African Pygmy Hedgehog Food and Diet

In the wild, African Pygmy Hedgehogs are opportunistic feeders. They’re usually described as insectivores, but really they’re omnivorous.

Insects do form the basis of a wild African Pygmy Hedgehog diet, but they’ll also eat worms, slugs, snails, bird eggs, spiders, crabs, fungi, amphibians, vegetation, millipedes, groundnuts, grass roots and even small snakes.

African Pygmy Hedgehogs are also surprisingly good at coping with poison, happily eating scorpions and dangerous amphibians. They will even use a mixture of poison and their own saliva to cover their quills as an extra defense measure against predators.

African Pygmy Hedgehog Food in Captivity

African Pygmy Hedgehog FoodIt’s important to provide African Pygmy Hedgehogs with a varied diet to best simulate what they would eat in the wild. These little mammals require a diet low in fat and iron but high in protein. They also need a substance called chitin found in the exoskeletons of insects, but fiber may be an effective substitute.

African Pygmy Hedgehog Cat Food

Most owners feed their hedgehogs cat food. This is a great base food for a healthy African Pygmy Hedgehog diet, but care does need to be taken. You should provide premium dry cat food rather than wet, and you’ll have to take a good look at the ingredients.

Ideally you want to provide cat food with at least 30% protein and under 12% fat. 10-12% fiber is also a good benchmark. It can be tricky to meet all these requirements at once, which is partly why offering a variety of food is so important.

Pet HedgehogYour best bet will be to mix together two or three different high quality, low-fat dry cat foods. The cat foods should be meat-based (chicken is perfect) rather than fish-based, as fish may cause digestive problems and lead to stinky feces.

You might find that a lot of cat food contains far too much iron and fat. These formulations are designed for more active cats and are not suitable for African Pygmy Hedgehogs. Look for ‘light’ cat foods or mixtures designed for indoor cats instead.

Hedgehog Foods

Most products labeled as ‘hedgehog food’ actually make a very poor diet for pet hedgehogs. This is because they’re designed to meet the dietary requirements of wild European hedgehogs that can be enticed into gardens. African Pygmy Hedgehogs have very different needs, so you should avoid most commercial hedgehog foods.

However, there are now some mixtures specially created to be perfect African Pygmy Hedgehog food. These products should be even better than the cat food mixtures that breeders and owners have been using for years. Unfortunately African Pygmy Hedgehog food products are not yet stocked in most pet stores, but they’re easy to find online.

Our favorite is the 8in1 Ultra-Blend Select Hedgehog Diet. If you’re looking for African Pygmy Hedgehog food, this is what you should buy.

African Pygmy Hedgehog Treats

Occasional treats can be a big help in giving your hedgehog the varied diet it requires. Some of the best treats for African Pygmy Hedgehogs are:

  • Lean, cooked chicken, turkey, lamb or high quality mince (only in very small quantities because of high fat content)
  • Small amounts of fruit and vegetables (see below)
  • Feeder insects such as crickets, waxworms, mealworms and cockroaches (alive or dead, but again beware of high fat content)
  • Scrambled or hard-boiled egg
  • Some owners provide very occasional dog food or pinky mice (certainly not necessary)

African Pygmy Hedgehog Fruits and Vegetables

You should only feed African Pygmy Hedgehogs fruits and vegetables in small quantities. It’s also good to know that not all fruit and veg is healthy for hedgehogs, so you do need to be careful.

Some of the best fruits for hedgehogs are apples, bananas, tomatoes and various berries.

Fruits to avoid include raisins, grapes and avocados.

African Pygmy HedgehogHealthy vegetables for hedgehogs include beans, peas, mashed potato, cooked carrot, broccoli and squash. African Pygmy Hedgehogs can also be fed dark leafy greens such as  kale, leaf lettuce and spinach.

You may find that your African Pygmy Hedgehogs have little appetite for fruit and veg, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need to eat a few pieces now and then. The best approach is usually to mix the greens in with cat food. Then your hedgehog will normally gobble them up with the rest.

What You Should Never Feed an African Pygmy Hedgehog

There’s a fairly long list of foods that need to be avoided if you don’t want to harm your hedgehog. Some of the foods that most often cause problems are as follows:

  • Nuts
  • Raw eggs or meat
  • Dairy products (all hedgehogs are lactose intolerant, so dairy products will give your hedgehog stomach trouble)
  • Onions
  • Avocados
  • Wild-caught insects or bait from a fishing store (they may be affected by pesticides/insecticides)
  • Chocolate
  • Anything sugary that isn’t fruit
  • Canned or processed foods

When to Feed Your Hedgehog

Most owners feed their African Pygmy Hedgehogs once or sometimes twice per day. As nocturnal creatures, hedgehogs are most likely to eat their food if you offer it in the evening.

Pet HedgehogBe aware that African Pygmy Hedgehogs in the wild can eat a third of their bodyweight in a single night. More active hedgehogs may eat more than you would expect.

If an African Pygmy Hedgehog perceives that food seems to be scarce, it may go into hibernation. This should always be avoided with these animals, as hibernation can cause various health problems and is very dangerous for your beloved hedgehog.

You might find that your hedgehog enjoys snuffling around and searching for food buried in its bedding. Hiding food takes a little more time on your part, but it greatly increases the amount of mental stimulation a captive hedgehog receives.

Obesity

One of the most common health problems for captive African Pygmy Hedgehogs is obesity, often accompanied by fatty liver disease. It’s not hard to tell when a hedgehog is overweight – they’ll develop a double chin and have fat drooping over their knees. An obese hedgehog won’t even be able to roll completely into a ball.

If you see any signs of obesity in your hedgehog, immediately reduce the fat content of the food you provide. You should also encourage extra exercise – some wild African Pygmy Hedgehogs walk several miles in search of food every night. If they don’t have an exercise wheel to use, get one straight away. We always recommend the Kaytee Giant Silent Spinner Wheel – every pet hedgehog should have one of these!

If you’ve got any other questions about looking after African Pygmy Hedgehogs, take a look at our African Pygmy Hedgehog care sheet, where all your questions will be answered.

Bearded Dragon Morphs

Bearded Dragons are extremely variable, with eight different species and a huge range of morphs and colors to choose from. The most common species to find in the pet trade is the Central Bearded Dragon (Pogona vitticeps), but they all look roughly the same in the wild – same size, same scales, same sandy/earthy colors. The wide range of beautiful Bearded Dragons we see now are entirely down to selective breeding, promoting desirable traits and suppressing unwanted characteristics.

Bearded Dragon

Photo by nick ta on Flickr

Despite only being introduced to the US as an exotic pet in the 1990s, Bearded Dragons have exploded in popularity. As demand rose, high-end reptile breeders began experimenting with selective breeding to produce animals that can look very different to their wild ancestors.

It’s important to point out that morphs and colors are different things. Bearded Dragon morphs have more to do with size and scale texture than color. Morphs have fixed names that are widely recognized by owners and breeders around the world, whereas many breeders use their own names to describe the color of their Bearded Dragons, often to make them sound more unusual than they really area.

For example, the name ‘Red Bearded Dragon’ tells you nothing about the animal’s morph, only its color. Whereas ‘Leatherback Bearded Dragon’ gives you the morph, but not the color. If either morph or color isn’t specified, you can generally assume that it’s normal.

