Pets as Presents – Things to Do Before You Adopt an Animal as a Gift

Gift CardThe holidays are approaching and its time to go shopping! Around this time of year people come to That Fish Place – That Pet Place to begin scoping out pet possibilities for their kids. Nothing would please a little boy or girl more than to open up a box on Christmas morning to find that Santa has left them a real live animal for being so good all year! But what Santa (and parents!) need to remember is that an animal should be treated differently than most presents. Here is a checklist I’ve composed for prospective live gift givers to review before presenting a pet as a gift.
 

Is it OK with Mom and Dad?

Countless times right after Easter and Christmas I see animals being returned or surrendered to us because “Aunt Shirley” decided it would be nice to present her nephew with a living surprise without checking to see if it was OK with his family first. Most of the time, this happens because Mom and Dad simply were not ready or willing to take care of an animal they hadn’t been expecting. Although Aunt Shirley meant well, she should have discussed it with her nephew’s parents to make sure they also wanted a new pet to feed and care for in their house. Doing this would have spared everyone a lot of heartaches and headaches!
 

Have you done your research?

Never buy an animal on a whim and expect its young owner to know just what to do. Read, go online, and talk to employees at the pet store to make sure you are picking the right animal for your child and that you will be able to give it everything it needs to be happy and healthy.
 

Will the child be able to properly care for this animal?

100044953_e33c9aa266_oVery young children may promise they will do all the work, but let’s face it; the job usually falls to Mom or Dad. Make sure the child will take an active role in the care of their pet before giving them one for Christmas, and make sure Mom and Dad won’t mind picking up the slack.

 

 

 

Do you have a plan for the animal before Christmas Day?

Animals cannot be kept in the box they came home in from the pet store all night long. Most of them will chew their way out before morning or their urine will possibly burn a hole through the box or cause them to get respiratory problems from breathing in the fumes all night. If you decide to pick up the animal on Christmas Eve or sooner, make sure you have a cage or a temporary set-up complete with food, water, and shelter until Christmas morning.
 

Did you put holes in the box?

This may seem obvious, but I have heard painful stories of animals being found suffocated after only a few minutes in an airtight box. If you are going to wrap the cage or box with the animal in it at the last minute before the child wakes up Christmas morning, be sure there are breathing holes in the box.
 

Do you have all the supplies ready along with the new pet?

Nothing is worse than opening up a new toy and realizing there are no batteries included with it. The same goes for a new pet. What good is your pet gerbil if you can’t put him in his new cage and watch him play right away! Be prepared to gift a cage, accessories, food, and bedding along with the new pet.
 

Do you have a “Safe Zone” for the new pet?

Holidays are hectic stressful times for pets and people alike, and it will be much worse for a brand new animal in a brand new home. Once the excitement has worn down over the opening of the live gift, place the animal in its cage and move it to a “safe zone” — a quiet room where friends, relatives, and other pets will not be able to bother it. It may be tempting for your child to parade around showing Grandma and Grandpa the new bunny she’s gotten, but for the bunny, this is a very scary experience! The best way to make a good impression on a new pet is to respect its boundaries and give it time to adjust to a new home. Save show-and-tell for another day, when the animal has had more time to adjust to his new home.
 

Have you considered gifting the supplies first?

Since the holidays are so hectic, it’s a good idea to buy the cage and accessories first and have your child open these on Christmas morning instead of a box with a live animal in it. First of all, this will keep things from getting too crazy what with setting up the animal in its cage and keeping intrigued relatives at bay. Second of all, this will extend the excitement for the child because now she has a chance to pick out her new animal and can look forward to going to the pet store the next day to get her REAL gift! And then she gets to pick out what she likes best without you having to guess which color or personality type she would prefer beforehand.
 

Will you commit to the gift?

This happens more with rabbits and chicks over Easter, but I’ve seen it happen with other animals at Christmas too. Sometimes families believe it is okay to get their son or daughter a baby animal to raise for a while with plans to get rid of it as soon as it is older or the weather gets nice. I have a big problem with this! First of all, you cannot always guarantee to find a home for your adult animal when you are ready to get rid of it and sadly, this sometimes results in animals being released into the wild or dumped on a farm somewhere. Secondly, this is teaching children that once something becomes too big, old, or expensive to care for, it is okay to abandon it. Owning a pet throughout its entire life is an educational and enriching experience that will help children learn about life and responsibility. If you plan on getting your kids a pet for Christmas, be prepared to care for that animal until the day it dies. Pets need proper housing, food, and veterinary care, and if you ever find yourself in a predicament that makes it impossible to continue providing these things for your animal make sure you have a suitable plan to re-home that animal with someone who can. Pets are not temporary. They are for life.

