Pet Care Advice – Exotics
RABBIT OWNERS MAY ALREADY BE AWARE OF THE OUTBREAK OF A DIFFERENT STRAIN OF VHD. CURRENT VACCINATIONS DO NOT PROTECT AGAINST THIS DEADLY DISEASE. VHD HAS BEEN IN THE UK FOR FOUR YEARS AFTER COMING OVER FROM FRANCE BUT NOW IS BECOMING MORE COMMONLY SEEN IN SCOTLAND AND AS SUCH WE ARE ADVISING VACCINATING AGAINST THIS CONDITION IN THE NEXT COUPLE OF MONTHS. THE NEW DISEASE IS NOT COVERED BY THE USUAL VACCINATION AND SO A DIFFERENT VACCINE MUST BE GIVEN 2 WEEKS AFTER THE MYXO/VHD COMBO. PLEASE CONTACT MADONNA AT THE SURGERY IF YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS.
The rough guide to the minimum size of hutch is: a rabbit should be able to stand on its hind legs and its ears should not be able to touch the top of the hutch and the hutch should be long enough that your bunny should be able to perform three consecutive hops before reaching the other end. As of 2006 the animal welfare laws were updated and this means that the above is not just a recommendation but actually a legal obligation.
Unfortunately many pet shops are still selling totally inappropriate hutches. They are far too small and actually illegal! A rough guide to how this information above translates into actual hutch sizes is: 6ft x 2ft x 2ft ideally with an 8ft run attached. However, this all depends on how big you rabbit is – giant breeds will require much bigger homes!
The hutch should consist over a covered sleeping/resting area and a more open area.
Rabbits are the third most popular pet in Britain but sadly there is still a large amount of misleading information around regarding the best diet for your bunny.
Rabbits have evolved to live on a high fibre, low nutritional value food, i.e. grass, roots, bark and plants. They spend much of the day eating large amounts of grass etc to fulfil their daily nutritional intake. This means their teeth, which grow continuously throughout life, are kept in check by grinding down the high fibre vegetation.
Pet rabbits are often fed inappropriate diets. Obesity, dental disease, and digestive upsets are very common, the vast majority of which are diet related.
A pet rabbit can consume an entire days worth of calories within twenty minutes of feeding from their dried food bowl. Many people will feed the muesli type rabbit food as it is visually appealing. However, as rabbits are selective feeders they often will pick their favourite bits out (the parts which are high in fat) and leave the portions which are higher in fibre and vitamins. This would be like us living on takeaways every day! Their teeth get very little use which can lead to severe dental problems and the high calorie intake can lead to obesity.
The best type of dried food to offer your pet is the pellet type diet e.g. Burgess Supa Rabbit Excel. This prevents selective feeding and results in better wear of the teeth. However, it is important to realise that this should be the smallest component of your rabbits daily feed. Fresh hay should be available at all times. This will help provide normal wear of the teeth and the high fibre content will keep the digestive system healthy and help prevent behavioural problems.
Allowing your rabbit to graze grass daily or as an alternative pick grass daily for your pet. Do not use mower clippings – mown grass ferments quickly and can lead to toxins being produced. Grass is actually far better for your rabbit’s teeth than hay as the silica’s present in grass are a natural abrasive which help keep the teeth in check. Dandelion leaves and flowers are a real favourite of rabbits, are high in fibre, vitamins and even better are free! Don’t pick them near a road as they may contain toxins but anywhere else should be fine. Even better- grow them in a pot in your garden which allows you nearly year round access! Clover and young doc leaves are also good for your pet. Carrot tops, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, parsley, basil leaves, endives, dark salad greens, courgette, kale, water cress, spring greens, coriander leaves, nasturtium flowers and leaves, cauliflower, cucumber are also enjoyed by many rabbits. This is not an exhaustive list!
Limit the amount of fruit your rabbit gets as most fruits are very high in sugar and fed in excess can cause digestive upset. A rabbit’s natural diet is low in sugar. Apples are a favourite of rabbits but are very high in sugar and the seeds are poisonous so should be removed. Use the apple as a treat only and feed maximum of a quarter of an apple once weekly. Many of the treats available in shops for rabbits are too high in fat, sugar and starch so it is best to avoid these if at all possible.
Rabbits produce two different types of droppings. The first type is the small dry faecal pellets which they normally produce hundreds of on a daily basis! The second type many people won’t even see as rabbits eat these straight from their bottom! This type of faecal pellet is called a caecotroph and is darker, more oval in shape and covered in mucous. This is essential for the continued health of your rabbit that they consume these caecotrophs as they contain vital vitamins. Obesity and dental disease often prevents rabbits from doing this.
