Why does my vet want that sample?

Why does my vet want that sample?

Why does my vet want a poop sample?

So you received your reminder in the mail that Fluffy is due for her wellness exam and some vaccines, as well as a “fecal exam”.  It crosses our mind, why would my veterinarian possibly want to look at my pet’s poop?  Let me tell you!

A fecal exam is performed to check for internal parasites.  Even if your pet’s poop appears normal, they could be harboring parasites that can be spread to other pets and even to people!  Gross!  We would prefer to find these parasites and treat them before they become a problem to your pet.

There are multiple steps to a fecal exam.  First, a fecal smear is performed.  For this portion of the test you place a thin layer of feces across a slide, place it in special stains, and examine it under the microscope.  Bacteria and a few parasites can be found.  Next, a flotation is performed.  The stool sample is mixed with a special solution that helps to separate parasite eggs from the sample and float to the surface.  These are then found on a microscope slide.  Finally, centrifugation is performed with further helps to separate some parasite eggs from the feces.

The last thing you need to know is how to bring the sample in to us.  The fresher, the better!  This is to make sure that the parasites are found in an unchanged form, as the longer the fecal sample sits out the harder it is to recognize them.  Try to collect a stool sample that day if possible.  If not, a sample from the night before is adequate, but it should be placed in a completely sealed container and put in the refrigerator.

Why does my vet want a urine sample?

During your exam on Fluffy, your vet discusses collecting a blood and urine sample on her.  And again you wonder, why would my veterinarian want to look at my pet’s pee?

A urinalysis is very helpful in many situations to help assess your pet’s health.  First, we check the concentration of your pet’s urine.  This is helpful to make sure your pet’s kidneys are functioning appropriately (as they are in charge of concentrating urine) and make sure your pet is drinking appropriate levels of water.  Then we check the pH of your pet’s urine, which tells us how acidic or basic the urine is.  If abnormal, this can indicate types of infections or cause formation of bladder stones.  We check for any protein in the urine.  Protein should not be found, and if is it can indicate types of inflammation or kidney disease.  The urine is checked for glucose (blood sugar) and ketones which can indicate that a pet has diabetes and related complications to this disease.  The urine is then checked for bilirubin, which is a compound from the liver, and can indicate liver disease.

Next, urine sediment is examined under the microscope.  The sediment is what remains after the urine is centrifuged, which separates the liquid and solid components of the urine.  The sediment can be composed of white blood cells, red blood cells, bacteria, crystals, and casts.  White blood cells in the urine can indicate forms of inflammation.  If bacteria are seen, the pet may have a urinary tract infection and a culture should be performed.  Crystals in the urine can indicate that a patient is predisposed to making (or has already made!) bladder stones.  Finally, casts can reveal different types of kidney diseases.

Urine samples are requested for many reasons, including issues directly with the urine (you noticed your pet urinating abnormally) or as part of a wellness screening (better assessing your pet’s kidney function).  Urine is collected in multiple ways.  We may ask you to collect a urine sample at home.  The first sample of the morning is the best, as it is often the most concentrated sample throughout the day.  Collect the sample in a clean, dry container (we can provide one for you).  If you are collecting for a dog, you will have to follow them outside and when they start to urinate, place the container in the stream of urine.  If you are collecting for a cat, the litter will have to be removed from the box.  The fresher the sample the better!  Sometimes, we recommend that we collect the sample ourselves.  Often, it is because it can be difficult to collect at home (especially for cats or short dogs!).  Also, sometimes we want the sample to be as fresh and sterile as possible for accurate results.  Your veterinarian can help you decide how the sample should best be collected.

Why Wellness?

Why Wellness?

Many pets and clients we have seen come in just when their pets are ill.  That is great, we love to help those pets feel better, but an even BETTER feeling is keeping those pets from getting sick in the first place!  Often pets, especially for cats and exotics, hide their illness from their owners until they are very ill.  That is why wellness exams are recommended.

During a well exam, your veterinarian has a whole list of things he/she will go through.  First, we want to hear from you how your pet is doing.  Do you notice any abnormal behaviors?  Do you have any concerns?  We also want to hear about your pet’s daily life, including how much exercise they get, what kind of food they eat, and any other maintenance items you do for you dog (brushing their teeth, grooming appointments).

