Training is for Everyone! Part 1

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.

Think your bird is too old?  Check out this video of a 50 year old Amazon taking her “treats”. Miss Gregory Gets Her Meds


Gut Loading – What and How

Nutritional Issues
There were a lot of talks on nutrition at the recent conference for the Association of Reptile and Amphibians Veterinarian (ARAV). A subject that came up a number of times was how to improve nutrition in our insectivores (insect eaters).

The key to a good diet is diversity. Don’t just feed crickets or mealworms. There are lots of different insects out there and many can be delivered to your door. Consider super worms, Phoenix worms, king worms, Dubai cockroaches, fruit flies, grasshoppers, land crustaceans such as folly-polices or pillbugs…there are many to offer. Some of these guys will even eat pinkies.

Aside from our land crustaceans, all insects have an inverse calcium to phosphorous ratio and that needs to be fixed or your little critter will develop painful debilitating disease.

Ca:P =?
There is a complex relationship between calcium, phosphorus and a few other nutrients in the body.

To simplify, we know that most reptiles need at least a 2:1 ratio (recent studies suggest even that may be too low…). This means 2 parts calcium (Ca) to every 1 part phosphorus (P). Most crickets, while high in protein and low in fat, have a Ca:P ratio of 0.14:1. Now that’s quite a bit less than 2 to 1.  Silkworms are considered a better option but they only have a 0.8:1 ratio.

So what do we do?
Dusting and gut loading!

Most of my clients are familiar with the old “shake and bake ” treatment. Put some insects in a bag with powdered calcium and shake away. But many haven’t heard of gut loading.


Gut loading refers to the process of feeding the insects a calcium rich food and then feeding that insect to your reptile while the calcium is still in the insect’s gut. We know that gut loading requires feeding for 12 to 24 hours to get the food into the gut. We also know that by 48 hours the calcium levels start to drop off. So you have a window to work within.

Kale! Collard Greens!
Unfortunately you can’t overcome a 0.14:1 ratio with good calcium rich foods such as in certain greens. You have to use a diet specifically designed with tons of calcium for this to work. Mazuri has two such diets (A Better Bug and High Calcium Gut Loading Diet). We also know that you can’t out any other food in the cage – apparently good gut loading diets taste terrible and the insects will only eat them if there is no other food source. Of course you still need water.

If you are raising your own insects – keep in mind that gut loading foods are only given prior to feeding the insects to your reptile. They have too much calcium and will result in the death of your colony.

Also, if you buy pre-gut loaded insects…how do you know when they last ate? What was fed? Can you be certain these insects are ready for consumption? It’s best to be sure and gut load yourself!

One last note – fireflies are known to be toxic to bearded dragons so don’t feed them.

Halloween Hazards

Halloween Banner

Fright Night is Almost Here!

What’s fun for most of us can be scary or dangerous for our pets.  Here’s a few thoughts to mull over this Halloween.

  • Toxins – many of our exotic pets love to chew.  Chocolate, sugary treats and caffeine are common items this weekend that should be kept out of reach. Keep an eye on that bowl of candy or decorations.  autumn-candy-mix
  • Costumes and Decorations – watch out for flying hazards, novel items to chew or hiding places that your little critter could get stuck in.  String, buttons, toxic bits of dangling costumes or decorations are attractive but could cause serious health issues.  Don’t allow access to anything you aren’t sure is healthy.
  • Activity – stress from the constantly ringing doorbell, loud party noises or exciting decorations that make noise can all result in an unhappy or sick pet.  Make sure your pet has a quiet and calm place to wait out the storm.
  • Pumpkins  – while pumpkins are more of a concern for the active and larger pet (dogs, cats, large bunnies) they can be a tasty treat for others (birds, turtles, tortoises….).  Just make sure no toxic paints or decorations are left on the item to be eaten.  Also, if that pumpkin was carved and set out a few days ago…it’s probably not something you want to eat.  hot-head-pumpkin-
  • Candles – the main concern here is a fire hazard if your frightened pet knocks one over.  It’s never a good idea to leave unattended candles in a house.

Happy Haunting!