Archive | pets RSS feed for this section

Growing Up With Pets: My Memories Of 10 Childhood Pets

11 Jun

yellow lab with tennis ball

Photo via flickr by derekskey.

As if having seven children wasn’t enough for my parents, it seems like they could never say no to a new pet. And with seven kids, if one kid gets a pet, another one starts crying for one too. That’s how we ended up with two ferrets instead of one (I was the crier). We had lots of pets growing up, 10 of them are memorable for me:

1. The Ferrets. How it came about that my parents ended up at a ferret farm buying a ferret, I don’t know. But as soon as my older brother had a ferret, I cried and cried for one too. I picked out a fat, lazy, white one and named him Rusty. My brother’s ferret, Nipper, was slim, active and looked like a typical ferret. Many other ferrets followed, but Nipper and Rusty were the first. Ferrets are cute, stinky (some same musky) and sleep a lot. We used to carry ours around in a backpack as they slept. They hopped sideways and made squeaky sounds after we gave them baths with baby shampoo.

2. Butch, The Guinea Pig and his jailbird wife, Mathilda. For some reason, as kids we had a great disdain for hamsters and gerbils. Instead we had guinea pigs. We had a beautiful orange and white long-haired guinea pig named Butch. We pretended that he didn’t have a mate because his girlfriend, Mathilda, was in jail. We’d have Butch talk on the phone to Mathlida in jail. When we got a female guinea pig, the ever-absent Mathlida was paroled, and there was a joyous reunion with Butch. I have no idea how we came up with this stuff. Kids and imaginations are incredible things.

3. The Tarantulas. My older brother ordered these from science lab or something. They were giant and hairy, and well, tarantulas. Luckily, the ferrets seemed to like to get into their tank and eat them. That put an end to the tarantulas.

4. Dix, The Budgie Parakeet. I got Dix for my tenth birthday. To French speakers that makes his name very obvious: Ten. He was also the first in a line of many budgies. For my 22nd birthday, I was going to get a fish for my apartment. Instead I had too many drinks and picked out two budgies at the pet store. More than ten years later, one of those budgies is still alive. Oh, a fish would have been so much easier…

5. The Chameleons. Another one of my older brother’s random-animals-in-a-tank ventures. They escaped one summer, and we’d see them around – green in the grass, brown on the weathered shingles. I still have a fondness for little lizards.

6. Sebastian, The Hermit Crab. I don’t know how a hermit crab can be friendly, but Sebastian was the friendliest hermit crab. He had a companion whose name I can’t remember because he was not nearly as friendly. I loved Sebastian. Then my little sister took the two hermit crabs out to play and promptly forgot them outside. She left them baking in the Southern sun until there was nothing left but a shriveled bit inside their shells. Oh, little sisters.

7. Circe, The Chicken. Circe was all shiny black. I was into reading Greek mythology at the time if you couldn’t tell. I sat and watched Circe nestling in the grass until, all the sudden, out popped an egg. That was something crazy to see as a kid. The ferrets lived next to the chickens and when there was a commotion in the hen house we knew the ferrets had weaseled their way in there. The ferrets didn’t bother the hens or the eggs. They just wanted to sleep curled up under the hens where it was warm and cozy. The hens did not approve.

8. Jacques Cousteau, The Cat. I’d grown up with cats, so when I graduated from college and got a job, it seemed like a cat was a good idea. I adopted one from a shelter. When I moved, the cat went on vacation to my parents and disappeared. We thought he had been eaten by a fox or coyote, but a year later we saw a town publication with a photo of an elderly woman and a cat. That cat was definitely Jacques Cousteau. Maybe all black cats look alike, but I could tell it was Jacques. I was happy to know he wasn’t eaten, and did not want to disturb his happy life with the elderly lady. So long, Jacques.

9. Snowball, The Yellow Lab. I think all kids have a special place in their hearts for the dog with which they grew up. We got Snowball when I was around eight and he died when I was in college. Man, that was sad. He was the best definition of a dog – ever-loving and comforting.

10. The Fish. We had lots of fish. Guppies that had babies that then got eaten. Black mollies. Angel fish. A skeleton fish named Bumpy. But I really loved winning goldfish at the state fair and bringing them to a happy home for a week. They never lasted more than a week, but it was a happy week.

 What’s your favorite pet memory?

#883 Pet Savings: A Kong And Beef Marrow Bones Are (Almost) Indestructible

10 Jun

puppy with puppy Kongs

Our first baby and his puppy Kongs.