Most importantly is the wellness physical exam.  During an exam, our goal is to catch any issues often before you even notice they are there!  Dental disease is one of the most common findings (in cats, dogs, and small mammals) as most owners do not put their fingers in their pet’s mouths to check this.  If we can catch dental disease early, start some preventative measures (like brushing), and potentially perform a dental cleaning, often we can not only protect the health of your pet’s teeth but their overall health as well!  During our exam we look at the rest of the pet’s mouth (checking for masses or ulcerations), we look at their eyes (examining their cornea, lens, and retina for any abnormalities), and feel all of their lymph nodes.  We look in their ears and check their skin.  We also listen to their heart and lungs, often catching heart disease very early.  We palpate their abdomen for masses, swelling, or pain.  We also check for evidence of orthopedic injuries and arthritis.

We then check their records to see what sort of vaccines and bloodwork your pet has had.  This varies very much from species to species (for example, generally I do not recommend any vaccines for my exotic critters) but also varies from year to year.  A few years ago, I considered leptospirosis a rare disease, more commonly seen in very active outdoor and swimming dogs.  However, as we see more and more of it in dogs that never leave the yard, I now recommend the leptospirosis vaccine for all dogs.  If you just brought your dog in when they were ill or when you got a rabies vaccine reminder, you may not have known about this!  Also, we like to be sure all dogs are getting heartworm prevention and often flea/tick prevention.

As pets age, we often recommend labwork.  Again, this helps us to screen for disease before an animal actually feels the effects of it or shows any signs.  Usually this consists of a blood sample, but often a urine sample is requested as well.  In a blood sample, we check many different values including a red blood cell count, a white blood cell count, organ values (liver and kidneys), electrolytes, proteins, and a thyroid value.  A urine sample is helpful to check for kidney function, as well as evidence of inflammation, infection, and protein loss.  A yearly fecal exam is recommended to make sure your pet has not picked up any internal parasites.  Other diagnostics may be recommended based on our exam, including special blood panels or imaging (x-rays or ultrasound).  These can be discussed at length if we think they are indicated.

As a pet heads to his senior years, we recommend exams every 6 months.  This is because for a pet, a single year is equivalent to 5-7 human years!  For senior pets, we do not want to wait quite that long before repeating an exam in case anything more serious develops.  Generally, we recommend a blood and urine panel yearly for senior pets.

Please contact us to set up your pet’s wellness exam.  Let’s work together to keep your pets healthy!

Julia Katzenbach, DVM

It’s Officially Summer!

It’s Officially Summer!

Summer means camping, hiking, and enjoying the great outdoors!  It also brings a handful of things to consider for your beloved pets.  The following are a few important things to consider with the warm weather.


Heartworm disease:

Hopefully you have all heard one of us discuss heartworm disease in an appointment, but here is a summary in case you forget the details!  Heartworm disease is named very appropriately, as it is a worm that can truly live in a dog’s heart.  It can be transmitted to cats as well, though much less commonly.  It is spread by mosquitos, so even if your dog does not interact with unknown dogs it should still get prevention.  Many of these mosquitos like to live in your house, so even if your dog remains mostly inside it should STILL get prevention!  These worms can cause severe damage to the heart and lungs, and can grow to be a foot in length!  Treatment for this disease can be very difficult, dangerous, and expensive.  However, prevention is easy, relatively inexpensive, and almost 100% effective.

For every dog, we recommend a once a month preventative from June through November that kills any baby heartworms your dog may have been infected with before they become dangerous.  This medication also helps to prevent other gastrointestinal parasites.  In other states, year round prevention is necessary.  A yearly blood test to detect heartworm disease is required before a prescription can be filled, to make sure that your pet has not been infected.  These medications are generally very safe and it is very rare for a dog to have a negative side effect.  There are multiple options, including oral flavored tablets and topical treatments.

Internal Parasites:

There are many other different types of internal parasites that can infect our pets.  Usually they live in the gastrointestinal tract and can cause signs such as vomiting and diarrhea.  This can often be detected with a simple fecal exam, which are recommended yearly.  Many of these parasites are zoonotic, meaning that humans can get them as well.  Some of these parasites are prevented by your monthly heartworm preventative, but if you have any concerns with how your pet is doing a test should be performed just in case.

External Parasites:

There are many different types of external parasites that can effect dogs and cats.  Luckily they are much less common in Colorado!  Fleas, ticks, lice, and mites are a handful of these.  Monthly prevention is available for these parasites, and the majority of these consist of a topical liquid that is absorbed into the sebaceous glands in the skin.  Most of the time we use it after we find the parasites to help kill the parasites and prevent further infestations.  But these medications can be used every month even if you have not seen a parasite on your pet.  Ticks are known to spread other diseases, so if you notice one it should be removed right away.


