Feeding Wild Birds during the Winter Months

 

Feeding Wild Birds during the Winter Months

Feeding the wild birds that your garden welcomes is a rewarding way to see wildlife up close. Birds may find it difficult to seek out their natural diet of insects, berries, nuts and seeds during the cold winter months but with your help, it doesn’t have to be a struggle.

Peanuts are an old-time favourite across many species of bird and are an excellent source of energy rich fat. It’s important to note, however, that different feeds attract different species of bird. Black sunflower seeds and sunflower hearts are gratefully received by finches and tits while fruit such as apples and pears will attract the sweet tooth of a blackbird and the occasional fleeting fieldfare or redwing. Grated cheese will tempt a wren while nyger seeds entice a dunnock or two. Below is a table taken from the DSPCA showing the food preferences of popular garden birds in Ireland.

Feeding Wild Birds during the Winter Months

Whatever the seed or nut, a feeder to compliment the shape and size of that food should be used. For example, peanut feeders have a narrow wired mesh to deter whole nuts being fed to young chicks susceptible to choking while nyger feeders encase the delicate seed to prevent it blowing away. Most feeders will have the suitable feed clearly marked on it but bear in mind that birds such as robins, thrushes, dunnocks, blackbirds and wrens prefer to eat off the ground.

It isn’t all about seeds and nuts, however, many of the leftovers in your kitchen can be put to good use. Uncooked porridge oats, cake and biscuit crumbs and moistened wholemeal bread are well received as is cooked pasta, rice and potatoes, all of which are excellent sources of starch. The best part about these leftovers is they make up 90% of the ingredients in ‘fat balls’, a nutritious favourite of many wild birds. Mixing all of the above before pouring melted fat over the dry mix and allowing it to cool and set in a mould such as a yoghurt pot, makes for a great feast.

Your garden visitors greatly appreciate your help from October through April when food is scarce. Regular cleaning and disinfection of feeders is essential to prevent the spread of disease during this time as is the provision of a fresh water supply. Do not feed mouldy or unhealthy looking foodstuffs that could cause illness and it is advisable to avoid feeding ‘mixed wild bird seed’ which contains few digestible parts for garden birds.

Follow these simple steps and it is a racing certainty that you’ll be a hit with the neighbourhood birds.

John Breen R.V.N.

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Snakes as pets

Snakes as pets

Some people might shiver at the thought of keeping a snake as a pet but those of you that are thinking about it should have a read of our tips and facts before taking the plunge.

These unusual and fascinating creatures are low maintenance, quiet and don’t need exercising which can make them ideal pets for today’s busy lifestyle.  Snakes make great pets for people with allergies, can be fed once a week or less and don’t require much space.

Each type of snake has specialized needs that differ from one variety to the next. There are many types of snakes that make good pets for beginners and as long as you stick to these you will find that they are easy to care for and feed.  Harmless smaller snakes that are commonly kept as pets are the Corn Snake, King Snake, Milk Snake and Rat Snake.

Frequently asked questions about pet snakes

How long will my snake live?  Some snakes can live for 20 years or more!

How big will my snake get? Most pet snakes commonly available reach 4 – 5 feet in size.

What do I feed my snake?  Snakes eat worms, insects, frogs, fish, birds and mammals.  Most pet snakes can be fed mice which can be bought frozen.  Never feed your snakes live animals.

Will my snake need company?  Snakes can live quite happily on their own and some snakes must be housed separately as they can be cannibalistic.

What sort of housing will my snake need?  Snakes can be housed in glass or perspex tanks called vivariums.  A rough guide for the right size of the vivarium you will need is that your snake must be able to stretch out fully from corner to corner. It must be as secure as possible – snakes are good escape artists!

What sort of heating, humidity and lighting will my snake need?  Depending on the type of snake you have as a pet you will need to set the heat, light and humidity in their vivarium to their requirements.