With all this in mind, try to enjoy preparing to bring a new pet into the family at Christmas time. Planning ahead will make things much easier, and it can be a warming experience to see that look in your child’s eye one he or she realizes you finally said yes to that pet they’ve been wanting so bad! Adding a new member to the family is a wonderful experience if done properly, so be smart, be safe, and always keep the animal’s best interests in mind. Happy Holidays!

Domestic Cat Origins – Is Your Pet Merely a Tame Wildcat?

European WildcatCat owners quickly notice how closely their pets’ behavior follows that of their wild relatives…in fact, Domestic Cats are classified by many mammalogists as a subspecies of the Wildcat.  Recent research has shed light on the Domestic Cat’s true ancestor and its original time and place of domestication.

Supreme Survivors

Domestic Cats slide seamlessly from indoor to outdoor life, and their adaptability amazes biologists who study feral populations.  Those living in one Australian desert never encounter standing water, yet get along quite well; a group shipwrecked on Marion Island, off the tip of South America, thrives in the shadow of Antarctica – further south than any other non-marine mammal!

Adaptability has helped the 5 subspecies of the Wildcat (Felis sylvestris) to survive in habitats ranging from Chinese deserts to African village outskirts (please see map).

Domestication Theory Overturned

The Near Eastern or African Wildcat (please see photo) has commonly been credited as the ancestor of the Domestic Cat.  Because of its prominence in ancient Egyptian culture, it was believed that Wildcats were the first domesticated there.  Based on archaeological studies, the time of domestication was given as approximately 4,000 years ago. 

The discovery of a 9,500 year-old apparently Domestic Cat in a tomb in Cyprus set the domestication date much further back in time.  Wildcats are not native to Cyprus – the animal is believed to be a Near Eastern Wildcat, taken there by people from Turkey (please see article below).

Wild Ancestor(s)

Each of the 5 Wildcat subspecies – the European, Near Eastern, South African, Central Asian and Chinese Desert – interbreed among themselves and with feral Domestic Cats, so the ancestor of our pets could have been any of these.  Advances in genetic studies, however, has now given us a definitive answer.

Researchers at the US National Cancer Institute and the University of Oxford analyzed DNA from all 5 Wildcat subspecies, and determined that the Near Eastern Wildcat (Felis sylvestris lybica) gave rise to the modern day Domestic Cat, and that the site of original domestication, some 10,000 years ago, was in the area known as the “Fertile Crescent”, in what is now Iraq.

This finding coincides nicely with other evidence.  The cat’s association with people came when grains were first being cultivated and stored…the cat’s prowess as a rodent killer would have made it a welcome guest.  Interestingly, Near Eastern Wildcat kittens are relatively easy to tame and even today they often reside near people and interbreed with Domestic Cats.  Not so with all Wildcats – colleagues of mine contend that the European Wildcat (please see photo) is impossible to tame, even when bottle-raised!

What is a Domestic Cat?

African WildcatThe traditional definition of a species is the ability to mate and produce fertile young – Domestic Cats do so with all Wildcat subspecies.  Many taxonomists, therefore, classify the Domestic Cat as a Wildcat subspecies, Felis sylvestris catus, rather than as a distinct species (F. catus).

The odd appearance of a young Bobcat I once trapped led me to believe that one of its parents was a Domestic Cat, but experts are split on this possibility – more on that in the future.

 

Further Reading

Leopard Cat/Domestic Cat hybrids are popular pets; read more here.

Discovery of the Oldest Known Pet Cat.

Small Wild Cat Conservation

European Wildcat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Aconcagua

African Wildcat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Sonelle

Pet Health – Boosting your pet’s immune system

Happy puppy

My little girl Sara weeks after we brought her home

As we enter the cold and flu season for humans, we can sometimes forget that our pets can become sick, too. Canine influenza has become more and more prevalent over the past few years and can be devastating to some of our companions. So what is a loving pet owner to do? How can you boost your dog or cat’s immune system? With just a few simple changes in diet and behavior can build your pet’s immunity and general wellness. Read More »

A Hamster by Any Other Name (is still a Syrian Hamster)

Recently, I was approached by a woman in the mammal room. She asked me if we had “Black Bear” hamsters available for sale.  I explained that some of the hamsters we have in the room were indeed black. The patron insisted that what she was looking for was a special breed of hamster, that were bigger and made better pets. She appeared rather annoyed that I didn’t seem to know what she was talking about.

