The Benefits of Music for Cats

Does your cat disapprove of your taste in music? There’s a reason for that! Research shows that cats are more likely to be interested in cat music than human music, says Charles T. Snowdon, a Hilldale Professor Emeritus in the department of psychology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and the lead author of the study, “Cats Prefer Species-Appropriate Music.”

Didn’t think that music for cats existed? Think again! Cats, with their acute sense of hearing, instinctively prefer music that corresponds closely with the sounds they use to communicate with each other, such as purring and meowing. So there’s no need to take it personally if your cat snubs your favorite tune or leaves the room when you cue up your stereo! It’s not because of her discerning taste — she just may not be able to tolerate the tone and volume.

How Can You Use Music With Your Cats?
Like humans, cats do enjoy listening to music. But they prefer music that’s chosen with them in mind, especially classical music. “I believe they respond well both to music for calming and enrichment,” says Dr. Susan Wagner, an integrative medicine doctor at MedVet Columbus and an adjunct assistant professor at The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Dr. Wagner, who specializes in music therapy for animals, recommends two types of music for cats: calming (to reduce stress) and enriching (to stimulate). “Calming music has lower tones, slower tempos and minimal instrumentation, while enriching music is just the opposite,” she says. For example, a soothing Chopin piano sonata calms your kitty down, while a lively Bach flute sonata encourages her to jump and play.

Do you like to leave the radio on when you’re out of the house as a way to keep your cat company? If so, it’s important for you to choose the music that you play wisely, as it has the potential to do more harm than good. According to Snowdon, you must be sure to avoid any music that may induce negative emotions in your furry companion.

What Are the Benefits of Music for Cats?
There are many benefits of introducing your cat to the world of music. According to Dr. Wagner, you should play calming music for at least an hour a day if your pet tends to be anxious or scared. And “enriching music is especially wonderful for indoor cats,” she adds.

According to Dr. Wagner, music therapy can be used to help cats who are suffering from a variety of serious medical conditions. “I have recommended music for my feline patients who suffer from anxiety or disorders that are exacerbated by anxiety, such as Feline Interstitial Cystitis, Herpes or Inflammatory Bowel Disease,” she says. “I also have found it helpful in any chronic condition that creates stress, whether it is osteoarthritis, diabetes or cancer.”

According to Snowdon, music also does wonders for feral cats. “One of the main benefits of the cat music may be to help animals that have previously been abused or neglected to develop confidence in their new human companions,” he says. For instance, this music may urge an unresponsive stray cat to approach and interact with a new owner.

Ideally, you and your kitty can come to a mutual agreement on what type of music to play in your home. “There needs to be a balance between music for humans and for cats when both are together,” says Snowdon.

Is “Cat Walking” Really a Thing?

Have you ever seen a cat walking on a leash, like a puppy, behind her owner? Even if you snickered or sneered at the sight, you probably questioned whether or not your own furry friend may indeed need this type of outdoor exercise. Here’s an overview of “cat walking” and how to determine if you should try it with your own pet!

Why Might It Be a Good Idea to Walk Your Cat?
Think about the reasons you like to go for a walk outside. Perhaps this activity helps you to reduce your stress level, or maybe it’s a fun, easy way for you to get some exercise and fresh air. These reasons can apply to your cat as well! Heading out for a walk can help your feline companion overcome a case of the “indoor boredom blahs” and ensure that she stays in tip-top physical shape.

A quick trip outside may also quench your cat’s need to get back to her roots. When she’s inside, a pesky pane of glass separates her from the bounty of the backyard. But if you take her on a leashed walk, she can explore and investigate without the worry that she’ll get into too much trouble.

Why Might It Be a Bad Idea to Walk Your Cat?
Some shy or temperamental cats may not react well to a leash or the outdoor environment. If your cat is timid, scares easily or has anxiety in new situations, it may be best to avoid taking her on walks. It’s important for you to keep in mind that along with the wonders of nature — which for your cat translates to birds, birds and more birds — the great outdoors comes with a variety of intimidating new people, animals, vehicles and noises that may scare your cat.