So, in summary:
Feed lots of hay and grass,
Feed leafy vegetables, plants and herbs,
Feed a little of the dried food,
Limit treats to a minimum.
Should I neuter my rabbit?
We recommend neutering both male and female rabbits.
Up to 80% of female rabbits will develop womb cancer. The earliest we neuter female rabbits is around four months of age but this procedure can be carried out at any age after this. The later in life we neuter then the greater the risk your bunny has already developed cancerous changes to her womb. Preventing cancer is not the only reason we recommend neutering female rabbits. Many female rabbits become very territorial (especially during breeding season) and can become very aggressive towards their owners often biting grunting and boxing their owners for coming into their cage (even when they are only trying to feed them!). Neutering prevents this behaviour and can solve the behaviour if it is already being displayed. It can take several weeks after the operation for the hormone level to come down.
Male rabbits can develop testicular tumours – neutering prevents this. Male rabbits can also spray urine to mark territory (just like tom cats!), occasionally this can be directed at their owners legs! Neutering can help prevent/stop this behaviour. Although the female rabbits are more prone to developing territorial aggression male rabbits can also suffer from this. Neutering can prevent/stop this problem.
But aren’t anaesthetics risky for rabbits?
There is a lot of inaccurate information out there and a lot of myths. Every anaesthetic in any species (including humans!) carries a risk that something may go wrong.
Rabbit anaesthesia has improved and as such the risks have dramatically decreased. We are regularly anaesthetising rabbits (hardly a week goes past without us operating on a bunny!) for neutering or dentals or lump removals etc and as such we are used to monitoring rabbits and ensuring they are stable prior to giving an anaesthetic.
We also have a dedicated rabbit ward to ensure your bunny is away from predators which makes them feel safer and more secure. This reduces stress levels in your bunny which in turn reduces the risks of anything going wrong.
Rabbits are very good at hiding the fact they are ill. This is due to them being a prey species. In the wild if the show they are ill it is a sign of weakness and a predator will pick them off. Also if they show they are ill they may be shunned by the rest of the group as they can weaken the group. In a wild setting obviously hiding the fact they are ill may be beneficial as it may give them time to heal, however by the time a rabbit looks ill they no longer care if they live or die. In a pet setting this is very dangerous as often by the time your rabbit is showing obvious signs of illness they may be too far gone to save.
Subtle signs such as slightly reduced appetite or moving around less can be a sign your rabbit may be very ill. Monitoring your rabbit’s daily food intake and faecal output is important. As soon as you notice a reduction in appetite (or even refusal of a normally favourite food but eating the rest) or a reduction in faecal output or a change in size of faecal pellets then please bring your bunny to the practice as soon as possible for a check up. The quicker we can diagnose a problem the more likely we can cure your pet. Even stopping eating for as little as 12-24hours can be life threatening in a rabbit.
The following is general advice should rabbit be required to be admitted for any procedure which would require a sedative of anaesthetic. This information will also be provided to you as a leaflet should your rabbit be book in for a procedure at the practice.
1. Surgery is never an enjoyable or light-hearted affair, and it is only natural that you are feeling a bit apprehensive if this is required. It is for this reason that we have prepared this information in order to provide you with the information that you need to know. It will remind you of the various points the vet will mention to you when advising you that your pet needs to be admitted for a procedure.
2. With every anaesthetic there is a very small risk. The vet has weighed this risk against the benefits of any operation required .
3. Living creatures are very complex and it is impossible to predict what will happen every time, although using modern anaesthetics and surgical techniques will go a long way towards reducing the risks to the patient.
4. Rabbits should be fed as normal. This is to try and ensure your pets digestive tract keeps moving and functioning as normal. If you rabbit is admitted for a procedure, please bring with you some of your pets’ normal food and favourite foods, so that he/she has access to familiar food as soon as they have woken up.
5. If your rabbit has a bonded cage mate then bring the cage mate along with him/her when the rabbit is admitted. Some rabbits will become very stressed if separated from their bonded mate. Also, it is possible, if separated the bond may break down and re-introducing the rabbits after some time apart may prove difficult. If your pet has no cage mate then please bring their favourite toys.
6. Depending on the type of surgery and how well your pet is eating post-operatively we may recommend keeping your pet overnight. This is to allow us to continue assisted feeding (syringe feeding) which will keep your pets digestive tract moving. We will happily send your pet home if he/she is eating and passing faeces well.
7. We have a rabbit only ward which will ensure your pet is as stress free as possible during their stay with us. As rabbits are a prey species it is important that they feel safe and are kept away from predator species. We are one of the very few practices that have a dedicated rabbit ward.