In the state of Colorado we have one main rattlesnake, the Prairie Rattlesnake.  Luckily for us, it is generally a wuss as far as rattlesnake goes.  99% of dogs survive their bite wounds, but 100% of dogs feel very ill after being bitten.  The majority of rattlesnake bites are in the front range foothills, especially on North Table Mountain, South Table Mountain, and Green Mountain.  Keep your dogs leashed in these areas and stay on trails to avoid rattlesnakes.  If you see one, give it a wide berth and it will likely leave you completely alone.

Signs of a rattlesnake bite include extreme swelling and pain in the affected area.  Often you will see two puncture wounds.  If your dog is bitten, it should be seen by a veterinarian right away!  As mentioned, these dogs are extremely painful, often in shock, and can have some severe changes in their ability to clot blood.  If they are bitten on the nose or throat, the severe swelling can affect their ability to breath.  It will be recommended that they are hospitalized for intravenous fluids, pain medicine, and possibly antivenin.  Most dogs are much improved in a day or two without severe complications.


Leptospirosis is caused by a bacterial infection that can be carried potentially by any mammal, including wildlife.  It can be transmitted to your pet through contaminated water, soil, or by coming in contact with the animal itself.  It is more common in the summer, though can be contracted all year long.  This disease can be very serious, as it can cause detrimental damage to the liver and kidneys and can potentially be fatal.  This disease is also zoonotic, meaning it can be spread to people.  Luckily, there is a vaccine for this disease that is quite effective!  We are seeing more and more of this disease in Colorado and at this time recommend that every dog, even those that do not spend very much time outside, be vaccinated for it.  Generally this vaccine is given apart from other vaccines, due to a slightly higher risk of vaccine reactions.

Heat Stroke:

Heat stroke can be very serious and can affect your pet very quickly.  Remember, your dog is wearing a permanent fur coat!  If you’re going to take them out for a run or a hike, do it during the cooler times of day or head into the mountains.  If it feels at all warm outside, please do not leave them in your car!  Your car can easily become 20 degrees warmer than the temperature outside, and can put your pet at risk.  Dogs that are brachycephalic (have shorter noses) such as bulldogs, boxers, and pugs, are at a higher risk of being effected by the heat.  If your dog seems very hot, try to find a body of water to let them submerge and cool off.  If they are lethargic or their gums are very bright or very pale, you should seek medical attention right away as this can be life threatening.


Many people believe that plague is a disease of the past, but it actually still exists in some southwestern states, including Colorado.  It is a bacterial infection spread by fleas who live on rodents, namely prairie dogs.  Pets can come in contact with this disease by hunting or interacting with prairie dogs, so it is often seen in cats who spend a large amount of time outside.  This disease can be very serious, and can affect the lungs, lymph nodes, and blood stream.  It can also be spread to people.  The easiest way to prevent your pet from contracting this disease is to keep them inside.  If your pet spends time outside unsupervised, and is showing any signs of lethargy, breathing heavy, or just not doing well, they should see a veterinarian right away.  This disease can be cured with antibiotics if caught early enough but can be fatal if left undetected.

Rabbit Fever:

Rabbit fever is a disease that is new to Colorado.  It is also known as Tularemia, and has already been diagnosed in multiple people and dogs this summer in Jefferson County.  It is a bacterial infection that is spread by certain types of ticks that live on rabbits.  This disease can cause a fever, enlarged lymph nodes, and can damage many internal organs.  It can also be spread to people.  Keeping your pets inside and away from rabbits is the best way to prevent this disease.  This disease can be treated with antibiotics if caught early enough but can be life threatening.

Julia Katzenbach, DVM

Guinea Pig Care

Guinea Pig Care

Are you thinking about adding a new fury friend to the family?  If so, maybe you’re considering a guinea pig!  Before taking the leap, or maybe you’re a new owner and want some more information, here is a little review on care for guinea pigs.

Guinea pigs are amazing little critters.  They have a wide language, made up of squeaks and chatters, to help them communicate to their fellow pigs.  They are technically rodents, so in the same family as mice and rats.  They are originally from South America and roam the jungle in packs!

The most important thing to know about guinea pigs is their unique dietary requirements.  Like rabbits, guinea pigs have very unique gastrointestinal tracts that make them pretty much a tiny version of a horse.  A diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial to the health of your guinea pig.  The high fiber supports their unique intestinal tract, and having to chew and break down this tough food source helps to grind down their teeth that grow their entire lives.  A diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial for dental health!

