Geese as Pets

Domestic geese. flock of white domestic geese on the farm.If you’re looking into a new pet but don’t want to settle for the usual cat or dog, geese might be a good pet for you. In order to own pet geese, you must have adequate space and check with city guidelines and neighborhood associations to make sure backyard poultry, ducks and geese are allowed in your area. Although many of us have heard the horror stories of aggressive geese attacking park visitors, pet geese who are hand raised and handled daily are often more docile. Before you jump into owning geese, there are a few things you should know and consider in order to create a comfortable living environment where your geese can thrive.

Your first step in owning pet geese is choosing the right breed. There are a number of breeds to choose from, many of them making great pets. Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical associate professor for the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, recommends breeds like the Toulouse, the American Buff and the Pilgrim, as these breeds are considered to be good pets by her clients. Geese are also flock animals, so consider getting 2-3 geese to help create a more natural environment. Females are less likely to fight with one another, so they may make a better option as pets.

So what kind of housing do these birds need? To ensure your birds are comfortable and have enough room, at least one square meter per bird is recommended for indoor night housing, and two square meters per bird for outdoor housing. Include grass floors and secure fencing in your outdoor housing arrangement to protect your geese from predators like rats, coyotes, and neighborhood dogs. A larger pen filled with soft green grass should be available for your geese to roam during most of the day, providing a swimming area and more protective fencing. As a guide, three geese will typically be happy in a 20×40 foot pen. “Pet geese need a large yard with grass and housing that keeps them warm in the winter and can protect them from the heat in the summer,” explained Hoppes. “Geese also need water for swimming, so a pool or pond is a must. If you use a small pool as the water source it will need to be cleaned daily. Geese can overheat easily on a hot summer day if there is no water or shade available.” If you would like to own pet geese, keep in mind that daily cleaning is essential.

If geese are not housed in a grassy yard with a proper swimming area, serious health problems can develop. “Geese that are housed without a water source for swimming or on hard ground or cement tend to develop foot issues that can become life threatening,” said Hoppes. “Since geese are such heavy bodied birds they need both legs for ambulating, and if on an inappropriate substrate their feet will develop pressure sores that can lead to bone infections.” Other common health problems in geese include intestinal parasites (deworming is a must), limb deformities in young geese due to poor diet, and trauma caused by dogs, coyotes or other predators. Older females may also be subject to reproductive problems such as egg binding. “Anyone obtaining pet geese, waterfowl or backyard poultry should make sure there is a local veterinarian comfortable with birds nearby and available for emergencies,” recommended Hoppes.

You may be wondering what kind of diets geese survive on, and fortunately for geese owners, the answer is grass. Up to 70% of their diet depends on grass, another reason why it is important to have a grassy area dedicated to your geese. Besides grass, geese will also feed on insects as well as commercial water fowl diets. These are available for different ages of geese and should be fed daily, according to Hoppes.

Besides companionship, geese offer a few other benefits. For example, geese are known to be very territorial and alert their owners when there is an intruder. Though they may seem aggressive, most geese are docile and will not attack your visitors, unless they are protecting a nest or chicks. Aggression during breeding season is quite common, so Hoppes recommends keeping an extra eye on your birds and visitors during that time of the year. Geese should not be around children without supervision, since geese attacks can cause serious injuries, including broken bones to the victim. Geese are also loud, a major reason why they are not ideal for residential areas. Geese tend to vocalize when there is anything new in the environment, including other birds, wildlife, the neighborhood dog or cat and anytime someone comes through the door.

Geese also lay on average 10-50 eggs per year, allowing you to use them however you please (they might look huge next to a chicken egg, but they are certainly safe to eat). The feathers of geese can also be collected and used for crafts, such as stuffing a pillow. However, you should never pluck feathers from your bird because plucking can be very painful. Only use feathers that the goose has lost due to molting.

If you are looking for a very smart and social pet that offers protection, a flock of geese might be the choice for you. Remember to keep in mind the environmental requirements for housing pet geese and the daily cleaning that is essential in order to maintain a healthy habitat. Lastly, do your research in finding a local veterinarian who is comfortable with treating birds. If well taken care of, geese can make a great companion animal that can live well into their teen years.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Snakes as Pets

Between the puppy lovers, the cat enthusiasts and the furry rodent fans, a whole different category of pet owners exist: reptile lovers. From turtles to geckos, lizards to snakes, taking care of any reptile is a unique experience. With many safe breeds to choose from, snakes are a popular choice for those who are interested in owning a reptile.

