How to Capture an Escaped Gerbil

On the upside, gerbils don’t generally bite and are nosy and interactive.  On the downside, gerbil escape happens frequently, and they are fast little buggers.  Here are some pro-tips to catch your escaped gerbil.

Oh Crap - My Gerbil Got Out: How to Catch an Escaped Gerbil

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Why You Should Find a Reputable Dog Breeder

Lots of families decide to get a purebred puppy every day.  But with the new Adopt-Don’t-Shop movement, is buying a puppy really responsible?  Should you consider a rescue instead of finding a dog breeder?

I’m here to tell you that it is OK to find a dog breeder, IF you choose a breeder that breeds healthy, sound, and correct dogs.  These are called “reputable dog breeders” or “responsible dog breeders.”

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Cat or Kitten?

Your family needs a cat.  You’ve decided to get a pet, you’ve settled on a cat, but you can’t decide on adult or baby.  Both sides have pros and cons, especially considering that families differ widely.  I’m going to describe some of the good and bad of each, and let you decide which is the best fit for your family.

Energy Level

Main deciding factor?  Energy level.  Cats sleep, on average, 16-20 hours per day.  Their awake activities define their maturity.  Kittens up to over a year of age spend most of their awake time playing, also known as “shenanigans.”  Kittens also don’t yet know the rules about play, so they play harder and get into more trouble while playing.  They have no concept that you sleep at night—so will try to play with you while you sleep.  Mature, adult cats play—but they know the rules about where, when, and how.  Senior cats sleep a bit more, and spend most of their awake time relaxing, eating, and using the box. On the flip side, kittens and young adults are fun to play with, and learn quicker.  Adults might be a little more short-tempered about playing with people.

Health/Veternarian

Kittens will need to see the veterinarian regularly in their first year, and then yearly after until they are seniors.  The upfront costs can be significant, but early chronic health conditions are rare.  Kittens will also require spaying and neutering before 6 months.  Adults need yearly visits, and occasionally they will need minor treatment, such as teeth cleaning.  Senior cats require more frequent veterinary visits, and if your cat develops a chronic condition costs can be expensive.  Adult cats that have been rescued from an outdoor life or have suffered neglect may need significant care as well.  Pet health insurance can alleviate many of these costs.

Do I have other pets?

Kittens haven’t experienced much, so they typically can adjust to life with almost any pet.  Small pets, birds, and fish may require protection as most kittens will hunt almost anything.  However, most cats learn not to hunt other members of the household.  Adult cats can also learn to leave other pets alone, but if they’ve successfully hunted in the past they may not learn.

If your house already contains adult cats, a kitten may fit in better with the crowd.  Just like with people, cats can develop personality conflicts.  Some cats get along well with any other cat, other cats get along only with members of the opposite gender, or fear other cats, or even cannot live with another cat.  Generally, outgoing and assertive cats get along better with kittens as the kitten will back down.  Fearful cats tend to feel bullied by kittens that lack boundaries and prefer another calm housemate.  Cats are a social species, so most cats prefer a cat friend.

Dogs.  Most dogs can learn to get along with cats, if the cats learn not to run.  Many dogs adore cats and love having new friends.  Some breeds of dogs have very high prey drives and cannot be left alone with a cat.  Breeds that are bred for chasing, like sighthounds and terriers, often exhibit these prey drives and suddenly turn on cats.  These breeds should be crated when unsupervised, or the cat locked away, for the cat’s safety.  Most dogs can successfully live with cats and have a good relationship.  Kittens will learn to get along with anyone.  Evaluate adult cats before adding them to your family.  Many adult cats have been attacked by or strongly fear dogs.  In most cat-dog relationships, the cat will rule the dog and the dog will occasionally tease the cat.

Time in your life

As with many things in life, there are no guarantees on the lifespan of a family pet.  However, cats can live up to 20 years with good health and good care, so assume a kitten will live at least 15 years.  Adult cats potentially have fewer years with your family, as many adult cats available for adoption suffer neglect and abuse.  However, by adopting an adult cat with fewer years, you may provide more animals with a better quality of life.  That said, it’s important to think about the emotions of your family.  Small children may find death difficult, or may remember that they were able to help an old friend.