COATBRIDGE- pet should be brought to the surgery at 9am, where they will be admitted by the nurse. On busy mornings, there may be a wait while the nurse admits all the cases, and we would ask for your patience. Clients are requested to phone the surgery at 2:30 pm for an update.
Guinea pigs remain a popular children’s pet. In recent years their sweet nature has increased their popularity with adult owners. Unfortunately there is still a lot of misleading information around regarding what is best to feed your piggies.
Guinea pigs originate from the Andes and have evolved to feed on grass and plants, their teeth which grow continuously throughout life are well designed to cope with the constant grind – infact without it serious dental disease can occur!
Hay should be available at all times. This provides a good source of fibre which will help to keep their teeth in check and also promotes good digestive health. It also helps prevent boredom as they often play with it. Lack of dietary fibre can result in behaviour problems. Alfalfa hay is good for young growing guinea pigs and also pregnant guinea pigs; however it may be too high in calcium and protein for adult guinea pigs. Timothy or meadow hay would be a better choice in these cases.
Grass is great for guinea pigs; the silica’s present in fresh grass act as a natural abrasive and is actually much better for their teeth than hay! Always use freshly picked grass or allow your guinea pig to graze in the garden in a predator proof run, never be tempted to use mower clippings as these quickly ferment and contain toxins.
Like us, guinea pigs require a source of vitamin C from their diet. Lack of vitamin C causes a serious condition called Scurvy which can result in the death of your pet. Many guinea pig mixes contain added vitamin C but it can degrade over time. Although muesli type guinea pig food is visually appealing, it can lead to dietary imbalances as guineas are prone to selective feeding- only eating their favourite calorie laden parts. A far better option is to choose a high quality pelleted diet with added vitamin C, e.g. Burgess Supa Guinea Pig Excel. This pelleted ration should form the smallest part of your pets’ daily food intake.
Vitamin C can be supplemented via the water or given directly onto the food, however if your guinea pig receives a high quality diet which includes fresh vegetables and dark leafy greens it is unlikely to require a supplement. Guinea pigs that are ill or pregnant the need for vitamin C increases three fold, so in these circumstances it would be important to supplement.
Fresh foods you can feed your guinea pig include:
dandelion leaves and flowers, flat leaf parsley, water cress, endive, rocket, romaine, lambs lettuce, spring greens, kale, baby sweet corn, tomatoes*, apples* (remove the seeds), cucumber, broccoli, clover, red and yellow bell peppers (high in vitamin C!), small amounts of spinach, orange segment*(remove the seeds), this list is not exhaustive!
*: in certain individuals the high acid level may cause irritation around the mouth. This has not been proven to be the case and opinion is still divided amongst specialists.
Vary the mixture of fresh foods offered daily. Always introduce any new food item slowly as any sudden change to their diet can result in serious digestive upset. If your guinea pig goes off its food this is an emergency! Even as little as 12-24hours without eating can be life threatening! Please contact the surgery immediately if you have any concerns regarding your pet.
Bearded Dragon Feeding Guide
Bearded dragons may be one of several species of agamid lizards found across Australia, the most common being the Inland or Central Bearded dragon. They are a popular exotic pet and often bond closely to their owner and enjoy being handled provided they are handled often as youngsters.
Bearded Dragons are omnivorous. Baby or juvenile beardies should eat a higher proportion of insects (approx 80%) than salad/veg mixture (approx 20%). As your pet grows to become an adult this ratio should change to approximately 20% insects and 80% salad/veg mixture.
Baby beardies can be fed on crickets. As a rough guide never feed crickets which are longer than the distance between your pets eyes, any bigger than this then your beardie may have difficulty in swallowing it! This can often put them off hunting behaviour.
As young beardies grow very quickly it is important to give a high quality calcium supplement at least once daily. You can coat the crickets in the powder and also sprinkle some onto the greens. We recommend Nutrobal (made by Vetark Professional) as it has high calcium to phosphorus ratio and also contains some vitamin D3.
Offer your beardie enough crickets that they can eat within a ten minute period twice daily whilst they are still young (under about 8 inches in length). Finely chopped salad and veg mixture should be available and changed daily; they particularly seem to enjoy brightly coloured veg. Dark salad greens such as: kale, endive, lambs lettuce, spring greens, parsley, carrot tops, water cress, dandelion leaves and flowers, romaine, rocket, basil leaves etc – this list is not exhaustive! Fruits such as: figs, kiwi sections, apples, berries, green peas, banana, and green beans can be fed in small amounts.