Often associated with deadly incidents or even horror stories, snakes are commonly misunderstood but can make fascinating companion pets. Like any pet, snakes offer company and stress relief for their owners. Snakes do not require daily walks in the park and they are quiet during the day and at night. With infrequent defecation, a pet snake’s habitat is also an easy clean-up.

Before making the decision to own a snake, there are many factors to consider. Researching different pet snake breeds and their life-span and health requirements are a must. Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical associate professor at the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, suggests snake breeds that may or may not make a suitable pet. “Ball Pythons, King Snakes and Corn Snakes are great. Large boas and pythons do not make good pets for most people due to their large size,” Hoppes said.

Another factor to consider if you wish to own a snake is proper housing. An escape-proof aquarium is essential to prevent any harm to your snake. It is important for owners to recognize that no snake is safe without a lid that properly latches.

Snakes also require precise habitats to survive. Hoppes explains that owners should provide lighting that produces a day and night cycle. Temperatures should be 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, with a cooler temperature at night that never falls below 75 degrees. A warmer basking site that measures around 90 degrees should also be available to your pet. Under the cage heaters and heat lamps are the best way to regulate temperature. “Hot rocks” are not encouraged as they can potentially burn your pet snake. Hoppes recommends placing a thermometer on the cage to make sure the temperature in your cage is appropriate. Snake owners should research or ask a veterinarian how to provide the correct temperature, since some breeds require warmer or cooler temperatures.

Substrate, or bedding, is also necessary in creating the most comfortable and safe habitat for your snake. “Substrate can be paper, indoor or outdoor carpet, artificial turf, and aspen chips,” said Hoppes. “I do not recommend sand, because some reptiles may ingest it. I also do not recommend pine or cedar as both of these contain oils that are irritating to snakes.” Hoppes also encourages owners to provide a “hide box” for snake privacy.

If you happen to have an uneasy stomach or wince at the thought of a snake feeding on another animal, owning a snake is probably not for you. A snake’s diet can range from insects and amphibians to warm-blooded rodents, like mice, rabbits or birds. Although some owners feed their snakes live prey, Hoppes discourages this. “Snakes should never be fed live prey, it is cruel to the prey animal and can also be dangerous to the snake,” she said. “The prey animal, if not killed quickly, can bite the snake. In some cases where the snake is not warm enough or is sick, the prey animal may even extensively chew on the snake.”

Last but not least, you should consider your dedication and ability to care for a pet snake. According to Hoppes, most of the health problems that occur in snakes are a result of improper husbandry. For instance, if the cage is too cold or dry, the snake will have trouble properly shedding its skin, resulting in patches of skin left unshed. A snake in this habitat also has a chance of developing an upper respiratory infection or infections in the mouth.

If you do choose to purchase a snake after considering these important details, Hoppes recommends having new pet snakes examined by a veterinarian for skin mites and intestinal parasites before introducing them to other reptiles that might already live in your home.

Although snakes are often misunderstood and sometimes gain negative attention, they can make great companion animals and require minimal care. If you are interested in owning a snake, remember to research and consult a veterinarian that is familiar with the health requirements of snakes.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Bringing Home Your First Rodent

While many may not find a rodent as a first choice for a pet, with some insight and guidance you may be more receptive to the idea of a small hamster or rat becoming a suitable pet for your family.

“Rats are probably the most social and interactive of the small rodents,” said Dr. Sharman Hoppes, clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Rats are gentle, seldom bite, and are active during the day and are fairly easy to take care of.  Rats do not have special dietary needs or sensitive stomachs, although they do need a good quality rodent block or pellet.” ‘The seed mix diets are not a nutritionally adequate diet.”

To determine which pet may be best for you, you need to evaluate your expectations.

“When picking out a pet rodent, you should select an active, social rodent with clean eyes, clean nose, and normal teeth.  The skin should be well groomed and clean. There should be no lumps or bumps on their skin,” said Hoppes.

Small rodents, such as mice and hamsters, can bite more and tend to be more active at night.

Guinea pigs and chinchillas are a bit bigger and are gentle pets, but they have special dietary needs and their teeth continuously grow.

Gerbils are unlikely to bite, if handled gently.  They have few health problems and are the cleanest of all the commonly kept pet rodents.