The Choice

The choice is yours.  No matter whether you choose a kitten, adult, or senior, you will provide a pet a wonderful experience at life.  My senior rescue thoroughly enjoyed her final 18 months as a couch ornament (and bed ornament, and windowsill ornament), and while it hurt to lose her, I know that her last months were her best.  Her housemate, a cat that I’d owned since she was 6 weeks old, had never experienced hardship, and was equally delightful.

Introducing a New Cat: Should We?

Introducing a new cat to your existing cat family might be the best decision you ever made.  It also might result in chaos.  If you’ve already decided on a new cat, I’m going to help you decide whether a kitten or adult cat is the best choice.  It’s also possible a different type of pet might be a better solution for your existing cat family.  We’ll talk about that, too.

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Should we get another cat?

You already have one cat, and you think he might be lonely.  After all, you work or go to school all day, and all he can do is sleep and watch birds out the window.  Maybe he needs a friend.  Is your resident ready for another cat?  Is your home ready for another cat?

Additional Costs

Adding a second cat isn’t much more expensive than the first one—assuming they get along.  If they don’t get along, there may be vet bills and baby gates.  If they do get along, you’ll have double your normal costs on litter, food, and veterinarian, but not much else in “stuff.”

Is your resident elderly?

If your current cat is elderly, he may not be able to keep up with a boisterous kitten.  He might feel put-out, and he probably won’t be able to find a space that a new cat can’t find him.  But he might thrive with a new and younger friend.  Having a younger cat with him will keep him thinking more and will mean he moves around more.  On the flip side, a kitten raised with an older cat may have difficulty adjusting if his friend passes away, and you may end up with two again even if you mean to only have one.

Is your resident chill?

Is your current resident chill, or anxious?  A chill resident is probably more able to settle into having a roommate—but an anxious one might be calmed down by a soothing presence.  Has your cat lived with other cats?  If they have, and did well, they will probably do well with a friend.

Adult or kitten?

If you are looking for an adult, finding a rescue could be a great option.  Adult rescues have been “tested out” with other cats and can be evaluated with your resident.  A kitten will grow up as a friend to your current cat, and will never know that they have the option of not getting along—though if the kitten grows up to be assertive, it’s important to teach them how to be gentle.

Children

If you have small children, are they ready to have another cat?  If you’re getting a small kitten, they are much more breakable than adult cats.  They aren’t as capable of defending themselves, and don’t have the sense yet to just walk away.  Even if your children are fine with a calm, adult cat that knows to get on a high shelf if they want to be left alone, they might have trouble with a kitten.  Kittens don’t know how to avoid a child—so might get hurt, or might hurt a child if the child is rough or persistent.  Adolescents can have the same problem—they are extremely active and are still learning rules.  An older cat might be unable to handle the level of chaos that toddlers and preschoolers create.  It’s important to find a cat that can handle the kind of family you have.

Do you want one?

Do you even want another cat?  You might be thinking about it because “the kids want one” or “current cat seems lonely,” but if the bulk of the responsibility is going to fall on you, make the decision that’s right for you.  If your kids are older and can handle some of the responsibility, that’s great and a good factor in the decision.  But if you don’t want one, don’t get one.  No pet deserves to feel unloved by its primary caregiver.

Should we get an aquaruim?

Many families enter the pet-ownership circle with an aquarium.  After all, fish are inexpensive and easy to replace, and once established do not require daily attention.  Setting up an aquarium properly can prove difficult, and attention to detail can make the difference between live and dead fish.  However, the sense of accomplishment in setting up a mini-ecosystem and relaxing entertainment make aquariums well worth the effort.

Health

The quality of care received determines the health of fish.  Novices should stick with tried-and-true species.  As the keeper gains experience (and equipment), they can keep more sensitive and specialty fish.  Typically, the larger the tank the more “learning room” the tank can provide.  Kept in a quality environment, most species can live at least two years, with some species living twenty or more years.

Habitat/Cage

Fish require an aquarium of sufficient size for the adult fish.  Fish do not grow to “fit the tank,” their growth is simply stunted by smaller tanks, meaning they are small because they are sick.  The general rule of thumb is one gallon of water per inch of fish, but this is not accurate either, as it does not take into consideration fish larger than about two inches long, or with thick bodies, nor does it consider the temperament of the species in the tank.  Generally, the larger the ratio of water to fish the better, and the more often the water changes, the better.

