Animal companions are very much a part of our day-to-day. It's our job as humans to ensure that our pets acclimate to family life and that they are equipped to cope with the changes that invariably occur. Over the years, it's been my mission as a writer to empower you to do that by exploring topics like animal behavior, pet health and the power of the human-animal bond.
Fish are commonly kept as pets, though they don't seem to get the same amount of visibility when it comes to their care and overall needs. It doesn't seem fair that they need be inured by that notion.
I was doing research for another piece on aquatic animals when I had the realization that perhaps I should focus on one core facet of their care that seems to be ignored: what they eat (or should be eating). Pet food is something that comes up often when I'm chatting with those that share life with dogs, cats and birds, but with fish, never.
In my research, I discovered that there's a lot of information out there — pet stores, books and yes, the internet — and too much of it seemed questionable, so I decided to dig a bit deeper by seeking a reliable source.
Aquarist veterinarian Dr. Charlie Gregory has always been fascinated by the ocean and what goes on beneath the surface. And in a conversation with him, his enthusiasm about the creatures that inhabit a world that can seem quite foreign to us humans was quite clear.
Gregory, who is owner of Boynton Beach, Florida-based Healthy Aquatics notes that commercially-available pelleted and flake foods besides being easy to find are great for lots of reasons. They do, however, require care in how and where they're stored, and as I learned, you can go further in optimizing your aquatic animal's diet by incorporating variety with other foods — and it's easier to do than you might think.
Flakes and pellets
When comparing brands, Gregory notes that "it all comes down to ingredients."
The first ingredients should include things like salmon, krill, plankton, protein sources such as that. Ideally, a protein content of 45-55% should be listed and good brands include Ocean Nutrition, New Life Spectrum Thera and Tetra. (That said, herbivorous fish, like tangs and blennies, don't require that percentage of protein and benefit from something like Ocean Nutrition 2 diet.)
Pellets have the advantage when it comes to ready-to-feed diets because less food is wasted — which not only saves money and product, but results in a cleaner tank. Don't neglect a detail like the size of pellet that you're offering: large pellets for large fish, medium for the medium-sized creatures and of course, small for the littlest members of the tank. Pellets need to be able to be swallowed whole in one bite.
flickr photo by FromSandToGlass
Flakes are especially helpful where small ones are concerned, as they are manageable for the fishes' smaller size. But in this case, Gregory clarifies, use the big flakes.
The integrity of these two types of food is crucial. To keep the food fresh, appealing and safe to eat, the suggestion is to keep only what you'll need for a week's supply in a resealable container that's airtight, and the rest in the freezer or refrigerator.
Changes in temperature and humidity can adversely affect the quality of the product, and spoilage can result over time.
"Things like the Omega-3 fatty acids break down easily, and aside from that, fungus can grow — and that's not something you want in your tank," Gregory says.
And as he points out, forgoing the super-size containers of fish food is a big help. Purchase smaller containers, and do so more often.
Other healthy choices
Nori isn't just for making sushi — this variety of seaweed is another healthful option. So long as as the nori is plain (no seasonings of any kind, please), you're in good shape. Simply attach a piece to the side of the tank with a suction cup clip made for this purpose.
Skip the store-bought frozen food that you can buy from pet stores and make your own. Because you'll be using human-grade ingredients, the quality is optimal. Gregory encourages people to head to the supermarket for fresh seafood or grab a bag of frozen mix. Shrimp, scallops, squid, clams are perfect choices. A few pulses in a blender or food processor — again, taking into consideration the size of fish in your tank — and adding a little plain gelatin, which acts as a binder and protects the integrity of the food while in the freezer, is all it takes. Spoon the mixture into ice cube trays (think regular size for large tanks, mini cube trays for small aquariums) freeze and store in sealed freezer bags for up to a year.
More food for thought
Live food, like feeder fish should be avoided and for good reason: they are often cultivated poorly and can introduce disease into your otherwise healthy tank.
"Over feeding is a common problem," adds Gregory, who says that not only does wasted food contribute to algae growth in the tank, but unhealthy weight in the fish.
"You would be surprised at how little food fish really need to be healthy."
His rule: in an average-sized tank (5-20 fish) introduce only enough food that the fish can eat in about 10 seconds. To help them — goldfish and triggerfish, most notably — avoid swallowing air as they eat, dip your finger into the water to tap the food and let it tumble down instead of allowing it to float on top.