In sub- adult beardies (4 months old to sexual maturity), salad becomes a more substantial part of diet at this stage. Appropriate greens include romaine and other lettuces, kale, mustard, collard, and the like. Vegetables include varieties of beans and other legumes (such as peas), corn, sweet potato, yam, and squash. Fruits included: banana, melon, apple, papaya, and berries. All components of the salad need to be chopped into bite sized pieces suited to the size of your dragon. The salad should be supplemented with a light sprinkling of Nutrobal. Chopped hay and alfalfa pellets may be added to salads, supplying a source of insoluble fibre as well as calcium and protein but always select products which are still green and haven’t faded.
Adult beardies should be offered bugs every second to third day and can occasionally be offered a pinkie (baby mouse). Salad can be offered daily and calcium supplementation should be given two to three times weekly.
Please ensure that the temperatures in the vivarium are correct and that the correct UV bulb is in place. If the temperatures or the UV provision are insufficient then your pet will not be able to digest the food properly and may be unable to display normal feeding behaviour.
Mediterranean Tortoise Feeding Guide
A good question to ask yourself before you include something in your torts diet is:
Would this particular species eat this (or something very like this) in the wild?
If the answer is no, then you shouldn’t feed it to your tort!
If you are in doubt as to which species of tortoise you own please make an appointment to see Madonna Maguire with your tortoise as different species have different feeding requirements.
A lot of conflicting information is present on the internet and in books regarding which diet is best to feed. Some of the information is plain dangerous and will lead to the death of your pet. These species of tortoise are herbivorous and categorically do not need meat in their diet. Feeding meat to your pet will result in liver and kidney failure and although this may take several years to happen it will dramatically shorten the life span of your pet.
Mediterranean tortoises are almost exclusively herbivorous. They only ever occasionally eat fallen berries in the wild and as such fruit should be rarely if ever fed in captivity as it is very rich in sugar and can lead to gut upsets. Edible weeds and flowers should compose the majority of the diet and commercial greens can make up the rest. Seed mixes (specifically for tortoises) can be purchased which will allow you to grow fresh, nutritious, safe food for your pet. This is certainly the best way to provide food as wild or home grown feeding is far superior to shop bought greens.
If your tortoise is not given an adequate diet e.g. too high in sugar and too low in fibre this will invariably lead to growth deformities and diarrhoea.
Recommended basic food plants: (Avoid picking from road side verges as may be contaminated)
Dandelion: leaves, stems and flowers
Red clover: leaves, stems and flowers
White clover: leaves, stems and flowers
Bramble: shoots and tender leaves
Roses: leaves and petals
Honeysuckle: particular favourite of Herman tortoises
Prickly pear cactus (Opuntia): pads and flowers- this is an excellent food source as it is a natural food item of several species, its high in fibre and has good calcium phosphorus ratio.
Grass and hay may also be enjoyed, especially if cut into shorter lengths.
Shop bought commercial greens should not be relied upon as the major part of your tortoises’ diet. A list of greens which are suitable to be included are:
Flat leaf parsley
small amounts of: cabbage and spinach may be included occasionally. Too much can lead to problems with calcium absorption.
Supplement the diet with a good quality calcium supplement such as Nutrobal. Adult torts will only require supplementation twice weekly but juvenile or breeding females will require more frequent supplementation.
Drinking water should be provided at all times. A shallow dish big enough for the tortoise to climb into should be used. The water should be changed daily.
It is worth mentioning the “commercial complete” tortoise diets which are available from some pet shops. It is our opinion (and most tortoise experts opinion) that these diets should be totally avoided. They have been shown to cause severe growth deformities and in no way approximate the natural diet of your tortoise.
For further information please don’t hesitate to contact the surgery on: 01236 432448
A good website with accurate information is: www.tortoisetrust.org
Good books include:
The Tortoise and Turtle Feeding Manual by A.C. Highfield
The Tortoise Trust Guide to Tortoises & Turtles by A.C. Highfield
Unlike humans, birds can see the ultraviolet light that is part of natural sunlight. The bird uses this UV light for behaviours such as reproduction and feeding. For a bird, life without UV would be the equivalent of humans seeing everything in black and white, only worse!
If your bird is not kept outside, UV light should be provided to allow for natural behaviour and calcium metabolism. UV perception also plays a significant role in the selective intake of food, ripe fruit appears as a different colour to a bird.
UV lighting is important for calcium metabolism and in particular African Grey parrots have a requirement for UV lighting or they can develop seizures due to low blood calcium. UV light allows them to synthesize vitamin D3 so they can absorb more calcium form the diet. In most birds, the preen gland collects the precursor D3 from the bloodstream and concentrates it in the gland oils. When the bird spreads these oils on the feathers during preening, they are exposed to UV-b light. The bird ingests the UV exposed material when it preens itself again and the oil enters the body as pre vitamin D. This is converted to vitamin D3 by the liver and kidney.
