better homes & gardens

As Australia's favourite vet, Dr Harry Cooper solves pet problems all over the country. Here are some of the most common.


Worms! To worm or not to worm?

Do birds need worming? The answer is yes. Birds can become infested with a range of intestinal worms including tapeworms. There are worm tablets that can be used for the larger specimens like pigeons and poultry, but the most convenient method is via the drinking water. Like most things that are meant to be good for us the stuff tastes awful.

Make the patient thirsty by withholding water for 24 hours (obviously not on a very hot day). Then carefully following the directions mix up a small volume of medicated water. Disguise the taste by adding honey. Leave the treatment with your bird for 24 hours. Remove and clean the drinker and refill it with clean water. Worming two or three times yearly for house pets is adequate. Aviary birds need more regular treatment.

A cockatiel with dandruff? Unusual?

Guess what? All birds have dandruff! Probably even penguins, if they spent long enough out of the water. It's perfectly natural, but it isn't really dandruff - it just looks like it. When birds moult they lose old feathers and replace them with new ones.

The developing feather is a complex structure that's far more intricate than a miserable strand of human hair. It has a central quill, barbs and barbules that hold it all together enabling the bird to fly. It develops in a follicle and erupts in a state of 'rapture'. It is wrapped, in fact, just like a newly purchased umbrella. This wrapping must be removed before the umbrella or the feather can open up. The covering on the umbrella is usually plastic and the cover on the feather is also called the 'plastic', it peels off in flakes ... hence the dandruff. Incidentally, a twice weekly spraying with tepid water will help the birds through the moulting 'dandruff' process.


What do you do when one of your pet chooks starts going bald?

Hen pecked. Everyone knows what that means. Well chooks invented the phrase. Regardless of whether there is a rooster present or not there will always be one dominant female in a chookhouse. She is at the top of the 'pecking order' and below number one is number two; below number two is number three and so on. And all the top chooks pick on the bottom one. Which is what happened to Billy, she copped it from every other bird in the pen.

To solve the problem you can choose to isolate the number one or the bottom bird, but some other bird will simply take their place. You can spray the bald areas with a foul-tasting antiseptic (no pun intended), or you can supply a block of rock salt. A polystyrene box to peck at can also help. Providing more space is perhaps the best answer, as this avoids the stress of overcrowding, one of the major causes of chook bullying.


Charlie Duck is laying eggs without shells

Funnily enough soft-shelled eggs are not an uncommon problem but one that all birds can experience. While not unheard of it is, however, a bit of a challenge and very often the cause of 'egg binding'. Egg production is a complex process, starting with the ovary (there is only one in birds) which produces the yolk. This is in turn grabbed by the infindibulum and then begins its way down the oviduct where layers of white (the albumin) and membranes are laid down.

It goes for a spin to stabilize the yolk and finally reaches the shell gland. Malfunctions here due to disease or mineral imbalances in the diet can cause the gland to fail to secrete the shell. In the case of a duck, diet is almost certainly the cause. A lack of calcium to be precise.

This duck's diet seemed to consist of mixed grain and pellets, and she was also fond of lawn, snails and snacks from the veggie patch. So I asked the family for a bottle of vinegar, a short sharp knife and a hammer. They were a little surprised especially when I pulled out a dozen fresh oysters! The oyster shells were for the duck, broken up into grit they are an excellent source of calcium. Other supplements include agricultural lime (calcium carbonate) scattered about the garden, or any other source of absorbable calcium such as the water soluble variety available from pet shops.


Long claws and how to cut them

Cutting a cat's nails will help reduce damage to your carpets and furniture. Scratching is normal behaviour for all cats, even the big ones in Africa do it! The exercise removes the blunt outer sheath from the nail, exposing the sharp one underneath. You can expose the nail by using the thumb and finger of one hand to push up on the pad and down just behind the first joint. The nail will then pop out. Carefully cut off only the hook at the end. A bright light held underneath the nail will help to illuminate the quick (blood supply) and make cutting easier. A trim every couple of weeks should keep things under control.

It's no secret that cats like to scratch

Cats often attack your brand new lounge or curtains but ignore a purpose-built cat scratching pole! It's frustrating, not to mention expensive. But there's a trick to getting your cat to sharpen its claws on a chosen object.

Here's how you do it. Gently rub the pads of your cat's front paws on the scratching post. Although we can't smell it, the action will deposit tiny identifying scent marks which tell the cat 'this is a great place to scratch and mark your territory'. Mimic the scratching action with your fingers and try a little catnip - a herb that sends many cats into a state of bliss.

Why do some cats urinate in weird places?

Cats are very fastidious animals. The major reason cats go off the rails with their urinary excrements is because their owners fail to maintain a pristine litter tray. They should be cleaned daily to remove soiled litter and the whole tray washed and replaced with fresh litter every 48 hours. One cat we visited had adopted the annoying habit of urinating in the shower! It's probably because the tray was near the shower recess and regrettably the smells from the drain are more appealing than those of the dirty litter tray. Plus the cat is attracted by the smell of its own urine in the drain.

The answer is to clean the drain (rinse very well), keep the litter tray spotless and place it over the drain hole. Once puss is back in the habit of using the tray then you can move it each day, inch by inch, to where you want it. One important tip: never use ammonia compounds for cleaning as they encourage bad feline toilet habits. A little diluted vinegar is the best solution to clean up the area.


Like so many second-hand dogs, Lucy came with some baggage. She liked to dig! And she like to rip!

