Tonawanda News

November 7, 2012

CRITTER COMPANIONS: Answers to some questions about your pets

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — This week’s column aims to answer some of the popular questions I have received. If you have a critter companion question, you can visit us on Facebook and it may be answered in this spot next month.

QUESTION: How do I get my cat to stop scratching on the furniture? Tracie D., Niagara Falls

ANSWER: I can understand if both your furniture and your nerves are shredded. I would strongly advise against declawing your cat. Scratching is a natural behavior in cats and can’t be stopped. So our advice is redirection. I just moved from a wood-floor house to a carpeted apartment. This made me a little nervous about my two cats and their claws.

Cats scratch for a few reasons, some of which include exercise, scenting and pleasure. To redirect your cat you will need to invest in something they can scratch like a scratching post. 

The best posts are ones where the cats can stretch out fully. Scratching posts that are short and unsteady almost never work. I found one on sale for about $75. It is almost 4 feet tall and has poles wrapped with both sisal rope and a carpet material. My cats took to it immediately. 

Another substrate is a condensed cardboard pad with a honeycomb design in it. I didn’t buy into it at first, but my one cat really likes shredding it. As they are in the process of scratching, I jump off the couch and place a treat where they were scratching to help solidify the thought “If I scratch here, I get treats.”

To help minimize the effect of scratching mistakes and general health I also clip my cats’ front nails on a regular basis.


Q: I have a 2-year-old love bird, named Honey, and would like to adopt a bird as a companion for her. How should I introduce them? Barbara F., Lockport

A: Congratulations on your future adoption. When bringing home another pet, quarantine is important. I would place the new bird in its own cage in a separate room for ten to 45 days. Thirty days is the average. The time would depend on vet visits, medical history and the types of testing you are willing to do. 

If your new bird’s quarantine area is in hearing range of your first love bird, Honey, than your introduction has already begun. 

Placing the birds in sight of each other would be the next step. I would start on opposite sides of the room and then slowly move the cages closer to each other over a few days. Stop moving the cages if either bird starts showing signs of distress, like open wings, hissing, panting or raised head feathers. 

The birds will dictate on how quickly you can move the cages together. If you want to house them together, having multiple hiding places, food and water bowls and places to retreat from one another is essential.


Q: My 10-year-old son wants an aquarium. How do we know which fish are healthy? Arlene K., Tonawanda

A: Fish are great at communicating with us about how healthy they are. Remember EBBS when selecting fish. EBBS is an acronym for eyes, body, behavior and surroundings. 

The first thing I look for is eyes. Make sure the eyes are not sunken or bulging and are clear. 

Next, look at the overall body of the fish. The body should also be lump free and should have no missing scales. White spots or patches on the scales can mean different diseases. The fins should be intact with no tears or holes. The gills should be bright. 

Respiration is an important indicator on the water quality and the fish’s health. Every time the gill goes in and out, you can breath in and out. If the respiration is normal, you should be breathing normally. 

The behavior of the fish should be relatively active. They should not be floating on the surface or on their side. The fish should be reacting to your presence and to the other fish in the tank.

Another aspect to pay close attention to is the surrounding environment. Make sure the aquarium water is clear. Also, check out tank mates and other tanks to see the overall health. Check other fish’s respiration. If the water flows between tanks and there are sick or dead fish, avoid the store completely. Diseases can flow just as easily.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for “Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan” on Facebook.

Kenny Coogan has a B.S. in animal behavior. Please email your questions to, or search for "Critter Companions by Kenny Coogan" on Facebook.