In addition to the physical tank, most aquarium fish require a heater, filter, substrate (gravel or sand), and hiding spaces.  Unlike most pets, I strongly recommend that you purchase at least your initial setup from a specialty fish store.  It will be more expensive than the “aquarium kits” found at big-box stores, but you will get quality equipment and knowledgeable staff.  Finding your tank overheated, with dead and floating fish, hurts badly, and is preventable with a quality heater.

The difficulty in keeping fish is balancing their need for food with their need to have clean water.  Leftover food as well as waste matter rots in the tank.  Filters remove most of this by growing helpful bacteria, but most tanks require weekly water changes.  Also, live plants require nutrition as well as the removal of waste.  Carefully balancing live plants with fish provides the most natural environment.

Social/Emotional/Intelligence

Fish do not require any social behavior from humans.  A few species learn to recognize their owners, including Bettas (Siamese fighting fish) and some Cichlids.  They may interact with their owners on some level.  Most other fish do not have true consciousness.  Do not expect your fish to interact with you, greet you, or otherwise acknowledge your presence.

Individual species, however, have different social needs.  Some fish, such as most tetras, do best in schools.  Others, like Bettas, prefer to live without any company at all.  Some species will kill other fish if possible, such as most cichlids, while others are easygoing, like corydoras catfish.  Talk to the folks at your local fish store to learn more about specific species and how to mix them.

Care & Feeding

Every species has unique needs.  General tropical flakes are fine for most community aquariums, while more rare or expensive fish may need specific diets.  Pet stores also stock frozen and fresh diets.  Some species, like the plecostemous catfish, love fresh zucchini and lettuce, while others need specific feeders.

Cost

Aquariums cost as little as $10 and as much as several thousand.  Supplies, especially for small to medium sized tanks, often appear in the classifieds used.  If your family has never owned an aquarium before, a tank of about 30 gallons and all supplies for freshwater fish costs around $100.  This is enough water that you can work with the chemical balance while you learn, but small enough that it will not take over a room.

What kind of home suits an aquarium?

  • You vacation regularly and want to be able to leave for a day or two without hiring a pet sitter.
  • You have a stressful life and want a pet that will be calming and soothing, but do not have time to interact with a pet.
  • You want to create an artistic masterpiece.
  • You are interested in chemistry or biology, and want to learn about the balance of nutrients.

Getting Your First Fish Tank: Important Information

Many families enter the pet-ownership circle with a fish tank.  After all, fish are inexpensive and easy to replace, and don’t need walks or much attention. Fish are super easy pets–once the fish tank is set up and established.  Fish require specific water chemistry, and depending on the species you choose, it might be tricky.  However, watching fish is relaxing, and teaches kids about ecosystems and pollution.

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Best Guinea Pig Bedding

Guinea pigs make amazing family pets.  They are not known for intelligence, but they are cute and make fun sounds.  One of the hassles of keeping small animals is that they require bedding or litter throughout their cages.  I’m going to outline the most common options and the pros and cons.

Shavings

Shavings are the typical go-to bedding for the average guinea pig.  They are available in cedar, pine, and aspen.  Cedar, because of the oils found within, can cause respiratory and kidney disease.  Pine also contains oils that may cause disease.  Aspen does not contain oils so is considered safe.   Other options, like recycled newsprint, are also available.  Personally, I hate using shavings.  They are messy and get all over the place.  They kick up easily and hold moisture, making the cage smell.  They need tending daily to stay clean.  However, shavings can be purchased at most supermarkets and all pet stores.  Shavings also compost well, so will help out your garden.

Fleece

Fleece took off as the bedding of choice for many guinea pig owners.  Fleece is cut to fit the cage, then hemmed.  Multiple layers are placed under the dirtiest sections of the cage, and change frequently.  Fleece bedding can match the décor of the room, or a holiday theme.  There are two major downsides to fleece.  The first is that they must be washed regularly.  If your home does not include a washing machine, you will be forced to carry dirty fleece to the laundromat.  If you have access to a washer, the cost savings are significant.  Also, some guinea pigs chew fleece bedding.  This can cause major emergency health concerns to their digestive system.

Feed Pellets

Some guinea pig keepers bed their pigs on pelleted food.  Cost-wise, rabbit pellets are inexpensive, and suitable for guinea pigs.  Pellets hold less moisture than shavings, and are compostable.  Pigs will eat soiled pellets, and changing litter is a heavy chore.