Will my snake bite me?  Surprisingly enough, the majority of snakes are not poisonous and pet snakes will only try to bite if they are frightened or injured.  The bite of a non-venomous pet snake is usually harmless as their teeth are not designed to puncture.

Are snakes slimy?  No.  Snakes are actually dry to the touch.

Does my vet cover reptiles?  Not all vets cover reptiles but your local vet will know who does.


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Snake facts you need to know

Snakes are cold blooded which means that they are unable to regulate their body temperature by generating heat themselves.  They warm themselves by basking in the sun or on hot rocks that hold their heat.  When the temperature is too hot they seek shelter in cool burrows or under stones.  This process of shifting from one temperature to another is known as thermo-regulation. Although snakes can be found almost all over the world they can not survive in places where the ground stays frozen all year long – like the Arctic Circle.  Depending on the type of snake you have the temperature in their vivarium should be between 21°C – 30°C.

  • Snakes are carnivorous (meat eaters) and different types of snakes eat worms, insects, snails, frogs, fish, birds, lizards, eggs and small mammals.  Smaller snakes eat smaller prey but pythons can eat deer and antelope in the wild. Because snakes cannot bite or tear their food to pieces, they have to swallow their prey whole.
  • Visit our Types of Snakes to learn more about what different snakes eat
  • Snakes do not have to eat every day – typically a snake tends to feed between once a week to three weeks, with the most common being 10 – 14 days.  In the wild snakes can go for a long time before catching anything to eat so their bodies are adapted to surviving a long time between meals.
  • View our Reptile products for a selection of suitable and safe foods for your snake
  • As your snake grows it will shed its skin once every few months.  Signs that your snake is going to shed its skin are cloudiness or opaqueness over the eyes and scales.  During this time, your snake will lose its appetite and can refuse to eat – don’t worry, this is normal!  A healthy snake will shed its skin in one piece but if your snake sheds in multiple skin pieces it is a good indication the humidity in the vivarium may need increasing.
  • Visit our Snake Housing Advice to learn more about humidity
  • All reptiles carry salmonella and therefore hygiene is very important when keeping a snake as a pet.  Always wash your hands immediately after feeding or handling your snake and after any contact with their equipment.  We do not recommend that children under 5 handle snakes and older children should always be supervised when with the snake.
  • View our Reptile products for a range of hygiene and cleaning products
  • Snakes do not hear like we do and at one time were considered to be deaf.  Although they don’t have an outer ear they do have an inner ear and they can hear vibrations that travel through the ground.  They can also pick up on airborne sounds but to a lesser extent.
  • Snakes also smell in a very different way to us.  Snakes use their flicking tongues as a smelling device. The snake collects the scents in the air on its tongue and then rubs its tongue on the scent organs on the roof of its mouth.

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Which type of snake?

There are about 3000 species of snakes in the world and they range in size from the Reticulated Python at over 28 feet long to the Barbados Threadsnake at 4 inches in length!  Some snakes lay eggs, others give birth to love young, and some live in the sea whilst others climb trees.    However they can be categorised into 4 basic families, 2 of which are non venomous and are popular as pets:

  • Colubrids – mostly non venomous and mostly harmless.  Colubrids are the main snake family and include about two thirds of all snake species on earth.  Corn Snakes, King Snakes, Rat Snakes and Milk Snakes belong to this family.
  • Boas and Pythons– non venomous medium to large snakes which use their size and weight to constrict and kill their prey.  The giant sized African Rock Python and Anaconda belong to this family.
  • To learn more about which type of snake would suit you as a pet visit our Types of Snakes guide

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Handling your snake

How you handle a snake depends on what type of snake it is.  Snakes should be handled gently and we have a few tips to help you – and your snake – become accustomed to regular handling.