You may also want to avoid taking your cat on walks if she is a dasher, runner or Houdini-like escape artist, as she may use the daily outdoor time to try to make a break for it.

How Can You Start?
If you do decide to try out the whole cat walking thing, you must be sure to take a series of steps to prepare your pet for this new adventure. Firstly, make sure that all of her immunizations and flea treatments are up to date, as there’s no telling what she may be exposed to during your daily half-mile jaunt.

You’ll also need to acquire all the necessary supplies. When looking for the perfect harness and leash, be sure to choose ones that are specifically made for cats. Don’t simply reuse your puppy’s old set! As a harness is likely a totally new concept to your cat, you need to introduce it to her gradually.

Start by leaving it around the house for a few days so that she can get used to seeing it before you attempt to put it on her. After those few days have passed, you should let your cat rub up against the harness so she can gradually get used to how it feels against her fur.

Next, you should encourage her to actually wear the harness around your house. When she seems comfortable, you should attach the leash and practice walking around from room to room. Be sure to praise your cat and give her a few tasty treats to reward her for prancing around in her new harness.

What Should You Do If Your Finicky Feline Freaks Out?
Surprised that your furry friend didn’t love his first adventure in the great outdoors? Just be patient and remember that cats don’t take to harnesses and leashed walks in the same way that dogs do. Some cats may need some time to adjust to this new concept, while others may never get the hang of it. But don’t get yourself in a tizzy if your cat snubs the idea of a leashed walk. There are plenty of ways your pet can exercise while indoors.

For instance, cat climbers and jungle gyms give your pet the chance to stretch his legs, jump, leap, bound and scurry upwards in ways that mimic climbing a tree. You can even make your own cat tree! If you’re feeling crafty, you should check out 7 DIY Cat Tree Projects. You can also schedule in routine play time every day. Just break out the toys and treats, get down to your kitty’s level and pounce away.

What Is Your Dog Telling You?

They may not use words, but dogs say a lot more than we realize with their body language.

Though dogs have been our best friends for tens of thousands of years, they still read us far more skillfully than we read them.

My first dog, Mercy, was a border collie mix whose body could convey an epic narrative—especially when she was in the dog park communicating at once with dozens of her kind. I soon began to wonder just what they were all saying. Their gestures were obviously dense with meaning. At times, a nearly invisible movement by another dog would change Mercy’s course dramatically: She would bend into a play bow, or stiffen in alarm, or look away as if hoping that the dog enthusiastically eyeing her would suddenly forget she existed. Often he would.

Watching those intricately choreographed ballets of intention in the park, I realized that to each other, dogs speak loud and clear. Humans, by contrast, have real trouble deciphering their language. Though dogs have been our best friends for tens of thousands of years, they still read us far more skillfully than we read them.

We tend to think that dogs have relatively little to say because they don’t speak our language, but we are too focused on speech: Witness the tourist hoping to be understood by repeating a request ever more slowly and loudly, or the dog being scolded “Come here!” as he runs merrily away. Dogs are constantly asking us to listen, just not with our ears.

The language of dogs is primarily visual, enacted with their bodies. They speak with the direction of their gaze, the tilt of their tails, the distance they keep and the arc of their movement. Canine language is rich for the same reason ours is: We are both social, cooperative species.

Remaining ignorant of our companions’ modes of expression is not only a frustrating limit on our mutual sympathy. It is also dangerous for us and for them. Some 4.5 million people are bitten by dogs in the U.S. each year, many of them children (for those 4 and under, most of the bites are to the face and neck).

Dogs are generally quite adept at telegraphing warnings, so it’s our job to learn to read them better. This is also in their interest, since “behavior problems”—often the result of misunderstood canine expressions—are a leading reason that owners have to surrender or euthanize their dogs.

So what are dogs trying to tell us?

It’s all in the ears, tail and body.

