Tag Archives: pet care

Creature Feature: Red-knee or pink toe, tarantulas are colorful but not cuddly

25 Oct

BY RHONDA OWEN
Special to the Democrat-Gazette
My son thinks he wants a tarantula for a pet. I don’t know anything about them. Are they hard to take care of? The main thing I want to know is if they bite and are poisonous.

Mexican Red-Knee Tarantula

These hairy arachnids bite and are venomous but the effect on humans is described as similar to the sting of a honeybee. They’re painful but cause complications only in people who are allergic to tarantula venom.

Tarantulas are low-maintenance pets — more of a hobby, really — and interesting to watch, but if your son wants a pet that he can handle frequently or play with, he’ll disappointed.

Spiders aren’t “interactive” pets. They can be picked up or stroked but it’s not recommended, primarily because of the possibility of harming the spider.

The American Tarantula Society  says there are more than 850 species of tarantulas worldwide and you need to be sure of what you’re getting to know how to care for it properly. Most people buy their spiders from online breeders (although some pet stores carry them) so you should be able to get specific care information for the type you choose.

Burrowing tarantulas, for example, will need material in the bottom of their housing (typically a 2-gallon tank or aquarium) that they can dig in. The burrow material (or substrate) should be a peat/vermiculite mix. Trees are the natural habitat of arboreal tarantulas so instead of burrowing material, they need some kind of wood that’s like a tree branch where they can make their tube-like webs.   

The Tarantula’s Burrow  offers a library of information about how to care for several tarantula species, such as the Costa Rican Zebra, Peruvian Pinktoe, Greenbottle Blue, Thailand Black and Mombasan Golden Starburst. There also a trio of Mexican tarantulas — Red-knee, Red-leg and Red-rump. CQ All

You can find more care information at exoticpets.about.com and tarantulas.com, which specializes in breeding tarantulas.

The Chilean Rose tarantula (native to Chile, as its name suggests) is one of the most common species kept as pets. It and other “starter” spiders (like the Red-knee and Pinktoe) are burrowers, docile and require little attention.

“Wild” tarantulas — you’ve probably seen at least one creeping around outside — aren’t considered pet quality. Sometimes they’re crawling with parasites or they may have been injured when captured (have lost a leg, for example). In fact, it’s a good idea to check out a tarantula before you buy to make sure it has eight legs and two pedipalps, the arm-like things on the front of the spider’s body.

Other things to know about tarantulas:
■ Different species grow to body lengths ranging 2-12 inches.
■ The largest tarantula in the world is the Burgundy Goliath Bird Eating Spider (native to Guyana), which has a leg span of 12 inches. They’re not recommended for beginner spider enthusiasts.
■ Most eat crickets but larger tarantulas can eat baby mice — or birds, as in the case of the Goliath.
■ Water in a shallow dish should be available at all times.
■ They’re not social so each spider needs its own house.
■ Spiders native to humid climates need to be misted regularly.
■ Humidity and temperature have to be regulated; this differs depending upon the species.
■ Spiders can “bleed” to death if injured; their blood (hemolymph) is pale blue to cloudy clear.
■ Female tarantulas live longer than males. A male might live as long as two years, but a female can live more than 20. Some dealers will guarantee the sex of a spider.
■ Tarantulas grow by molting, shedding the old exoskeleton for a new one. Shedding the old exoskeleton take several hours, then the new one needs several days to harden. The spiders are fragile and easily injured when molting.
■ They aren’t cheap. Prices found online for adult tarantulas range from $29 to $75 each. They’re often sold in lots of three.
■ Young spiders can be kept in small plastic boxes instead of the larger aquariums.

Mating season for tarantulas in the wild starts in July-August and continues through November, according to the Encyclopedia of Arkansas Heritage and Culture.

Tarantulas in Arkansas (we have the Texas brown variety) typically keep to their burrows, but the males venture out during mating season. One may travel as far as a mile to find his perfect hairy-legged girl. So romantic.

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Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

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Creature Feature: Secret to pottytraining small dogs is owner commitment

22 Sep

Creature Feature appears each Wednesday in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

BY RHONDA OWEN
 Is it true that small dogs are harder to housetrain than large dogs are?

"Of course we can be trained!" (Simone/RO)

Housetraining a small or toy breed of dog is more challenging than training larger dogs — it’s not the impossible task many people believe it to be although the process is longer and requires more time and attention from the owner.