Bearded Dragon

Photo by Korona Lacasse on Flickr

The Different Bearded Dragon Morphs

  • Normal/Classic/Standard – This is the Bearded Dragon morph that looks most like the species does in the wild. They have spiny scales and dark skin. These are the cheapest Bearded Dragons and the ones you’re most likely to find in a pet store.
  • Trans i.e. Translucent Bearded Dragons have translucent (slightly see-through) skin. Another common feature is very dark eyes that may appear solid black.
  • Hypo i.e. Hypomelanistic Bearded Dragons have been bred to have a much lighter appearance than would be found in the wild. Dark areas in the skin, nails and eyes will all be greatly reduced.
  • Hypo Trans – As you can probably guess, this refers to a Bearded Dragon that exhibits traits of both Trans and Hypo morphs.
  • Het Hypo Bearded Dragons do not appear to be Hypo morphs visually, but are known to carry Hypo morph genes.
  • Het Trans Bearded Dragons do not appear to be Trans morphs visually, but are known to carry Trans morph genes.
  • Bearded DragonDouble Het Bearded Dragons carry both Hypo and Trans morph genetics despite showing neither.
  • Trans Het Hypo Bearded Dragons display Trans characteristics but also carry unseen Hypo morph genes.
  • Hypo Het Trans Bearded Dragons display Hypo characteristics but also carry unseen Trans morph genes.
  • German Giant Bearded Dragons have been bred primarily for size. They are often around 50% bigger than Classic Beardies and require a correspondingly larger enclosure.
  • Leatherback Bearded Dragons have a mutated gene that produces much smaller scales than normal, giving these lizards a much smoother appearance and making them feel like leather. This also tends to give them more dramatic colors – Leatherbacks are some of the most attractive Bearded Dragons. There are actually two Leatherback morphs – Italian Leatherbacks and American Smoothies. They were developed independently but are virtually indistinguishable.
  • Silkback Bearded Dragons have no scales at all, and can be born when a pair of Leatherbacks mate (although not every clutch of eggs will include Silkbacks). Their lack of scales makes them feel as smooth as silk. Silkbacks tend to have more health problems than less ‘purebred’ Bearded Dragons.
  • Bearded DragonDunner Bearded Dragons were originally bred by Kevin Dunn. They are much rougher to the touch than other Beardies due to their conical scales that run in no particular direction. Dunners also have particularly large feet and unique tail patterns.
  • Zero Bearded Dragons have no color and no pattern whatsoever, yet their lack of complexity can be beautiful in its own right.
  • Leucistic Bearded Dragons lack pigmentation and are very rare. White Bearded Dragons are often missold as Leucistics.
  • Witblit Bearded Dragons are a relatively new development. They have no markings or patterns, but can be bred in a number of pale pastel colors.
  • Paradox Bearded Dragons are another new morph, created by too much inbreeding between Trans Bearded Dragons. They have random patches of translucent scales that may be blue, white or purple. They are the subject of some controversy in the reptile breeding world.

Bearded Dragon Colors

Bearded DragonIn the wild, the color of a Bearded Dragon depends on its environment, so there is some variation. But they’re all brown, tan or sandy colors, sometimes with a hint of yellow or red. Generations of selective breeding has produced a range of brilliantly colored Bearded Dragons, from bright red to pure white and more besides.

There are now a huge number of color variations available, but many are very similar. The problem is that breeders often give their animals a new color name for marketing purposes, even if there’s nothing particularly special about their Beardies. This results in some entertaining and/or ridiculous names that are used to falsely drive up prices.

Another thing to note is that a Bearded Dragon’s color will change as it ages. Most youngsters have a white belly, but this will slowly turn to the animal’s base color as it gets older. Otherwise there’s no set pattern for how a Beardie’s colors will change – some will get brighter but others will get duller.

The Different Bearded Dragon Colors

All the Bearded Dragon colors that exist can be placed into a few categories, which helps to avoid the problem of breeders trying to carve a niche for themselves by marketing a new name. The color groups are as follows:

  • Brown/sandy/tan Bearded Dragons are closest in appearance to wild Beardies, and these are the cheapest and most common in the pet trade.
  • Bearded DragonRed Bearded Dragons include Red, Ruby Red and Blood Red Bearded Dragons. These are some of the most desirable colors.
  • Yellow Bearded Dragons such as Yellow, Gold, Sandfire Gold, Lemon Fire and Citrus Bearded Dragons.
  • Red/yellow mixes e.g. Sunburst, Citrus Tiger, Sandfire Red, Tangerine and Orange Bearded Dragons.
  • White Bearded Dragons, which include Snow Bearded Dragons.
  • Purple/Blue Bearded Dragons are a result of overbreeding Translucent Bearded Dragons. This has resulted in Beardies that are a purple or blue color all over, not just showing a much more common bluish tint on the belly. These colors are not normally kept into adulthood, and these Beardies have shorter lifespans and suffer from more frequent illness than others. Despite this, Blue Bearded Dragons are highly sought after, much in the same way that unhealthy purebred dogs are considered desirable.

Bearded DragonThe more saturated a Bearded Dragon’s colors are, the more expensive it will be. This doesn’t just mean color intensity, but also uniformity. A high quality Bearded Dragon will have no gaps or breaks in color.

Bearded Dragon Patterns

As well as different morphs and colors, Bearded Dragons may exhibit certain patterns. Some of these are characteristics of certain morphs (like the unique tails of Dunner Bearded Dragons), but others can be seen across morphs. The primary example is a Tiger pattern, referring to a series of dark stripes across the body. A Tiger Bearded Dragon’s value depends on how strong the dark bars are – faint bars are not worth as much.

Many other names for other patterns appear from time to time, but these are once again created by breeders to give them a marketing edge. None of these random names are standard across the trade.

What To Watch Out For

As I’ve mentioned several times in this article, some breeders will invent new descriptive names for their Bearded Dragons in order to sell them for a higher price. One of the most common examples is calling one of their animals a ‘Super’ Bearded Dragon (or Super Trans, Super Hypo and so on). You can expect to be ripped off by paying a higher price for a Beardie with the meaningless ‘Super’ label attached.

Bearded DragonBearded Dragons are also commonly referred to as being ‘Fancy’ Bearded Dragons, or a fancy morph. This has slightly more meaning than ‘Super’, but it still doesn’t say much. Normally a fancy morph is a Beardie that isn’t a standard/classic/normal morph, but the breeder isn’t sure of its genetics so it can’t be classed as anything else. Again, a breeder selling ‘Fancy’ Bearded Dragons will most likely expect more money for adding a pointless extra word.

It’s even easier to be duped when buying online. Lighting can make a huge difference to an animal’s appearance, and the same Beardie may look more or less impressive depending on whether the photos were taken inside, outside or under UV lamps. It’s also incredibly easy to photoshop the pictures by increasing the saturation, making a lower quality Bearded Dragon look more expensive. Always be careful when buying online, and make sure you know exactly who you’re buying from. Ask other enthusiasts about any breeder you haven’t heard of.

Bearded Dragon Care

If you want to find out more about buying, keeping and caring for Bearded Dragons, take a look at our Bearded Dragon care sheet. It has everything you’ll need to know to give your Beardies the best possible life.

Can Chinchillas Eat Rabbit Food?

One of the questions we get asked most often is, ‘Can chinchillas eat rabbit food?’ It’s a sensible question, as they seem like very similar animals with similar diets. And lots of people who are thinking about buying a chinchilla already have a rabbit or two, and everything would be much easier if you could just give chinchillas the same food.

Can Chinchillas Eat Rabbit Food?

Pet rabbitsUnfortunately chinchillas and rabbits have fundamentally different dietary requirements. Rabbit pellets and mixes are specifically designed to contain the right blend of ingredients to meet the needs of rabbits, while chinchilla pellets are formulated to be perfect for a chinchilla’s more sensitive stomach.

The two different mixes do not cross over. Chinchillas should never be given rabbit food, which could cause your pet chinchilla some serious harm.

Can Chinchillas Eat Any Rabbit Food?

There are a few high quality mixtures designed as show rabbit food that are safe to feed to chinchillas. Most pet rabbits will not be fed this kind of food, and you must be absolutely certain that your show rabbit food is certified safe to be eaten by chinchillas. If there’s any doubt at all, then don’t feed your chinchilla any rabbit food!

What About Hay?

Both rabbits and chinchillas love eating hay, and it’s good food for both of them. But chinchillas tend to be a little bit fussier. Chinchillas should only be fed alfalfa hay or Timothy hay, and it must never be brown or moldy. Use a hay rack to keep your chinchilla’s hay fresh, dry and clean.

Hay is a crucial part of a pet chinchilla’s diet. It’s a great source of roughage and also helps to wear down a chin’s constantly growing teeth. Overgrowth can be dangerous for chinchillas, so anything that helps prevent this is good.

What Should You Feed Chinchillas?

Chinchillas have quite specific dietary requirements, and have to be given just the right food. Unlike many other animals, a wide variety of different foods is not necessary. The vast majority of a chinchilla’s diet should consist of hay and specially formulated chinchilla pellets. Not rabbit food. Hay and chinchilla pellets are all your chins really need to live long and happy lives in captivity.