My dog never chewed shoes… or furniture… no, it took him two years, yes TWO, to chew through his Kong toy. While I think I spent somewhere between $10 and $15 for the toy originally, which seemed like a lot of money for a dog toy, it saved a lot of money, furniture, shoes and angry yelling. We learned quickly there was no need to buy dog toys that only lasted an hour or a week at best when we had the incredible Kong (please note, Kongs are NOT indestructible, but they are tough).

We started out our puppy on some puppy Kongs that are a bit softer to chew. They lasted quite a while, but not nearly as long as the red, adult version. Some dogs might not be into the Kong if they are introduced to them as adults. But any dog will pretty much be interested in a toy that has a treat inside it.

In order to make the Kong entertainment last as long as possible, fill it with generic peanut butter, or if there are nut allergies, generic cheese whiz, and place the Kong in the freezer. The frozen treat will take the dog forever to get out. Perhaps hours. It can get messy so it might be best to give it to the dog outside or confined to a room.

dog with Kong

The original Kong shape was all we needed. Photo via flickr by dani0010.

Our dog even played with the Kong when there was nothing inside it. The funny shape of the original Kong made it bounce wildly all over our tile floor. He learned to pick it up in his mouth, sling it down and chase it, all for his own entertainment. Even after two years, when he had finally chewed the top off, he still played with it. We finally decided the thing was totally done in and tossed it after more than two years of play. But, boy, were we impressed with the use we got out of it.

The Kong was most helpful when our dog was primarily inside. Despite regular walks, many dogs get bored and over-energized without stimulation, which leads to destructive behavior. Giving our dog the Kong was a good way to channel energy inside when we weren’t out for walks. Now that he is an outdoor dog, which he loves, he’s doesn’t need dog toys so much.

But we do like to give  him an exciting treat/toy to make his day every now and then. Enter the beef marrow bones. Beef marrow bones are available in the meat section of the grocery store or from the butcher counter:

beef marrow bones

At $3.85 for two massive bones, it’s a lot cheaper than a similar pet store dog bone, and it’s from a reputable source.
dog eating a beef marrow bone
One bone lasts us about a week before it is lost or hidden. If the bone is not lost or hidden, it can be washed and treated like a natural Kong and stuffed with another treat once the marrow is gone. Beef marrow bones can also be cut to any size at the butcher’s upon request.

Dogs can eat raw bones because of their wild dog ancestry so there is no need to cook the bones. Cooked bones have a have higher risk for splintering and causing intestinal issues. Beef marrow is also highly nutritious for dogs.

Whenever dogs receive treats, remember to reduce their caloric intake from their regular food to avoid weight issues.

#884 Pet Savings: Two Ways to Save Money On Kitty Litter

4 Jun

cat in window

Let me out!

I was excited when we could finally let our cats outside. Our kitty litter costs went from weekly purchase to zero. Previously, we had lived in an apartment four stories up, so there was no way to let the cats out. Then we had street level access in a car-free environment, but we hesitated to let our “indoor-only” cats outside. Once those cats got outside, they loved every minute of it. And they never used the litter box again. We could cross that expense off our shopping list.

I’ve known many people (including my husband and me) who worry about their indoor cat going outside.

“But he’s only ever been inside!”

“But she doesn’t know how to be outside!”

“But he’ll get lost!”

And then somehow those same people are amazed at how their cat loves to be outside, finds his or her way home and otherwise takes to outdoor life like a fish to water. Cats really are meant to be able to roam free and enjoy lying in the sun in the garden.

I realize that not all cats can be outside. If you live in a high traffic area (the cat will unfortunately most likely get run over) or in a high rise apartment then going outside is not really an option, but if there is no reason why a cat cannot go outside, don’t keep the cat indoors. The cat will be happier, and the litter box will go unused.

cat in sink

Mmm… the sink is nice too… just not for toilet training.

If you are in a high rise apartment or live on a highly trafficked street, you’re not doomed to forever paying for kitty litter. For the brave and thrifty, you can train your cat to use the toilet and be litter box free as well. The cat toilet training works best in a two toilet home so that one toilet can be a dedicated cat toilet during the training process. The process may take weeks, but then it will be years of litter-free living.

I had a co-worker once who was extremely excited to tell me all about his cat toilet training and show me the whole system. I was less than excited to hear about it, but it is a very good idea for cats that cannot go outside. (This particular co-worker’s cat was a country cat so I’m not sure of the point of potty training him was, but…)

Videos like this on YouTube explain the basics of kitty toilet training.