  • You should handle your snake every day, keeping sessions to around 15 minutes at a time.
  • Try not to handle your snake if it is shedding its skin as your snake may behave aggressively as it can not see very well.
  • Try to avoid handling your snake if it has just eaten.  Snakes take some time to digest their food and it’s best to give them 2 – 3 days hours to do so.  If you handle your snake too soon after it has eaten it will regurgitate its meal.  Regurgitation is a little similar to vomiting and after eating a snake a feels vulnerable to attack so when it is handled it is much more likely to regurgitate its meal so it can get away. Regurgitation can harm your snake’s health as it rids the snake of natural gastric fluids, and it takes nearly 2 weeks for the fluids to return to normal.
  • Always handle your snake when it is awake, but during the time of day that it is most lethargic.
  • Wash your hands before handling your snake as if you have any scents on your hands that the snake can mistake as its food it may think your hand is its next meal.
  • Don’t surprise your snake when you reach in to pick it up. Tapping the side of the vivarium is a good idea as your snake will sense the vibrations.
  • Move slowly, and, if possible, approach your snake from the side rather than from above.
  • Never pin a snake down or lift it by its head or neck as its bones are delicate and you could permanently disable it.
  • To lift your snake you must support its weight. Pick your snake up gently in the middle of its body with both hands held a little apart (depending on the size of your snake).  Don’t hold your snake tightly as this will hurt it.  Hold it away from your face and avoid sudden movements.  You can stroke your snake but always stroke it in the direction the scales go.  Your snake may flick its tongue out to touch you – don’t be nervous as this is your snake’s way of smelling and recognizing you.
  • When you return your snake to its vivarium slowly lower it in.  Let it move out of your hands to the cage floor on its own.
  • Wash your hands immediately after handling your snake.

Getting started

We have a great guide to help you make bringing your snake home stress free and smooth with some handy tips for you to help settle your snake in to their new life happily. Our check list below will ensure that you have everything for your new snake’s arrival.

Check list

  • Vivarium (housing)
  • Heat mat. Alternative sources of heating include heat strips, heat cables, heat bulbs,  and ceramic heaters (usually for larger vivariums)
  • Thermostat
  • 2 thermometers
  • Lighting
  • Lighting guard or hood
  • Substrate (material for the floor of the vivarium)
  • Habitat furnishings
  • 2 hides
  • Décor (ricks, branches etc)
  • Shallow water bowl
  • Hygrometer (measures levels of humidity)
  • Snake specific cleaning products
  • Visit our reptile Products range for a selection of snake housing and equipment

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Settling in your snake

Once you have arrived home place your snake into the vivarium, make sure the lid is secure and leave your snake alone. Snakes are very sensitive to their environments and they need time to adjust to their new living situation.  Do not try to handle your snake for about 5 to 7 days to give it time to settle in and feel safe.


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Establish a feeding schedule

Establish a regular feeding schedule for your snake – perhaps on a particular day of the week at a set time.  Snakes do not have to eat every day – typically a snake tends to feed between once a week to every three weeks, with the most common being 10 – 14 days.  It’s a good idea to keep a record of how much your snake eats and when, as snakes have such a long time between meals.


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Daily maintenance

Snakes are not demanding creatures to keep but daily maintenance keeps them in good shape and allows you to spot potential problems early.


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Monthly maintenance

At least once a month all the substrate should be removed and disposed of and the entire vivarium cleaned and disinfected before new substrate is placed inside.  All reptiles carry salmonella and therefore hygiene is very important when keeping a snake as a pet.  Always wash your hands immediately after feeding or handling your snake and after any contact with their equipment.

 

Keeping your Snake healthy

Shedding

All snakes shed their outer layer of skin periodically throughout their lives and young snakes may shed more frequently than adult snakes.

Pre-ecdysis

Pre-ecysis is the name given to the changes your snake will go through whilst preparing to shed its skin. This will include a dulling of your snake’s skin colour, general inactivity and their eyes will turn a bluish grey colour.

  • Your snake may refuse their food or lose their appetite.  Snakes often shy away from being handled at this time as their vision is obscured by the membrane covering their eyes and they may feel insecure and vulnerable.
  • Raising the humidity in the vivarium can help your snake to loosen its skin and you can either place a larger bowl of water in the vivarium for your snake to soak in; lightly mist the vivarium with water or add a damp hide (a hide filled with damp sphagnum moss).

