Archive for October 2009

The Terrific Tarantula

Monday, October 26th, 2009

tarantulaTarantulas have been a relatively popular pet now for several years. They are unique, quiet, and need little space, and keeping tarantulas as pets can make a fascinating hobby. In fact, tarantulas are one of the most low maintenance yet exotic pets you will find. In addition, tarantulas are gentle and can be trained quite well as pets.

Tarantulas are a member of the spider family. Like other spiders, they have 8 legs, and 8 eyes close together. Beyond that, there are some very interesting and distinguishing characteristics that set them apart from other spiders. They have very hairy bodies and legs, can live about 30 years. They spin no webs but catch prey by pursuit and fighting. Many tarantulas also “speak” by produce a hissing sound by rubbing their jaws or front legs against each other.

There are over 800 species of tarantula. They are native to many areas and climates in the wild. They are roughly divided into two groups: “old world” (from the eastern hemisphere) and “new world” (from the western hemisphere). In terms of pet care, they are further divided into desert or tropical species, and ground-dwelling or aboreal (tree-dwelling).

Tarantulas range in size from only an inch or so to relative giants measuring nearly a foot across. The Goliath Tarantula, which inhabits South America, reaches a body length of 5 inches with a leg span of up to 12 inches . Even the small tarantulas reach a relatively large body length of 1.5 inches. However, the vast majority of species stay small enough to be safely and comfortably housed in a standard 5 to 10 gallon terrarium or aquarium tank (a cover should be provided to prevent escape).

The majority of tarantulas are black (most males) or brown (most females), but some species exhibit striking colors. The Mexican Red-legged Tarantula has bright red leg markings and Cobalt Blue Tarantula has legs colored deep blue. The degree of coloring varies with the species and geographical location. Even “plain” brown spiders vary greatly in shade from a soft tan, through reddish brown to dark brown.

As an example of the pet tarantula, a great and popular choice for the beginning spider owner is the pink rose or the Chilean Rose tarantula. It grows to a manageable size of 3 to 4 inches and has a relatively mild temperament. They are naturally docile and slow moving animals that can be easily handled by the novice keeper with some care. It is also a ground dwelling spider, meaning that it lives in a burrow during the day and feeds usually at night. The ground dweller is a much easier habitat to replicate to make your spider feel at home and be comfortable.

Yet another fascinating phenomenon displayed by the tarantula is molting. Tarantulas have exoskeletons because they do not have internal skeletons. Exoskeletons do not allow for growth so in order for the tarantula to grow it has to molt out of its old exoskeleton. The old exoskeleton splits and the spider works its way out. Adult tarantulas molt once or twice a year, and baby tarantulas molt more often since they are growing so quickly.

Observing the molting of tarantulas is surely one of the most exciting experiences in keeping them. If you notice your tarantula on its back, it is probably molting. Most tarantulas will fast for about a week before the molting starts and they definitely will not eat during the molting. Do not put live crickets or other food in the cage during the molting. It takes several days for the new exoskeleton to harden. Molting is stressful on a spider, and it is also completely vulnerable at that time, so do not handle or disturb it at all at this time, but observe with fascination!

As we said at the beginning, tarantulas are one of the most low maintenance pets you will find. A 5 to 10 gallon terrarium or aquarium tank (with a cover to prevent escape) will do great. And once a habitat is initially set up, the only essential things left to do is a weekly or twice-a-week feeding, and regular misting of the habitat with some room-temperature bottled water to maintain proper humidity.

For food, live crickets or some other similar insects can be bought at your local pet shop, but you should not capture and feed to your tarantula insects from the wild because of the possibility of pesticides and other contaminants. One or two crickets per feeding is usually good, depending on the size of your tarantula. Water should be always available for your tarantula to drink, and should be offered in a dish that is large enough for the tarantula to fit its body in but not too deep so that it will not accidentally drown.

You should try to keep the tarantula’s enclosure clean. Insects that you feed your spider can be a bit messy when the spider is done consuming it so clean the remains up. The spider’s excrement can be easily cleaned up with a tissue or paper towel. With regular light housekeeping, the caging material and cage itself need not be cleaned out more than a once or twice a year.

