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Pets: Handling cockatiel confusion

Q: I have two cockatiels. Sugar, we found on the roadside. She’s about 5 years old and rather skittish. After a couple of months, I thought she could use a companion, so we got Sweetie, also a female. The pair quickly bonded. Sugar has become more tame, but Sweetie more wild. In the last year, I’ve noticed that Sugar seems to want to mate. She postures and makes all sorts of noise. Sweetie seems indifferent, though.

Is there something I can do?

– E.L., Bear Lake, Minn.

A: “Sometimes, a female may take the role of the male,” says Dr. Peter Sakas, a veterinarian in Niles, Ill., with a special interest in birds.

“Sometimes, two females can both be laying eggs, despite no presence of a male. The hormones get stimulated while they’re in their hormonal cycle, the ovary develops follicles, the oviduct enlarges, and eggs can develop. So fertilization does not need to occur for that to happen.”

Isn’t nature wonderful? But now what?

“Increase the birds’ time in darkness to 16 hours daily for two weeks, avoid too much stimulation from affectionate owners, and remove stimulating toys or objects,” Sakas suggests. “Also, remove areas (in the cage) where a bird might nest. And rearrange the cage furnishings to throw the birds off a bit. If little changes, another option is hormonal control measures (hormone injections).”


Q: How do you catch a feral cat? I’ve tried leaving tuna and cat food inside a cat carrier to attract a neighborhood stray. The idea is to trap the cat, have him/her spayed or neutered and vaccinated for rabies, then release him again (a process called trap, neuter, return, or TNR). But I can’t do that when the cat is smarter than I am. Any advice?

– J.C., Henderson, Nev.

A: Tree House Humane Society in Chicago has been a national TNR front-runner for many years, assisting other animal welfare agencies and TNR groups. Jenny Schlueter, director of the Tree House program, says, “First, speak to your neighbors. It might be they’re offering so much food to the cat that it isn’t enticed (to your carrier).”

Next, leave a humane trap (rather than a standard carrier) out with food inside, offering a meal at the same time daily for several days in a row, Schleuter suggests. While you’re baiting the trap, at first, don’t set the trap. Even open the “back door.” Just get the cat comfortable receiving a meal inside the trap. After about a week, and once you’ve consistently seen the food disappear and are fairly certain the cat (not another critter) is taking it, set the trap, Schleuter explains.

You can buy a humane trap, or try borrowing one from an animal shelter or the office of animal control in your community. “Good for you for doing the right thing,” Schleuter adds, and I concur.


Q: My daughter’s Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is calm and easy to walk – until we encounter another dog. Then he goes berserk, jumping and barking. We’ve tried spraying him with water and vinegar, and have used a shock collar. No luck.

Any advice?

– J.A., Eau Claire, Wis.

A: “Obviously, this dog is reactive to other dogs,” says certified dog behavior consultant and dog trainer Sarah Hodgson. “Right now, the cortisol level (hormonal response to stress) increases when your dog sees another dog. Add to that being sprayed, or worse, shocked, and the level (of cortisol) goes up even more. In other words, your best intentions are making matters worse.”

Hodgson, Westchester-based author of “Puppies for Dummies” (Wiley Publishing, New York, 2006; $19.99), suggests you seek hands-on help from a veterinary behaviorist ( or certified dog behavior consultant( who can demonstrate how to desensitize and countercondition your pup using food or a toy. Over time, this system will decrease the dog’s cortisol levels.