Articles about Fish & Ponds

The Last Kid on the Block—
Help your pet weather the storm

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

On hot summer days, a cool pet is a safe pet.

This summer is proving a season of extreme weather in Chicago. After a very snowy winter and a very cloudy spring, we recently experienced two “small” tornadoes and a severe thunderstorm with damaging winds, which wreaked havoc on our area’s very old electrical grid. Now we’re under an excessive heat warning—and let me tell you, it’s excessively hot.

We’re grateful everyone has managed to stay safe so far (knock wood), but days-long power outages and serious heat have tested our moxie. It’s tough enough to manage a family in times of crisis, or at least great discomfort. What about our pets?

Severe Weather
Tornado season isn’t over, nor is hurricane season, for that matter. Have you thought about an emergency plan for your pets? I know to herd my family into the basement if we’re under a tornado warning (unfortunately, the fish are more difficult). What if your pets are prone to hiding during a storm? What if you lose power and the filter and heater on your aquarium stop running?

One idea is to put your pets in their cages or carriers as soon as a tornado watch is issued.  Stick to the basement or a room where you’ll all be safe to ride out the storm. Calm your pets by talking to them and offering a favorite toy. Cover birds. Keep everyone away from windows.

As the storm approaches, try to keep pets indoors. If your dog needs to do his or her business, use a leash: storms can be scary! Your dog may be stressed, and could become disoriented and wander away from home. After a storm, a leash is important, too. Be wary of debris and downed power lines.

If you lose power—or worse—have an emergency kit already prepared for your animals:

  • Food: Consider keeping an extra bag of dry food on hand. If canned food is required, stock about a week’s worth and replace/use it every two months so you don’t end up with expired emergency grub. And don’t forget a manual can opener!
  • Water: Bottled water is a necessity for humans, but don’t forget your pets, too. A water dish will be helpful. A week’s supply is ideal.
  • Transport: Be sure you include a safe way to transport your pet: cages, carriers, kennels, leashes, etc. If you’re pressed for time, you can use pillowcases off your bed for cats.
  • Potty: If your pet resides in a cage or uses a litter box, you may want to set aside newspapers or a box of kitty litter (some lids can be used as a litter box).
  • Health and safety: Keep a copy of your pet’s vaccinations on hand, as well as any necessary medications (two-weeks’ worth for peace of mind). Consider keeping a first aid booklet on hand. Collars with ID tags are a must.
  • Fish and exotic pets: If you have fish, invest in a battery-powered air filter for your aquarium so your pets don’t suffer from lack of oxygen. If you have snakes or other temperature-sensitive animals, keep extension cords handy to plug in heat lamps when you have power (or go somewhere that does!).

Excessive Heat
I, for one, cannot handle heat and humidity, but I might make it look easy compared to a dog. Dogs can only sweat through their footpads and cool themselves by panting, making them susceptible to heat stress, injury or death.

When it’s hot, the best place for your pet is indoors in the AC. If that’s not possible, the second best place is in the shade with a constant supply of fresh, cool water. Animals’ ears and noses are especially prone to sunburn, and footpads can burn on hot surfaces.

The worst place for any animal is in a parked car, even if it’s only a minute (so don’t even think about it).

Be especially vigilant if your pet is elderly and/or overweight. Pets with flat faces, including pugs and Persian cats, are more susceptible to heat stroke.

Signs of a serious heat-related condition include restlessness, heavy panting, vomiting, lethargy and lack of appetite or coordination. You can lower a symptomatic dog’s body temperature by providing the dog with water, applying a cold towel to the dog’s head and chest or immersing the dog in tepid (not ice-cold) water. Then immediately call a veterinarian.

It figures that we’re under another severe thunderstorm watch. Please keep your fingers crossed that it misses us—and be sure you’re prepared for your next storm!

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Moving on up—to a larger tank

Wednesday, July 6th, 2011

Our neon tetras and platys soon will be swimming in a new home.