It seemed important to ask about how to handle having your fish fed while you're on vacation.
"Fish won't starve in 2-3 days," and erring on frugality when it comes to feeding while you're away can help avoid an algae problem, something that seems to happen if someone else is at the helm. For long periods of time, be very specific with your directives on amounts and frequency, and you could always pre-portion and label rations.
Educating the public-at-large
Though helping people understand proper care of their aquatic species is an ongoing passion in Gregory's work — part of his time is spent with residential clients with an average tank to organizations with large public aquariums — he also has his sights set on doing the same with the next generation.
"We're working to ramp up the education side now — working with the schools, including those in Palm Beach."
Aside from the marine biology presentations at local schools, the professional team at Healthy Aquatics also offers hands-on event experiences on marine biology at their facility in Boynton Beach. Educational excursions to local ecological sites and more are also available.
As Gregory emphasizes, these unique creatures are not 'pets'.
"They are living things, and deserve to be treated as such."
No matter if an injury to your dog's paw results in a few stitches, or something more serious, keeping the area dry and protected from the elements is crucial in healing. Doing so can seem daunting, but you need only look to your kitchen to help make muddling through this aspect of the recovery more manageable.
Simply wrap the bandaged area with plastic cling film to make for a temporary, quick water and dirt-repellent shield when they go out to do their business. For a better adhesion, use the press-and-seal type.
Here are more of my life hacks to make your everyday easier:
Exotic birds love fresh food. Some are fussier than others, and keeping their fruits and vegetables appetizing in hot weather can be a challenge. To extend the freshness of their grub, freeze several bowls that have been filled a quarter of the way full with water, then stack one under each food bowl.
Use an office chair mat under a rabbit hutch or exotic bird enclosure to make tidying up around them easier, and you'll protect your floors.
Arthritic bunnies benefit from the having a litter pan that is accessible. Instead of using a traditional pan, consider the Marchioro Kiosk tray. Designed as a feeding or grooming tray, it's perfect to accommodate special needs rabbits as well as being easy to clean.
Before you know it, the dog days of summer will be here and keeping cool can be delicious and engaging. Dogs can delight in the backyard with a yummy treat -- a giant homemade pupsicle -- but backyard chickens can enjoy a cool nosh, too. Chopped veggie/fruit scraps (ditto for leftovers) can be converted into a birdsicles. You'll need a can (or two) of creamed corn, the scraps and a muffin tin. Pop a small handful of the scraps into each muffin tin, fill each halfway with the creamed corn and freeze. Pop them out and toss out for the flock. As they are pecked at and thaw, the chickens will enjoy a cool treat and be rewarded with tasty bits of food.
There are plenty of animals in our community that have jobs: service dogs, certified therapy dogs, those that specialize in search and rescue (including horses) — and those that work in law enforcement and military.
Each have gone through extensive training, and although they use all of their senses to do their jobs, one in particular is essential — their sight. Even if smell is the predominant sense that is used, as in bomb or drug sniffing, these animals couldn't manage without good vision.
An annual event will help the handlers and families of these animals stay on top of things where their animal's ocular health is concerned. Board certified Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists and their staff have for the past several years, generously donated their time and services to provide free screening ocular exams to qualified service animals who are currently active.
Rue, a black Labrador trained as a Diabetic Alert Dog (DAD), is a testament to how vital vision is to a service animal. She's been with 16 year-old Katie Krampitz — who suffers from Type 1 Diabetes — for almost two years. Rue's most important job is to monitor Katie’s blood sugar level and alert her when it is too low or high. Optimal vision is key: the dog accompanies the teen wherever she goes, and responds to verbal and non-verbal cues. If her human's blood sugar level is not within normal limits, Rue will locate her testing kit and bring it to her. If Katie's blood sugar level drops too low, the dog can fetch a juice box for her.
“Amazingly, within eight months of receiving Rue, Katie’s A1C was the lowest it has ever been,” said Ed Krampitz, Katie’s father.
(An A1C is the calculation of what numbers a diabetic is averaging for their blood sugar.)
"That’s just one of the reasons we were so pleased to hear that Rue’s eyes looked perfectly normal and healthy at her exam last year. Service animals require a significant investment, so having access to a free eye exam screening is a huge blessing. The screening itself was quick and stress-free. Thanks to ACVO and Stokes Pharmacy for making this service available!”