Your chinchillas should always have food available, either chinchilla pellets or hay or both. They’ll probably be okay without one or the other for a couple of days, but they should never have to cope without either. You don’t need to worry about your chinchilla overeating and gorging itself on food. Chinchillas won’t overeat healthy food. (But they will eat too many treats…)

As a guideline, a 5lb bag of pellets will normally last a single chinchilla around three months. Buying any more than this for a single chin is a waste of money, as the pellets may have gone off by the time your chinchilla has finished the bag. Of course a 10lb bag of pellets will be ideal for a pair of chins, and they do love company.

Chinchilla Fruits and Vegetables

Pet Chinchilla

Image by nparker13 on Flickr

Fruit and veg falls into the ‘treats’ category for chinchillas. You can feed your chins a tiny amount of fruit or vegetables, but they can’t eat anywhere near as much as you would give to a rabbit. Too much fresh fruit and veg will give a chinchilla serious digestive problems, which can be fatal.

Chinchilla Treats

Chinchillas definitely don’t need treats. They can be given occasionally, but certainly not every day. But your chin will love any treats you give him/her, and they’ll beg you for more. Don’t give in, as it will be bad news for your chinchilla if you do cave to their demands. They certainly will overeat when it comes to treats, but even small amounts can be dangerous.

Best Treats For Chinchillas

  • Dried fruits such as dried banana, apple, rose hips, blueberries, pineapple, strawberries, peach, raisins or cranberries.
  • Small pieces of fruit such as grape, pear, apple or kiwi.
  • Seeds such as pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds or flax seeds.
  • Vegetables and greens such as carrot, dandelion leaves, parsley, romaine lettuce or chard. Nothing like cabbage or broccoli that causes gas.
  • Pieces of unsalted nuts such as almonds.
  • Grains such as rolled oats, plain shredded wheat or oat grouts.
  • Commercially available alfalfa-based animal treats.
  • Dried herbs such as mint, oregano, raspberry leaves, nettle, comfrey or dandelion leaves.

Remember that all of these should only be given to chinchillas very occasionally and in small quantities. They are all bad for chinchillas – there are no healthy chinchilla treats. Pellets and hay are all these animals need.

Pet Chinchilla

Photo by elishka on Flickr

Many of the treats listed above are fattening, and others contain a lot of sugar. Any treat containing sugar or fat risks giving your chinchilla bloat, a condition that can be fatal in chinchillas. If bloat does occur, you need to get your chinchilla to a vet immediately. So only ever give your chins very small amounts of any of the above treats, and be extremely careful even then.

What Shouldn’t You Feed Chinchillas?

As mentioned above, anything fatty or sugary is best avoided. People occasionally try feeding their chinchillas chocolate, but this is dangerous and could kill your pet. Don’t do it.

Some people also seem to think that giving a chinchilla alcohol or caffeine will be hilarious. It won’t be funny when the animal dies. Please don’t do it.

What About Chinchilla Mixes?

There are a number of special chinchilla food mixes available on the market, but we don’t recommend them as many contain too many treats. Besides the dangers listed above, you also run the risk with these mixes that your chinchilla will become a picky eater, only taking the treats and ignoring the healthy food. This means that your chinchilla won’t get the nutrition it requires despite eating too much fat and sugar.

Supplements for Chinchillas

Pet ChinchillaMany owners put a salt block or wheel in their chinchilla’s cage to supply essential minerals. A few also dissolve occasional vitamin C tablets into their chinchilla’s water, but most pellet mixes contain enough vitamins to make this unnecessary.

Coprophagy in Chinchillas

You might notice your chinchillas eating their own feces, a common practise in the animal kingdom called coprophagy. It might seem disgusting to you, but it’s a perfectly natural and normal behavior for chinchillas. So if you see your chinchilla eating its own poop, don’t worry – it doesn’t mean you’re doing something wrong.

If you’ve got any other questions about looking after chinchillas, please take a look at our Chinchilla care sheet, where all your questions will be answered!

Chinchilla Care Sheet

With their incredibly soft, plush fur and cute appearance, Chinchillas are some of our favorite exotic pets. They do well in captivity if they’re cared for properly, but Chinchillas do tend to be picky and have very particular requirements.

This Chinchilla Care Sheet will help you to give your Chinchilla the best possible care, but we still advise purchasing a dedicated Chinchilla care guide so you’ve always got a reference book handy at home. Lots has been written about Chinchila care so there are plenty of choices. Some of the best are The Chinchilla Handbook, Ultimate Chinchilla Care and The Chinchilla Care Guide.

Chinchilla Size

An adult Chinchilla will grow to be about 12″ (30cm) long, not including the tail, and weigh around 1.5lbs. They’re not particularly big creatures, but they’re very active and need much more space than most animals of a similar size.

Chinchilla Lifespan

You can expect your Chinchilla to live anywhere from 10-20 years if cared for properly. Make sure you’re ready for a long-term commitment before you buy a Chinchilla!

Chinchilla Cage

A Chinchilla cage needs to be larger than you might expect for such a small mammal. The minimum for a single Chinchilla would be about 3’x2’x2′ and of course a pair of Chinchillas will require an even larger cage. A good guideline for keeping multiple Chinchillas is to allow at least two square feet of floor space per animal.

Bigger is always better for Chinchillas. They need plenty of room to run around, play, jump and explore. Get the biggest cage you’ve got room for.

The cage needs to be chew-proof (Chinchillas will chew anything and everything) and should ideally feature multiple floors or platforms to make things more interesting. Choose a wire cage with a solid floor, as wire floors can cause foot injuries in Chinchillas or trap and potentially break a limb when the animals are jumping around. The wires that comprise the rest of the cage should not be any more than 1″ (2.5cm) apart. Be careful with ramps between platforms too. They should either be solid or have the option to cover the wires.

There’s no shortage of Chinchilla cages on the market, but only two that we would recommend. The cheapest is the Prevue Hendryx 485 Feisty Ferret Home, and it’s a great Chinchilla cage at a great price. The more expensive cage we recommend is the Two Story MidWest Critter Nation. This cage is highly customizable and superb in every way, making it well worth the slightly higher price – Chinchilla cages don’t get any better than this!

Never try to keep Chinchillas in a glass tank – they don’t provide enough ventilation and can lead to dangerously high humidity.

Place your Chinchilla cage in an area out of direct sunlight and away from any drafts or heat sources. Also try to avoid too much artificial lighting, as Chinchillas tend to be most active in the evening and spend much of the day asleep.

Chinchilla Bedding

Shredded or pelleted paper is often used as a Chinchilla cage substrate. It’s cheap and readily available, safe if it’s chewed and great at absorbing any liquids or unpleasant odors. Hardwood shavings are also a good choice, but avoid pine and cedar. These can be sharp and painful, or could cause your Chinchillas to suffer from respiratory problems.

The substrate should lay 1-2″ deep on the floor of the cage.

Chinchilla Cage Accessories

You will of course need to feed your Chinchillas (more information on feeding and diet below) and for this you’ll need a secure feed bowl or feeder that prevents excessive spillage. A hay rack is ideal for keeping your Chinchilla’s hay both dry and clean.

Chinchillas require dark, quiet hide areas to rest in. These can be Chinchilla nests or tunnels or any other hiding area you might be able to think of. Just make sure it’s chew-proof!

You’ll also need to buy a large exercise wheel. Chinchillas need lots of exercise and cage life doesn’t give them enough without an exercise wheel. Make sure the wheel has a solid floor (again, anything else will cause injury) and try to get a quiet one if the cage will be anywhere near where people sleep. Chinchillas do a lot of their exercise at night, and a squeaky cage is bound to drive you crazy!

A selection of toys is also essential, both to avoid boredom and to be incessantly chewed upon. Safe chewable toys are easy to find in pet stores or online. It’s best to err on the side of caution with regard to bringing in branches from outside. These may have come into contact with pesticides or carry harmful bacteria. Again, pine and cedar are to be avoided.