The type of hay that you feed your guinea pig is important as well.  The two most common types of hay seen at the pet store include timothy hay and alfalfa hay.  Alfalfa hay is much higher in calcium and calories, and is appropriate for young guinea pigs (less than 6 months) or nursing females.  However, this is not appropriate for adult guinea pigs!  The hay is too high in calories, and guinea pigs are especially predisposed to making calcium based bladder stones.  They should be fed timothy hay, or another type of grass hay.  You can get multiple types and mix and match.  Guinea pigs should have fresh hay in their cage at all times.

However, because we are human, we often feel the urge to feed guinea pigs more than just plain, boring, hay (which most guinea pigs actually really love).  One thing that is common to feed are guinea pig pellets.  It is recommended that young guinea pigs (less than 6 months of age) and nursing females receive pellets made from of alfalfa hay.  However, adult guinea pigs should get pellets consisting of timothy hay.  The general rule for an adult guinea pig is that for every 5 pounds of guinea pig, they should get approximately ¼ cup of pellets per day.  Most adult guinea pigs weight about 2 pounds, so 1/8 cup of pellets per day is a typical amount.

Guinea pigs are also very unique in that they also require a source of Vitamin C in their diet daily!  Guinea pig pellets are supplemented with Vitamin C.  However, Vitamin C is very unstable and will break down over time.  Therefore, by the time you are getting half way through the bag of pellets there is generally not adequate Vitamin C.  It is also possible to purchase a water based Vitamin C that you can add to the water.  Again, Vitamin C is unstable and break downs in light (which most water bottles are in!) and many guinea pigs do not like the taste of this source.  Oxbow makes a Vitamin C tablet, and they place an expiration date on the container which indicates when the Vitamin C will be degraded and therefore not adequate for your pig.  We believe the best source of Vitamin C is a fresh source!  See the next page for a list of fruits and vegetables and their levels of Vitamin C.  Fruits are ok to give in small quantities (one slice per day).  Some vegetables (spinach, kale, mustard greens, parsley) are high in Calcium, and so if given frequently can predispose guinea pigs to making bladder stones.  Our favorite fresh source of Vitamin C is a slice of pepper (red, orange, green) per day!  Most guinea pigs love it and it is easy to keep in the refrigerator.

The next thing to discuss is the house you want to get for your guinea pig.   A general rule is that the cage should be as long as four times the length of your guinea pig lying stretched out, and at least one time that width.  The bigger, the better!  The bedding that you pick for your guinea pig is also very important.  Guinea pigs have very sensitive respiratory tracts, and soft woods such as cedar and pine produce a lot of oils that are unhealthy for your guinea pig to be breathing in all day.  Stick to aspen wood shavings, or even better, recycled newspaper bedding.  Avoid typical cat litter that is clumping and scented, and could cause a big problem if ingested.  Wire cages should be avoid as guinea pigs can get foot injuries.  Be sure their flooring is solid, soft, and clean!

There are some things that guinea pigs are commonly seen for at the veterinarian.  Likely the most common reason is for something called “gastrointestinal stasis”, which basically mean that the guinea pig is not eating well or at all, and their intestines have slowed down as a result.  This is generally a symptom, not a disease itself, and has some underlying cause.  This could be as simple as the guinea pig eating an inappropriate diet (not enough hay, too many vegetables) or could indicate something very serious.  Any guinea pig that skips a meal or does not produce feces should be seen by a veterinarian right away, as this can indicate an emergency.

Respiratory infections are also very common in guinea pigs, and owners usually notice eye or nose discharge.  This is a bacteria that healthy rabbits carry that can be given to guinea pigs and cause them to be very ill.  Guinea pigs and rabbits should never be housed together!  Dental disease is also common, especially middle aged to older guinea pigs, and is usually indicated by a guinea pig who is not eating well, is dropping his food, or his drooling.  A yearly examination by a veterinarian is recommended for any guinea pig!

I hope that answers a lot of your questions about guinea pigs!  They are amazing little critters, and make great pets for those young and young at heart!