For humidity, desert species can be sprayed lightly about once per week, and rain forest dwellers as much as once per day. Desert tarantulas prefer a humidity of 30% to 50% range. Tropical species require higher humidity from 75% to 100%. Most tarantulas can be maintained comfortably in a temperature range of 70 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit, and this means little or no supplemental heating is required to maintain these animals. Having a humidity gauge and a thermometer is a good idea just to make sure your spider’s conditions are about right. Do keep the cage or tank out of direct sunlight. Glass containers especially can get very hot which can kill your tarantula. Also, added lighting is not needed and can be harmful.

For maximum enjoyment for both you the pet owner and your pet, you can decorate your tarantula’s habitat a little bit. It is not difficult to design a simple, yet aesthetically pleasing and naturally beautiful enclosure. Simple experimentation will reveal what works for you and for your pet. In fact, decorating and designing your pet’s habitat can be one of the most fun and creative experiences in keeping a tarantula! It is a good idea to research the origins, behaviors, and needs of the species that interests you before you buy it, or begin filling and decorating a habitat.

As mentioned, some species come from harsh deserts, and these tarantulas tend to be ground-dwelling burrowers. Others live high in the rainforest canopies of Asia and South America. Obviously keeping a tropical tree spider in a dry setup with no vertical height for climbing would result in a stressed and short-lived animal. Tropical, tree-dwelling species can be kept in taller encloses with slightly less floor space than previously recommended. Likewise, deeper enclosures can be utilized for burrowing desert species. Given some time in their home, most tarantulas will begin to create their own hide-outs, some even moving around cage furnishings. This is good, let them do it. Your tarantula knows better than you do what it likes.

You should keep in mind of some bare minimums common to all tarantula habitats. There should be a simple hiding structure or shelter such as a half-log or coconut hut, or perhaps some pieces of stone or driftwood. However you choose to do it, remember the basic idea of making your tarantula feel secure at home. Do not overdo the decorating, you should probably leave about 1/3 to 1/2 of the habitat floor bare and in the open for your tarantula to explore. Some substrate (cage bedding) will be needed, the best being pure orchid bark, coconut husk peat bedding, pure vermiculite, or relatively clean potting soil, or even a mixture of these.

The most difficult thing for most people is getting close enough to a tarantula for the first time to see them for what they really are. Not scary beasts out to bite you, but instead, incredibly agile and interesting creatures. Tarantulas are delicate animals, and when handling them be very careful that they do not fall, as they can be skittish and a short fall can injure them severely or even kill them.

It is true that tarantulas are not the best choice as a pet that you will be able to handle very much, but this is largely due to stress and danger to the spider rather than danger to the handler. For the tarantula owner, the chances of being bitten by a tarantula are extremely rare and even if through carelessness a bite should occur, the venom when injected into a person usually causes only slight swelling, with some numbness and itching which disappears in a short time. If it occurs, clean the bite site with soap and water and protect against infection.

Although they are not the cuddly variety, tarantulas are fascinating creatures that can be wonderful, gentle pets. The key to successfully owning any exotic animal is to know as much as you can about the species itself and the care of it. If you have any questions about tarantulas and their care, just ask us and we will help you any way we can.

Spot Your Cat’s Health Problems in Time!

Monday, October 19th, 2009

pet catWith the love, affection, playfulness, and companionship that your cat or kitten provides comes the responsibility of taking good care of it. Your cat or kitten relies on you for its health and well-being. As part of taking care of your cat or kitten, the following is a short and easy yet very useful mini health exam that you can give your cat or kitten in between visits to your veterinarian. This exam can be performed once a week or once a month as needed.

Make this little home checkup an extension of the normal physical attention you pay your cat and it will not even know that it is being “examined”. It does not matter where you perform the exam, as long as both you and your cat are comfortable. If your cat usually is not allowed on the kitchen table or counter, do not examine it there, as it may be confusing and stressful. A good idea is to do it while you are doing some grooming or petting.

Ears: Gently pull the ear flap slightly up and back, and look at the inner surface and down into the ear canal. The ears should be clean and light pink in color. Any discharge, redness, swelling or odor is abnormal. A very dark residue may indicate earmites. Do not attempt to clean your cat’s ears, improper or incorrect cleaning can worsen an ear condition or even cause trauma or infection. If anything looks or smells really bad, a visit to the vet will be necessary.