Ecdysis

Ecdysis is the name given to the act of shedding, which is usually started by your snake rubbing it’s head on rocks or branches to loosen the skin around its head. Once your snake has worked its head free it will continue to crawl its way out of the old skin by rolling it inside out as it moves.

  • When your snake has finished shedding remove its skin from the vivarium.
  • Check your snake to ensure that the shed skin has successfully been removed.  Make sure that the skin covering the eye caps and tail end has been shed.
  • If necessary bathe your snake and remove any patches of skin that have not been shed with a warm towel or tweezers, to avoid infection.
  • Visit our reptile Products for a range of hides and hydrometers

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Mites

Mites are little black parasites that can live on your snake and feed on their blood. They can usually be found around the eyes, mouth and under scales. Your snake will seem lethargic and may go off its food during a mite infestation.


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Respiratory Infections

Snakes can suffer from respiratory (breathing) infections and symptoms include signs of mucus around the nose or mouth, sneezing, open-mouth breathing, and wheezing.

  • A common cause of respiratory infections in snakes is poor vivarium conditions, low temperatures or too much humidity.
  • If your snake shows signs of respiratory illness, start by ensuring it has a clean, dry vivarium and also increase temperatures on the warm side / basking area by a few degrees. If the symptoms persist take your snake to your reptile vet immediately.

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The beginners guide to keeping a Fish Tank!

Keeping fish as pets in your own aquarium is a fascinating hobby.  There are many beautiful fish to choose from – as well as weird and wonderful ones.  Designing the habitat for your aquarium can be great fun and you can be as creative as you like, constructing ship wrecks, ruins and reefs for your fish to find a home in.  Fish as pets have lots of advantages:  they are relatively easy to care for, low maintenance and don’t trigger allergic reactions.  Many people find watching fish swimming in an aquarium therapeutic and their vibrant range of colours and patterns are certainly captivating!

Petstop supply a wide selection of both cold water and tropical fish and our trained staff are available to give you advice on keeping fish as pets and the equipment you’ll need.  Our range of tanks start at 15 litres and range up to 230 litres as well as starter kits for beginners that contain all the essential equipment for your first tank.   Our check list below will ensure that you have everything you need to get started.

 

Check List

  • Fish tank
  • Hood/cover
  • Base/stand
  • Heater (for tropical fish)
  • Filter
  • Lighting
  • Air pump (optional)
  • Substrate (gravel, glass beads, sand)
  • Rocks, pebbles, driftwood
  • Ornaments/decorations
  • Aquatic plants

 

 

What sort of tank do I need?

Tanks come in all sorts of shapes and sizes and cater for both cold water and tropical fish.  They are made from tough acrylic or strong glass and the size of your tank depends on what types of fish you’d like to keep, how many of them and where you plan to put the tank in your home.

Larger tanks have more stable temperatures and water chemistry which means that your fish will be in a healthier environment.  Another benefit of a large tank is that your fish are more likely to get on with each other as they don’t have to compete for space.

Do I need a base or a stand?

Tanks are very heavy when filled with water and a proper aquarium stand, base or cabinet is essential.  You need one that has been built strong enough to hold the weight of your tank and there are plenty of designs available.  Purpose built stands and bases are also resistant to water damage.

Do I need a hood or cover?

Keeping a hood or cover on your tank helps to keep humidity levels down and decrease the amount of water you need to replace due to evaporation.   They also shield the water from dust and dirt and prevent fish from jumping out of the tank.  Hoods are also designed to accommodate filters, heating and lighting equipment so that everything is neatly contained.

 

How many fish can I keep in my tank?

Your fish will need room to live happily together so you need to work out how many fish you can keep in your tank without overcrowding.  Too many fish can pollute the tank with high levels of harmful chemicals such as ammonia and nitrite, which can poison the fish.