Chinchilla Temperature and Humidity

Chinchillas are not capable of sweating, so they need to be kept between about 60-70F. Average room temperature will be fine in most houses, but make sure the cage is not in direct sunlight. If the temperature rises too high, your Chinchillas will be at serious risk of heatstroke, which can be fatal.

Pet ChinchillaHumidity is also a problem, as Chinchillas are adapted to live at high altitudes in the Andes mountains, where the air is usually very dry. A dehumidifier may be necessary in some areas, and it may be impossible to keep a Chinchilla healthy in particularly damp or tropical parts of the world.

Cleaning

Chinchillas are very clean creatures, and they demand similar standards in their enclosures. The bedding needs to be changed at least once per week, and you should remove any wet patches on a daily basis.

You also need to wash the water bottle, food bowl and anything that may have become dirty or smelly. Using soapy water is fine, but be sure to rinse and dry everything thoroughly before putting anything back in the cage.

Chinchilla Food

Chinchilas are herbivores with sensitive stomachs. They require specific foods, but a wide variety is not necessary to achieve a well balanced, healthy and nutritious diet.

Specially designed Chinchilla food pellets are available and should be provided. Hay is also an essential, both for roughage and to help keep those ever-growing teeth worn down. Buy alfalfa hay or Timothy hay and make sure it is kept clean, dry and fresh by using a hay rack.

The pellets and hay should form the basis of a well rounded Chinchilla diet, but an occasional treat is a good idea too. Your Chinchillas will very much appreciate sunflower seeds, unsalted nuts and dried fruits such as apple, peach, banana and cranberry. Chinchillas often enjoy these treats far too much and will eat more than is good for them. They’re all fattening, and it’s in your Chinchilla’s best interests to only offer these treats occasionally.

Avoid anything sugary, and chocolate, alcohol and caffeine must never come anywhere near your Chinchilla. It’s a shame this even has to be said, but people’s curiosity, carelessness or indifference all too often kill Chinchillas when they’re fed these products.

Baby Chinchilla

Photo by Michelle Tribe on Flickr

Food should be available at all times, but you may also see your Chinchillas eating their own feces. This doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong. The habit is called coprophagy and is both normal and necessary for your Chinchilla to get the nutrition it needs.

Supplements

You should provide your Chinchillas with a salt block or wheel, which will allow them to get any essential minerals their diet does not provide. Vitamin C is also very important for Chinchillas, and many owners choose to dissolve occasional vitamin C tablets in their Chinchilla’s water supply in case the Chinchilla pellets alone are insufficient.

Chinchilla Water

A no-drip chew-proof water bottle is the best way to provide your Chinchillas with fresh drinking water, which should always be available. Change the water daily, and make sure that it’s fresh, filtered and chlorine-free. Tap water can be dechlorinated using commercial products.

Chinchilla Dust Baths

Instead of taking water baths, Chinchillas maintain their fur by taking regular dust baths. This works very well for them, as Chinchillas are remarkably clean animals with almost no odor. You can find special Chinchilla dusting powder online, as well as a dust bin to put it in. Offer the dust bath at least twice every week, but you don’t need to leave it out all the time.

Never try to bathe your Chinchilla in water. It might intuitively seem better, but it categorically isn’t. If a Chinchilla’s fur gets wet, then fungal growth is likely and skin infections may follow. Dust baths are always the way for a Chinchilla to clean itself.

Handling Chinchillas

With some of the most luxurious fur in the world, there’s probably something wrong with you if you don’t enjoy handling Chinchillas. They sprout an average of sixty hairs from each follicle, resulting in wonderfully soft fur that happens to be naturally hypoallergenic.

Pet Chinchilla

Photo by elishka on Flickr

However, you do need to be careful when handling Chinchillas. They are delicate animals, and their rib cages in particularly can be easily damaged. You need to be careful and gentle, and children handling Chinchillas should be watched very closely. A Chinchilla may bite if squeezed.

Personality

While they can make wonderful pets, Chinchillas are undeniably highly strung. They can be stressed and disturbed by the smallest of things, and what you might consider a minor annoyance can so distress a Chinchilla as to lead to physical health problems.

Making changes to a Chinchilla’s diet, feeding them at a different time to usual or even seeing another Chinchilla feeding first can all have an effect. Switching out breeding partners during the mating season may also cause distress, but that’s a little easier to empathise with!

Sharing A Cage

In the wild, Chinchillas live in communal groups called herds. These may contain as many as 100 individual Chinchillas all living together, so they’re naturally social animals. Chinchillas can be kept alone, but they’re normally happier in pairs.

A single Chinchilla will need something to replace the companions it would have if not in captivity, and that replacement is you. Solo Chinchillas will become very affectionate and bond very strongly to their owners, happily playing and enjoying cuddles.

Pet Chinchilla

Image by nparker13 on Flickr

It sounds lovely (and it is!) but it requires a tremendous amount of time on your part. Some people wouldn’t want to spend that time any other way, but remember that a single animal using up so much of your free time may not be so much fun in ten or twenty years.

Chinchillas should not be kept in the same cage as other species.

Chinchilla Teeth

A Chinchilla’s teeth will never stop growing. They have to be constantly worn down to prevent them from overgrowing and causing health problems. This is why pet-safe chew toys are so important – it gives your Chinchilla something to gnaw on.

Problems can arise if a Chinchilla’s teeth aren’t straight, become overgrown or wear down unevenly. Any of these problems can cause the teeth to grow into the surrounding soft tissues, causing severe pain. The symptoms may include trouble swallowing, bad breath, drooling and not eating. Weight loss is an inevitable consequence, and your Chinchilla could starve to death if left untreated. Keep an eye on the little guys!

A baby Chinchilla’s teeth are white, but they slowly turn yellow with age. This is normal and nothing to worry about. You don’t need to clean your Chinchilla’s teeth.

Chinchilla Health

ChinchillaA pair of Chinchilla’s kept in the same cage may occasionally fight. They could bite each other, and these bites can become infected. Clean the wounds and apply antiseptic. If a bite becomes infected, contact your local vet.

A number of other health problems are known to occur in Chinchillas. If you follow the advice in this Chinchilla care sheet, then you won’t have to worry about most of these illnesses, but some will occur no matter how well you care for your pets.

In no particular order, some of the most common Chinchilla health problems are heatstroke, broken bones, constipation, diarrhea, dehydration, sore feet, respiratory infections, bloat, gastroenteritis, shedding, eye problems, choking, ringworm, hairballs, weak fur, ear infections and ulcers.

Obviously some of these health problems are more severe than others. Some are easy to prevent or avoid with the right cage, right diet, right temperature etc. Others can happen for no apparent reason. All you can do is provide your Chinchillas with the best home possible – it might be a good idea to bookmark our Chinchilla care sheet and refer to it whenever you need to.

How Long Can a Tarantula Go Without Eating?

It’s natural to worry if your tarantula stops eating, especially if the fast lasts for more than a few weeks. But this is perfectly normal adult tarantula behavior and generally nothing to worry about.

Which Tarantulas Can Last Longest Without Food?

Pet TarantulaAdult tarantulas can survive without food for far longer than spiderlings, and females will usually be okay for a longer period of time than males.

There’s a lot of variation in dietary requirements between different tarantula species. More montane species normally have slower metabolisms – the Chilean Rose Hair Tarantula (Grammastola rosea) in particular has been known to fast for over two years on rare occasions! Lowland species will need food more frequently.

So How Long Can a Tarantula Go Without Food?

There are plenty of reports of tarantulas fasting for 12-18 months or even longer on occasion. This isn’t normal, but it’s certainly not unheard of. Tarantulas have exceptionally slow metabolic rates and are very good at conserving energy when they need to.

poecilotheria striata tarantulaSpiderlings are the exception, as they have smaller reserves and grow much more quickly than adults. They’re still hardier than you might expect, and going away for a week-long vacation is unlikely to be a problem. But if your spiderling hasn’t eaten for much longer than that, there may be cause for concern.

A tarantula that has recently molted will also not survive as long without food, but that’s mostly because they won’t have eaten for a long time already.

If your adult tarantula looks healthy but hasn’t eaten for a few weeks or even a few months, understand that many tarantulas go through completely unpredictable feasting/fasting cycles. Try not to worry.

What If My Tarantula Doesn’t Look Healthy?