Rue is also being trained to call 911, if Katie becomes unresponsive.
The ACVO/Merial National Service Animal Eye Exam Event takes place across the North America and includes Ann Arbor and other cities in Michigan.
The eye exams will be provided — free of charge — by ophthalmologists from Michigan Veterinary Specialists and BluePearl Veterinary Partners in Ann Arbor, Auburn Hills, Grand Rapids, Southfield as well as The Animal Opthalmology Center in Williamston. I had the chance to catch up with Dr. Gwen Sila, DVM DACVO, veterinary ophthalmologist with BluePearl Veterinary Partners here in Michigan, about their 6 years participating in the event. "This year, we have 3 board-certified ophthalmologists participating and are able to offer free exams for service dogs in our Ann Arbor, Southfield and Auburn Hills locations. All of us ophthalmologists look forward to the event and love the opportunity to make sure these incredible service dogs stay visual and can keep doing the jobs they love."
To qualify, service animals must be actively working and be certified by a formal training program or organization or are currently enrolled in a formal training program. The certifying organization can be national, regional or local (such as Pet Partners, Therapy Dogs, Inc. or International Association of Assistance Dog Partners).
Once registration is completed, a registration number will be assigned, giving access to a list of participating doctors in the area. At that point, the owner/handler can reach out to a participating ophthalmologist to schedule an appointment.
All event appointments will take place during the month of May, and registration for the event ends April 30.
To date, more than 45,000 service animals have had these free screenings – over 7,000 took place in 2015. Sila added, "I am really excited to be able to participate in this event again this year. I am so astounded by the tasks that these dogs so eagerly perform and very impressed by the incredible bond that develops between these dogs and their owners over the years of working together and relying on each other. Anything that we can contribute to keep these dogs able to do their job for as long as possible feels very rewarding."
Click here to go to the event website, and watch the video below for more on the annual event.
With spring officially here, there's plenty to look forward to. There's the weather, longer days, more outdoor activities – and with windows flung open wide (or is that just my house?), there are more sweet sounds of wild birds greeting the day.
The latter is a joy, no doubt, but we humans aren't the only ones who find our feathered friends interesting. Our cats do, too, which is fine if they are kept indoors.
Outdoors, they often stalk wild birds and yes, capture them and worse. In fact, in many articles that I've written about cats, there have been comments aplenty from folks in the Ann Arbor area asserting their displeasure at the numbers of outdoor cats roaming their neighborhoods and killing vast numbers of wild birds. Their feelings about outdoor cats are understandable, and the banter between commenters can get quite heated.
The problem of outdoor cats offing vast numbers of wild birds is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg, a reflection of a bigger problem. It's one that has plagued communities not just in our midst, but around the world.
A study released in late 2013 notes that free-roaming cats are responsible for the majority of wild bird deaths, with a bulk of those stemming from ferals and strays.
Getting the numbers of cats that comprise feral colonies down would make a significant impact of course, and understanding and dealing with the complex roots of keeping strays from finding themselves in the situation they're in would, too. The fact is that the human factor has the biggest impact on these two groups, for both better or worse. Our cavalier attitude to what keeps feral and stray populations thriving — reproductive success, the strongest biological factor in any species — springs eternal. A collective willingness to let go of the idea that 'it's not my problem' and wholeheartedly striving toward a goal of getting a few hearty strides ahead of feline biology, which, by the way, has demonstrated the ability to adjust and turn on a dime to compensate, is needed.
That said, pet cats are responsible for their fair share of the billion-plus wild bird deaths that are reported to be killed annually, according to the study. These kind of numbers leave bird lovers aghast, and serve as an eye-opener to those typically not as aware of the winged creatures flitting around outside their doors.
A screening of The Messenger on April 27th here in Ann Arbor will surely appeal to both. The documentary, touted for its splendid avian cinematography, examines the dangers that songbirds face around the world — including cats. The movie, promoted by Michigan Audubon and Washtenaw Audubon, will be presented at the Michigan Theatre.
After the film, Dr. Cathy Theisen, DVM will be on hand for a brief Q&A to talk about transitioning felines accustomed to living outdoors to life as indoor cats.