If you are more interested in observing your pet and don’t have as much time, a gerbil, hamster, or mouse is an option as they are happy living in their cage.

“If you want a socially active pet that needs lots of attention and activity, a rat, chinchilla, or guinea pig is a great pet,” said Hoppes.  “Rats are so social that they should not be housed alone. If you are a night owl, then hamsters may be best since they tend to sleep all day and run in their wheel all night.

One important aspect of keeping a pet rodent is that their cage needs to be cleaned one to two times a week to keep ammonia levels down.  Also, keeping the cage clean will help decrease the incidence of a respiratory disease.

“Rodents are animals and therefore require care,” said Hoppes.  “All pet rodents need a clean large cage, chew toys, ladders, plastic or PVC pipe, and daily interaction.  Beddings such as Paper, aspen, or walnut shavings are best, while corncob, pine, and cedar shavings should be avoided.”

Rodents need fresh water and food constantly.  Guinea pigs and chinchillas have a special need for timothy hay since they have continuously growing cheek teeth.  This hay helps keep the teeth from overgrowing.  Additionally, guinea pigs need vitamin C daily.  All rodents can have a small amount of fruits and vegetables for treats.

Chinchillas also need daily dust baths, and they and guinea pigs are very sensitive to heat and humidity.  Both are susceptible to heatstroke in temperatures as low as 80-85 degrees, especially if the humidity is higher than 40%.

“Pet rodents do not need vaccinations,” said Hoppes.  “There are few diseases to be concerned with, and while salmonella infection has been documented, it is rare.  Rat bite fever, caused by a bacterial infection, may occur after a rat bite.  This can be prevented by immediately disinfecting any bite wound from a rat.”

While diseases are uncommon in rodents, rats are prone to mammary tumors and hamsters often have diarrhea (wet tail).  Many rodents are also prone to respiratory disease.

It is important to keep pet rats away from wild ones and to wash your hands after handling any small mammal.  Guinea pigs and chinchillas are susceptible to ring worm so any hair loss or patchy areas on the skin should be seen by a veterinarian for treatment immediately.

The life span of pet rodents varies.  Mice and hamsters generally live one to two years, rats two to three years, gerbils three to five years, guinea pigs five to seven years, and chinchillas live eight to 12 years or longer.

“Small rodents should not be pets for small children,” said Hoppes.  “Children less than 10 years old should be supervised closely when handling small rodents.  The care and monitoring of any pet is ultimately the parent’s responsibility.”

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Exotic Pets: What To Know Before You Buy

We all have that friend, the one that sees a picture or video of a cute exotic animal and instantly thinks that it would be a perfect companion for them. Although owning an exotic pet can be a rewarding experience, most people are not prepared for the responsibilities or expenses that are tied with these animals.

“Exotic pets typically need special caging, specialized diets, and forms of enrichment that can all become quite expensive especially in larger exotics pets,” said Sharman Hoppes, associate clinical professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM).

Despite these warnings, there are those that see videos like this hungry chinchilla or this playful wallaby and decide that their next pet should be an exotic one. If your heart is set on an animal like these, make sure to follow a few precautionary rules to ensure that you and your new pet stay healthy and happy.

Before purchasing or adopting an exotic pet, make sure to know everything you can about the certain pet you’re interested in. Never buy an exotic animal impulsively. Websites such as http://exoticpets.about.com provide a great resource for finding special requirements for certain animals as well as proper feeding and handling techniques. Legal research is also extremely important to see if your state and local laws even allow the animal to be kept as a pet.

“Before buying an exotic pet, research everything about them,” Hoppes said. Questions such as “where they come from, their diet, if they climb, their social ability, how big will they get as adults,diseases they are susceptible to, and how long they live”  are essential before purchasing an exotic pet.

“Find a veterinarian close by that is knowledgeable and that will see the pet for routine things and hopefully if there is an emergency,” Hoppes said.

Another important step before purchasing your exotic pet is to estimate the total cost of the animal. While the pet itself may be inexpensive, the cost of things such as housing, food, supplies, and veterinary care can quickly add up. This research is crucial beforehand to ensure that you can provide everything your pet will need to keep it healthy.

“Costs are dependent on species,” Hoppes said. “A rabbit cage, enrichment, and diet are not that much more or less than a dog, but a large parrot will need a large cage which can be $500-$1000. Veterinary care for exotic pets is also high, a healthy bird exam can be several hundred dollars, and a sick bird exam can be a $1000. Most exotic pets have to be sedated or anesthetized for any handling, so even a physical exam with anesthesia and monitoring can be expensive.”