Handling a pet tarantulaThen you might have a serious problem. Take a good look at your tarantula’s abdomen. If it looks shriveled or shrunken, then that’s a sign that the tarantula is undernourished or dehydrated.

Make sure your spider has fresh water in a tarantula-safe shallow bowl and offer a gut-loaded cricket or two. If nothing changes, you might want to see an exotic pet vet, but I’m afraid there’s probably not much he/she can do to help.

What Else Should I Look Out For?

Make sure you’re providing your tarantula with the conditions it needs to survive and thrive. Take a look at the tarantula care sheets on this website or elsewhere to double check you aren’t doing anything wrong. Humidity, temperature, substrate, shelter etc. can all make a big difference.

Otherwise, just keep offering food periodically. If everything else is fine, then your tarantula will start eating again eventually.

Why Do Tarantulas Stop Eating?

The most common reason for a tarantula to stop eating is an upcoming molt. The pre-molt period can last for a few months, and your tarantula usually won’t eat at all for a large part of that time. You’ll probably find that they have a much bigger appetite when they’ve finished molting!

Pet tarantula with foodEven without an upcoming molt, tarantulas will sometimes go off their food for unknown reasons. These fasts can last for a few weeks or many months, but again, it’s nothing to be concerned about unless your tarantula’s abdomen is shriveled.

Tarantulas are generally good at regulating their food intake according to their own needs. Their natural instincts may cause them to gorge themselves if there’s a lot of food available, but it should be very obvious if you’re at risk of overfeeding your tarantula. Underfeeding an adult tarantula is virtually impossible if you keep offering food at least once per week.

What To Feed Tarantulas

Most tarantulas will happily go their entire lives eating nothing but insects. A tarantula’s staple diet in captivity is usually gut-loaded crickets, although a pinky mouse can be offered to larger species occasionally.

The average tarantula will only need one or two crickets each week, although as many as six may be eaten by a particularly large tarantula when it’s hungry e.g. shortly after molting. South American terrestrial tarantula species (e.g. Brazilian Salmon Pink Tarantulas Lasiodora parahybana) tend to be voracious eaters compared to other kinds of tarantula.

Spiderlings can be a little trickier to feed, but wingless fruit flies often make an ideal diet. As mentioned above, spiderlings need food more frequently than adults as they’re less resilient and grow much faster.

For adult tarantulas, feeding them just once or twice per week is fine. Some owners only offer food once every two weeks. Your tarantula will gorge itself if it needs the nutrition, and a week or two without food is no big deal to a tarantula. Just make sure you remove any uneaten food within 24 hours or so.

How Long Can A Tarantula Go Without Water?

Water is much more crucial than food when it comes to a tarantula’s short-term survival. Dehydration will of course occur more quickly in tropical species adapted to high humidity, but all tarantulas should be provided with a bowl of fresh water, ideally changed every day.

Some tarantulas (particularly desert species) will be able to gain much of the moisture they need from their food. However, they will still drink from an available freshwater source and it should always be available to them.

Do Toads Make Good Pets?

A lot of people will look at you strangely if you tell them you’ve got a pet toad. Most people don’t understand the appeal, and clearly think you’re crazy for getting something that isn’t cute, fluffy and mammalian. But the truth is that toads really do make great pets!

Pet ToadThere are hundreds of species of toad from all around the world, but you’ll never see the majority of them in the pet trade. Only a few dozen are regularly found on the market, and a number of those are really quite unusual. American Toads and Fowler’s Toads are among the most popular – hardy and not too demanding, they’re a perfect choice for the beginner toad owner.

It’s easy to think that toads are nothing more than ugly, warty frogs, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. For a start, some toads can be very attractive. But more importantly for a long-term pet companion, toads always seem much more intelligent and aware than frogs. They don’t just sit around or hop about aimlessly – some species will learn to recognize you quickly, learn your routine, learn where their food is placed and at what time. Some toads will come out of their shelters to greet you when you approach!

Do Toads Make Good Pets?Pet toads are truly fascinating and engaging creatures. They’re responsive and often quite bold. Some will feed from your hand (although this isn’t likely to be good for your health or the toad’s). This boldness may well be down to their biological adaptations that keep them relatively safe from most predators. Toads exude a variety of toxic substances from their skin, and not many animals are equipped to take them on. This gives toads a certain confidence and charm that you most people don’t expect from a small amphibian.

Your toad should also be with you for a very long time given the proper care and attention. Many species will live for 20 or even 30 years.

Caring for Toads

Most toad species have fairly similar requirements, but of course it varies depending on what part of the world the species is found in in the wild and what different toads like to eat. But setting up a toad tank/terrarium is normally very straightforward, as toads are well adapted to life on land and so most don’t need much water. Unlike frogs, many toads are very poor swimmers!

American Toads and other hardy species are quite forgiving of the mistakes a beginner is likely to make, and they can cope with cooler temperatures and lower humidity than tropical toads can handle. Once you’ve learned to look after something like an American Toad, it’s only a short step upwards to expand your collection to more exotic toad species. And as you get more experience, the possibilities are endless!

While an American Toad won’t strictly need much more than a tank, a shelter, some substrate plus food and water, other toads from warmer climes will need heat mats and high humidity environments. This requires purchasing thermometers and hygrometers and monitoring vivarium conditions more closely. Still, it’s nothing you won’t be able to handle with a little practise.

Food for Toads

This is the part that will put a lot of people off! Toads mostly eat insects, although some of the larger species might sometimes take small vertebrates as well. Food for toads should be live and wriggling – if it isn’t alive, you can try to wiggle it around yourself and hope your toad eats it anyway.

Toads eat a very large variety of insects in the wild, so you want to offer the greatest diversity of insects possible. This adds another layer of complexity to keeping toads, as you’ll have to care for a whole load of live crickets, mealworms etc just to feed them to your toad. The process is called gutloading, with the idea being that all the nutrition from the food in an insect’s gut gets passed on to the toad.

Many owners also go out of their way to catch more invertebrates in their back yards to offer something different from standard pet store insects. Most toads generally aren’t too picky with their insects and will eat crickets, mealworms, waxworms, cockroaches, termites, aphids, butterworms, sow bugs, house flies, ground beetles, harvestmen, beetle grubs, earthworms, silkworms, moths, earwigs, grasshoppers and more besides.

You’ll probably also need to give your toad some calcium supplements and sometimes powdered multivitamin too, just to be sure that it’s getting the nutrition it needs.

The Chemical Problem

Toads as PetsThe biggest issue with caring for a pet toad is their sensitivity to chemicals in their environment. This means that cleaning out the tank will require special amphibian-safe disinfectant and lots of rinsing rather than using any typical household cleaning products. And all water (whether for drinking, soaking, cleaning or increasing humidity) needs to be dechlorinated or distilled. It’s not too much of a hassle, but it is something to consider.

A toad’s chemical sensitivity also leads to problems handling your pets. Your skin contains a whole cocktail of potentially harmful salts and chemicals – you should only ever pick up a toad with clean wet hands, and even that should ideally be avoided.

It’s also not completely safe for you. Many toads carry salmonella which can make you seriously ill, and their skin toxins can be dangerous to humans too. Extra care has to be taken with children, especially to make sure they wash their hands thoroughly after touching a toad and don’t let their hands go anywhere near their eyes, mouth or any cuts or grazes.

The Chytrid Fungus Epidemic

The chytrid fungus causes an infectious disease in amphibians called chytridiomycosis. It has spread with alarming speed in recent years and is decimating amphibian populations around the world. As a result, many frogs, toads, salamanders etc are at risk of extinction, even if they were doing fine just a few years ago.

ToadYou should only buy toads from reputable breeders, and be aware of the risks of introducing infection or damaging wild populations if you bring wild-caught amphibians into a new area. Your pet amphibians can never be released into the wild unless they are a native species that was caught locally. Even then, your best bet is probably to talk to a local animal charity, zoo or herp group.

But Anyway…

I don’t want to end this post on a sad note, because while toads may be struggling in the wild and generally seen as a highly unorthodox pet, you’ll never regret getting yourself one. We started off by asking ‘Do toads make good pets?’ and the answer is unquestionably yes. They’re charismatic and interesting, long-lived and engaging, unique and charming. Toads are some of our very favorite exotic pets!