Julia Katzenbach, DVM

Vitamin C per 100 grams — Vegetables

190.0 mg — Peppers,Red
133.0 mg — Parsley
130.0 mg — Spinach, Mustard
120.0 mg — Kale
93.2 mg — Broccoli
89.3 mg — Peppers,Green
85.0 mg — Brussels Sprouts
85.0 mg — Dill Weed
80.0 mg — Lambs quarters
70.0 mg — Mustard Greens
62.0 mg — Kohlrabi
60.0 mg — Turnip Greens
46.4 mg — Cauliflower
45.0 mg — Chinese Cabbage (pak-choi)
43.0 mg — Watercress
35.3 mg — Collards
35.0 mg — Dandelion Greens
32.2 mg — Cabbage
30.0 mg — Chard, Swiss
30.0 mg — Beet* Greens
30.0 mg — Swiss Chard
28.1 mg — Spinach
27.0 mg — Cilantro
25.0 mg — Rutabaga
24.0 mg — Lettuce, Romaine
24.0 mg — Chicory Greens
22.7 mg — Sweet Potato
21.1 mg — Okra
21.0 mg — Turnip
21.0 mg — Purslane
19.1 mg — Tomato
18.0 mg — Lettuce, LooseLeaf
17.0 mg — Parsnips
16.3 mg — Green Beans
14.8 mg — Squash (summer, all varieties)
13.2 mg — Asparagus
12.3 mg — Squash (winter, all varieties)
11.0 mg — Sweet Potato Leaves
9.3 mg — Carrots
9.0 mg — Pumpkin
8.4 mg — Carrots, Baby
8.2 mg — Alfalfa Sprouts
8.0 mg — Lettuce, Butterhead (Boston, Bibb)
7.0 mg — Celery
6.8 mg — Corn, White
6.5 mg — Endive (Escarole)
5.3 mg — Cucumber (with skin)
4.9 mg — Beets
2.8 mg — Endive, Belgian (Witloof Chicory)

Vitamin C per 100 grams — Fruits

98.0 mg — Kiwi
61.8 mg — Papaya
56.7 mg — Strawberries
53.2 mg — Orange
53.0 mg — Lemon (no peel)
42.2 mg — Cantaloupe
38.1 mg — Grapefruit, Pink and Red
33.3 mg — Grapefruit, White
30.8 mg — Tangerine
29.1 mg — Lime
27.7 mg — Mango
24.8 mg — Honeydew Melon
21.0 mg — Blackberries
16.0 mg — Casaba Melon
15.4 mg — Pineapple
13.5 mg — Cranberries
13.0 mg — Blueberries
10.8 mg — Grapes
10.0 mg — Apricots
9.6 mg — Raspberries
9.6 mg — Watermelon
9.5 mg — Plum
9.1 mg — Banana
7.5 mg — Persimmon, Japanese
7.0 mg — Cherries, Sweet
6.6 mg — Peach
5.7 mg — Apple (with Skin)
5.4 mg — Nectarine
4.0 mg — Pear
3.3 mg — Raisins, Seedless


Let’s Talk About Box Turtles!

Let’s Talk About Box Turtles!

So far I’ve touched a little on small mammals and birds.  Time for my next favorite topic: reptiles!  And if I could pick any reptile to see, it would probably be a box turtle.  They are one of the most common pet reptiles I see and they have to be one of my favorites.  They have such amazing personalities and character, and it is so fun to watch them move around throughout the day.  Have you ever seen a box turtle eat a strawberry?  Hilarious!

Box turtles come in many different species across the world.  In captivity we most commonly see the Eastern Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina carolina), the Three-Toed Box Turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis), and the Ornate (or Western) Box Turtle (Terrapene ornate).  The majority of box turtles are considered terrestrial animals, meaning that they live on land and do not typically swim.  However, they always need access to fresh water and something that they can climb into.  Several species of Asian box turtles, including the Malayan Box Turtle (Cuora amboinensis) and Chinese Box Turtle (Cuora flavomarginata), are not commonly seen in captive environments and have completely different husbandry requirements.  They both spend most of their time in the water!

The most ideal habitat for a captive box turtle is to keep them outside!  A large enclosure can be created for them that should contain areas of shade, sunshine, and burrowing areas.  It should be predator proof, which means protection from above as well.  Plants can be placed in this enclosure (strawberry, raspberry, squash) for the turtle to hide under, as well as to eat!  They need a fresh water source, large enough to crawl into but should not be so deep that it covers their head.  Native bugs (except for fireflies if you live somewhere other than Colorado) can be placed into the enclosure for the turtle to eat, and a small composting area in the habitat may help attract them.   These turtles can be kept outside for the majority of the year, and then brought inside during the winter OR you could consider hibernating them for the winter.