Making sure you prepare your home for exotic animal life is also a significant step before bringing home your new pet. Setting up the animals housing beforehand and making sure that their habitat’s temperature is right is essential to ensure that your pet is immediately placed into an appropriate environment upon arrival.

“Preparing your home means an appropriate cage, with bar strength and bar spacing appropriate for the animal,” Hoppes said. “Make sure that the cage is large enough, escape-proof, and that the animal has protection from cold, heat, and rain if housed outdoors. If the animal will be indoors, and out of the cage, animal proofing a room can be similar to making a room safe for a child, such as covering electrical cords and outlets, etc. When buying a cage, you must prepare for the adult size of the animal. A baby iguana is only 6 inches long, but an adult can be 6 feet long!”

Finally, the most important step before bringing home any exotic pet is to think of how owning one will affect your life in the long run. Knowing what you will do with your pet in case of moves, marriages, and other life events is crucial before making any purchases to make sure that your pet can accompany you throughout its entire life.

“Several exotic pets are great with their owners but not with other people,” Hoppes said.”Many exotic pets are not good with children, and your new girlfriend or boyfriend may not like your large macaw who wants to bite them or may be afraid of your pet kangaroo that can kick and box with the power of Muhammad Ali. Various exotic pets are also not welcome in apartments or rental properties so it affects where you can move if you want to keep your exotic pet, and it is not easy to find a good home for an exotic pet when you decide you can’t keep it anymore.”

 

ABOUT PET TALK

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Birds as Pets

Four-legged with fur or two-legged with feathers … which would be the best small pet for me? Birds can be included in your lifestyle, but as with most pets, there are certain criteria that should be considered.

“Birds can be wonderful pets, but they are high maintenance,” notes Dr. Sharman Hoppes, DVM, Diplomate ABVP (Avian), clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

“Birds do have certain advantages over other pets in that they do not have to be walked and they are housed in a cage,” says Hoppes. “Birds are smart, they talk, and like to play and snuggle. They love to be around people and are usually very interactive.”

However, birds do have messy eating habits and can be noisy. Small and large birds can be loud, notes Hoppes. Birds require lots of attention and may scream or yell when they don’t get it.

“They are very social and do need daily interaction and time outside of their cage,” explains Hoppes. “They have destructive beaks and can eat walls, tables, and wood work if allowed out unsupervised.”

Hoppes encourages prospective pet bird caretakers to research and find out about the personality of a bird before purchase. Don’t base your decision on the cool factor, color, or size. She also suggests that you purchase pet birds from quality breeders. Birds from pet stores and bird marts have a higher chance of disease since so many birds are housed together. Also, some rescue organizations may have birds for adoption. The type of bird best for you is determined by your lifestyle.

“If you are busy or live in an apartment, a smaller less demanding bird like a budgie or cockatiel is best,” says Hoppes. “If you have more time and a house where neighbors will not be bothered by loud noise, then a bigger bird may work for you.”

“Larger birds typically cost more and so do their cages and toys,” notes Hoppes. Cages need to be big enough for the bird to exercise, climb around, or fly in. Play gyms, outside of the cage, provide a place to climb and exercise. A travel cage is beneficial when confined in a car.

“Correct diet and environment are important for maintaining a bird’s good health,” states Hoppes.

Birds should be fed a commercial pelleted diet with fresh fruits and vegetables, Seeds and nuts should be offered as treats only. Birds do not need large amounts of food, but enough to last throughout the day. She notes that proper diet and exercise help deter obesity, atherosclerosis and heart disease in birds.

Fresh water is needed daily for drinking. Hoppes notes that since parrots come from warm humid environments they need a bath several times a week; this may include showering, misting with a spray bottle, or offering a bowl of water for bathing.

“Bacterial infections from dirty cages and dirty water are common, as are respiratory infections due to the bird’s sensitive airways,” explains Hoppes. “They can get sick from poor ventilation, mold in the air, and fumes like Teflon. There are also several bird viruses: polyoma, psittacine beak and feather, and avian herpes virus that are potential pathogens in the pet parrot.” “One of the more important diseases pet bird owners should be aware of is Chlamydophila psittaci, a disease that can be transferred from birds to humans. It is most commonly transmitted to people with compromised immune systems: organ transplant recipients, people on steroids, or the very young and old. This disease can cause runny nose, eyes, and upper respiratory signs in birds and progress to pneumonia or liver disease if untreated, and causes flu-like symptoms in people.” Hoppes notes that a new bird should be tested for this disease before coming into your home.