The baseline posture of a relaxed dog includes having ears up and tail down. In an alert, often transitional, posture, the tail is held straight behind, the ears go forward, and the entire carriage raises. A fearful or anxious dog tucks his tail, lowers his body and pulls back the corners of his mouth. If his hackles (the hairs along the back of his neck) are raised and his nose wrinkled, he is saying he just might bite if pressed further.

Similarly, the dog whose tail is stiff and wagging slowly (not all wagging denotes pleasure), with ears forward and carriage following suit, may be announcing imminent attack. If he freezes, pupils dilated and staring hard, he is to be taken at his word: Watch out.

Some dogs growl before biting and some don’t; the canine body speaks louder than the voice. That is why dogs whose tails are docked or ears cropped lose some of their linguistic fluency. And it’s why some of our grooming choices, such as the poodle’s topknot, cause trouble when they are misread by other dogs as heightened carriage.

They’re sorry, in many different ways.

For the same reason that Eskimos purportedly have 50 different words for snow, dogs have a vast repertoire of gestures for appeasement and propitiation. The Norwegian dog trainer Turid Rugaas has identified some 30 “calming signals”—movements offered to deflect trouble (which may also relieve stress in both giver and receiver). Supremely subtle, sometimes so quick we don’t notice them, these appeasing signals include a flick of the tongue; turning the head or gaze away; suddenly sniffing the ground or sitting; yawning; shaking off; or approaching on a curve.

Please skip the hugs.

For a dog, what comes naturally to us primates when we overflow with affection feels like a threat. The desire to hug is one of the hardest reflexes for us to overcome, but reaching across a dog’s neck is an act of intimidation. He may tolerate it, but he doesn’t like it.

Like many dog owners, I do it anyway, but I’m always watchful: My current dog, Nelly, flashes her tongue to her nose or looks away during a hug, subtle but unequivocal responses to what she views as aggression. When strangers bend over dogs or reach out to pat their heads, or when children latch on to their necks—or stare into their eyes, another threatening gesture—many dogs will react with a volley of appeasements. If these go unheeded, they may feel forced to defend themselves. This is often why small children get bites to their faces, conveniently presented at muzzle level. Viral Internet photos to the contrary, it is not cute when toddlers lie on top on dogs or pull their ears; it is a lit fuse.

That’s not a guilty look.

The jury is still out on whether dogs experience guilt or shame, but chances are that “the look” popularly ascribed to a dog who has done something wrong is actually fear or anxiety prompted by the expectation of anger from the owner. Things commonly punished by us—“stealing” food, urinating on the rug—are hardly immoral to a creature whose values are so different from ours. The furrowed brow, half-moon eyes, slinky posture and lowered head of the canine “wrongdoer” are not an apology; they are signs of stress or requests to desist.

They love you too. My dog, and probably yours, has a special way of greeting those she loves: I call it helicopter-tail. (Nelly’s earsplitting screams of joy are peculiar to her.) Other signs of happiness are unmistakable and easier to read by humans than many of dogs’ other communications: a “rocking-horse” run, as vertical as it is forward; the greeting stretch (followed by “pretty please” front paws on your leg); the C-shaped body bend—the better to maneuver a butt for that all-pleasing scratch—and the smile.

Yes, dogs do smile. No translation needed.

—Ms. Pierson is the author, most recently, of “The Secret History of Kindness: Learning from How Dogs Learn” (W.W. Norton).

Is my dog on heat? And what you can expect…

Your dog is acting strangely, and you’ve noticed some spots on the floor. It could mean you have a dog in heat. What do you need to do about it? What can you expect?

What Does Being “In Heat” Mean?
When you have a female dog in heat, it means that she is, or is about to become, sexually receptive to male dogs, according to Dr. Norm Stillman, the founder of Court Street Animal Hospital in Plymouth, Massachusetts. She is advertising that she is able to conceive. Only female dogs go into heat, and it’s only during heat that they can become pregnant.