Eyes: With your cat facing you, examine the eyes. The eyes should be bright and clear (not cloudy or dirty), and the pupils should be of equal size. There should be little if any tearing at the corners of the eyes. Any more discharge from the eyes is abnormal. Gently roll down the lower eyelid a little bit with your thumb. The inner linings should be pink, not white or red.

Mouth and nose: With your cat facing you, gently raise the lips with your fingers to examine the gums and teeth. The gums should be pink, not white or red, and should show no signs of swelling or bleeding. The teeth should be clean, without any brownish tartar. Smell your cat’s breath. Although most cats do not have good breath, a strong and offensive odor is abnormal and may indicate a problem. Excessive drooling can also be a sign of oral disease. Finally make sure there is not a discharge from the nose, which can indicate a problem to be checked out.

Skin and coat: While petting your cat, feel around for any unusual bumps, lumps, scabs, swellings, or sensitive areas. The coat should be full and glossy, and should be free of bald spots, matted areas, and sores. If you need to cut off some hopelessly matted hair, be sure to used blunt-tipped scissors, or take the cat to a professional groomer or your vet. Also check the cat’s fur for fleas and ticks, usually visible as black flecks.

Important rear end check: With your cat facing away from you gently lift the tail and take a look at its rear end. Use a moist paper towel to clean away any feces or other dirty material. If you see yellowish or tan objects about the size of rice grains, these are most likely packets of tapeworm eggs, and this requires treatment!

Ribs and weight: If your cat seems to be bonier, this is a sign of weight loss. Watch for changes in your cat’s eating or sleeping habits, and let your vet know of your findings if you feel they are significant enough.

Breathing: If your cat’s breathing is loud, labored, or wheezing, this is not a good sign.

Litter box: If you see any mucous, blood, worms, or anything else unusual in the litter box, this is definitely a problem.

pet catIf your examination reveals any of these problems, consult your vet as soon as possible. Remember that this mini health exam is not meant to be a substitution your vet’s professional examination and consultation. Your cat should be given a complete professional physical examination at least once a year. Your vet will be checking things like temperature, pulse, actual weight, respirations, lymph nodes, vision, hearing, blood pressure, muscle tone, and more. With the combination of your vet’s annual or semi-annual complete physical examination, and your own weekly or monthly mini health exam, you can help ensure that your cat’s health problems are detected before they start to cause obvious disease.

If you have any questions regarding the health and care of cats and kittens, just ask us and we will help you any way we can.

Guide to Pet Diseases and Vaccination

Monday, October 12th, 2009

pet dogMany serious pet diseases can be prevented by vaccination. Even if always kept indoors, your pet can be exposed to viruses carried in the air, dust, or on clothing. Vaccination at a veterinarian clinic is inexpensive protection for your pet against serious disease, costly treatment, and premature death. Remember also that booster immunizations are necessary to continue protection.

In this article we will be focusing on dogs and cats. Please note that when the word “contagious” is used below, it usually means spreading from cat to cat, from dog to dog, or between dogs and cats. However, a couple of diseases can be spread from animal to human, and these type of diseases are called “zoonoses”. The majority of animal diseases pose no threat to or cause only minor inconvenience and sickness in humans, and can be easily treated by your doctor. In fact, many pet owners have probably had zoonotic illnesses without even noticing the symptoms.

But like any other disease, some of these diseases can be more hazardous to those with poor immune systems, the very young, the very elderly, and pregnant women. A very small minority are of course unquestionably dangerous, e.g. rabies. Prevention — generally simple and easy to practice — will be discussed at the end of this article. First, let us look at some of the diseases that dogs and cats can get.

For Dogs

Distemper, Hepatitis, Leptospirosis (collectively referred to as DHL) are widespread, contagious and deadly diseases. Nearly every dog will be exposed during its lifetime, making vaccination a must.

Canine Cough, or Tracheobronchitis, is an upper respiratory infection that causes a persistent, dry, hacking cough. The disease may last several weeks and is highly contagious, especially if showing or boarding.

Parvovirus and coronavirus are intestinal infections resulting in viral diarrhea, fever, vomiting and depression. Transmitted through direct contact with an infected dog’s feces or urine, both are highly contagious and life-threatening.