Our fish have taken me much further into the throes of pet ownership than I could have expected—one minute we have a 10-gallon tank with four fish, the next minute I’m researching pet insurance. I find it interesting that animals do just fine without it in their natural habitat; it takes us humans to make raising pets complicated. It figures!

After a few uneventful months, life with our fish is getting interesting again. Not that our fish have become boring—we’ve just gotten into a groove. The same boy who requested an aquarium for Christmas has now requested an upgrade for his birthday, which was last week.

Apparently he’s serious, so his dad and I gifted him an IOU for a new 30-gallon tank. We saw several that caught our eye at the pet store last time we purchased new fish, so purchasing a tank seemed straightforward. Until, that is, I attempted to prepare for the upgrade.

The process of establishing our first tank—working our way through the nitrogen cycle—was a painful one, and resulted in the loss of three of our four fish. Maybe some folks could consider them a commodity, but my son felt their loss. I’d rather not repeat that experience, especially now that our fishy family is up to 11.

Our plan is to set up the new tank in another room, which allows us more time and flexibility in stabilizing a new, more voluminous habitat. From what I’ve read, a larger tank will be a bit easier to cycle because a small group of fish simply has a smaller bioload in three-times the water. We also can capitalize on the good bacteria in our old tank by moving some of the substrate and decorations into the new tank. I may even use the old filter on the new tank for 24 hours or so before we add fish.

I’ve read conflicting opinions regarding whether using water from the old tank will help establish bacteria colonies in the new tank, primarily because the bacteria are most concentrated in the filter and on the tanks surfaces (including decorations and substrate). But I’m still considering it—anything to help!

Then there’s the question of the best type of filter and heater. I’m hoping my local pet store can guide me, depending on the tank we choose.

And then there’s the tank itself. I forget that the weight of a 30-gallon tank is considerable, and we’d prefer not to relegate our fish to the basement. So there’s a matter of placing the new tank somewhere we’re sure our floor can support it safely. The aforementioned new spot for the tank is in a small room in the front of our house. Because we’re not looking at a truly huge tank (think more than 55 gallons), I’m not too worried. But I’m still going to look at our basement ceiling to be sure we’re placing the tank perpendicular to our floor joists, and that the span of the joists is relatively short. Because our home is newer, I can look at the blueprints and verify which walls are load-bearing—hoping the wall I have in mind is included. From a home decor point of view, I’d had my eye on a tank with a swirling iron stand. Weight is distributed better with a flat base, so I’ll take that into consideration, too.

When we finally make our way to our pet store, we’ll have lots of questions to thrust at the experts—not including the addition of new fish! But the excitement is palpable in our household. I think we’re ready to take this next step in pet ownership!

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Why I’m not wild about wild pets

Friday, June 24th, 2011

A frog can make a great pet, but be wise and purchase one from a trusted pet store.

My son and his baseball teammates were recently accompanied in the outfield by frogs—seemingly hundreds of tiny frogs! What more could a boy ask for? Not surprisingly, several boys asked mom or dad if they could bring home a frog or two as pets.

One dad said yes (to his wife’s chagrin), and his son left with four frogs. Why not? Frogs make great pets!

Correction: they make great pets if the frogs are prepared for captivity and if you are prepared to provide the proper food and habitat.

What this frog-laden family didn’t know is that it’s illegal to keep wildlife as pets in the state of Illinois: “It is unlawful to take, possess, sell or offer for sale, any such wild birds . . . or such wild mammals . . . contrary to the provisions of the Illinois Wildlife Code.”

For the majority of us who may not consult our state’s wildlife code with much frequency, it’s wise to think twice before bringing wildlife into your home.

Legality aside, wild animals cannot be domesticated by being captive-born or hand-raised. According to the Humane Society, dogs and cats have been domesticated by selective breeding for desired traits over thousands of years. A wild animal’s instinctive nature makes it unsuitable as a pet.