Normal house lighting does not provide UV light and in fact distorts the natural colour of the bird. Sunlight passing through windows has all of the UV light filtered out by the glass. Bird UV lamps have been designed to provide the correct level of UV for your bird and show off its true colours. The lamps will emit a balanced full spectrum light: 12 % UV-a (for behaviour) and 2.4% UV-b (for calcium). The overall colour and intensity of the lamps light output is close to that of natural sunlight.
Your lighting should be turned on an hour after sunrise and turned off and hour before sunset. A timer can be useful. Do not use a glass or protective lens between lamps and birds or the UV light will be filtered out. UV output deteriorates over time (although it will not be noticeable to human eye- remember we can’t see UV light!) so UV lamps should be replaced at least once yearly (some bulbs should be replaced every six months). Suspend the lamp using a clamp lamp above the top of the cage. A reflector will ensure that all the light goes downward and the intensity of the light is increased.
Please feel free to speak to Madonna Maguire if you require any more information.
Occasionally we are asked to clip bird’s wings to assist in their taming, or to limit the damage they can do to the house, or to reduce the risk of escape. We do not perform this procedure as there are many serious welfare and health concerns.
When a wing is clipped it seriously compromises the birds welfare by preventing it’s natural ability to fly. Flying is a form of defence to escape predation. Clipped birds may be persistently frightened due to the risk of predation (by owners, cats or dogs) and may generate vices (research has shown that self mutilation and other behavioural problems are commoner in clipped birds) as a result.
If a bird is clipped it may attempt to escape by launching itself off its cage and can damage its breast muscles on landing. It may start to feather pluck at the site of this pain. Bone infection may result and many of these keel wounds can take weeks to heal even with treatment.
Birds may also start to feather pluck at the site of the wing clip as the normal feather anatomy has been distorted.
When the bird moults, new feather quills may be left unprotected and as a result may get traumatised and bleed. This is very painful.
Problems moulting may occur due to lack of weight of the clipped feather. The old quill may be unable to fall out of the follicle.
It is the Ark Veterinary Clinics Ltd view that wing clipping is unnecessary and can lead to serious long term behavioural and medical problems.
Converting Your Bird onto Harrison’s.
Many parrots are fed mainly on a seed based diet and frequently become “seed junkies”. These birds are addicted to a high fat, vitamin and mineral deficient diet. Virtually all of the readily available pet shop parrot mixes are seed based and are unsuitable and actually life threatening to your bird.
Harrison’s Bird food has been scientifically formulated to provide all the nutrients your bird needs and is 100% organic.
Below are some helpful hints and tips to convert your much loved pet from a junkie to a healthy bird!
Parrots are often suspicious of new food items and if you adopt an attitude of “he won’t eat it” then he probably won’t! Think positive and devise a means of outwitting your bird, after all it’s for his own good!!
Be persistent! By offering the food repeatedly your bird may get used to its sight and smell and have a taste. By putting the Harrison’s on top of his usual food he will at least have to move it before reaching his normal diet. Eventually he may decide that it is an acceptable food after all.
Some owners share their own food with their bird (although this may not always be healthy for the bird!). If your bird particularly enjoys doing this (and parrots in the wild are social eaters), this can be an ideal way of enticing him to eat Harrisons. Allow your bird to watch you eating Harrison’s (it is quite nice, if a little bland J ) and he will no doubt want to eat it too!
Disguise the Harrison’s by covering it in a flavour or colour that you know to be favoured by your bird then he is likely to give it a try. For example try grape or orange juice, banana, peanut butter or honey.
Don’t give up! Nearly all birds will convert to Harrison’s given time.
Pet ferrets are becoming a much commoner occurrence in the UK. Certainly, they make great pets and tame easily.
Female ferrets (jill) come into season usually in March and stay in season until they are mated. This can result in the female hormone oestrogen causing bone marrow suppression and can lead to the death of the jill.
There are several options which can be used to prevent this happening.
- Breed the jill. This of course results in many baby ferrets (kits) looking for a new home!
- Mate the jill to a vasectomised hob (male ferret). This should result in a false pregnancy which lasts around 42 days and then the jill will come back into season again, and can be mated again.
- Get the “jill jab”. This is, at the moment, the only licensed product that is used to prevent, or take the jill out of, season. It is a hormonal injection which needs to be given once or twice yearly. Long term this injection can increase the risk of the jill developing a womb infection (a pyometra) which can be life threatening and may require an emergency ovariohysterectomy to cure.