“Birds can be one of the most rewarding pets, but you need to be an educated owner,” says Hoppes. “Birds can develop health and behavioral issues when not cared for appropriately. Anyone thinking about becoming a bird owner should learn about the different species and determine which bird would fit best into their life. Not all veterinarians see birds, so you should locate a veterinarian close to you for a well bird check up when you obtain your bird and to have someone available in case of an emergency.”

According to Hoppes, big birds have longer life spans and smaller birds have shorter life spans. Small birds such as budgies and love birds can live 7-12 year, cockatiels and conures 12-20 years, larger parrots 40-50 years, and the largest parrots (the macaws) can live 60 to 80 years. With good nutrition and a welcoming environment, your pet bird can live a full life and bring you pleasure and companionship.

ABOUT PET TALK: Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

So You Want a Pet Bird?

Now more than ever, Americans are constantly on the go. Long days at the office coupled with the demanding extra-curricular activities for kids leaves little time spent at home. So before adding another member to the family, it is important to consider the responsibilities of caring for and choosing your pet bird.

“There are several factors to consider before purchasing a pet bird,” explains Dr. Sharman Hoppes, an avian specialist at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Space, cost, time, family, and life longevity must be taken into consideration.”

Before introducing a pet bird into your family, the size of your home must be evaluated.

“The cage can take up a considerable amount of space, especially for large birds. In addition to having a cage, all pet birds should have a play gym to encourage exercise,” says Dr. Hoppes.

Because of their eating habits, birds regularly require their owners to clean up around the cage. Owners must also be able to handle their noisy demeanor.

“Pet birds tend to be very messy. They pick at food and leave crumbs everywhere, often spewing their messes outside of their cage,” comments Hoppes. “Birds can also be loud, so take neighbors into consideration, especially if living in an apartment or duplex.”

Purchasing a bird can often be an impulse buy; however, it is important to think about all of the annual costs before obtaining a new feathered friend.

“A large cage, toys, and the appropriate food can become costly, especially for large birds. Veterinary costs should also be considered, as it is especially important to check for hidden illnesses,” notes Hoppes. “For example, parrots are prey animals and hide signs of illness or disease. Chlamydophila, a zoonotic disease transferred not only from bird to bird, but bird to person, can be found in some birds and makes it absolutely necessary for pet birds to be initially examined by a veterinarian.”

In addition to space and cost, it is essential that the amount of time the bird will spend alone in the house be considered.

“Birds are flock animals and need a lot of socialization, so sitting alone all day in a cage can be very stressful,” continues Hoppes. “Birds are also very intelligent and need plenty of mental stimulation. They should receive lots of interaction with humans, preferably outside of their cage for a minimum of a couple of hours each day.”

Considering the rest of the family is also important before purchasing a pet bird.

“Be careful if you have small children. Birds can bite, and large birds can bite even harder. A small child must be monitored very closely around pet birds,” comments Hoppes.

It is also important to note that some birds live much longer than a dog or cat and owners must be prepared for a life-long friend.

“A cockatiel can live for up to 25 years, and a macaw or cockatoo can live for 60 years. People have to be prepared for a very long-lived pet,” states Hoppes.

If after considering all of the above a family decides to obtain a pet bird, it is time to determine which type of bird best suits their needs.

“Budgerigars (budgies or parakeets) and cockatiels are the most common types of pet birds. They are reasonably priced, fairly quiet, and do not require a large cage. They can also be quite entertaining if hand-raised and interacted with frequently,” says Hoppes. “When it comes to larger birds, the African gray parrot and the yellow-naped or yellow-headed Amazon are very popular because of their unique talking abilities. The large macaws talk some, but not as well as the Amazon or African gray; however, their large size and beauty make them popular with many.”

Routine care and veterinary visits are necessary for the health of a pet bird.

“Birds need to be seen by a veterinarian yearly or more frequently if they have health issues. Their wings and nails need to be trimmed two to three times a year,” notes Hoppes. “Their water and papers should be changed daily and a pelleted bird diet mixed with healthy fruits and vegetables should be maintained.”

Even though caring for a pet bird may seem overwhelming at first, birds can be fun, entertaining additions to the family.