If you’re not easily swayed, consider the following:

  • A cute, cuddly young animal may become very aggressive and try to escape as it matures.
  • Many wild animals are most active at night, disturbing your sleep and proving “boring” pets during the day.
  • Feeding wild animals is not as simple as buying a bag of squirrel chow: their dietary needs are different from domestic pets and specific to their habitats. A wild pet may suffer and die from malnutrition.
  • Diseases carried by healthy wild animals can make people sick. Diseases of sick wild animals may be unfamiliar to veterinarians, or vets may choose not to treat a wild pet because of legal implications.
  • A wild animal’s life span might be longer than you’ve bargained for, possibly more than 40 years.

As for our froggy friends—or my son’s friend with frogs—I’m not exactly certain of the frogs’ species. Do these frogs require live insects as part of a healthy diet? Do they fare best at a particular temperature or humidity level? Will they need to hibernate for the winter? And how big will they grow to be?

I’m sad to say that one of the four frogs has already met an untimely death, dropped above its tank and paralyzed by the fall. Three remain, but my son’s mom hopes they don’t last long. Does an animal deserve such a fate?

You can help! Share this information with friends. And before you bring home a wild pet, ask yourself:

  • Is what I’m doing legal?
  • Am I willing to provide the animal an appropriate diet and habitat?
  • Do I realize I can’t change an animal’s instinctive behavior?
  • Am I willing to risk my health?
  • Am I willing to risk the animal’s life?

If your answer is “no” to any of these questions, please let wild animals live in the wild. Visit a pet store you trust to find a pet (frog!) that’s perfect for you.

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
A safe pet is no accident

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Medicine may be helpful to you, but harmful for your pet.

My most important and most challenging job happens to be the one for which I was never given a job description: mom. Whether you’re parent to a child or pet or some combination thereof, you know the general idea: love, feed, shelter, protect. My preparation for the arrival of my children always included “baby proofing”—slightly amusing, since babies are typically stationary for the first few months. But the removal of household cleaners, alcohol and medications (among other things) is critical to a safe home.

Our fish let me off easy: they’re quite safe in their aquatic home, as long as their water is free of chlorine and soaps. But this week a friend experienced a serious scare when his pup got hold of his daughter’s asthma inhaler and punctured the canister, releasing an overdose of medication. The medicine critical to opening a person’s airways also speeds up the heart, and can be fatal to pets without emergency treatment (potassium and beta blockers).

I also use asthma meds, and I understand how you could overlook the danger, particularly when the medication seems safely stored inside a metal container. And inhalers are hardly the only danger to pets in and around our otherwise safe homes—just because a substance is safe for humans does not mean it’s safe for other animals.

With summer upon us, pet owners especially should be aware of dangers lurking in their yards and other outdoor areas.

Fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides can be dangerous and should not be ingested. Easy enough. But did you know decomposing and decaying matter in compost bins can be toxic—yes, toxic!—to pets and other wildlife?

Tomato plants and rhubarb leaves can cause gastrointestinal irritation, garlic and onions can cause anemia (particularly in cats), and mushrooms can be poisonous. Grapes and raisins, of all things, can cause renal failure. Lilies are extremely poisonous to cats, and any ingestion requires immediate emergency attention.

If your pet is in or around water, know that algal blooms/cyanobacteria in stagnant water can be fatal if ingested. Stagnant water also can mean mosquitoes, which carry diseases such as West Nile Virus.

Just as I couldn’t attempt to provide you an exhaustive list of how to baby proof your home, I won’t try to list all of the potential hazards to your pet. But do ask your veterinarian about keeping your pet safe. Be prepared for an emergency, and have contact information for your vet readily available. Program it into your home and mobile phones. Keep the address to an emergency clinic in the glove box of your car.