For many people — given a felines tendencies — it seems like a natural thing to allow their cats to roam freely, even if it's just for a short time each day. It feels like a harmless prospect, right? The truth is, it takes no time for any cat to capture a bird and wound or kill them.
(Just the same, a cat can be the unwitting victim of various scenarios: poisoning, accidental or otherwise; becoming the prey of a coyote; being accidentally trapped in a shed and starving to death; getting hit by a vehicle; succumbing to injuries from a tangle with a wild creature or even dog.)
Providing an enriching, stimulating environment is one consideration when helping outdoor cats make that leap to being indoor lifers. That's just one aspect that Theisen will cover in helping to make it successful.
To be fair, feline predation isn't the only threat to wild bird populations. Other factors, including collisions, wind turbines, habitat destruction and climate change are contributors and experts in those areas will also be on hand for a short Q&A after the show.
For more on the event, including reserved ticketing information and a pre-movie meet up with birders from around the state at HopCat, click here.
"We'll need a urine sample from your pet, so you'll need to collect one and have it ready..." is a common refrain that's heard when talking to a veterinarian's office.
Urine samples can yield a lot of helpful information from anything from a routine health check up, to sleuthing an unknown illness. They're easy to test and it's an inexpensive way to glean much-needed insight.
I found that getting one from the dog is relatively easy; I'll quietly follow said pooch outside and reach down with a clean container in hand to snag a sample mid-stream without their knowledge.
I'm imagining several quizzical-looking faces reading this and thinking, "How does one get a urine sample from a cat?"
Though I'm lucky that at this point, my cat, Silver is non-plussed by my sneaking into his litter box area to catch some urine mid-stream as he's tending to business, it's safe to say that most cats are not as cooperative. It is possible that other cats would be as easy going, but if they're not, there's another easy way to obtain a urine sample. You'll need a clean, empty litter box, a sterile needleless syringe – and some unpopped popcorn (or dried beans).
Simply swap your cat's usual litter box with the clean one and fill with the popcorn kernels instead of litter. Since the popcorn offers a cat the medium in which to do their business but lacks the ability to absorb the urine, it's an ideal way to get a sample for testing. The urine deposited into the litter box can be retrieved by pouring it into a clean catch cup or other container, or by drawing it up into a needleless syringe and then transferring it to a container that way.
In multiple-cat families or due to other circumstances, it may be necessary to confine said cat in a room with the popcorn-filled litter box. And, obviously if your vet needs a sterile sample, they'll need to obtain that manually.
Catsare inquisitive, as anyone who shares life with them will tell you. And while their shenanigans in exploring the great indoors and outdoors don’t typically yield serious harm in the majority of cases, you’d be surprised at what items can cause their well-being to be put into jeopardy.
We all know felines can be seriously injured when they suffer a fall from an open window or can die from ingesting radiator coolant, but one of the most toxic items known to affect cats could already be in your home.
Liliesare a common sight when entering most homes this time of year, as many hostesses and Moms out there can attest, and soon the botanical beauties will be shooting out of the soil and blooming in our backyards as well.
Sadly, there are countless cats each year poisoned by Easter lilies and their relatives (Day lily, Asiatic lily,Tiger lily, etc.) by chewing on or eating them. They are pretty, but it's important to note that all parts of the plant are poisonous to cats. This means the petals, pollen, stamen, pistil – even the water in the vase – so cat-proofing your home and yard is essential.
A lot of people aren’t aware of the danger, and by the time their pet shows signs of illness, it can be too late. Prompt treatment is necessary to address the illness successfully. For that reason, a ‘wait-and-see’ approach doesn’t bode well in lily toxicosis. In fact, if an animal doesn’t get treatment within 12-18 hours of ingestion, it can die.
It’s vital that you take note of your cat’s symptoms, document them and convey them to the treating veterinarian immediately.
Symptoms that are consistent with being poisoned by ingesting lilies include:
Loss of appetite
If you haven’t seen your cat chew on or eat the plant, the only way to be certain that they are suffering from lily toxicosis is to see parts of the plant in its vomit, so if you can, retrieve what you can of the vomitus and put in a small, sealed container and bring it with you to the veterinarian.
Why this is such a problem with felines in particular? Acute renal (kidney) failure takes place, and occurs as early as 36-72 hours after ingestion, and this is even true for young, healthy cats.