Not only did Lucy dig just about anywhere and everywhere, she also ripped the washing off the line when everyone was out for the day. The washing problem was easily solved. On wash day, the dog gets locked up till the clothes are dry. All that stuff fluttering just overhead is far too much temptation for almost any dog. Digging is a different story. Dogs have been digging for as long as there have been dogs. They do it to investigate where some other dog may have buried a morsel of food, they do it to make a cool hole on a hot day, and they do it simply because it's a fun thing to do. Stopping your dog from digging is impossible. You cannot police them 24/7.

So if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Build a digging pit. Treated pine sleepers, a yard of soft sand and plenty of treats like cheese and cabanossi buried in the pit will direct all excavation to one place rather than the whole yard. Reward and encourage the dog for digging in the sand pit. Reprimand him for digging elsewhere. It's not foolproof, but it certainly does help.

A dog that jumps and bites. Boxers are the clowns of the dog world and when this lady took on a boxer pup to replace a much loved but now departed adult she just couldn't handle the situation.

Rose-coloured glasses are something we all don from time to time. No two dogs are ever the same. The original boxer was unusually quiet and happy to just laze in the sun. Enter the replacement, a give-it-all-you've-got-and-more pup of about nine months! Munia was a bundle of mischief and physically just too strong for her owner. Hanging out the washing was impossible. Even walking around the yard was a nightmare as the dog would jump and bite.

The owner was covered in wounds. This really was a very normal puppy it was the owner's reactions that were the problem. She would push Munia away and scream in fear and frustration at the behaviour. Hands were an issue - you should always keep your hands out of the way. My advice to the owner was to turn her back on the behaviour, if necessary use her knee to fend off the dog when it tried to jump, and most importantly to not yell. In less than 20 minutes Munia was following her owner quietly around the yard, sitting on command and coming when called.

Lulu, a 15-month-old Doberman, liked to steal things from the house, take them outside and destroy them.

I truly love Dobermans and having had two over the years, we are about to get another. In the same mode as a Boxer, Dobermans are just big kids - always on for a game. Unlike Boxers though, by the age of two and a half Dobermans have grown up and settled into marvellous companions. Dotty, however, was very much a rebellious teen, intent on leading her poor owner on a merry dance at every opportunity. There were no rules in this house, apart from Dotty's rules that is. Things had to change.

Dotty needed some discipline in her life and so boundaries had to be set. Animals respect this and if you stick to the rules, so will they. Parts of the house were made out of bounds to Dotty. Desirable objects were kept well out of reach and as much as possible, this dog had to wear a collar and drag a lead around when the owner was at home. Without a lead for control any dog will make an absolute fool of you. Tempers flare and the dog scores another victory. With you on the other end of the lead, you are in charge. This way Dotty learns respect without losing any love. In fact, the bond becomes stronger, as she looks up to her owner as 'the leader of the pack'.

Imagine a dog that licks the floor almost continuously and even spends time licking the edge of his own basket. Fergus was a compulsive licker and had been for at least four years, once he got started on the kitchen floor he was very hard to stop.

Just what starts behaviour like this? Perhaps something was originally spilt on the floor, perhaps the dog had developed this habit with a previous owner? Often, we can't find the answer. Why then does an otherwise normal dog spend hours licking the floor, when there is apparently nothing there to taste? Lyn, Fergus' owner, felt that it may be a jealousy issue. Gypsy, the dog they acquired four years ago to keep Fergus company after their old dog Oscar passed away, kicks up a big stink whenever someone pays attention to Fergus. Whether this is the cause of the problem or not the licking is now such a part of the Fergus's daily behaviour that he does it without even thinking. It has become an obsessive compulsive disorder and as such it may be hard to stop.

In severe cases where the behaviour is deeply entrenched medication may be necessary but there are several option to try first. We could have tried to make the floor unpleasant to lick by coating it with citronella or something similar but I feel that distraction therapy often works well. A loud noise followed by a growling 'no' from the owner will pull things up for a moment. The trick is, to then divert the dog's attention to something else, or give the dog a command it can obey like 'sit', and after a time reward the dog for doing just that. Mealtimes may be noisy for a few months but in the end it should succeed in putting a stop to the incessant slurping. As a surprise I let the family in on my chicken soup trick. Ice cubes flavoured with chicken stock are a great treat for dogs as believe it not they love to lick ice.


Phasmids are insects native to Australia and live mainly in the tropical north so need a warm and humid atmosphere. They live on and eat eucalypt leaves and resemble a dead leaf swaying in the breeze.

If you are looking for something that's a little more bizarre then try a phasmid. The boys are long and thin and can fly; the females are the earthbound fatties. They will breed and the females can lay up to 1000 eggs in her 18 month life span but be patient as they can take two years to hatch. As the insect grows it continuously moults - eight times in total. They do not bite but their legs have sharp spines and they do get a good grip so be gentle.

All they need is a glass tank with a lid, and regular supply of green gum leaves - the older and broader ones are preferable just pop them in a vase of water in the bottom of the tank. A twice daily spray from a water bottle will keep the humidity high enough.

Like so many other insects and arachnids they are increasing in popularity with the kids and parents and why not? They don't make any noise!

Hermit crabs

Believe it or not these are land-based nocturnal crabs that live close to the sea shore. You'll need a tank with some shell grit in the base, fresh and salt water, a commercial food and plenty of fruit. As they grow the crab is in need of a bigger shell so have some spares. They can be painted in your favourite colours. The main objective is to keep the tank clean with regular washing and invest in crabs of about the same size. The big fellas can be bullies.

Source: Dr Harry Cooper Better Homes and Gardens

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Spiny leaf insect:Phasmids


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