If you’re thinking of getting your first toad (or frog), then we recommend looking at the care sheets on this site to see exactly what’s involved, and you should probably buy a book or two so you’ve always get all the information at hand. A couple of the best guides to keeping frogs and toads as pets are Frogs and Toads (Complete Herp Care) and Frogs and Toads: Your Happy Healthy Pet. Take a good look through them before you decide whether a pet toad is the right choice for you.

Hyacinth Macaw Care Sheet

Hyacinth Macaws can make absolutely wonderful pets, but they’re certainly not the easiest birds to look after and they are a huge commitment in every way. This Hyacinth Macaw care sheet should cover everything you need to know to handle the day-to-day care of your macaw, but more information is never a bad thing. This is especially true for something as complex and demanding as Hyacinth Macaw care!

As such, there are a couple of books that we recommend you buy before you get a pet Hyacinth Macaw. The first is dedicated entirely to Hyacinth Macaw care, making it the ultimate go-to resource: Hyacinth Macaw – Hyacinth Macaws as pets by Roger Rodendale. The other book covers macaw care in general, and with over 200 pages it’s pretty comprehensive: A Guide to Macaws as Pet and Aviary Birds 2015 by Rick Jordan and Mark Moore.

Hyacinth Macaw Size

Hyacinth Macaw

Picture by Tambako the Jaguar on Flickr

If you’re looking for a small bird, look elsewhere! Hyacinth Macaws are huge, with a beak-to-tail-tip length of around 40″ (100cm) and a wingspan of 48″. This makes them the longest parrot in the world, and the largest except for the much heavier (but flightless) New Zealand kakapo.

Hyacinth Macaws boast formidable beaks that have evolved to crack open even the toughest of nuts. Not much will stand up to a sustained onslaught by a Hyacinth Macaw!

Hyacinth Macaw Lifespan

The average captive Hyacinth Macaw can be expected to live for around 60 years, although many will easily surpass that. 80 years is not an uncommon life span.

Hyacinth Macaws reach breeding age at around seven years old, although this varies from bird to bird.

Hyacinth Macaw Cage

One of the most difficult aspects of Hyacinth Macaw care is finding a suitable cage. In fact, a cage may well not be the ideal solution for many people anyway.

The problem is that a large bird requires a very large housing area, especially for a species that needs so much exercise and so many things to play with. Very few commercial cages will be large enough – a Hyacinth Macaw cage needs to be huge. These birds also have a habit of breaking out of and/or thoroughly destroying most cages. Their beaks are strong enough to snap a broomstick in one go, so most cages just aren’t sturdy enough.

You could buy one of the very largest commercially available cages (or have one custom made), but it needs to meet certain requirements. It should be a bare minimum of 46″x36″x72″ tall. If the cage is any smaller, your macaw might not have room to flap around and could get its wing tips stuck between the bars of the cage, which may cause injury. A dome top cage is best (as they provide the most room), but a play top cage can work fine too.

The bars should be welded in place (or else the cage won’t survive for long) and the bars should be appropriately spaced. A Hyacinth Macaw cage should include plenty of wooden branches and toys to chew that will need to be replaced regularly. The cage must be large enough to fit at least a couple of large perches or toys without getting in the way of your macaw flapping its wings.

Locking doors are an essential feature in a cage for such intelligent birds (you might need a padlock in the end anyway), along with secured food bowls, secured grates and a cage apron – Hyacinth Macaws love to play with their food!

Any Hyacinth Macaw cage you choose should be made of stainless steel. This is a big investment as these cages can be very expensive, but nothing else can stand up to those enormous beaks and the macaw’s destructive tendencies. A stainless steel macaw cage is a good investment in the long run – the costs of regularly replacing an inferior cage will seriously add up over a 60-80 year life span!

Your macaw will chew the bars. Stainless steel bird cages avoid the risk of your macaw ingesting potentially harmful paint chips as a result.

If I had to buy a new cage online today, I’d go for the Mauna Kea Mansion Stainless Steel Bird Cage. The A and E Cage Co. Stainless Steel Double Macaw Bird Cage might also work if you remove the divider. The Rainforest Refuge Stainless Steel Bird cage is significantly cheaper and might just about be big enough. They’re all very expensive, but they will last.

If those cages are too much money, then honestly I’d suggest reconsidering buying a Hyacinth Macaw until you can afford it. Nothing about keeping these birds is cheap. The best cages I can find online at a much lower price point are the Prevue Pet Products Silverado Macaw Dometop Cage or the Mauna Kea Mansion Bird Cage Platinum Dome Top. They’re big enough, but they’re not made of stainless steel. You’d probably have to replace either of them quite a few times.

Even better than a large stainless steel cage would be an entire room of the house or other bird-proofed area. I hope you’ve got lots of space available, because you’re going to need it! Even Hyacinth Macaws that have had their feathers trimmed need plenty of room to flap around and climb.

In conclusion, a dedicated room is the best housing option for your Hyacinth Macaw, but a very large stainless steel bird cage that meets the specific requirements above will also work nicely. Nothing else is likely to be good enough in the long run.

Hyacinth Macaw Diet

In the wild, a Hyacinth Macaw’s main food would be palm nuts, generally taken from just two species of palm. Wild macaws often search for pre-digested palm nuts in cow dung – they’re so hard that they pass straight through the cow’s digestive system, but they’re easier for the macaws to crack afterwards.

Now finding those specific types of palm nut after they’ve passed through a cow isn’t very easy for most of us, so you’ll need a slightly different approach to feed your macaw.

Instead of palm nuts, you should feed your Hyacinth Macaw a variety of other nuts, including macadamia nuts, brazil nuts, cashews, coconut, filberts/hazelnuts, almonds, pecans, pistachios and walnuts. Buying in bulk is strongly recommended – it will save you a lot of money in the long run! A Hyacinth Macaw’s beak is strong enough to break any of these open, including the coconut! (Although it’s probably better to pre-chop the coconut.)

You might notice that this diet is very high in fat, but Hyacinth Macaws have evolved to be exceptionally good at metabolizing fats – you won’t find an obese Hyacinth Macaw anywhere! They also need more carbohydrates than most parrots.

Leafy greens, fruit and veg should also be fed daily. Hyacinth Macaws do have to eat their greens, but they may need encouragement to do so. You’ll often find them cheerfully throwing this sort of food all over the place, so try to feed them less if that happens. It’s counterintuitive, but it seems to work – with less food available, they eat what’s there!

High quality seed mixes and pellets can contribute to a balanced diet too, although they shouldn’t form the basis of one. Hyacinth Macaws have very specific dietary requirements, and nuts are always very important.

Ideally your macaw cage would have three securely attached bowls – one for water, one for nuts and one for pellets and fresh greens.

Any moist or raw food that hasn’t been eaten after a couple of hours should be removed to avoid bacterial growth. Fruits should be pitted as Hyacinth Macaws will be able to crack the stones open, and some of them contain harmful substances. The same applies for apples – remove the core first. Dry fruit mixes can be useful, but they mustn’t contain any salt or sugar or other additives.

Supplements shouldn’t be necessary if you provide a healthy, varied and balanced diet for your macaw.

Water for Hyacinth Macaws

Your macaws should always have a stainless steel bowl of water available. The water should be changed once or twice per day, or whenever it appears dirty.

Temperature/Lighting/Humidity

Despite being exotic tropical birds, Hyacinth Macaws do well in most environments. They do not need extra heating, extra humidity or specific light cycles unless you live in an extreme environment or normally have a very cold house.

Sharing a Cage/House

Pair of Hyacinth Macaws preening

Photo by Donna Sullivan-Thomson on Flickr

Hyacinth Macaws are very sociable and gregarious creatures. They can be perfectly happy without any feathered companions, and going without will make them bond even more quickly and strongly to their owner. But of course this requires you to spend even more time with them if you don’t want them to become lonely and depressed, a very serious problem for such intelligent birds.

Other bird species can also be kept in the same house as Hyacinth Macaws, but perhaps unsurprisingly these exotic birds tend to get on best with other New World parrots.