“They are more difficult to housetrain. With little dogs, you have to take more responsibility about them going to the bathroom outside,” says Lisa Mantle, a certified professional dog trainer in Little Rock. “Instead of just assuming that the dog is going to let you know when he needs to go outside, you have to be an equal partner in the process.”

Small dogs have a poor housetraining reputation primarily because owners don’t stick with the training program for the long haul, she says. Because it takes longer to train a small dog, “people get tired of it. They don’t want to keep going outside with their dog.”

Mantle, owner of Running Dog Academy, has five dogs in her home. “I have big dogs and little dogs. I don’t treat them remotely the same. If my big dogs don’t ask to go outside, I don’t worry about it. On the other hand, if my little dogs haven’t asked to to outside for a while, I put them out.”

Theories about why small dogs are more difficult to train range from their smaller bladder size to breeding to owner expectations, Darlene Arden says in Small Dogs, Big Hearts.

“There are a lot of variables, including the fact that some breeds do take a little longer,” Arden says. “It’s not a measure of intelligence, but more likely an indication of behavioral tendencies.”

Training small dogs to potty outdoors requires vigilence, consistency and commitment, Mantle says. “It’s do-able but you have to stick with it. You can’t cut corners. You have to go through all the steps.”

With small dogs, training requires some type of containment when the owner can’t be with the dog. Some people use a dog crate while others put up a baby gate to confine the dog to a specific room or area of the house.

Another tactic is tethering, which requires an owner to keep the dog with him on a leash at all times. This keeps the dog from wandering off into another area of the house to potty out of his owner’s sight, plus helps the owner learn to read when his dog needs to go outside.

The downside of tethering, Mantle says, is that most people don’t want their dog attached to them continually. “It’s just not very realistic” unless the owner is committed to it.

I agree, although I had excellent results by combining crate training with tethering when Simone was a puppy. At home, I put the leash on her and she shadowed every step I took in the house and outdoors for months. When I took a shower, I hung the leash handle on the door knob and she would settle down on the floor. In the kitchen, she laid on a mat while I washed the dishes. At night, Simone stayed in her crate except for when I got up to take her outside at about 3 a.m. (during the early weeks of training).

Simone wasn’t bothered by being on the leash. It got tiresome for me at times, but the positive results were worth the effort. Not only is Simone well-trained, but she and I are bonded for life.

A key thing to remember about tethering: The dog is attached to you and within a few feet of you at all times. You never tie the dog to piece of furniture or anything else and leave her alone.

Mantle offers this advice for training a small (or any size) dog:

** Don’t let the dog out of your sight.

** Go outside with the dog and praise him every time he uses the bathroom in the right place. Mantle says to continue doing this even after the dog consistently goes outside to potty.  “I do this all the time and  my dogs are 13, 14 years old.”

Why is it important to go outside with your dog? First, so he’ll know why he’s out there. Second, so you’ll be there to praise and reward him for pottying in the appropriate place.

**If the dog makes a mistake indoors, “just clean it up,” she says. “If you see the dog in the process of going to the bathroom, try to calmly interrupt without scaring the dog. Then take the dog outside and reward the dog for going outside.”

** The most important thing to remember is “to stick with it until housetraining is complete. Don’t look at it like the dog is now such-and-such age and should be housetrained by now. Dogs complete housetraining at different ages.”

When the dog is consistently asking to be taken outside for bathroom breaks, he’s trained. But, Mantle says, if the dog is still having accidents indoors, training is incomplete.

“Some people expect dogs to just know things like they should go outside,” she says. “But remember, dogs don’t care where they go to the bathroom. We care where they go.”    

If you have questions about training, email me at askcreature@att.net.        

Creature Feature: Prevent heartworm infection

10 Aug

BY RHONDA OWEN
I’ve been told that I have to give my dog medicine all year long to keep him from getting heartworms. Is that true?

Pet owners often question the necessity of giving their pet heartworm preventive medication year-round, but it’s the only way to protect an animal from getting heartworms.

All it takes is one bite from one mosquito to infect a dog or cat with heartworms, says veterinarian Wallace Graham, president of the American Heartworm Society.   

Mosquitoes breed in standing water so given this year’s heavy rain and flooding, Arkansas could have more mosquitoes than normal. Plus, the state lies in the area of the country that the society describes as “heartworm endemic,” meaning there’s a high rate of heartworm cases reported annually.