A habitat can also be created for box turtles inside.  “Turtle boxes” can be made which consist of a raised habitat created from wood, which are high enough to prevent the turtle from climbing out of it but lower than most aquariums so that there is good air flow.  Different substrates can be used including mulch, wood chips, or dirt.  Be sure to feed your turtle on a more solid surface (a rock, in a dish) so that he does not accidentally ingest small pieces of substrate.  The temperature of your enclosure should range from approximately 85-88F in the basking area during the day, to 70-75F at night.  This can be obtained by using heat lamps, and a red heat lamp can be purchased for night use as needed.  Box turtles also require a light source that contains UVB.  The best source of UVB is the sun, but if your turtle is remaining indoors a special light needs to be purchased.  ReptiSun and Megaray are two great options, but these lights can be purchased at pet stores as well.  Be sure to read the box carefully, as most UVB lights only emit UVB for approximately 6 months!  This means the fluorescent light will still be present, but no UVB is being emitted.  Be sure to label the light fixture with the month the bulb should be changed.  UVB light also does not go through glass or plastic, and should be within 18 inches of the turtle.  The highest source is in the center of the bulb, so try to position this over the turtle’s basking area.

Box turtles are omnivores, but require more plant material (75%) than they do animal material (25%).  A salad should be prepared for your turtle approximately 3 times per week.  Some options of vegetables to feed include carrots, chard, collard greens, dandelion, escarole, lettuce, mustard, parsnip, spinach, squash, and sweet potatoes.  Fruit can be added as a supplement including berries, apples, and melons.  Protein sources should be fed 2-3 times per week in small amounts, including earthworms, mealworms, crickets, hardboiled eggs, and canned dog food.  Canned dog food should only be given in small amounts and only on occasion.  Insects can be “gut-loaded”, by feeding them Fluker’s gut loading formula, before feeding them to your turtle to give them even more nutrition.  Wild insects can be caught and also fed to your turtle (except fireflies).  A multivitamin or Calcium powder can be sprinkled on the food, but if your turtle is eating a well varied diet and has a UVB source, this is likely not necessary.  The key is variety!  Avoid processed and frozen foods, as they contain a lot of preservatives and lose a lot of their nutritional content.

An annual veterinary exam is recommended for all box turtles, to discuss husbandry and to help catch illnesses early.  If you are considering hibernating your turtle, he should be examined beforehand to be sure he is healthy enough to hibernate, and also to discuss how to safely do this.  Consider weighing your turtle regularly to help monitor his health.  Keep a chart or notebook to help you keep track, and if you notice a trend of weight loss or gain, this is a good indication to schedule a veterinary exam.  Common signs of illness include eye swelling or discharge, ear swelling, oral lesions, or beak or shell abnormalities.

Very interestingly, Ornate Box Turtles are native to the state of Colorado!  So, if you see one of these guys wandering around while you’re out on a hike, enjoy it, take a picture, and then leave him alone.  If you relocate them, they will walk for DAYS trying to get back to where you took them from, which may mean crossing busy roads and through neighborhoods.  If you do have to move one for some reason (maybe because he is injured?) take note of the exact location of where he was found so that he can be returned.

Contact the Colorado Reptile Humane Society (www.corhs.org) for more information on caring for box turtles or if you are interested in adopting one of these scaled friends!  Anapsid.org is another great resource for box turtle needs.

Julia Katzenbach, DVM

A Little About Parrots…

A Little About Parrots…

I could probably talk about parrots for days. The thousands of different species of parrots. Their unique anatomy and physiology. How intelligent they are and all of the little quirks you discover when working with them. For now, I just wanted to touch on a few important things to consider when owning one of these amazing creatures.

First of all, when thinking about purchasing or rescuing a parrot, you need to know what you’re getting yourself into. Parrots live a LONG time. I mean, a REALLY LONG time. Many parrots live an average of 40 to 60 years, and some have been reported to live up to 75! This means you should consider long and hard if you are prepared to make such a long term commitment for the care of one of these amazing animals before considering your purchase.

The second important thing to consider is the amount of attention these animals need. They are extremely social animals and some have been likened to having the minds of an eight year old child. They need a lot of human interaction in order to be happy. Many of the parrots who are left alone for long periods of time throughout the day and are not socialized frequently develop a lot of behavioral issues, including screaming, feather picking, and aggression.

If you already own a parrot, or despite the above paragraphs, are still prepared to take the leap, there are many important things to know about their husbandry. I’ve already talked about how social they are, and a well trained bird is key to developing a good relationship with you, and to help keep them preoccupied. Some other important things to know are about their housing and diet.