- Suprelorin implant. This is the newest option available to ferret owners. At the moment it is only licensed in male ferrets. Howevere this implant can be used in male or female ferrets and results in “chemical neutering”. The ferret is given a whiff of anaesthetic gas as a sedative and the implant is inserted via a needle. The smell associated with ferrets is dramatically reduced with this method. The implant lasts on average between 18-24 months. The best time to use the implant is October/November. The jills will not come into season at all during this time and the hobs testicles will shrink and he will not exhibit any sexual behaviour during the time the implant is working. Once the smell starts to increase again and (in the hobs) you notice an increase in the size of his testicles then this is an indication that the implant needs to be replaced. The implant is also believed to prevent ferrets developing hyperadrenocorticism (Adrenal gland disease) which is common in the USA and is on the increase in UK ferrets. Many specialists believe that surgical neutering will result in hyperadrenocorticism. The implant dissolves slowly over time. Madonna implants her own ferrets rather than surgically neutering them.
Surgical neutering. In hobs this is castration and in jills an ovariohysterectomy. Surgical neutering is permanent. There are risks associated with the anaesthetic and surgical procedure but these are minimal. Before your ferret could be admitted for surgery he/she would require vaccination against distemper (this is unlicensed in this country). This is because ferrets are extremely susceptible to distemper, much more so than dogs. There are currently studies investigating the link between early neutering and the onset of aDRENAL disease in ferrets. In this country we neuter ferrets at around 5months of age whereas in the USA they often neuter at 8 weeks old. RESEARCH HAS NOW SHOWN THAT SURGICAL NEUTERING AT ANY AGE LEADS TO ADRENAL DISEASE IN FERRETS AND IS THEREFORE NOT RECOMMENDED.
As you can see there is no one solution which will suit every owner! Please feel free to contact Dr Madonna Livingstone at the surgery on 01236 432448 should you wish to discuss the options further and we will be only too happy to help.
Normal Parrot Behavior
Pet bird behavior is complex, and it is crucial that bird owners have a realistic
understanding of what to expect from their pets.
Important concepts in pet bird behavior:
• Parrots are wild animals. Even hand-raised birds are not truly domesticated, and
early socialization is important. It is not necessary, however, to hand-feed a bird to
bond with it. In fact, the practice of purchasing a baby bird that still requires handfeeding
is strongly discouraged.
• Parrots are prey species with instinctive fears of and responses to prey animals.
• Birds do not really understand the concept of master and subordinate. Instead they
approach the humans in their household as if they are part of their flock. Within the
flock, birds will try to obtain a dominant position. Owners must strive to establish
themselves as flock leaders.
• Parrots are highly social. In the wild, parrots stay in touch using contact calls. Always
be sure to greet your parrot when you first come home, and say good-bye when you
leave the room. Also give a gentle, simple response to contact calls. Parrots will give
an occasional chirp, & a short response like HI, what are you doing from you
would be good.
• Parrots are highly visual. They communicate through eye contact and body language.
Eye contact is an important way to communicate with your bird. A gentle, loving
expression is a great way to express affection and calm a parrot. When a parrot
misbehaves, use of what behaviorists often call the evil eye for a few seconds is a
quick and effective way to communicate disapproval
• Parrots have been compared mentally and emotionally to toddlers. They are
intelligent, playful, and possessive. They have short attention spans, lots of energy,
and they seem to enjoy dramatic displays.
• Finally, parrots are highly empathic. Their behavior and mood may reflect the energy
and mood of their humans. Calming down and lowering our energy is an important
way to calm our birds.
• In the wild, parrots spend the majority of their time grooming themselves and others
and foraging for food. Destruction of leaves and fruit is a natural part of food
gathering behavior. In captivity, this behavior may translate into throwing food,
tearing up cage substrate or even furniture instead.
• Expect some loud vocalizations (i.e. screaming) from your parrotparticularly in the
morning and evening. These sounds are equivalent to Time to rise and shine! and
Its getting dark! Lets go to roost!
All of these descriptions of parrot behavior are generalities. Variations in behavior are
observed among species and individuals, particularly as reproductive status varies.
Personality traits of a successful bird owner include:
• Dedication to learning.
Excellent sources on training and behavior include, but are not limited to: Sally
Blanchards Companion Parrot Handbook, Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot by
Mattie Sue Athan, My Parrot, My Friend by Bonnie Munro Doane and Thomas
Qualkinbush, and Birds for Dummies by Gina Spadafori and Dr. Brian Speer.