Hyacinth Macaw Noise and Vocalizations

These are very noisy birds! Hyacinth Macaws are capable of producing a wide range of sounds, from deep growls to loud screeches and high trills to a surprising purr. Keeping a Hyacinth Macaw in an apartment would be difficult – most neighbours won’t be happy to put up with that much noise! It will be even worse if you have a pair of macaws, as being kept together only makes them louder.

Hyacinth Macaws are not the best talkers of the parrot world, but they will learn a few words and phrases. They’re intelligent enough to understand exactly when these words should be used as well, and some will delightedly take every opportunity to show off their linguistic abilities.

Playing

Hyacinth Macaws love to play! You’ll need to provide lots of toys, all ideally made of strong wood or leather if you want them to last long. But even the sturdiest of toys will be destroyed sooner or later – nothing can escape that beak forever! Chewable toys are actually great for a Hyacinth Macaw’s physical health as well as mental health, as playing with them helps to keep the jaws and beak strong.

A solid play gym will be crucial, and your macaw should be free to play on it for at least two hours a day. This is necessary to maintain muscles, and it’s great fun too! Anything you buy commercially (like the one linked above) will need adapting to survive a Hyacinth Macaw. For instance I’d be surprised if the perch in that one lasts for more than an hour. Large play trees that can easily be replaced are excellent too. Again, none of these things are likely to last as long as you’d like.

You also have to be surprisingly careful with such a large strong bird. Some of the danger comes from the macaw’s own strength and playful nature – they will investigate anything and everything, from power sockets to medicine cabinets. Make sure they don’t get into anything they shouldn’t.

Another risk comes with small toys designed for smaller birds. These pose a choking hazard and should not be used with Hyacinth Macaws.

Rope toys are fantastic, but don’t leave your macaw alone with them if there’s any risk of the rope fraying or coming undone. Accidents may be rare, but too many parrots have died through accidental hanging or strangulation from an old rope toy.

Hyacinth Macaw Behavior and Temperament

Hyacinth Macaw playing with owner

Photo by Leonard Silver on Flickr

Fortunately Hyacinth Macaws are generally quite easygoing birds, and they have a reputation as being ‘gentle giants’. They’re certainly highly affectionate and form very strong bonds with their owners, but they also love to play, and that’s not always gentle! Even a playful nip from a beak like that is going to hurt.

Hyacinth Macaws are easy to train through a combination of time, bonding and positive reinforcement.

Time is the crucial factor when it comes to a Hyacinth Macaw’s behavior – the more time you spend with your macaw, the happier he/she will be. They’re very needy creatures and will demand huge amounts of time. If you have any doubts as to whether you have enough free time, then a Hyacinth Macaw is not going to be the right bird for you.

A neglected Hyacinth Macaw may become cranky and neurotic. This can lead to even more screeching than usual and self-destructive tendencies like feather plucking. The need to spend lots of time with your macaw cannot be overstated.

Hyacinth Macaw Health

The most common health problem for Hyacinth Macaws is an overgrown beak. This is one of the reasons why chewable toys are so important! Make sure you always have some on hand.

Other things to watch out for include psittacosis, papillomas and macaw wasting disease aka proventricular dilatation disease. You should find a good avian exotic vet and get your macaw regular check-ups.

Buying a Hyacinth Macaw

Pet Blue Macaw

Image by Seth J on Flickr

A single Hyacinth Macaw is likely to cost you several hundred dollars at the very least, with some birds selling for thousands. A proven pair of Hyacinth Macaws (i.e. a pair that have previously produced chicks) will fetch by far the highest price of all.

You won’t often find Hyacinth Macaws for sale in your average large pet store because of the costs involved and the relatively low demand – a lot more people buy hamsters than parrots! But it’s not hard to find macaws for sale online or through local contacts. You do need to be absolutely certain that your macaw was bred in captivity by a responsible breeder. Buying a wild-caught Hyacinth Macaw is illegal and could lead to a very large fine and/or jail time, not to mention risking the future of this wonderful but endangered bird.

The decision to buy a Hyacinth Macaw is not to be taken lightly. They’re expensive birds, and the cage and general upkeep will cost even more. Your macaw should be with you for the rest of your life and you will form an incredibly close bond – but only if you’ve got the time to give these beautiful birds the love and attention they need.

Whether you’re still undecided or you’ve made up your mind, it’s a good idea to bookmark this Hyacinth Macaw care sheet so that you’ve always got something to refer back to. Buying either of the books linked at the top of the page will help enormously as well. Good luck!

Fire Belly Toad Care Sheet

Fire Belly Toads (also known as Fire Bellies or Fire-bellied Toads) make excellent pets. They’re a great choice for beginners as well as being an interesting species for even the most experienced herpetologist, who might normally stick to more challenging species.

Fire Belly Toad Care

Photo by Flickr user flickpicpete

Fire Bellies are easy to look after and much more forgiving of suboptimal conditions than most amphibians, which makes Fire Belly Toad care relatively simple and straightforward. These toads are also attractive, gregarious, active by day and fascinating to watch. What more could you want?!

This Fire Belly Toad care sheet will cover everything you need to know about looking after your new toad or toads, and will help you give them the best life they can possibly have. We firmly believe that this is the most comprehensive care sheet available online, but it still can’t cover as much as a book can.

For this reason we recommend having at least one of the following books ready to hand at home in case there’s something you’re not sure about. Fire-bellied Toad (Quick & Easy) is an excellent book dedicated to all things concerning Fire Belly Toad care, while Frogs and Toads (Complete Herp Care) and Frogs and Toads: Your Happy Healthy Pet are great reference guides to frog and toad care in general.

Choosing A Fire Belly Toad

There are three species of Fire Belly Toad that you’re likely to come across in the pet trade, with the Oriental Fire-bellied Toad (Bombina orientalis) being by far the most common and the easiest to find in a pet store. Fire Belly Toad care doesn’t vary much at all between species, so this Fire Belly Toad care sheet is a good guide for them all. But before you start looking after your toad, you want to make sure you buy a healthy one!

Fire Belly Toads

Photo by Flickr user flickpicpete

The easiest way to find a Fire Belly Toad for sale is to head to your closest exotic pet store. If it’s a good store, the animals will all be in good condition, but sadly that’s not always the case, especially for the larger, more general retailers.

You’ll want to choose a bright and active individual, as those tend to be the healthiest toads. Tap on the glass and pick one that responds by hopping around. Most Fire Bellies are green on top (although some are brown) with black and orange or red markings underneath. The colors vary over time and also depend on the toad’s diet, but you’ll want to choose a brightly colored individual. If you find a toad that’s particularly lively and attractive, that’s the one you want!

It’s also a good idea to buy two or more toads, as Fire Bellies are usually happier in groups. After all, they’re one of the few toad species that lives communally in the wild.

Fire Belly Toad Size

An adult Fire Belly Toad will typically reach a length of 1-2 inches (3-5cm), but most will end up somewhere in the middle of the range. Females generally boast a slightly fuller build than the males, but male and female Fire Belly Toads can be very difficult to tell apart.

Fire Belly Toad Life Span

If your Fire-bellied Toads are well cared for, you can expect them to live for at least 10-15 years. There are plenty of reports of them surviving well beyond this, perhaps up to 30 years for some individuals! So clearly you should only decide to keep Fire Bellies if you’re ready for a lengthy time commitment.

Fire Belly Toad Habitat

In the wild, Fire Bellies live in calm or standing water, where they spend much of their time. This means that they require more water in their tanks than most toads, but that’s just about the only challenge when it comes to Fire Belly Toad care, and it’s really not that difficult.

Fire-bellied Toads will be happiest in a semi-aquatic terrarium/vivarium with a roughly 50-50 split of water and land. This can be achieved with a gently sloping substrate, with the water level no deeper than about 2″ (5cm). Fire Belly Toads seem to enjoy floating where their feet can still just about touch the bottom. If you splash out on a larger tank than most people do, you can include deeper water with live aquarium plants that will provide a good foothold for the toads.

Sand is an ideal substrate for the watery part of the tank, while the land part should be covered in a moist coconut fiber or cypress mulch substrate. Two inches of this would be perfect to allow the toads to burrow. Moss also works well as a substrate, with sphagnum moss being a particular favorite. No large gravel should be used, as Fire Belly Toads are aggressive feeders and may well swallow the gravel, causing impaction. Artificial turf is also unsuitable as it is too harsh for a toad’s delicate skin.