Signs That Your Dog is in Heat
Dr. Stillman says that the signs of a dog in heat are unmistakable and include the following:
She will exhibit behavioral changes such as becoming more affectionate with you and paying more attention to male dogs.
She will get her period. Yup, dogs get this too!
She may attempt to mount other dogs or allow herself to be mounted.
And, if you’re still questioning matters, you can check under the hood — her vulva will swell to up to four times its normal size.

Age, Frequency and Length of Heats
The age when heats begin for a dog is variable. They can be as young as six months and as old as 14 months. Dr. Stillman says it often correlates to the dog’s size, adding, “Smaller dogs are more likely to go into heat earlier.”

Dogs are typically in heat for about two to four weeks. Most females will go into heat twice a year, approximately every six months. Certain breeds, like the basenji and the Rhodesian ridgeback, only go into heat once a year. You will know that the heat is starting to taper off when heat behaviors lessen and the dog’s discharge turns from red blood to clear fluid. Female dogs will typically stop having heats when they are 9 or 10 years old.

Keep the Boys Away
It is crucial to keep a dog in heat away from male dogs if you want to prevent pregnancy. “Males are very inventive and will climb fences or try to enter your house. They will follow a scent trail across the neighborhood,” warns Dr. Stillman. A female dog in heat will give out a specific scent only detectable by other dogs, so don’t be surprised to find several male dog at your door! When walking your dog in heat, make sure she is securely leashed and close to you at all times.

Get Some Doggie Undies
She will bleed everywhere, so Dr. Stillman suggests purchasing some doggie hot pants or diapers, and then tucking a regular human maxi pad inside. Such dog panties are machine washable and will help keep your house and furnishings clean.

Keep Her Groomed
She may need to be groomed while she’s in heat, with a particular focus on the fur around her private parts, so that bloody discharge doesn’t dry in her fur.

Consider Spaying Your Dog
Spaying is a surgical procedure that prevents a female dog from reproducing. Dr. Stillman advises any owners that don’t intend to use their dogs for breeding to spay their dogs, as “pregnancy causes a lot of wear and tear on a dog, uses up a lot of their resources and is expensive for owners — and the risk of complications is high.”

He goes on to say if your dog does become pregnant, you will need to find homes for up to 12 puppies. Spayed female dogs show lower incidence of breast, ovarian and cervical cancers, and typically live longer.•

Dogs vs. Cats: Which Is Right for You and Your Family?

So, dogs vs. cats? Check out the pros and cons of each and figure out which is the better match for your lifestyle before you consider bringing one home.

No Time For Walks? The Pros of Having a Cat
Cats are Self-Sufficient
Since cats use a litter box instead of going outside to use the bathroom, you won’t need to worry if you’re away at work for most of the day. No hiring a dog walker or running home from work early — just make sure to keep the litter box clean so that your cat has a fresh place to do his business. Cats are also self-cleaning machines and will rarely need a trip to the groomer.

Cats Keep Pests at Bay
When you have a cat around the house, you probably won’t see any mice, roaches, ants or beetles. Cats will instinctively keep your home pest-free.

Who Knocked Over My Water? The Cons of Having a Cat
Cats are Curious
Just like toddlers, cats seem to get into everything. This includes leftover food, shopping bags and purses. Have an open beverage on the table? Be careful it doesn’t fall victim to wayward paws. Many people use spray bottles of water to help cats learn what to stay away from.

Cats Have Claws
In the wild, a cat will use her claws to catch prey and ward off enemies, but in your home, these claws can end up fraying the bottom of your couch. However, a simple scratching post and a little redirection can help a cat learn where she can and can’t sharpen her claws.

Cats Have Stoic Personalities
Some cats, anyway. When you walk into the room, don’t expect your cat to come running over to see you. Some cats act very aloof and seem to only look for affection on their own timetable. However, when they do look for a little love, cats will really give it their all.
Want a New Best Friend? The Pros of Having a Dog
Dogs are Excited to See You
Unlike many cats, dogs often greet you at the door with excitement. They just love attention and affection, and they’re always eager to please.

Dogs Protect the Home
Many people choose to adopt a dog as a safeguard against home invasion. Your sense of security will skyrocket when you have a dog that barks if someone approaches the house.