The general rule is to allow 2.5cm (1 inch) of fish to 4.5 litres (1 gallon) of water.   If you have bought young fish to stock your tank with remember they will grow in size so check what their adult size will be.

 

Where is the best place to put my tank?

As tanks are heavy you need a spot that is stable and level to locate your tank in.  A tank that is too close to a sunny window can suffer problems with increased algae growth.  The tank should be away from hot and cold spots so don’t place it too close to radiators or in a direct draught.  You will also need an electric socket nearby as you will need to plug in your equipment such as filters and lighting.

What equipment will I need for my aquarium?

Do I need a heater?

If you’d like to keep tropical fish you’ll need a heater as these fish live in warm water.

  • Ideally the water temperature should be between 23 – 28°C (74 – 82ºF) and the size (in watts) of your heater will depend on the size of your fish tank.
  • Heaters have thermostats built into them so that they will switch off when the temperature in the aquarium is at the level you have set.
  • If you have a very large tank (over 160 litres) you could put 2 heaters at either end to keep an even temperature throughout the water.
  • If you are not sure what size of heater you will need our staff will be able to help you in store.

Do I need lighting?

Lighting your aquarium gives your fish a sense of day and night and also helps to display their vibrant colours.

  • If you have aquatic plants in your tank they will need lighting to grow and thrive.
  • Lighting should be on for around 10 hours a day and you can use a timer to set the lights to the hours you need.
  • There are several types of lighting tubes, bulbs and units available and our staff will be able to advise you as to which would suit your tank best.

Here are a selection of heaters and lights

Do I need a filter?

You will need a filter system for your tank to keep the water clean.  Filters remove the waste products from the fish, uneaten food and decaying aquatic plant matter.  If the water is left unfiltered the waste will build up to toxic levels and your fish will become sick.  Filters also enrich the water with oxygen by causing ripples which break the surface of the water.  If you spot a white or green hazy cloud in the tank this is a Bacterial or Algae Bloom and your filter will not be able to remove this.  Such blooms can be caused by over feeding causing uneaten food to decay in the tank.  Water changes, algae cleaning and gravel vacuuming can help to treat and prevent blooms.

There are 3 different types of filters you can use:

  • Under Gravel Filters – (fitted under the gravel).  You will need an air pump to run your under gravel filter.  Although effective these can cause difficulties when you clean them as you disturb the fish and are not recommended if you are growing aquatic plants.
  • Internal Power Filters – (submerged under the water in the tank).  These give a rapid turn over of water but are difficult to hide in the tank.
  • External Power Filters (situated outside the tank).  These can be cleaned without disturbing the fish, don’t take up any tank space and some also have heaters installed.

Filters use different methods of cleaning the water, sometimes in combination with each other:

  • Mechanical (filtering through  nylon floss or synthetic foam)
  • Biological (uses beneficial bacteria to break down toxic waste to harmless substances).  Fish excrete Ammonia into the water and this is toxic.  Nitrifying bacteria need to build up in the tank to convert the Ammonia into Nitrite (which is also toxic to fish). As different sorts of bacteria begin to grow in the tank the Nitrite (NO2) is then converted to more harmless Nitrates (NO3).  Biological filters contain the beneficial bacteria (Nitrobacter and Nitrosomona)  that can break down Ammonia and Nitrates and prevent your fish from becoming poisoned.
  • Chemical (uses carbon to clear the water or ammo rocks to absorb ammonia)

View some filter products

 

Do I need an air pump?

Air pumps create hundreds of little bubbles which help to oxygenate the water as each bubble increases the surface area allowing oxygen and carbon dioxide to diffuse.   Air pumps circulate the oxygen vertically around the tank and help aerate your aquarium water.  Filters don’t aerate in the same way as they break the surface of the water creating ripples.  This increases the surface area of the aquarium water which allows for diffusion of gasses into and from the atmosphere.

Air pumps can also be used for visual effect – they can be attached to airstones, bubble wands and ornaments (treasure chests or divers) to make streams of rising bubbles which some fish like to swim amongst.