Other benefits of allowing your cat to go outside include:

  • Your furniture will not be clawed. You don’t have to worry about having furniture destroyed by crazy, clawing kitties. Cats that go outside will claw outside or be able to dispense their energy so they are not apt to claw when inside.
  • The cat will be less neurotic. Cats have a lot of energy and it’s hard for them to release it all being stuck inside, which results in neurotic cats. Going outside allows cats to positively get rid of their energy and reduce being neurotic indoors.
  • Weight issues might be addressed. If a cat is overweight, going outdoors may help address this problem as they will be getting more exercise and burning excess calories.

#885 Pet Savings: Make Your Own Dog Biscuits

29 May

homemade dog biscuits

Homemade dog treats were faster and easier made than expected. Cheaper too.

Making my own dog biscuits turned out to solve two problems for me. First, how to keep my dog in treats and second, how to keep my daughter out of the dog food.

My dog is half-pig, half-dog. The breeder said so when we picked him up. (I know I advocate adoption, but the puppy adoption we wanted didn’t work out so we made the new dog owner mistake of paying lots of money for a pure breed puppy). Anyways, our puppy was the fattest puppy in the  litter. He was huge compared to his brothers and sisters. Because this dog has an appetite. If he doesn’t get treats he goes a little insane, so we like to satiate him a little with treats. It doesn’t matter what it is as long as it’s not dog food from the bag.

My daughter loves everything dog. She has a huge collection of play dogs. We can get her to wear anything if it has a dog on it. She loves our real dog so much that she pretty much wants everything he has… his collar, his dog food, his dog treats. So to avoid having her demand dog food every time the dog eats his breakfast, I looked up dog biscuit recipes.

First, I tried a Bernard Clayton recipe in which he wrote that he wanted a dog biscuit that was tasty for dogs and humans. My dog would not eat them. Did I mention this dog is half-pig? He eats everything. The fact that he refused a dog treat was a little mind-blowing. Sorry, Bernard Clayton, your recipe failed the tasty-to-dogs test.

So I created my own dog biscuit recipe, which you can find here. And here are video instructions.

The dog biscuit recipe been tested on multiple dogs and multiple toddlers. Everyone loves them. Turns out other parents have the same issue with their toddlers eating their dog’s food and treats. I was embarrassed at first to admit that my daughter had this penchant for all things dog, including food. But then she started sharing her homemade biscuits with friends, and the parents admitted to the same problem.

I was doubtful of the cost savings of making my own dog biscuits, so I did out the numbers. Turns out the materials are cheaper by cents per pound than generic brands, but by dollars per pound than premium brands. And I’m sure the homemade product is far superior to even premium brand dog treats. I decided it was worth it to me to make my own dog biscuits for the 20 active minutes time it takes to make them because I was assured that the product was safe and palatable not only for my dog, but for my kid. Dog food has not been immune to tainting by food poisoning bacteria and other unsafe materials, so if I can provide a safe alternative I would rather do that. I know everything that goes into the biscuits is fresh, safe and tasty. Plus, it’s a fun activity that my daughter and I usually do on the weekend. I’ve been even known to sample a few of the final product.

To make the recipe even cheaper than store options, you can substitute whole wheat flour for rye flour. Rye flour lends a nice flavor that might be lost on dog-only consumption.

#886 Pet Savings: Adopt A Pet

28 May

adopted kitten

Caution: Cuteness ahead. Photo via flickr by Pargon.

Your first expense when you decide to get a pet will be purchasing said pet. If you’re looking at getting a goldfish and a bowl then the expenses aren’t going to be great, but when it comes to cats and dogs, pedigreed pets can run anywhere from $500 to $1,000. While adopting a pet is not free, it will be significantly less than buying from a breeder. And many pets for adoption are pure breed and pedigreed.

Adoption costs run from $100 to $350 depending on the cat or dog, which is a fraction of the breeder price. Adoption costs cover spaying and neutering, shots, a clean bill of health from the vet and any foster care expenses. So the fee is a fair estimate of what it cost the shelter or adoption service to bring the pet into your home.

Whether you are a cat or dog person will determine what you get, but here are some thoughts on both cats and dogs. And thoughts on other pets.