Heartworm is a life-threatening disease wherever mosquitoes are present. Preventive medication is a must here. However, your pet must be tested prior to starting on preventive medication because use of preventive medication in an infected dog could result in death. Annual testing is recommended even with year-round use of the preventive medication.

For Cats

pet catFeline Leukemia, or FeLV, is now considered the leading cause of cat deaths. FeLV breaks down the cat’s ability to fight off infection. The cat usually dies of a disease it would normally be able to resist. Effective FeLV vaccines are available to protect uninfected kittens but they must be given by 12 weeks of age.

Rhinotracheitis, Calici, and Chlamydia are feline respiratory diseases that are highly contagious and widespread. These diseases are easily spread from cat to cat. Even another cat that seems healthy can infect your cat. Chances are high that your cat will be exposed.

Feline Panleukopenia, also known as distemper, is highly contagious and can be fatal. Symptoms include depression, loss of appetite, fever, vomiting and diarrhea. Nine in ten cats with distemper may die from it. Since the disease is easily transmitted from cat to cat, chances are also very high that your cat will be exposed.

Feline Infectious Peritonitis (FIP) is an incurable, usually fatal viral disease. Vaccination is your pet’s only protection.

For Dogs and Cats

Rabies is an incurable and fatal infection of the nervous system that attacks all warm blooded animals including humans. It is a public health hazard and risk to all pet owners. Therefore vaccination is your and your pet’s only protection. Your pet should be vaccinated at 4 months of age.

Intestinal parasites, such as the parvovirus and coronavirus mentioned above, threaten your pet’s health by causing intestinal blockage, bloody diarrhea and even premature death. Microscopic examination of your pet’s stool should be done regularly, at least as part of the annual checkup, for early detection and treatment.

Dental examinations should be done at least annually as well. Periodontal disease does not only threaten the well-being of teeth and gums, but can also lead to infection in the liver, kidneys and heart. Regular examination of the teeth and gums as part of annual checkups, as well as following proper dental home care advice from your vet, are necessary for good pet health.

Prevention and Control

Geriatric workshops for elderly pets help detect many of the problems caused by aging (kidney, liver, heart, joints, dental, etc.) Early detection and proper treatment can lengthen and improve your pet’s life. Spaying and neutering is recommended for all pets not intended for breeding. This surgery has been shown to significantly reduce the risk of many animal cancers and certain undesirable behavior. You can also protect dogs and cats from infection (and reinfection) by preventing access to birds, rodents, uncooked meat, and unpasteurized dairy products.

Fleas can transmit blood borne diseases from any other potential animal source to your pet. If swallowed, fleas can transmit tapeworms to your pet. Flea bites also can cause allergic reactions resulting in a painful, difficult to cure skin disease. Ticks are another common parasite that can carry and transmit Lyme Disease, which can pose a serious health risk to you and your pet. A flea and tick control program is needed on pets and in the home at the same time. Your veterinarian is best qualified to prescribe the proper products for you to prevent and control these parasites, and most of these products are carried at Pet World.

Lastly, general cleanliness (besides vaccination) is you best weapon for preventing pet to owner disease transmission. The following are some useful tips:

  1. It may be cute and pet owners are often extremely indulgent of their pets, but pets should not be allowed on food preparation or serving areas! This is especially true if you let your pet outdoors. In fact, it is also highly recommended that you keep your pet off the beds.
  2. Promptly disinfect areas which have become contaminated.
  3. Wash hands after handling contaminated pets and items.
  4. Do not share your ice cream, or any other human food, with your pet. Its mouth may contain viruses and bacteria. That tongue may have been cleaning its bottom shortly before licking your ice cream. Your pet may be also carrying all manner of germs on its paws, particularly if it has access to outdoors. In addition, remember that many human foods may be harmful to your pet’s health.
  5. Clean out litter trays regularly, daily if needed. Wear rubber gloves for this task. Preferably, disinfect litter tray with very hot or even boiling water, but not chemical agents. Chemical disinfection is actually not very reliable, and the smell can discourage cats from litter boxes. It is best to wash hands after handling litter trays, even if you have worn gloves.
  6. Young children, the elderly, pregnant women, and those with weakened immune systems should make a special effort to avoid handling free-roaming and outdoor pets as their fur or paws have a greater risk of being contaminated than home/indoor pets.