“Anything that will enhance the mosquito population will enhance transmission of heartworms,” Graham says. “We know that weather conditions do impact, to some degree, heartworm transmission.”

How heartworms develop: Mosquitos pick up heartworm microfilariae (tiny larvae) when they bite an infected animal, then those mature into an “infective larval stage” in 10-14 days. At that point, if a mosquito bites a susceptible animal, the larvae enter though the bite wound.

Heartworm larvae then migrate through the body until they reach the heart and lungs, where they mature. Adult heartworms — thin, stringlike  and 10 to 14 inches long — clump together in arteries serving the lungs. As their numbers grow, they spread into the right chamber of the heart, which could weaken the heart and cause congestive heart failure in dogs. (Photos of this are on the heartworm society’s website; be warned, they’re gruesome.)

Cats are just as susceptible as dogs to contracting heartworms, Graham says, but heartworm disease in cats is a “whole different ballgame.”

“In dogs, the primary effects are in the lungs and heart while in cats, it’s almost completely a lung disease. The pathology in the lungs of cats is completely different. Cats have severe respiratory signs generally at two times during infection,” he says.

The first “crisis period” for cats is when a heartworm first emerges in its lungs. At that point, the infection can appear to be asthma or allergic bronchitis but is actually a syndrome known as “heartworm associated respiratory disease.”

“If a cat survives that, then the heartworm will die of old age,” Graham says. “But the death of the heartworm causes tremendous problems.” When a cat’s body tries to get rid of the dead heartworms, the cat may go into shock and die.

Dogs with heartworms can be treated successfully in all but the most advanced cases, but there’s no treatment for cats, Graham says. ‘That’s why it’s important for cats to be on a heartworm preventive even in they live indoors.”

A dog in the early stages of heartworm infection won’t show any symptoms but as the number of heartworms grow (sometimes to more than 30), signs appear. They include coughing, tiring easily, lethargy, loss of appetite and weight loss. If they aren’t treated, it becomes harder and harder for them to breathe — death by heartworms is slow torture for an animal.

A cat’s symptoms mimic those of other diseases and can include rapid breathing, gagging, vomiting and weight loss.

Blood tests will reveal if a dog or cat is infected, Graham says. Owners sometimes resist having their pets tested because they are certain that they never missed giving their pet the preventive. Often, they misremember so it’s better to test and be certain that the dog or cat hasn’t been infected.

For infected dogs, treatment is expensive and takes at least two months during which the dog must be kept inactive — no running, jumping or playing although walking on a leash is allowed.

During treatment, the heartworms die and decompose and “are eaten up by the white blood cells,” Graham explains. “That process takes some time and we have to do what we can to manage the side effects.” 

The main side effect is that the decaying heartworms may block the animal’s arteries and lower blood flow to the lungs. “We have drugs and protocols that minimize effects on the dog, but it’s critical that the dog not get any exercise throughout the entire course of the treatment.”

Most dogs can be treated successfully, but some experience complications and don’t survive. Vigilance by an owner can prevent this, Graham says.

Preventives work simply by killing the infected larvae when they enter an animal through a mosquito bite. Dead larvae mean no heartworms.

Heartworm preventive is available in pill form, as a monthly topical treatment applied to the skin, and as a shot given every six months. Your vet can explain how each works and what may be best for your dog or cat.

While heartworm preventives have always been considered effective, the American Heartworm Society is currently conducting a study to determine if there are any strains of heartworms that have become resistance to a specific chemical compound now being used.

The study doesn’t cover a specific type or brand of preventive, but there has been controversy about the effectiveness of HeartGuard Plus. In 2005, the federal Food and Drug Administration ordered the maker, Merial LLC, to stop claiming 100 percent effectiveness on its labels.

Graham says he can’t address the controversy because there is no scientific evidence to “definitively answer” all the questions about the effectiveness of any specific product. Scientific studies in this area are only in the early stages.

“People ought to be having conversations with their veterinarians about what they ought to do in terms of preventives,” he says. “This needs to be between the pet owner and veterinarian. He may have reason to believe one product is better in their area.”

He notes that veterinarians tend to recommend the preventive they’ve had success with.

Creature Feature appears weekly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. This column was published June 15, 2011.