Didn’t I Just Let You Out? The Cons of Having a Dog
Dogs Require Bathroom Breaks
Unless you try to litter train your dog, she will need to go outside to use the bathroom multiple times per day. This means that you will either need to take her for walks yourself or install a doggy door that leads into a fenced-in yard.

Dogs Need Discipline
When you bring a new dog into the home, she will need some time to understand the “house rules.” You’ll have to learn how to train your dog or sign him up for obedience classes — and keep in mind that certain breeds take to training better than others!

Dogs Need Regular Exercise
In order for your dog to stay healthy, happy and fit, you’ll need to regularly take him on a walk or run. Having a large fenced-in yard will allow him to run and play easily, but if you live in an apartment or have a tiny yard, regular walks will be necessary. And some breeds need much more exercise than others, so make sure know how much playtime your particular dog will need before you bring him home.•

How to Discipline a Cat — Tips for Keeping Kitty in Line

You love your kitty, but it’s sure hard to show affection when you get home and the houseplants have been ripped to shreds. It’s also difficult to rally feelings of good will at 4 a.m. when your cat is batting you in the face trying to play. But the question is, how to discipline a cat? Is there any hope of training your feisty feline?

You can, in fact, train a cat to change behaviors — and it’s never to late to start, says Shawn Simons, the founder of Kitty Bungalow Charm School for Wayward Cats in Los Angeles. But both she and Sherry Woodard, the resident animal behavior consultant for Best Friends Animal Society, a national organization based in Utah, shy away from using the word “discipline” when referring to cats. “When I hear the word discipline I think of punishing,” Woodard says. “We have to offer instruction. We have to change behavior. Punishing a cat won’t result in changed behavior.”

Neither will getting angry at a cat hours after a bad behavior has occurred. If you catch your cat in the act, interrupt and redirect. But coming home to find your cat has ripped up your plants and yelling at him will “stress your cat out, confuse him and create distrust in your relationship,” says Woodard.

So, the question remains: how do you get your feline to fall in line? Here are four common bad behaviors and how to discipline a cat to stop doing them:

Destroying Your Houseplants
Owners of cats who like to dig need to find a way to let their cats outside, either by harness training or by using a cat fence, says Simons. (See the instructions for a cat fence posted by Alley Cat Allies, a national feral cat resource.) If that’s not possible, try making an indoor garden with catnip, cat grass and other cat-friendly plants — a designated spot where the cat can dig to her heart’s content.

You can discourage a cat from digging in your houseplants by adding a scent to it that your cat shies away from. Most cats don’t like the smell of citrus, lavender, citronella or aloe, she says. If one doesn’t work to curtail the behavior, try another.

Scratching and Biting You
“If you’re in the habit of playing with your cat with your hands, they can suddenly get too excited and begin to bite,” Simons says. To stop this, put a toy between you and your cat during playtime, she recommends. Eventually the cat will stop associating your hand with play. Also, Simons says, recognize the signs when your cat is done with petting time. If the ears go back, the tail starts twitching and muscles tense, you can bet that your cat is ready to pounce.

Playing All Night Long
“If you work, you’re probably gone all day and then you sleep at night. Your cat is alone a lot, and that’s no fun at all,” notes Simons. A favorite solution is to get a second cat. “I know.
If you’re having trouble with your cat, probably the last thing you want to think about is a second cat, but I’ve truly seen it solve the problem,” she says. If that isn’t possible, offer enrichment during the day by leaving out toys (even if it’s just a paper bag and box). Also, Woodard mentions, “make sure to take time to play with your cat when you get home so she gets the interaction she craves.”

Trying to Eat Your Food
If your cat is a pest during your mealtimes, the answer can be as simple as feeding him at his bowl at the same time that you are eating. If that doesn’t work, feed him in a different room at the same time you eat, Woodard says, adding, “It’s a simple fix, but it works.”