“Parrots are amazing, wonderful pets, but people need to realize that they are loud, messy, and expensive to appropriately maintain. I have seven and wouldn’t give them up for anything!” Hoppes lovingly concludes.

With appropriate consideration and proper care, pet birds make excellent companions and can become life-long friends.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718

Exotic Pets and Children

Depending on your family’s lifestyle, the responsibility of taking care of a cat or dog may be too time consuming. Left with the desire for a pet but time constraints that aren’t conducive to a cat or dog, some people think that getting a “pocket pet”, reptile, or another exotic animal might seem like the right solution.

Unfortunately, if you have small children exotic pets can be dangerous to your family’s health.

“Pocket pets” are small animals, often rodents that can fit into your pocket such as: hamsters, hedgehogs, mice, rats, and gerbils. Though they are slight larger, guinea pigs also fall under the “pocket pet” category. Other exotic pets that people often turn to for companionship include baby chickens, baby ducks, and reptiles such as lizards, snakes, iguanas, and turtles.

“If you have kids under the age of 5, you should be extremely careful if you elect to have exotic pets in your home,” states Dr. Sharman Hoppes, an assistant clinical professor at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences. “Reptiles, ‘pocket pets’, baby chicks and ducks are not always in the best health when we acquire them, making these animals more prone to be shedding Salmonella.”

According to The Department of Human Health’s website, Salmonella is a bacteria that is passed from the feces of people or animals to other people or animals. Symptoms of a Salmonella infection include diarrhea, fever, and abdominal cramps 12 to 72 hours after exposure. In severe cases, the infected individual may be hospitalized for dehydration. Furthermore, if the infection spreads from the intestines into the blood stream and is not treated properly, Salmonella can cause death.

“As adults we tend to be more hygienic then children meaning we are less likely to contract Salmonella from exotic pets,” notes Hoppes. “Children however, are constantly putting their hands in their mouths and often do not was their hands after handling these animals, which puts them at greater risk for infection.”

In addition to lacking the proper hygiene practices of adults, kids are also more likely to get scratched or bitten by exotic pets.

“This is primarily due to the fact that children often do not know how to properly handle exotic pets. Not using the proper handling techniques for these animals can cause them stress, making them more likely to bite or scratch. These wounds create a point of entry for bacteria,” explains Hoppes.

Because of the risk of contracting a Salmonella infection from an exotic pet, it is important to make sure our animals are healthy when we get them and that we maintain our pet’s health.

“Anyone adopting exotic pets should take the animal to a qualified veterinarian for a wellness examination,” advises Hoppes. “Make sure your animal is healthy and not under stress from lack of proper care and poor nutrition. Stressed animals are more prone to bacterial infections.”

“Not all veterinarians are equipped to treat exotic pets,” adds Hoppes. “If your veterinarian is not able to care for your pet, ask for a referral to one who can.”

Once you find a veterinarian that treats exotic animals, Hoppes recommends asking them about the proper husbandry and nutrition for your pet.

“Animal husbandry refers to the proper way to take care of your species of animal. Animal husbandry includes how to house your pet properly, and special needs they may have as far as temperature, humidity, and lighting. Proper nutrition includes type of food or diet, how frequently to feed, and the amount that should be fed,” explains Hoppes.

Making sure your pet maintains good health and employing proper animal husbandry and nutrition can help reduce the risk of the animal carrying an infection, and thus lessen you and your family’s chances of contracting an illness from your exotic pet.

To further reduce the chance of infection from exotic pets, Hoppes recommends the following:

  • Always wash your hands and your child’s hands after handling an animal.
  • Children handling pets should be under constant supervision.
  • Keep the animals out of your kitchen and bathroom. (Don’t let your iguana soak in the sink or bathtub)
  • Do not let your exotic pet have free roam of your house; this is dangerous for both you and them.
  • Teach your children to avoid approaching exotic animals outdoors and avoid bringing exotic animals found outdoors into your home.

If you have young children under five years of age, having exotic pets can be risky to your child’s health. If you choose to have an exotic pet, make sure your animal maintains good health and that you employ the proper precautions to reduce the risk of infection.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
Director, Communications & Public Relations
Ofc – (979) 862-2675
Cell – (979) 739-5718

Animal Influenza

The recent emergence and spread of the Swine Flu virus, also known as H1N1, has affected people throughout the world. From school closings to cancelled vacations, the Swine Flu has caused a lot of concern. These concerns have led many to take extended precautions for themselves, their spouses and their children. But what, if any, precautions should be taken for the furry members of our families? The H1N1 strain may not affect our animals in the way that it does humans, but similar type A flu viruses can affect our pets.