Picking a cage for your bird can be very important. For a larger parrot, the cage should allow the bird to extend his wings out completely without hitting the sides of the cage. The bigger the cage, the better and the happier your bird will be! Many of these cages are made out of bird safe wrought iron. If you are interested in making a cage for your bird, remember they are much stronger than you think and their beaks have an amazing ability to break and bend almost anything you put in front of their face. Also, lead and zinc are toxic if ingested so be sure none of the caging material include these. Parrots should have lots of toys to play with and things to chew on. Toys that promote foraging behavior (contains their food so they have to manipulate the toy to get it out) are great. See the website birdsjustwannahavefun.com on some advice for making toys for your bird.

The diet you feed your birds is extremely important, and getting them on a good, well-rounded diet early is key. Birds are often too smart for their own good, and they learn early in life what IS food, and what IS NOT food. Therefore, trying to switch a bird from one diet to another once they have reached adulthood can be very difficult. For young birds, introducing them to many types of foods is critical. Bird seeds are one of the most common diets fed to parrots. They are crunchy and delicious, and I liken them to feeding a bird French fries. They are high in fat, and low in about 30 vitamins and minerals. Parrots fed a seed only diet long term tend to be overweight and show signs of nutrient deficiency. They are also predisposed to very serious medical conditions, including atherosclerosis (plaque build up in blood vessels) and respiratory infections. Therefore, I recommend feeding seeds only in small amounts and as a treat. Another easy option is feeding a bird pellets. There are many different kinds, one of which we carry at Mesa called Harrison’s Bird Food. These pellets are similar to the kibble you feed your dog and cat. It contains all of the vital nutrients that a bird needs in a small convenient package. Some of the healthiest, happiest birds I see “eat what the owner eats”… this of course must mean that you don’t eat fast food every day. But, if you regularly cook meals for yourself that are well rounded and healthy, there is a very good chance these meals are also healthy for your bird. Birds can happily eat vegetables (except avocado!), fruits, pastas, and legumes. And if your bird sees you eating this meal, he is more inclined to eat it as well because you are a member of his flock and are telling him that this is actual food! I generally recommend trying to get most parrots on a pelleted diet (especially for convenience, if you are out of town, or if you don’t cook a meal), and using other healthy foods you eat to help supplement the diet.

There are many other important things to know about your pet parrot. First, they are VERY sensitive to airborn toxins, so never smoke or light candles near them. Keep the area well ventilated when you use aerosolized cleaners in the house. Also, they have been shown to be very sensitive to the Teflon coating on some cookware. If a pan with Teflon is overheated, it can release fumes that are deadly to parrots. As mentioned above, it is thought the some part of avocados are toxic to birds, so these should be avoided. Lead and zinc can be toxic if ingested.

It is recommended that all birds have a yearly examination with a veterinarian, as birds are masters of disguise! Because they are technically “prey” species (meaning they may be hunted by other animals in the wild) they do not ever want to show signs that they are ill. This often means that by the time you notice that your parrot is not feeling well, they are actually really sick. Signs to watch for are any missed meals, sitting with fluffed feathers, not being as active or interactive, or sitting on the floor of the cage. If you see anything concerning, your parrot should be seen right away by a veterinarian who is comfortable working with parrots.

Whew! That was a quick intro into the life of owning a parrot. There is a LOT more to learn about them, and I would be happy to help you out if I see your bird for a visit here at Mesa! At that time we can address any questions you have about husbandry, diet, and training!

Dr. Julia Katzenbach, DVM

So You Want to Get a Rabbit?

So You Want to Get a Rabbit?

When I say I’m a “small animal veterinarian”, everyone’s mind immediately jumps to those adorable kittens and puppies that frequent households across the globe. But I actually see a wide variety of pets, including those scaled and feathered. But my favorite is probably the pet rabbit. How can you not love those adorable ears and fun personalities?

Though adorable, rabbits do come with a lot of responsibility, and there is a lot of information about them available through pet stores and on the internet that is not quite accurate. I’m writing this blog for those of you who own rabbits, or are thinking of adding a new fluffy companion to the family.

First, and probably most importantly, is a rabbit’s diet. Rabbits have very unique gastrointestinal tracts that make them pretty much a tiny version of a horse. It usually comes as a surprise, but rabbits can survive just fine off of a diet consisting of 100% hay! Having a diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial to the health of your rabbit. The high fiber supports their unique intestinal tract, and having to chew and break down this tough food source helps to grind down their teeth that grow their entire lives. A diet consisting primarily of hay is crucial for dental health!

The type of hay that you feed your rabbit is important as well. The two most common types of hay seen at the pet store include timothy hay and alfalfa hay. Alfalfa hay is much higher in calcium and calories, and is appropriate for young rabbits (less than 6 months) or nursing does. However, this is not appropriate for adult rabbits! They should be fed timothy hay, or another type of grass hay. You can get multiple types and mix and match. Rabbits should have fresh hay in their cage at all times.