“Cats are always going to be cats with all their idiosyncrasies,” Simons says. “But there is hope. You can change behavior, and if you do that, in the long run, you’ll have a much better cat and much happier relationship.” Try some of these tips today.•

Kitten Care Stages: Newborn to 72 Weeks

Kittens grow, develop and mature at an eye-popping (and, occasionally, ear-splitting) rate. At times, the changes can be seen from day to day, not just from week to week.

Newborn kittens look about as much like full-grown cats as tadpoles look like frogs. Newborn kittens are hairless, pink, temporarily blind and totally dependent on their mothers. Kittens should remain with their mothers for at least five weeks, as this is a vital teaching period for mom and learning period for baby cats. You don’t want to put a kitten in the position of having to improvise what it means to be a cat. It won’t go well for the kitten and it won’t go well for any humans in the vicinity. There are professionals who believe that behavior not learned from mother kitten and kitty siblings in the first eight weeks may never be acquired any other way.

Eyelids are open by two weeks. Smell develops by three. Hearing, teeth and the ability to walk develop by four. In week five, play begins. Kittens start stalking prey. Their definition of prey is different from yours, of course. Be prepared to watch as bathrobe sashes, curtain cords, their own tails and your human feet are destroyed by kittens. Kittens begin grooming each other when they are not “killing” each other. The differences between grooming and “killing,” at least at this stage of a kitten’s development, are fewer than you might assume. At four and six weeks, litter training should be mastered by the kitten, and more complex food (specially formulated or softened solids) should be introduced.

Kittens should be fully weaned at six to eight weeks of age. Kittens begin to explore more of their universe, a universe that has up to this point hardly been larger than the circumference of a kitten’s reclining mother. In fact, a kitten’s universe could conceivably be as large as the kitten wants to make it. Humans may want to set universe limits. Play continues and expands. At 8 weeks, a kitten is almost ready to be sent to a new home, if that is part of his destiny.

More play and more physical and social development. Kittens begin figuring out who the bosses are in the household, whether they themselves are one of the bosses and — if not — where they fit into the hierarchy. Play may get rough at times. Kittens cannot be trained to the extent that puppies can, but spaying and neutering should curb aggression (not to mention other undesirable behaviors).

At six months, a kitten should look like a cat. Bonds between humans and cats really develop and cement during this period.

Newborn to two weeks — dependence
Two to seven weeks — awakening
Seven to 12 weeks — exploration
12 to 24 weeks — independence
24 to 72 weeks — coexistence
The job of raising a healthy and well-adjusted kitten can be seen as a partnership between a human (or humans) and a mommy cat. Everybody has jobs to do that really can’t be done by either party alone.•

7 Things Dog Walkers Should Never Do

Dogs: they can be your best friend, but they can also be mischievous adversaries, especially when you have to balance canine needs with the desires of their human owners. Luckily, we have a few tips to help improve your professional dog-walking experience — and to help you keep both human and canine customers happy.

Never Use Your Phone While On Duty
To quote Farrah Miller, pet-carer extraordinaire, “There’s nothing worse than receiving a message the next day from the owner of the dog you were walking, telling you about the $400 vet bill they have to pay because the dog cleaned up the garbage on the street while you were distracted with your phone.” Jesse Brezina, founder of Union Square Dogwalkers, adds not to use headphones or listen to music, even if you don’t think you’ll find it distracting.

Never Put The Dog Waste In A Private Garbage Bin
Miller says, “you will get yelled at,” or possibly, “have the homeowner pull the bag of poop out of the garbage and chase you with it!”

Never Let Your Dog Approach Another Dog Without The Owner’s Permission
Dogs have a huge range of personalities, and you can never predict how they will react to an unknown dog. And leashes have a way of mounting tensions. Few things are worse than an impromptu dog fight.

Never Avoid Telling The Dog’s Owner If There’s A Problem
As Brezina says, “Nothing is too small of a problem,” even if it’s just that the dog is eating slightly less of their meal than usual.
Also, if you mess up, “Don’t be afraid to tell the owners, even if it’s a big mistake.”

