Why does the caged bird sing? Because he has new perches, toys and tidbits


January 16, 1993|By Gina Spadafori | Gina Spadafori,McClatchy News Service

Close to 20 million U.S. households keep caged pets -- canaries, parakeets or parrots, rats, rabbits or guinea pigs. For many of these pets, life is a dull march of empty days, with only cage bars, shavings and food dishes to contemplate.

Even the littlest pets deserve better, and it is neither time-consuming nor very expensive to improve their lot.

Birds, especially parrots, need variety of food and environment to keep from being bored into sickness and poor behavior. Make sure the diet you're feeding is a good and balanced one -- parrots shouldn't live on seeds alone -- and supplement with a healthy array of "people food" such as pasta, fruits and vegetables. If you have any questions on proper diet, talk to an avian veterinarian or reputable breeder or dealer.

Look at your bird's primary environment, its cage, starting with the perches. Birds need a variety of sizes and shapes to keep their feet from forming sores. A reputable dealer will offer wood, plastic or rope perches, or you can collect and prepare your own.

According to the pet industry trade publication. Pet Product News, the best wood is maple, willow, apple, eucalyptus, manzanita, grape or citrus, choosing from unsprayed trees away from roadways. Soak branches in a solution of one part bleach to 10 parts water and season for up to six months before adding to your pet's cage. A faster method is to dry the sanitized branches by baking them in a 400-degree oven for 15 minutes. This ensures you don't introduce insects or molds into your pet's environment.

Plastic perches are generally made of polyvinyl chloride pipe, which can be shaped in many ways for parrots to wander on. A bonus: PVC stands up well to chewers.

Rope perches are useful, too, and many birds love them, but Pet Product News says it pays to be cautious with them. Overgrown beaks and nails can catch on the rope, and soiling can be a problem. Before putting rope perches into your bird's area, make sure the bird's grooming is up to date. Choosing washable rope will allow you to keep the perches clean through frequent washings.

Bird toys are made of combinations of the same materials as perches and there is an endless variety. Keep them fresh, keep them varied and change them often to keep your bird happy. An excellent source for both perches and toys are the advertisements in Bird Talk magazine.

While birds will let you know they're unhappy, rodents will mostly suffer in silence. But they, too, deserve a variety of foods and toys.

Fresh fruits and vegetables, well-scrubbed and in small amounts, should be offered frequently, with the leftovers removed before mold and mildew set in. As with birds, the intent is to supplement a balanced diet, not replace it.

Rodents need to chew, so be sure to include wood toys in the cage. These can be scraps of lumber from household projects -- as long as they're not chemically treated -- or they can be purchased from a reputable pet store. My guinea pig, Jeepers, has no interest in little wood blocks placed in the cage, but put it between the bars and he'll work for hours to pull it in. Cotton puffs and alfalfa are also a hit, but only if they can be dragged in from the mesh on top of the cage.

A change of scenery can't hurt a caged pet, either. Many suppliers offer harnesses and leads for walking rabbits, and cages can be placed in other areas of the house or a sheltered part of the yard from time to time (watch for direct sunlight and other animals such as dogs or cats).

Caged pets don't ask for much, but as their stewards, we owe them a little more than most of them get. Spend a little extra time with these little pets and you may be surprised how rewarding they can be.

Ms. Spadafori is a newspaper reporter and an animal obedience trainer in Sacramento, Calif. Questions about pets may be sent to her c/o Saturday, The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21278

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