Pine Pellets

While investigating the possibility of using feed pellets, I came across pine pellets.  Horse owners use pine pellets as stall bedding, which makes them very inexpensive for the quantity needed.  When purchasing pine pellets, I assumed that if the oil danger was present, it would affect horses—which have much more significant costs. I found pine pellets to work very well for my pigs.  Once the pellet gets wet, it disintegrates into something that feels like dirt.  The pellets create some dust, but no more than shavings.  The bedding is stirred daily, which encourages evaporation of liquids.  I used a dust pan to stir the dirty pellets out and clean pellets in.  A 50lb. bag would last four weeks with four pigs, and the odor was minimal.

Other Options

Some people choose to keep their pigs in cages with mesh bottoms, much like rabbits, but guinea pigs have much smaller feet and can become seriously injured on mesh.  Guinea pigs should never be kept on mesh.  While available, corn cob bedding expands when wet and when eaten, can cause blockages.  No matter which bedding you choose, it’s important to establish that your guinea pig will not eat whatever bedding you choose (except, of course, pellets.)

Should we get a guinea pig?

Selecting a new pet should never be a quick decision.  Pets require significant investment of time and money, as well as space within your home.  Often people consider rodents easier than cats and dogs, but they require specialty care to live a full life.  Before you decide to get a guinea pig, decide if they are the best fit for your family.

Health

Guinea pigs require little veterinary care.  They require vitamin C supplements in their diet, but otherwise they are relatively healthy.  Like all small mammals, they require a draft-free environment and consistent temperatures to prevent respiratory infections.  Accidents represent one of the biggest risks to their health.  It’s important to find a qualified veterinarian before you need one, and have money set aside to cover the bill.

Habitat/Cage

Guinea pigs require a rather large space for a rodent, though they do not require as much space as most rabbits.  They should have about three square feet or more per pig, and need good bedding.  The cage must be cleaned thoroughly and regularly.  However, the task is no more unpleasant than cleaning a cat box and has a much lower odor.

Social/Emotional/Intelligence

Guinea pigs require company.  Most guinea pigs benefit by living in pairs or groups.  Make sure to separate males from females as they breed frequently.  However, they are not known for their intelligence, so escapes are rare.  Several years ago, I kept a trio in a kid’s wading pool with no additional barrier.  Also, as they have very short legs, they do not climb.

However, they make excellent family pets as most guinea pigs would rather escape than bite.  They become attached to their humans and tolerate other pets in the home, so long as the other pets are not predatory.  They do sometimes pee or poop on people who are handling them, but are easy to handle.

Finally, they talk.  They quickly learn what food sounds like in your home, and call out if they want food, or even think food might be possible.  They purr when you scratch just the right spot (ear, or under their chin), and certainly develop individual personalities.

Care & Feeding

Guinea pigs require a more specialized diet than some other rodents.  They must receive Vitamin C in their diet, which can be added as drops to their water.  They require timothy hay daily, and guinea pig pellets.  They also must have fresh veggies daily.

Cost

Overall set-up costs can be as low as $15 and upwards of $300, depending on the quality of cage and cost of pigs.  Pet stores charge $30 to $50 per pig, but often people offer them free for adoption.  They can live in cheap Rubbermaid containers, specialized cages, or large custom-built enclosures.  Bedding costs $5 to $30 per month, depending on your choice.  Feed costs, including fresh veggies, about $20 per month per pig, or less.  Emergency veterinary care represents the most expensive portion of their cost.  Having savings is critical in an emergency.  Guinea pigs do not typically require routine veterinary care.

What kind of home suits a guinea pig?

  • Other pets do not hunt the guinea pigs. Cats and dogs are fine IF they respect the pigs.  (Mine did.)  Avoid getting guinea pigs if dogs and cats in the home routinely hunt mice, rats, or moles.  This is not a safe home for a guinea pig.
  • All humans in the house handle the guinea pig gently. Small children must not have unsupervised access to the guinea pigs.
  • The family occasionally wants to go away for a day or two without having to board the pet. Guinea pigs can last a day or two without seeing you—but expect a big racket when you get home.
  • You have space for a large cage in a room that you do not sleep in. They are not as loud as other rodents at night, but a light sleeper would not want them in the same bedroom.