What are the signs of a cat being sickened by lilies? Once renal failure ensues, a cat will experience the following symptoms:
increased urination initially, followed by lowered urine output, and eventually, no urine output at all
At this time, the toxic constituent of lilies is not known.
Treatment objectives for cats with lily toxicosis are limited, at best. Aggressive intravenous fluids to help prevent kidney failure, and in some cases, flushing the stomach can be helpful. This will remove any portions of the toxic agent that are left in the stomach.
Prevention is the best option.
It seems important to note that three types of lilies – including the Peruvian, Peace and Calla – are not deadly but because they contain insoluble oxalate crystals, some tissue irritation to the pharynx, esophagus, mouth and tongue can occur. You'll notice your pet pawing at their mouth, drooling, foaming and perhaps some vomiting.
There are safe alternatives for Easter plant gifts and outdoor plantings. Here are a few ideas:
The minute I open the door, the tell-tale smell is unmistakable. Then I look at the face, and usually there's a note on the counter confirming the unfortunate news: one of my canine charges had gotten tangled up with a skunk in previous days.
It happens in all sorts of scenarios, and some of the dogs in my life seem to be more prone than others to getting sprayed by a skunk.
Though skunks are active year-round, this time of year seems to be the most prevalent time for the unfortunate interactions. That because we're in the midst of mating season for skunks, which will run through March.
Skunks, which belong to the Mustelidae family, are peaceable creatures by and large and will avoid confrontation. But when faced with a threatening situation, they will unleash their defense: an oily, smelly musk the can be sprayed to an accurate distance of 10 feet via their anal glands.
For that, they get a bad rap but it seems important to note that they serve an important purpose as they're helpful in controlling mice and insects populations.
The current mating season means babies aren't going to be far behind; they'll be along in May and June. Mother skunks are fiercely protective of their kits, hence an additional opportunity for skunking encounters.
These creatures face few dangers (the Great Horned Owl is pretty much their only predator), in light of their general docility. They do have poor vision, so more often than not if they do meet an early demise it's because they've ended up in a path of a moving vehicle. Rabies is a danger with the species, too; they're the highest carriers of the fatal disease. Given those factors, there are plenty of them around and understanding their habits can help avoid the need to perform the time-consuming task of removing the stinky musk from the affected family members, human and pet alike.
Skunks are crepuscular, so with that in mind, being more cautious as your pets are poking around during peak periods – around dawn and dusk – is crucial.
Though they inhabit more open areas like clearings and areas that border forests, skunks will seek cover where they can and as necessary. This usually means low in bushes and brushy areas, and unexpected niches like under porch steps – wherever they can hide should they feel threatened. I call them "hot zones". Dissuading dogs, as hard as that can be, from sniffing around those areas is a plus.
I often extol the virtues of not being distracted while out and about with dogs, and avoiding a possible skunking situation seems like as good a reason as any to have your full attention on what's around you. If you happen upon a skunk, know that they will give warning if they have the chance: they stomp their feet and raise their tails in a physical display. Keeping a pocket of high-value treats handy can help to calmly lure your dog's attention in your direction so that you can make a calm exit from the scene should you be given the chance.
Speaking of warnings, consider making a little noise – tap on the window or door as you head out into the yard and then clap your hands before letting your ever-curious pets outside around first light or as your household is enjoying some outside time near or after dark. While venturing through your canine adventures at peak times, your voice can be an asset. I recommend talking to your dogs as you walk; I find that's sufficient in giving a skunk some warning. If one of the wild critters hears you before you get too close, it can buy them some time to find a suitable hiding spot until you're at a safe distance.
Though generally I don't use retractable leashes, I find using them in situations where a dog would normally be unleashed, say in a fenced yard or trained on an electric fence, to be a boon. It gives the pooch autonomy to sniff around to get business done while offering enhanced control on my end to mindfully keep them away from potential hiding spots during peak periods. Using a long lead is an equally good option.
It wouldn't seem right to offer the tips that I've used over the years without noting the simple recipe that helps to cleanse and effectively and safely neutralize the organic compounds, called thiols, in skunk spray. Skip the tomato juice. Instead, have a fresh, active bottle of 3% hydrogen peroxide on hand, as well as a couple of other common household products, including a clean plastic bucket and liquid soap. Click here for the recipe, created by chemist Paul Krebaum.