However, because we are human, we often feel the urge to feed rabbits more than just plain, boring, hay (which most rabbits actually really love). One thing that is common to feed are rabbit pellets. It is recommended that young rabbits (less than 6 months of age) and nursing does get pellets consisting of alfalfa hay. However, adult rabbits should get pellets consisting of timothy hay. The general rule for an adult rabbit is that for every 5 pounds of rabbit, they should get approximately ¼ cup of pellets per day.
Fresh greens are also a good supplement for a rabbit diet. Dark, leafy greens are ideal, and beware of feeding too many greens that are high in calcium. Visit the House Rabbit Society’s website for more information on the levels of calcium in common vegetables. Some vegetables, including broccoli and cauliflower, can actually cause stomach discomfort if eaten in large quantities. For most rabbits, about a cup of vegetables per day is adequate. Just like with us, a good mixture of vegetables is healthier than feeding the same vegetables every day!

The next thing to discuss is the house you want to get for your rabbit. A general rule is that the cage should be as long as four times the length of your rabbit lying stretched out, and at least one time that width. The bigger, the better! Your rabbit can also be allowed to roam around in your house. Be aware, rabbits LOVE to chew and they LOVE to dig! Some rabbits love to chew cords, so those should be tucked away and unreachable, and some rabbits even eat carpet so monitor them closely! Luckily, rabbits litter box train generally very easily. They will generally pick a corner of their cage to use as a bathroom. You can place a litter box there and change it frequently, without much of a mess! If letting your rabbit loose in your house, you may need to scatter a couple of littler boxes just in case. The bedding that you pick for your rabbit is also very important. Rabbits have very sensitive respiratory tracts, and soft woods such as cedar and pine produce a lot of oils that are unhealthy for your rabbit to be breathing in all day. Stick to aspen wood shavings, or even better, recycled newspaper bedding. Avoid typical cat litter that is clumping and scented, and could cause a big problem if ingested.

Some people who own rabbits choose to keep them outside. This is absolutely acceptable as long as some extra care is added to keep our little friends comfortable. They should have plenty of space in their hutch (see above measurements) and an area to use as a little box. They should also have time to roam around outside their hutch, either supervised or in an enclosed pen. This pen should be enclosed on all sides, as well as on the top to keep predators out! Remember that rabbits like to dig, so the enclosure should be at least 6 inches deep in the soil. Importantly, rabbits tend to do well in cold weather (as long as sheltered in their hutch from the wind, rain, and snow) but can easily overheat in the summer. Supply frozen water bottles or fans to help keep them cool! On really hot days, it would be a good idea to bring them inside. Finally, rabbits who live outside are predisposed to getting attacked by parasites. Be sure to check them frequently for any abnormal lumps and bumps, and talk to your rabbit veterinarian about monthly topical parasite prevention.

Many people ask if their rabbit should be spayed or neutered. Many male rabbits can be aggressive and can mark their “territory” by urinating on it. Neutering the male rabbit can help prevent these behaviors. If multiple rabbits are to be housed together, it is also recommended that they be neutered. It is recommend that ALL female rabbits be spayed. This is because studies show that up to 80% of female rabbits over the age of four develop uterine cancer. Spaying a rabbit early prevents this from ever developing. It is ideal that rabbits are spayed between 6 and 12 months of age.

There are some things that rabbits are commonly seen at the veterinarian for. Likely the most common reason is for something called “gastrointestinal stasis”, which basically mean that the rabbit is not eating well or at all, and their intestines have slowed down as a result. This is generally a symptom, not a disease itself, and has some underlying cause. This could be as simple as the rabbit eating an inappropriate diet (not enough hay, too many vegetables) or could indicate something very serious. Any rabbit that skips a meal should be seen by a veterinarian right away, as this can indicate an emergency.

Respiratory infections are also very common in rabbits, and owners usually notice eye or nose discharge. Dental disease is also common, especially middle aged to older rabbits, and is usually indicated by a rabbit who is not eating well, is dropping his food, or his drooling. A yearly examination by a veterinarian is recommended for any rabbit!

Rabbits are wonderful pets and companions, and if cared for properly can live into their teens. They come in many different shapes and sizes, and always have a unique personality. At Mesa Veterinary Hospital, we look forward to meeting your long-eared friend and helping with any questions you may have about his or her care!

Julia Katzenbach, DVM