Athan MS. Guide to a Well-Behaved Parrot. Barrons Educational Series; Hauppauge
Blanchard S. Teaching basic skills. Companion Parrot Handbook. PBIC, Inc.; Alameda,
Lightfoot T, Nacewicz CL. Psittacine behavior. In: Bays TB, Lightfoot T, Mayer J (eds).
Exotic Pet Behavior. Saunders; St. Louis, Missouri, 2006. Pp. 51-101.
Written Dec 9, 2007
Foraging Behavior in Companion Parrots:
Behavioral and Environmental Enrichment
The Importance of Foraging
In the wild, parrots exhibit four main behaviors: social interaction, grooming, foraging,
and sleeping. The vast majority of their days are spent foraging or searching for food.
Food is readily available for pet birds. A feeding process that should take hours, may take
only minutes in the caged bird. Left with little to fill their days, some birds turn to
excessive preening which in turn may lead to feather destructive behavior. Foraging
behavior provides pet birds with physical and mental stimulation.
Teaching Companion Parrots to Forage
Foraging appears to be a learned behavior that must be gradually encouraged in our
companion parrots. Start slowly. Make food items easy to find at first, and then gradually
work towards more complicated and challenging methods.
(1) Multiple Food Stations
Provide several bowls of food in the cage at various levels. Place a small amount of food in each dish,
and ideally place different foods in each dish. Also try offering food outside of dishes. Weave items
through cage bars, or wedge chunks between bar spaces. Food should not necessarily be present at
(2) Conceal food items
Once your bird is used to different feeding stations, try hiding food from view
a) Begin by covering food bowls with a piece of paper or cardboard. Initially, poke holes in the cover
so your bird sees food is in the dish. Gradually cover the bowl in such a manner that makes it more
and more difficult to obtain food. Ultimately secure the cover to the bowl with masking tape.
b) Food may also be hidden in crumpled paper cups, twisted corn husks, cardboard paper rolls, PVC
piping with holes, and wooden tubes (see the Safe Wood List)
c) Wrap food in large lettuce leaves or coffee filters. Slowly make food more difficult to access by
twisting or fastening ends together with cotton rope or masking tape. Also, tuck wrapped items
between cage bars or hang with clips.
(3) Commercial puzzle toys
Puzzle toys such as puzzle boxes, kabob skewers, and piñatas may be found on-line and in pet shops.
These items also encourage foraging behavior.
(4) Foraging trees
Foraging trees are an excellent way to encourage foraging behavior. Currently not commercially
available, foraging trees must be constructed from large tree branches. Secure dishes or platforms at
multiple levels. Vary the location of food to encourage true foraging behavior.
Pointers for success
• Start slowly and make food items easy to find at first. Gradually increase the level of
difficulty and complexity.
• Allow your bird to see you hiding food to stimulate curiosity and foraging.
• Monitor your birds progress. It may help, especially at first, to demonstrate where
food is and how to find it.
• Use your imagination to make foraging fun, but always keep safety in mind. If you
are unsure of the safety of an item, consult your avian veterinarian.
• Be persistent! Pet birds often require repeated encouragement until foraging becomes
a way of life. In fact, many hand-raised birds, will give up relatively easily when they
cannot find food right away.
• Check out the DVD on Captive Foraging by Dr. Scott Echols (see below) for
additional valuable tips and visual aides on teaching foraging behavior.
Echols MS. Captive Foraging: The next best thing to being free. Zoological Education
Network, Inc, Lake Worth, FL, USA, 2006.
Echols MS. The behavior of diet. Annu Conf Assoc Avian Vet 2004; 267-270.
Meehan CL, Millam JR, Mench JA. Foraging opportunity and increased physical
complexity both prevent and reduce psychogenic feather picking by young Amazon
parrots. Appl Anim Behav Sci 2003;80: 71-85.
Rose C. Foraging Behavior. Holistic Bird Newsletter. Winter 2003. Available at
http://www.holisticbirds.com/hbn03/winter03/pages/foraging.htm. Accessed December 3,
Written July 15, 2007.
