January is National Train Your Dog Month
…but it should be National Train Your PET Month!
All pets can be trained. While some don’t need it as much as others, training is a great way to spend quality time with your bird, rabbit, guinea pig…you name it. If you don’t think your pet can be trained, just take a look on youtube and see what other enterprising people have been doing.
Why Train Birds
Birds really respond well to training for a number of reasons. They are incredibly smart so, first of all, we train them no matter what we are doing. Just like a small child who learns by watching. I recommend working to learn how to train your bird…so you get them to actually do what you want (not what you do). There are a number of basics that all birds should learn – step up on command to all members of the family, step up on command to confident strangers and stay on a perch.
Why those three?
First, we want our birds to be member’s of our family flock and to discourage pair bonding with one individual. In addition to worrying about reproductive health issues or aggression to perceived interlopers, just think how unhappy you’d be if your preferred mate never gave you what you wanted. It’s just not very nice.
Second, we want our birds to learn to interact with a variety of people, to be confident and assured of themselves. Working on this step helps broaden their horizons and allows owners to worry less about strangers.
Finally, birds expect to spend most of their time with their flock. Since most of us work away from home we can’t give that to them. When we are home, we can allow our birds to “flock” with us to different rooms if they are able to stay on a perch. I feel it also reinforces the idea of independent play. Imagine a 3 yr old child who has to be held by mom or dad at all times – kind of tiring and perhaps a bit unhealthy.
On top of that, there is one more basic. I think it is extremely important…teach your bird to take medicine from a syringe! This can only be done when they are healthy but the rewards you will reap if you ever have to treat your feathered friend are endless.
Sure – there are some times when a band is very useful
International Travel may require unique identification and some birds are too small for microchips.
Identification in a breeding situation ensures that birds are not mixed up – which is especially important if there are subtle health issues.
A band, if the number is known, is a way to prove the bird belongs to you.
So Why is a Band ever Bad?
When it is unnecessary.
Larger birds can be microchipped.
Birds that have left a group situation no longer need their bands.
Since there is no central database for bands they cannot be used to track down an owner.
Why Should You Remove a Band?
The main reason – to prevent injury. We see birds who damage or break their legs because the band got caught on something. They can irritate or annoy birds causing them to bite at the band. If the leg is injured it may be difficult or impossible to remove the band without causing further injury.
Jackie’s Band Problem
Here is Jackie – a cockatiel. She came in for an injured leg. You can see that the skin of her leg has swollen around the band:
Luckily we were able to remove the band and with supportive care the leg has healed well…if a little different from her other leg!
It could have been much worse – the pressure can cause damage to the bone. In Jackie’s case, she didn’t need surgery to repair the leg since there was no exposed bone and she still had good blood flow to all the digits. Her smallest toe was damaged – it is likely permanently pushed forward due to the swelling. Maybe it too will heal with time.
Most dog and cat owners are aware that the holidays can be a dangerous time for our furry companions – I had a cat who used to eat all ribbons. My Christmas tree looked so sad with boring packages beneath it. That is, until I got a cat who ate the tree. So bye-bye Christmas tree and branches all around the house.
Our exotic pets have some of the same issues. Birds, rabbits and rodents should be on the lookout for the following:
Holiday trees and Plants can have toxins in or on them – some trees are sprayed with chemicals and the water at the base may have fertilizers in it. Toxic holiday plants include
English Ivy (Hedera helix)
Holly (Iles spp.)
Mistletoe (Viscum album)
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima)
Yew (Cephalotaxus sp.)
Lilies, Laurel and Christmas Rose
Decorations run the gamut of possible problems.
Physical hazards such as getting stuck in them and wounds due to broken glass or metal parts.
Holiday decorations are often cheaply made and may be contaminated with toxic metals.
Tinsel and ribbons can cause obstruction in the stomach or intestines.
Metallic wrapping paper can be either a toxin or cause an obstruction.
Electric Wires are often in new and fun spaces – they may cause burns and even death if a pet bites down too hard.
Fumes and Smoke.
Scented candles, room fresheners, ornaments…
Extra household cleaning with strong chemicals
Avoid fire logs that contain toxins or smoky irritants which are a special hazard to birds.
Cooking – holidays often mean an increase in kitchen activity
More pots of boiling water, hot pans, cookies or candies available for stealing.
The usual suspects should not be shared with pets (caffeine, avocado, alcohol and chocolate).
Avoid novel or excessive food sharing because these can cause GI upset.
Holiday Stress is not just for humans.
Novel decorations, increased activity, visitors and guests can all be upsetting for some of our more shy pets.
Guests that are not familiar with birds, rabbits and rodents may not be able to read their body language – and no one wants a “bite-fling” injury!
I recommend discouraging furry visitors – unless your pet has previously been introduced – because the holidays are hard enough without bringing a predator into the home.
Just in case – know when your veterinarian is open (or closed) this December/January, know which emergency clinic you can take your exotic pet to, and know the poison control phone number ASPCA (888) 426-4435.