Knowing this story all too well, and having heard it several times before, I was forced to politely explain that the “black bears” are not a different breed, just a plain old Syrian that happens to be black. She simply fell victim to a clever marketing strategy lots of pet stores use, naming hamsters and other pets in cute,clever ways to make them more appealing to unsuspecting customers.

The woman looked thoroughly surprised.

“You’re kidding! I paid $25 for the last one I had, and the pet store swore it was some kind of new and improved breed!”

The reality is that the five main types of hamsters sold in pet stores are the Cambell’s Dwarves (also known as Siberian or Russian Dwarves), Winter Whites, Chinese, Roborovskis, and Syrians. The most popular and largest pet hamster is the Syrian, but very few pet stores actually label them as such. They can be called anything the pet store wants to call them: Common, Golden, Black Bear, Teddy Bear, Angora, Honey Bear, Panda, European, Sable, or just plain Fancy. No matter what you call them, all these hamsters are all the same species.

Many hamster breeders and pet stores may claim to have developed a breed of hamster that is supposed to be healthier, friendlier, or larger than “regular” hamsters. In actuality, they breed Syrians for color (or even just pick that color out of a litter of several different colors) and give them nicknames that may be more enticing to consumers. Often the new title allows these animals to be advertised at higher prices, too.

Black and White Syrian HamsterIn our small animal room, we often get requests for certain “breeds” of hamsters and it often takes some convincing about temperament, size, and rarity of said breed. I explain that we carry a variety of colors and patterns within our hamster selection that could technically be labeled in all sorts of exotic ways, but we choose the more generic term “Fancy” to avoid confusion. It seems to be quite a shock to those who’d been out on a desperate hunt for the one “rare breed” their child just has to have. All along they could have picked a perfectly good solid black hamster under the label of “Fancy” for half the price of what some other pet stores charge. Don’t be fooled, a hamster by any other name can still be just as sweet!

The common Syrian Hamster is the most common pet hamster on the market today, known for coming in many colors and patterns, in both long and short hair types. This hamster prefers living alone and can make a good companion for children and adults as long as it is handled gently and with regularity. An adult hamster will reach about 7 inches long and live anywhere from 2-4 years if given proper care. And of course, all hamsters enjoy a running wheel, chew toys, and plenty of tubing and hide-outs to explore and rest in. Hamsters can be great pets for the right person, no matter what the name.

Cruelty-Free Shopping – Finding Products that were not Tested on Animals

Animal enthusiasts often ask if there is any way to be sure that the cosmetics, personal care items and household goods they purchase have not been tested on animals.  While many companies make these claims (sales usually rise in response), recent scandals have revealed that abuses abound.

Legal Status

Unfortunately, in the US, legal standards that must be met before the label “no animals were harmed” can be attached to a product do not exist.  Frequently, distributors make such claims even though many of the product’s ingredients were tested on animals – after all, they reason, the seller itself did not test the final product on animals!  Sad but true.

leapingbunny.org

leapingbunny.org

A group known as the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics was formed in response to the lack of effective laws and guidelines in this area.  Many of the world’s best-known animal welfare organizations, including the 10.5 million-member Humane Society of the USA, are actively involved in its operation.

“Cruelty-Free” Certification

The Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC) inspects companies that wish to be certified as “cruelty-free”.   In order to qualify, a company must prove that neither it nor any of its ingredient suppliers utilize animals for research.  So, for example, if 2 dozen chemicals go into the making of a kitchen cleaner, the suppliers of all 2 dozen chemicals must utilize non-animal testing methods.  In addition, all products carried by the company seeking certification must live up to the same standard.

Those passing the CCIC’s rigorous inspection are entitled to display the group’s “Leaping Bunny Logo” (please see photo).  This symbol, which is used in the USA, Canada, Great Britain and the European Union, is widely-recognized as evidence that animals are not used in product testing.  As of now, it is one of the few ways that a consumer can be absolutely certain of this fact (cosmetics testing on animals is banned in the Netherlands, Belgium and the UK; the European Union is in the process of following suit, but there are legal challenges).

How Consumers can Help

Animal welfare groups are growing in strength and influence, as more and more people become deeply affected by the plight of animals that are injured in the name of better eye creams and such.   

The CCIC now provides support to stores that stock “cruelty-free” products.  It also supplies information to consumers and sample letters for folks wishing to encourage stores and companies to deal only in products that have not been tested on animals.  CCIC has also created an app for Iphone and Android users, where you can look up product information by barcode while shopping.  Take the leap, and go cruelty-free, today.