Plants and Branches for Your Bird
Few studies have been conducted to determine which houseplants are toxic to birds, so all
plants that contain known toxic chemicals have been excluded from the Safe Plant List
below. Plants with foliage safe for decoration in bird areas include:
Acacia Dracaena Palms: areca, date, fan, lady,
African violet Ferns: asparagus, birds nest parlour, howeia, kentia
Aloe Boston (and related), maidenhair Phoenix, sago***
Babys tears Figs: creeping, rubber, fiddle leaf Pepperomia
Bamboo laurel leaf, weeping Petunia
Begonia Gardenia Pittosporum
Bougainvillea Grape Ivy Pathos
Chickweed Hens and chickens Prayer plant
Christmas cactus Jade plant Purple passion (Velvet nettles)
Cissus (Kangaroo vine) Kalanchoe Schefflera (Umbrella)
Coffee Magnolia Sensitive plant
Coleus Marigolds Spider plant
Corn plant Monkey plant Swedish Ivy
Crabapple Mother-in-laws tongue Thistle
Dandelion Nasturtium Wandering Jew
Dogwood Natal plum White clover
Donkey tail Norfolk Island pine Zebra plant
*** Note: Cycad, Sago, Zamia palms (Cycad spp.) are potentially toxic to the liver.
Tree branches make the best perches. The trees listed below provide safe branches,
leaves, and bark for perching and chewing. These materials are unsafe if they have been
sprayed with chemicals or pesticides. Before installing natural tree branches in your
birds cage, scrub all branches with non-toxic disinfectant (such as 1 part chlorhexidine
or bleach diluted with 10 parts water), rinsed thoroughly, and dried well.
Apple Madrona Pear
Almond Magnolia Plum
Apricot Vine maple Prune
Ash Nectarine Goat willow
Any citrus Nut (except horse chestnut & oak) Pussy willow
Dogwood Papaya Weeping willow
Elm Peach Thurlow
Richardson JA. Implications of toxic substances in clinical disorders. In: Harrison GJ,
Lightfoot TL (eds). Clinical Avian Medicine. Spix Publishing, Inc; Palm Beach, FL. pp.
Written 9/96; updated 12/9/07
There are a host of potential household dangers that may confront our winged
The kitchen is generally not a good place for parrots to hang out.
• There is the obvious danger of the stove with boiling pots of water and frying
pans of food.
• There is also the risk of leaks from gas appliances for leaks. Consider purchasing
a gas leak and/or carbon monoxide detector.
The efficient respiratory tract of the bird means they are extremely susceptible to the
irritating, toxic, and potentially fatal effects of inhaling strong fumes and/or vapors.
The most well known problem is the potentially fatal release of toxic Teflon gas from
superheated nonstick cookware. Other non-stick items include stove drip pans, irons,
ironing board covers, bread makers, and other household appliances.
Always keep your parrot out of the room when using spray product of any kind.
Problems have been reported with a wide variety of products including:
Air freshener Hair spray Plug-in freshener
Ammonia Heaters, new Potpourri
Bleach Insecticides Scented candle
Carpet freshener Incense Self-cleaning oven
Cologne Nail polish Smoke of any kind
Fertilizer Oil-based paint Spray-on deodorant
Flea bomb Oven cleaner Stain remover
Furniture polish Perfume Tub & tile cleaner
Problems have also been described with some woods burned in the fireplace, particularly
if the fireplace is poorly vented.
The bathroom is another potentially dangerous room. Keep toilet seats down to prevent
a bird from landing in the toilet bowl. Do not leave open containers of water out
anywhere through the house.
Hazards for birds in flight or merely gliding include ceiling fans and large mirrors. Of
course there is also a danger that a bird may fly through an open window or into a closed
window. Drafty windows are also a potential source of temperature extremes. Also make
sure the bird cage is not placed in an area where sun beats down through the window.
Additional sources of potentially stressful temperature extremes include exterior doors,
air vents, and fireplaces. Do not place cage in areas where temperature extremes
Also beware of household items on which your bird may chew:
• Electrical cords
• Toxic household plants
• Soft plastic rubber items
• Pressure-treated wood
• Paper with lots of colored inks
• Heavy metals may be found in a variety of household items including leaded
stained glass decoration, some mini blinds, old paint on woodwork, costume
jewelry, and curtain weights.
Finally, beware of creatures that may chew on your bird. Other household pets, such
as potential predator species like cats and dogs, should always be supervised no matter
how long or how well they get along.
Blanchard S. Companion Parrot Handbook. PBIC, Inc.; Alameda, CA., 1999. Pp. 66,
Stoltz JH, Galey F, Johnson B. Sudden death in ten psittacine birds associated with the
operation of a self-cleaning oven. Veterinary and Human Toxicology 34(5): 420-421,
LafeberVet.com; written Dec. 10, 2007.
Monday – Friday
9.15am – 10.00am
2.30pm - 3.30pm
5.00pm - 6.30pm
9.30am - 11.30am
Monday – Friday
8.30am – 9.30am
1.30pm - 2.00pm
5.00pm - 6.30pm
4.00pm - 4.30pm
On any bank holiday Monday we will be shut at Holytown. However we will operate an open clinic at our coatbridge branch 9-11am. This is designed for urgent cases and there will only be one vet on duty.