Never Leave Dog Park Gates Open
While entering or exiting a double-gated dog park, make sure not to open one gate as someone is opening the other, or you might be faced by a herd of escaping dogs, and their panicked owners.

Never Assume You’re Alone In A Client’s House
Brezina says this is true even if the house seems empty. He suggests that if, for example, a client says you should feel free to have a glass of water and you take them up on the offer, you should loudly tell the dog what you’re doing. As in, “Hey Jack. I’m gonna come in now to grab a glass of water.” That way if there are any humans inside, they won’t be startled to find a stranger in their kitchen.

Never Eat In Front Of Dogs
All that walking might make you hungry, but according to Miller, “Don’t eat your lunch while walking a dog. Unless you really didn’t want that sandwich.”

The most important thing however, is not a don’t, but a do. According to Brezina, the key to being a successful dog walker is simple. “You’ve gotta love dogs.” Otherwise, “it’s not worth it.”

So if you have the type of love for dogs that makes you want to play with them, hurricane or shine, then grab a leash, and keep these seven tips in mind as you start walking.•

Should you get a pet bird?

Thinking about getting a pet bird? Here’s an overview of things to consider before making that commitment. I walked into my vet’s office and heard a cheery “Hello!” I rounded the corner and found the reception area empty, except for the doctor’s pet birds. As nice as it sounds to have a pet that can welcome you when you walk in the door, choosing the right bird goes far beyond “Polly wants a cracker.”

Types of Birds
From talking parrots to tiny yellow canaries, birds are fascinating creatures. But the needs of different birds are as varied as the colors of their feathers. According to the Humane Society of the United States, the following birds have a long history of selective breeding in captivity and are considered domesticated strains of wild species: canaries, finches, cockatiels, parakeets & lovebirds. These birds are relatively easy to care for and are recommended for families looking for their first bird. In general, smaller birds are easier to take care of than larger birds. But beware, even little birds can make a big mess! Cleaning the birdcage will become a regular part of your life once you have a bird. On the other hand, the following species have not undergone the same process of long captive breeding and genetic selection. The Humane Society considers them to be wild birds, even when they’re bred in captivity: conures, parrots, macaws, cockatoos, toucans. Because of their natural, wild traits, these birds are much more demanding pets and require their owners to make a serious commitment to care for them.

Lifestyle and Lifespan
There’s a lot to consider when choosing a pet bird. To help you make a well-informed decision, talk to a bird expert, such as a reputable breeder or a vet who specializes in avian companions. Here are a few general things to keep in mind when looking for a pet bird. First of all, consider how much time you can devote to your feathered friend. Some birds, like finches and canaries, generally don’t like to be handled by humans. They prefer to live in small flocks, so consider getting more than one bird at a time. (And be sure to get a cage that is large enough to allow them to fly around inside. Ask for a “flight cage” at the pet store.) These beautiful little birds are known for their lovely songs, making them a good option if you want a pet to look at but not touch. But if you or your kids prefer a bird that tolerates being handled, consider a parakeet or cockatiel instead. Keep in mind that even these relatively mild-mannered birds can bite or peck, so talk to a knowledgeable bird expert to learn how to correctly handle and care for a pet bird.
Other birds, like parrots, need daily exercise and extended periods of human interaction outside of a cage. Some birds can form very close bonds with their owners. If that relationship is neglected, a pet bird can become depressed and unwell. Before getting any bird, find out what living conditions are best for a particular species so you can provide the right environment to keep your bird happy and healthy. Also think about a bird’s life expectancy. Parakeets live an average of 12 to 14 years, but an African Grey Parrot can live 50 to 70 years! When taking in a bird with a long lifespan, plan ahead for the bird’s continued care in case it outlives you.

Your budget is another important factor to consider when choosing a bird. For starters, large birds can cost thousands of dollars to purchase. Cages and other supplies can also be costly, even for smaller birds. As of March 2008, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that a small bird will cost its owner $270 in “set-up” costs and $200 in regular annual costs. Find out what you need to buy to properly care for your bird before making the commitment to bring one home.