Pot-Bellied Pigs – The Other House Pet

Mature Potbelly PigWhen thinking of house pets, pigs may not immediately come to mind. Most often we associate pigs with kid’s movies, farms, mud, and…bacon. However a few species of domesticated pig have grown in popularity considerably since the 1980’s, when people began to keep for a new kind of house pet. A pet that would be intelligent, affectionate, easy to train, and above all, clean. The new trend would turn heads…Potbelly Pigs! A few weeks ago I saw one of these little critters first hand, on the end of a harness, proudly strutting down the dog toy aisle with his short tail a-waggin’, and I had to stop and gawk. I will admit pigs have always intimidated me because of their large size and loud vocalizations, but after getting to know a few pigs first hand and doing a little reading, I must admit the thought of having one is pretty appealing. Let me share with you a little about the care of the most popular type of pig, the Pot-belly. Read More »

Animal Shelter Volunteers – Having Fun While Helping Creatures In Need

Animal fans often have difficulty finding hands-on animal work, and most animal shelters are underfunded and cannot hire enough help.  Volunteering at a shelter is, therefore, a win-win situation….as most who have volunteered at anything will attest, the helper benefits as much as the “helped”.

Typical Volunteer Duties

Hands-on animal work at shelters may involve walking, grooming or bathing dogs, cleaning cages and preparing food.  Many volunteers find interacting with dogs, parrots, cats and other animals in need of human contact to be a very pleasurable aspect of their experience.  In doing so, they make the residents’ stay more pleasant, and fulfill their desire for close contact with a variety of creatures.

People with other skills can often help out in office work, fund-raising or educational programs. Read More »

Doggie Diets – How Homemade Pet Food is Worth the Effort

Dog Eating a raw treatA couple of months ago I switched my dogs’ & cats’ diets to a homemade one. Every Saturday I spend an hour or two in the kitchen cooking brown rice, vegetables, chicken, and various giblets. I measure vitamin supplements with care.  Every week is the same: I cook, measure, mix, puree (for the cats), and generally stink up my house. I was beginning to wonder if it was all worth it. Sure, making homemade food is less expensive than buying a quality dog food that passed my rigorous inspection of the ingredients and nutritional content, but was it really worth all the effort?

In short, yes, I would say it is totally worth the effort. First of all, I know exactly what is in the food that I feed my animals. I know that the mean they are eating is a quality cut and that they are getting every bit of nutrition that they need. In the last few weeks I’ve noticed a lot of changes that justifies (to me) all the effort I put in to making my pets’ meals. The first changes I noticed were a reduced number of bowel movements, which were a smaller and a lot less offensive smelling. The dogs smelled better and needed bathed less frequently. Among other improvements I noticed Gatsby’s fur becoming less greasy and straw-like and much softer with less shedding. Who can complain about less shedding?

One change that I had hoped to see (but have not) was a reduction or end Gatsby’s repeat ear infections and itchy paws.  I read that removing corn, soy, preservatives and other allergens while adding Omega 3 and 6 supplements to his diet might alleviate his frequent ear infections and other allergy symptoms. It hasn’t happened yet, in fact, Gatsby just had another ear infection last week. So, it’s off to the Vet’s office again to discuss our next move.

The cats didn’t take to their new food as well as I had hoped. They still prefer dry cat food. I switched them to a higher quality brand of cat food and continually try to supplement their food with fresh meat, fish and greens. Their fur is much softer, though they still shed enough hair to create a new animal every week or so!

Golden Retriever eating treat image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Denhulde

Small Wild Cats – Overlooked by Conservationists and in Serious Decline

Margay CatTigers and other big cats rival Pandas as “conservation darlings”…so much so, that an Africa-based colleague of mine recently commented that she doubted there was “…a single Cheetah alive that had not been radio-collared and filmed chasing down a Gazelle”!  However, 30 of the 37 known cat species are small, secretive creatures that, lacking the glamour of their larger relatives, are disappearing without generating much notice.   The plight of Chinese Desert Cats, Flat Headed Cats, Iriomote Cats, Kodkods and other rare felines should be of concern to all, especially Domestic Cat owners – after all, many taxonomists consider the Domestic Cat to be a mere subspecies of the African Wild Cat, and not a distinct species at all. Read More »

A 9-11 Tribute – Search and Rescue Dogs at Ground Zero

It’s hard to believe that it has been almost a decade since the Twin Towers fell. Each year we bow our heads in remembrance of those lost and in honor of those who worked tirelessly in the days and weeks following that fateful day. Some don’t remember or don’t know that service dogs played a vital role in search, rescue and recovery at those disaster sites. I came across this video tribute to the service dogs who worked the Trade Center site, and I really think it is something for everyone to see. Please watch the video and remember these magnificent animals for their past and present service.

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