If you have any questions regarding pet diseases and prevention, just ask us and we will help you any way we can.

Scratching, Scratching Posts, and Declawing

Monday, October 5th, 2009

cat

Kittens and cats like to scratch things. This essential cat behavior serves to mark territory, gives emotional release, maintains healthy nails by shucking off old nail husks, and gives physical therapy and release because it lets a cat stretch and strengthen the tendons and muscles of its legs, paws, shoulders, and back. Though healthy and natural to your cat, scratching can become a real problem for the owner. The things they find to scratch are often the legs of your antique table, your upholstered sofa, or your expensive stereo speakers. Fortunately, there are a number of effective and simple solutions for dealing with cat scratching.

Some people have considered declawing, often believing that it is merely a radical manicure. In reality, it is a surgical procedure that often amputates a cat’s bones, tendons, ligaments and claws to the first knuckle of each toe. Declawing is also often very painful for a cat. Although in most cases the pain appears to subside after 24 to 36 hours, in other instances the pain lasts considerably longer especially if there are surgical complications, and any kind of surgery has risks of complications. In fact, some cats are still hobbling and limping around years after the declawing – again especially if there were mild to moderate surgical complications – though the majority eventually recover completely.

Keep in mind that it is natural for cats to scratch and that most cats cannot be made not to scratch. Even declawed cats will attempt to scratch and claw objects. Before considering declawing as an alternative, research the subject. Fortunately, there are several good options to declawing. These take the form of training your cat to use scratching posts, physical deterrents, and trimming of the nails. You will find that many veterinarians believe declawing is a painful and unnecessary surgery and will refuse to do it for humane reasons. Instead, they will likely advocate these simple and effective methods that you can use yourself.

Among the three methods, most people find the scratching post solution to be the easiest, most natural, and most effective. Scratching posts are also readily available at your local pet store. If you see your cat start to claw your couch or anything else that you do not want scratched, pick it up, take it to the cat post and put its claws on the scratching post to scratch it. Teaching your cat to use a scratching post can save many pieces of furniture, while at the same time giving your cat or kitten a fun place to scratch and play, and it can also be very entertaining and fun for the owner to watch.

The following tips about how to choose and use a scratching post will greatly help your and your cat’s efforts:

  • Try to have one scratching post for each cat in your household. Once the problem is under control, those that are not being used can be removed.
  • Each scratching post should be tall enough for your cat to stretch up to its full height without being able to reach the top. 3 feet is usually a good height.
  • The scratching post should be steady. No cat will want to use a post that rocks or falls over.
  • Use the correct material – it should be tough but also allow the cat to scratch it to leave marks and frays. This satisfies the cat emotionally and territorially. A lot of cats enjoy using burlap.
  • Choose an attractive and obvious location for your cat, at least at first. Do not try to hide the post or put it in a dark corner or rarely used room. You may even want to try putting the scratching post near the scratched furniture or other site that your cat has used before, and then gradually reposition the post to a location of your choice later.

Deterrent methods can also be used, and these methods are usually good as backup and can be used in combination with the scratching post. To protect your valuable furniture, you can try lining the legs of your couch or other furniture with double-sided tape or a towel sprayed with a bitter apple product on it. You can also try using a direct deterrent method like a spray bottle filled with water. If you see your cat start to claw your couch or anything else that you do not want scratched, spray it with the spray bottle. Just be careful not to spray the cat in the face. Such deterrents do not have to be used forever, just until you get your kitten or cat trained to use the scratching post.

Another method you can try is nail trimming. Damage to furniture can be greatly reduced if the cat’s nails are kept well trimmed. You can learn how to do this yourself and you should use a sharp pair of nail trimmers made specifically for cats (do not use human trimmers). It is sufficient to remove the sharp points so that the nail ends are squared (kind of like how you would cut your toe nails) but take care not to cut too close to the flesh or into the vascular and sensitive part of the nail. Your veterinarian should be able to teach you how to trim a cat’s nails and can recommend some good nail clippers.

If you have any questions regarding cat scratching behavior, scratching posts, or other methods of controlling scratching and clawing, just ask us and we will help you any way we can.