Birds have specialized dietary needs. A handful of seeds just won’t cut it for every bird. Before choosing a bird, find out what kind of food it eats. Does it need fresh fruit and veggies? A special kind of seed? Nectar and pollen? Make sure you’re up to the task of properly feeding that winged companion.

A Word of Caution
Although birds can spread germs to people, the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) maintains that illness caused by touching or owning birds is rare. However, people with compromised immune systems, including children under the age of 5, are at greater risk of getting diseases from animals. Visit the CDC website to learn more about the germs that birds can pass on to humans and how to protect yourself.•

Questions to Ask When Picking a Kennel

If you need to take a business trip or are planning a family getaway, you may have to board your pets while you’re away. Leaving your critters behind can be as stressful for you as it is for them, but it doesn’t have to be. Selecting the right boarding kennel is easy. Asking the right questions and identifying what’s most important to you can help you decide on the best option for you and your pet’s needs.

Should the Kennel Be Certified?
It’s not mandatory for kennels to be certified. However, there is a voluntary process for certification established by the Pet Care Services Association (PCSA). “The process is not cheap, and it’s rather difficult,” says Liane Ehrich, a certified veterinary technician in Tucson, Arizona.”Not all kennels bother with it.” Kennels that are certified by the PCSA are evaluated by 250 standards in 17 areas of pet care facility operation. To find out if a kennel has been certified, ask to see a Voluntary Facilities Accreditation (VFA) certificate.

Should I Tour the Kennel?
Always ask to tour the facilities. “A good kennel should be largely odor-free and as quiet as possible — difficult with dogs, but necessary for cats,” Ehrich says. It should also be well lit and attended by diligent staff. Of course, sanitation is also key. The living and playing areas should look and smell clean, and be free of waste and urine to prevent spreading disease.

Also look to see that the kennel isn’t overcrowded; ask the staff how many animals they usually board and how many workers are normally staffed. There should be no greater than a 1:10 staff-to-dog ratio. The higher the people-to-animal ratio, the more individual attention your pet will get. Animals should look content and stress-free, and also have proper bedding and water. High-tech facilities may have web cams set up so you can check in on your furry friend from your computer while you’re away.

And ask questions during your tour! What will they do if your animal gets diarrhea, breaks a toenail or won’t eat? How often are dogs walked? What will they do in the event your dog needs medical attention? If a kennel will not allow you an impromptu tour, do not leave your pet there.

What Hours Should a Kennel Have?
Kennels are usually not manned 24 hours a day, though it is reasonable to ask about staffing hours. Even if a facility is on a person’s property, they may have no idea if your pet gets caught in fencing in the middle of the night. It’s important to know whether or not someone will be on the premises at all times, or if someone will be checking in on the animals every hour or so throughout the night. You also want to make sure the kennel is open during the hours you will need to drop off or pick up your pet.

What Safety Issues Should I Be Aware of?
In a kennel, look for bent wire, torn fencing or jagged edges. “Ask if your dog will be allowed to play unattended with a chew toy,” Ehrich suggests. “If it is, that’s a red flag.” Dogs in kennels and day care should never wear collars. If they are, this is a serious strangulation hazard. And if you have a frail or elderly pet, a kennel housed at a veterinary clinic may be a better option.

What Immunizations Should My Pet Have?
Before bringing your pet to a kennel, you may need to stop by the vet. “The core vaccines for dogs are rabies, distemper, parvovirus and adenovirus,” says Lorie Huston, a small animal veterinarian from Providence, Rhode Island. “Many kennels require vaccination against Bordetella and canine influenza as well.” Other prophylactics, such as flea and tick prevention and heart worm preventatives, are also strongly suggested.

When it comes to cats, required vaccinations include rabies, feline panleukopenia, calicivirus and rhinotracheitis. “Cats that are allowed to socialize with other [cats] should have a negative feline leukemia and feline AIDS status, although vaccines may not be recommended depending on the cat’s lifestyle,” adds Huston. Check with the kennel to see if they require any other types of shots.•