Cats and kittens:

  • Cheaper than dogs to adopt, cats and kittens are plentiful in shelters. Spring and summer is high kitten season. Other times of the year it might be harder to find a kitten to adopt. Lots of older cats from are also available for adoption. Either option is great as kittens and cats come already housebroken. They somehow just know how to use the litter box or go outside. All they need is a little love for a lot of reward. My family and I have adopted  many cats over the years with no issues.
  • Pedigree doesn’t matter. While pedigree does determine the relative personality of a dog, all cats pretty much act like cats… With slight variances in friendliness or leave-me-aloneness, which is usually affected by upbringing from the kitten stage. A well-loved and handled kitten will be a friendlier cat than one that was left alone. After 8-12 weeks of age, the more a cat is left alone, the less it will like people or be cuddly. This is based on personal upbringing and observation of many cats not scientific study, but I think it’s pretty accurate. A pedigreed cat makes no sense to me when all cats and kittens look cute and cuddly no matter what. There are pedigreed, older cats available for adoption, who may very well have been well loved for a long time.
  • You can get a cat or kitten for free if you find an abandoned cat or kittens. This however is a tough situation because they have not been vetted for health like in a shelter and are not spayed or neutered. Both vet bills and spaying or neutering would add up. You’re better off taking a stray to the closet shelter. Or the vet. Both can check for microchips to find the owner, and let you know about its health. Abandoned cats and dogs can have serious issues with worms, mites and fleas. If you want to adopt the cat, you can arrange it with the shelter.
  • You should always spay or neuter. Unless you are a breeder, you should spay or neuter your cat or kitten before you have a litter of surprises on your hands. Male cats are territorial if they are not fixed.
puppies for adoption

Looking at puppies to adopt is hazardous to your heart. Photo via flickr by jeffreyw.

Dogs and puppies:

  • Puppies might be harder to find for adoption in certain areas. There are some areas of the world that are overflowing with stray puppies, and some areas where you can’t find a stray animal anywhere. In the US, Southern states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas have large overflows of strays. In places like the Northeast, where there are fewer strays, adoption agencies will bring puppies up from the southern states for adoption. In Europe, places like Italy, Spain and Romania have large volumes of strays and agencies in less stray-prone countries work to bring in puppies for adoption. If you are adopting by bringing a puppy from a high stray area to a low stray area, then the costs will be greater because of transport and care. But if you are set on getting a puppy versus an older dog, this may be the only way to get a puppy age dog.
  • Pedigreed dogs are plentiful. The benefit of adopting an older dog is not only that they’ll most likely already be trained, house broken and socialized, but many are pedigreed with papers from families who bought the dog only to give it up later. If you are set on a certain breed there are breed specific rescue agencies that place pure breed dogs with adoptive families. You can Google the breed’s name along with the word rescue to find breed-specific rescue agencies and opportunities. Most dogs will be from 6 months old to several years old. Pedigrees in dogs will guarantee a certain trajectory of behavior, energy level and other traits.
  • Dogs require a lot more work than cats. Cats mostly get put up for adoption because an older person dies and leaves a cat behind or a move requires the cat to be placed somewhere else. Dogs however are given up for adoption because the family or individual who originally bought the dog did not realized how much work a dog is. Or how rambunctious they are. Or they don’t like their kids get knocked over by the dog. This is all because a dog requires way more hands on training, exercise and attention than a cat. Make sure you’re ready for the dog commitment before adopting a dog.

Both dogs and cats:

  • Mutts are healthier. Usually mixed breeds for cats and dogs are healthier because pedigrees have been interbred, resulting in the desired trait as well as a host of potential health problems. Mixed breeds often avoid these pure bred problems because their gene pool is more varied.
  • Pets are always a commitment. Financially, cats and dogs are a commitment that has to be consciously made. Make sure you have the resources to care for and feed your pet. They don’t need a lot but it is an expense. In terms of lifestyle, getting a pet means you’re committing for their life span. Changing apartments or houses if you are a renter should be considered carefully as many places do not accept pets. If behavior problems arise, it is your responsibility to address the issue constructively, not by just getting rid of the animal.

Other types of pets:

  • Guinea pigs, parrots and other pets besides cats and dogs are available to adopt. It might be a bit more rare to find a non-dog or cat to adopt, but it does happen. If you are looking for a pet that is not a dog or cat, it is worth seeing if a shelter has what you’re looking for.
  • Exotic pets are not a good idea. Pets that have been bred for domesticity are fine. Exotic pets are quite a challenge and should not be considered. They are wild animals with special needs. Many are nocturnal, unfriendly and invasive if released in the wild. The Everglades in Florida are being devastated by pythons that were released by owners who didn’t want them after they grew too big or escaped from exotic pet providers. Steer clear of exotic pets.