 

Decorating your aquarium

Once you have chosen your tank and equipment you will need to decorate your aquarium.  This is your chance to get creative!  Your fish will need nooks and crannies to hide in and it’s a good idea to find out what sort of environment your fish would have lived in their natural environment.  Some fish like to peep out of caves, others like to swim in little shoals protected by rocky outcrops and some will flit in and out of holes in driftwood.

Petstop have a wide range of substrates (gravels, coloured glass or sand), pebbles, rocks, driftwood, artificial plants and aquatic ornaments to set up the habitat for your fish.  Shop bought items will be safe for your fish as they have been pre-treated and will not release toxic chemicals into the water.

Aquatic plants

Growing live aquatic plants can be challenging if you are a beginner and you might like to consider choosing a range of artificial plants instead.  However aquatic plants can provide wonderful scenery in your aquarium as well as giving your fish a place to hide and spawn.

  • Some fish like to eat certain plants so you’ll need to check if your fish belong in this category lest your prized specimens end up nibbled.
  • Live plants use up carbon dioxide and give off oxygen during the day but at night this process is reversed.  If you have a lot of plants in your aquarium you might find running an airstone at night helps keep the oxygen balance from being depleted.
  • Aquatic plants can also help the habitat in your aquarium as they harbour bacteria that breakdown waste from the fish but they can also harbour water snails or parasites.

 

We do hope that this blog helped you in your decision making but remember that a lot of research is always needed before purchasing the tank and especially the fish.

If you need have any more questions of need information please feel free to ‘Like’ us on Facebook

or go to www.petstop.ie

 

Pets in hot weather

Summer is here! It’s a busy time for most people and for those of us with pets there is one more family member to be taken into consideration. Whether you have a cat, dog, a small furry or all of the above, here are some “Do’s” and “Don’ts” to help you keep your pet/s safe and happy through the warmer months of our year (if we’re lucky!).

 

Do:

·      Provide fresh clean water at all times for all animals! Especially consider older animals, animals with health conditions, such has heart disease, young animals and small mammals and rodents. Rabbits require quite a large quantity of water considering their size, so always remember to check and fill their bottles daily!

·      Always provide a shaded area for your pet to retreat to if they get to warm. Keep in mind where outdoor hutches are positioned in the garden and where cages are in the house. Will the sun be shining directly on them at any point? Animals do not sweat like we do and find it very hard to cool down which can lead to heat stroke very quickly.

·      If you think your pet maybe suffering from heat stroke, call your vet immediately. Place cold wet towels over your pet or pour cold water over their extremities

·      Use sun cream on pets that have white fur or hair or pink skin on exposed areas, like their nose or ears. Skin cancer is very common in cats and dogs. If you have a pet with exposed skin apply a factor 30+ infant sunscreen to these areas before you allow them outside and reapply as often as possible.

·      Keep any small animal cages, hutches and aviaries spotless. Flies are attracted to the smell of faeces and rotting food and will lay their eggs in the cage or on your pet’s skin. This is called “Fly strike”. These maggots will then eat their way into your pet causing massive damage, pain quite often animals need to be euthanized as too much damage has been done. So check your pet’s coat daily, especially their rear end and keep their living quarters as clean as possible.

Don’ts

·       Don’t leave any animal unattended in a locked car. Heat stroke can happen quicker than you think, within 10 minutes your pet could be in serious trouble.

·      Don’t walk elderly, young, sick or heavy coated dogs during the warmest hours of the day. Walk them early in the morning before 10am or late in the evening, after 7pm.

·      Don’t leave reptiles, small furries or birds unattended in the garden. Yes it’s great for them to get out and get some real sun shine, but unattended tortoises can quickly disappear and cats, birds of prey and other predators will definitely be interested in your pet.

·      Don’t forget to vaccinate your pet. If you are planning a holiday make sure your pet’s vaccinations are up to date at least 2 weeks before you plan to travel. Don’t forget to treat them for fleas and worms before you put them into boarding as well.