In 2005, the first cases of the canine influenza virus were reported in Florida and have since spread throughout the country. The virus is a mutant of the H3N8 equine influenza virus and is a contagious respiratory disease that may mirror signs of kennel cough, including sneezing, coughing and fever.

“Nearly one-hundred percent of dogs that come in contact with the virus become infected, regardless of age or vaccination history because the virus is new to them,” says Dr. Deb Zoran, an associate professor and Chief of Small Animal Internal Medicine at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Of those infected, an estimated twenty percent of dogs will show no signs of the disease.”

“Of the eighty percent of dogs that exhibit clinical signs, the majority will have only mild signs of respiratory illness,” explains Zoran. “In most dogs, the clinical signs include a low-grade fever, nasal discharge and a persistent cough that could last up to three weeks. In dogs that develop severe signs of illness, the clinical signs include a high fever, increased respiratory rates with difficulty breathing and other indications of viral pneumonia.”

The testing results for the virus cannot be obtained quickly, as the diagnosis of canine influenza is made by sending samples for testing to a laboratory at Cornell University for PCR of the virus. As a result, your veterinarian may suggest that your dog be quarantined away from other dogs to prevent the possible spread of this respiratory virus to other canines.

Fortunately, most cases can be treated with symptomatic or supportive care, including fluid support, antiviral therapy, bronchodilators and, if needed, oxygen. If you believe your pet has contracted the virus, it is important to contact your veterinarian.

“As is the case in any viral infection, antibiotics are not helpful unless the infection is so severe that secondary bacterial pneumonia is suspected,” notes Zoran. “Fortunately, treatment even in the most severely affected dogs has been successful in about ninety-five percent of cases. The key is early diagnosis and treatment, so if your canine is showing signs of illness, such as a decreased appetite, lethargy, fever or a cough, it is important to contact your veterinarian for further evaluation. Your veterinarian is best qualified to make a diagnosis and to provide advice for caring for any dogs affected with the virus.”

There is currently no vaccine for this virus and the disease continues to affect dogs throughout the country. The best method of protection is to keep your animal companion away from infected dogs.

Cat owners have fewer flu concerns, as felines appear not to be susceptible to the class Type A flu viruses and do not develop classic flu symptoms. Cats have their own versions of respiratory viruses, but these viruses are not influenza viruses. However, the same cannot be said for birds, which can be just as susceptible to contracting influenza as our canine friends.

“Avian influenza is a contagious bird disease,” says Dr. Sharman Hoppes, an avian specialist at Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “It is usually only infectious to birds, but can occasionally infect pigs and people. The disease is most common in waterfowl and is often an asymptomatic infection in ducks.”

Similar to the canine influenza virus, there are two levels of severity observed in the avian flu.

“There are two main forms of disease: a low virulence form and a high virulence form,” explains Hoppes. “The low pathogenic form may manifest as ruffled feathers and a drop in egg production. The high pathogenic form can cause respiratory and gastrointestinal signs and sometimes lead to death.”

While uncommon, it is possible for avian influenza to spread to people. However, this usually occurs only if the individual is in very close contact with an infected bird.

“If an individual is infected with avian influenza, he or she can actually become quite sick and the disease can often progress to pneumonia or death,” cautions Hoppes. “Avian influenza is much more serious when it crosses over to humans because most people do not have immunity to the disease. Fortunately, avian flu has not been transmitted from person to person like the swine flu. However, one of the concerns of avian influenza is that it will mutate and develop into a disease that could transmit from person to person.”

At this time, it is highly unlikely that your pet bird will contract avian influenza, but in the event that your feathered-friend becomes sick, care is available.

“While unlikely that your pet parrot will develop avian influenza, it could be possible if you have pet poultry or waterfowl, as they are more likely to contract the disease,” says Hoppes. “If your pet bird does get sick, it is more likely to be the low pathogenic form and supportive care is available. The best way to prevent your bird from contracting avian influenza is to minimize their contact with waterfowl and poultry.”

Both the canine influenza virus and the avian influenza disease can cause detrimental health problems in your pet, but knowing the warning signs and taking proper precautions could save both you and your companion the worries of influenza.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Angela G. Clendenin
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