If you do become concerned that your pet may have eaten something poisonous, remove your pet from the area and be sure he or she is breathing and acting normally. If you’re able, try to identify what the poison could have been, and collect a sample in case it might help your vet determine appropriate treatment. Do not attempt home remedies or inducing vomiting (some poisons can be harmful on the way up, too) without talking to your pet’s doctor first.

I’m a firm believer in Ben Franklin’s old adage: an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Know the dangers to your pet(s), and be prepared for an emergency. May you never experience one.

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.

The Last Kid on the Block—
Does your pet need health insurance?

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

Forethought and financial preparation will help you make the best decision regarding your pet's care.

I received a call from my son’s school nurse yesterday: my son had a tummy ache, and wanted to come home. While I figured it was just a virus (which it likely is), we paid a visit to the pediatrician anyway. “Paid” is often the key word with human healthcare providers, as I know it can be with their animal counterparts. We consider ourselves lucky to have health insurance for our family, but we haven’t extended that safeguard to our fish.

You’re likely shaking your head in one of two ways: either you think I’m playing roulette not insuring our pets, or—like me until earlier today—you’re wondering how, exactly, someone would go about insuring her fish.

I had heard of pet insurance from family and friends, usually in conversations regarding whether they should purchase it. And I understand their waffling—is pet insurance a nice to have, a need to have, or is it a bad idea altogether?

According to American Pet Products Association, the number of insured pets is on the rise. In the United States, an estimated 3 percent of 78 million dogs and 1 percent of 93 million cats are insured. Providers include companies like VPI, which issued its first policy in 1982, and more well-known brands such as Nestlé Purina and ASPCA.

So, how do you decide whether to purchase insurance for your pet(s)? Take my crash course:

Start by considering what you would do if your pet were to have an accident or become ill. Then, talk with your veterinarian about emergency and long-term care. Would finances impact your pet’s treatment? Would you have reservations about euthanizing your pet? If you have the financial means to cover expenses (based on your conversation with your vet), or if euthanasia would be your preference, pet insurance may not be for you.

Some pet owners open a savings account for unexpected pet expenses, but this plan only works if you are disciplined enough to continue to make regular deposits (direct deposits may be the way to go). There’s still no guarantee the amount you save will be the amount you need, when you need it. On the other hand, if you never need it, you could find yourself with unexpected savings.

Any insurance policy protects you from the unknown—it may benefit you, or you may be lucky enough not to use it. It may be worth the peace of mind alone!

Much like determining the coverage of your own insurance policies, the amount of coverage you choose for pet insurance is a personal decision. You might want your pet’s coverage to go beyond emergency care and include spaying/neutering or regular dental care, but you should expect to pay more.

Policies may include:
•    Accidents
•    Hospitalization
•    X-rays
•    Surgery
•    Illness
•    Spaying/Neutering
•    Standard Vaccines
•    Annual Physical Exam
•    Heartworm Prevention
•    Annual Dental Cleaning
•    Advanced Vaccines
•    Ongoing Conditions

Some policies may even cover:
•    Obedience Training
•    Flea/Tick Medications
•    Preexisting Conditions
•    Coverage for the Life of Your Pet
•    Accidental Death
•    Theft or Straying
•    Third Party Liability
•    Boarding Kennel Fees
•    Fees Incurred While Traveling

Prioritize. Seek recommendations from your vet and fellow pet owners. Check with the Better Business Bureau or your state insurance commissioner. Compare plans.

Before you sign on the bottom line, confirm when the policy you selected will become active; ask how premiums change depending on your pet’s age; review the network of vets covered (if applicable); and note any exclusions, claim limits or caps.

So far, I’m hoping to forgo pet insurance and personally provide any care our fish will need. We’re starting small, but as our family of pets grows, I reserve the right to change my mind.

“The Last Kid on the Block” is a continuing series following the Knudsen family’s progress selecting and caring for their first pets. Andrea Knudsen lives in suburban Chicago with her husband and two children.