some teeth grow right through the roof of the mouth and into the nasal cavity. Hamsters with dental problems drool frequently and don’t eat much. They may lose weight or develop bad breath. The teeth need to be trimmed by the veterinarian and the infection treated with antibiotics. Once a hamster develops dental problems, the teeth probably need to be trimmed regularly for the rest of the hamster’s life.

Parasites : Hamster don’t usually have parasites if you keep them in a controlled environment with all the care it needs. However, there are exceptions and these rodents can develop internal and external parasites. Ask the vet for some advice on a product that’s harmless for the hamster but that will kill parasites.

Hibernation: if the room temperature is allowed to drop below normal room temperature, hamsters will go into a sort of hibernating state, where they are very still and breathe very slowly. Many owners panic and think their hamster is dying or dead, when might be a matter of the hamster getting too cold. Rewarming the hamster should be sufficient.

Do not wait to see your veterinarian if you see anything unusual in your pet.

Common rabbit diseases

Rabbits suffer from a variety of common ailments that can be easily recognised by the rabbit owner.

Rabbits suffer from a variety of common ailments that can by easily prevented by sensible measures.

Abscesses are lumps that appear suddenly and are caused from fighting and from cuts and wounds sustained by sharp edges on feeders etc. The treatment for this condition is to clip the fur away from the wound, make an incision on the lower edge of this so that it can drain freely and then bathe with warm salty water or a mild antiseptic twice a day until it finishes discharging.

Canker results from small mites that go inside the ear irritating it until causing a thin discharge, which then forms a crust. The rabbit will shake its head and constantly try to scratch its ear. This can be treated with a canker lotion over several days. The hutch should be cleaned and disinfected.

Coccidiosis is a distressing disease which rabbits develop by licking dirty feet or coats or by eating and drinking contaminated food and water. It appears in dirty hutches with unchanged bedding and unclean feed and water dishes. The rabbit loses weight and sits in a hunched position with its feet forward. There will be diarrhea with sudden weight loss. This disease causes large losses in the young rabbit but can be prevented with a coccidiostat in the pellets.

Cold symptoms are sneezing and a nasal discharge. Usually not serious in itself the rabbit should still be isolated. Conjunctivitis is an inflammation of the eye that can be caused by bucks spraying urine, draughts, or a dusty atmosphere. An eye ointment available from the vet can easily treat this.

Constipation usually is the reason for when a rabbit goes off its food and only produces hard dried up droppings. More greens should be provided to prevent this occurring.

Heat stress will cause the rabbit to lie in a prostrate position panting rapidly. Keeping a bottle of water in the freezer and placing it in the cage near the rabbit can lower the temperature. Heat stress can occur suddenly and kill within only a few hours.

Mastitis is an inflammation of the milk glands and often results from the teats being banged, often as the doe hops into the nest box to feed her young. A swelling will appear but an injection of penicillin will cure the infection.

Mucoid Enteritis or bloat or scours is one of the main causes of death in rabbits. The symptoms are apathy, grinding of the teeth, squinting eyes and a loss of weight. Usually there is terrible diarrhea with a clear mucoid substance. The rabbit should be taken off pellets and fed only hay and given plenty of water to drink. After a few days the rabbit can be gradually re-introduced to its food.

Obesity in over-fed rabbits results in breeding difficulties and affected animals may become sterile. Sudden death can also occur. Food should be reduced and exercise increased.

Paralysis occurs in the hindquarters and is usually caused by injury such as dropping the rabbit or disturbance by other animals. There is generally no cure for this condition and the animal should be destroyed.

Red Water is reddish urine caused by cold temperatures, feeding too many greens or carrots. Provide plenty of water.

Snuffles is a thick white discharge from the nose accompanied with a lot of sneezing. It is caused by stress or bad ventilation in the rabbitry and is highly contagious and incurable. Affected rabbits should be separated immediately as they will infect other stock.

Although it is necessary for the rabbits owner to recognise these conditions if in doubt a veterinarian should always be consulted, especially before attempting any treatment of your pet.


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