Your toads will also appreciate some hiding places. These can be specially designed reptile/amphibian shelters, or pieces of bark or large, aquarium-safe rocks that are too big to be swallowed. Any rocks must be smooth to avoid hurting the toads. Bark, rocks etc should all be sourced from a pet store or online – materials from your back yard will be covered in potentially harmful bacteria.

Fire Belly Toads shouldn’t be kept in a tank smaller than 10 gallons, but one, two or three will happily live in a 10-15 gallon terrarium. If you want more than three Fire Bellies, you’ll need a tank of 20 gallons or more.

Fire Belly Toad Temperature, Lighting and Humidity

One of the things that makes Fire Belly Toad care so easy is the fact that they come from temperate climates. They are cold tolerant, do not need basking sites, high humidity is unnecessary and they have no special lighting requirements.

Your Fire Belly Toad tank should be kept at around 70-75F during the day and between 60-68F at night. Temperatures above 80F will not be tolerated for long. In most homes, the terrarium will not need much (if any) supplemental heating. A terrarium thermometer will still be required to ensure your toads are getting the temperatures they need.

Like most amphibians, UVB lighting is not strictly needed for Fire Belly Toads. If you do want additional lighting in the tank, you should use a fluorescent light with a low output, ideally placed just outside the tank and above the land area. Make sure that the light does not give out extra heat.

Fire Belly Toads do respond well to a regular photoperiod i.e. a cycle of day and night. This helps to ensure regular behavior, so the tank may need to be covered over sometimes if you keep the lights on well into the night.

Unless you live in a particularly dry area, the humidity will probably be fine, especially in a tank with plenty of moss and water. However, increasing the humidity a little won’t hurt, so spraying the moss with a hand spray bottle now and again isn’t a bad idea. Purchasing a hygrometer can help to be on the safe side.

Fire Belly Toad Food

Live gutloaded crickets and mealworms can make up the bulk of your Fire Belly Toad’s food, but you should give them as much variety as possible. Fire Bellies will happily eat blood worms, moths, phoenix worms, flies, larvae, wax worms, small beetles, water snails and shrimp. Even minnows, small guppies and perhaps pinkie mice can be offered occasionally.

All food should be live, as toads only recognize food as food if it’s wriggling. Adult Fire Belly Toads will manage to stuff large crickets into their mouths, but it’s much better for them to be restricted to food no longer than 1/2″.

Different people have different opinions on how much Fire Bellies should be fed, and luckily these toads are quite forgiving. Some people recommend letting them eat as much as they can every day for 15 minutes, while others only ever offer 2 or 3 small crickets, and only a few times per week. Watch your toads carefully and use your judgement – individuals will vary.

Fire Belly Toads recognize routine, so try to feed your toads at the same time every day and they will respond well.

Food should always be placed in the land area of a terrarium, and should be sprinkled with calcium supplements. Add in powdered reptile/amphibian multivitamin once or twice a week to ensure that your toad’s dietary requirements are met.

Water for Fire Belly Toads

Toads are very sensitive to chemicals in their environment, so all drinking and bathing water should be distilled or at least dechlorinated. Similar care and attention should be applied to any water used to increase humidity by spraying the moss inside the tank.

A filter is necessary for the water in the toad terrarium. Different filters are suitable for different size tanks – a filter like this is ideal for a small tank with only one or two toads, while this filter would be better for a larger terrarium.

You could also consider adding a small terrarium waterfall feature to the enclosure. This will not only look great, but also help to prevent the water from becoming stagnant.

Fire Belly Toad Tank Cleaning

Your Fire Belly Toad tank should be cleaned weekly or when it appears dirty, whichever is sooner. Clean substrate should be provided every time. The water will need to be changed more frequently, while feces and dead insects (or excess live feeder insects) should be removed immediately.

You need to be careful to clean the terrarium properly. Due to the chemical sensitivity of toads, harsh cleaning products should absolutely not be used. These are toxic to toads and could even kill your pet. Nothing more potent than vinegar spray and dishwashing liquid should be used, followed by a thorough rinse with distilled or dechlorinated water. Amphibian-safe disinfectants are available, and these should be used where possible.

Handling Fire Belly Toads

Handling Fire Belly Toads involves risk to both yourself and the toad. Your skin contains salts and oils that are dangerous for toads, so you should try to avoid handling your Fire Belly Toads for their own sakes. Wearing latex gloves is a good solution when handling is necessary e.g. when cleaning out the tank. If latex gloves aren’t available, only ever touch your toad with clean wet hands.

Fire Belly Toads are toxic and may carry salmonella. After handling a Fire Belly, you must wash your hands thoroughly and do not touch your eyes or mouth before washing your hands. The same applies for any cuts or grazes – if you have any on your hands, then you really do need to wear gloves.

Particular care should of course be taken with children – watch them carefully!

Fire Belly Toad Tank Mates

The only good Fire Belly Toad tank mates are other Fire Belly toads. They are generally happier in groups of two or more and they live communally in the wild. Other animals (especially other amphibians) do not make good Fire Belly Toad tank mates because of the toxic secretions produced by a toad’s skin.

Fire Bellies are also particularly aggressive eaters, and will happily latch onto pretty much anything that moves. This may include other toads, and a Fire-bellied Toad will have no problem with munching on the legs of a smaller amphibian like a little newt. You have been warned!

Fire Belly Toad Behavior

Fire-bellied Toads are active by day and by night, especially if they are provided with consistent light and dark periods. They can be surprisingly intelligent and seem more aware than most amphibians. It doesn’t take long for them to get used to their feeding routine, and they’ll often greet you as you approach. Some individuals will become bold and even climb onto your hand to be fed, however this should be avoided – see the warnings above about handling Fire Belly Toads.

One of the most interesting aspects of Fire Belly Toad behavior is a curious act known as Unkenreflex. This is done to ward off potential predators, so you’re unlikely to see it in captivitiy unless you deliberately antagonize your toad. Still, if you see your toad arching its back and sticking its legs in the air, it probably means that it sees you as a predator and it’s showing off its colors so that you don’t eat it.

During the breeding season, you may hear male Fire Belly Toads making their distinctive mating call. Rather than the croak you might expect, the call sounds curiously like a barking dog instead.

Healthy toads will regularly shed their skin, and will often eat the skin afterwards. This is perfectly normal and nothing to be concerned about.

Fire Belly Toad Health

Healthy Fire Belly Toads should be alert and lively, regularly hopping and swimming. They should be eating regularly and have clear eyes, nose and vents, as well as healthy skin.

Warning signs and symptoms to look out for include skin lesions, lethargy, weak leg movements, decreased appetite or weight loss, bloating and difficulty breathing. Any of these could be indicative of health problems and an exotic pet vet should be consulted.

Hopefully this Fire Belly Toad care sheet has all the information you’ll ever need, but please contact us if you think there’s something missing and we’ll be happy to help out.

Why Choose an Exotic Pet?

Image by Jason Murphy

Image by Jason Murphy

Exotic pets are more popular than ever before and this upward trend isn’t showing any signs of slowing down. The possibilities are virtually endless, and with so much choice there’s guaranteed to be an exotic pet that would be perfect for you, although there’s a chance you’ve never even heard of it before! But why choose an exotic pet anyway – why not stick to the standard dogs, cats, hamsters, guinea pigs and goldfish? Here are just a few of the many reasons to buy an exotic pet…

1. Avoid allergic reactions.
Many people would absolutely love to have a pet or two, but can’t because of allergies to fur, feathers or similar things. Exotic pets are a brilliant alternative, especially amphibians, invertebrates and reptiles. Snakes don’t have fur and scorpions are feather-free, so if an allergy is your problem then your solution is here.

2. Companionship.
Everyone knows that dogs are supposed to be man’s best friend, but there are less widely-owned creatures that offer the same amount of love and interaction as any dog. Get an African Grey Parrot and you’ll have a lifelong friend you might even be able to have a two-way conversation with. Sugar Gliders are almost unbearably adorable and want nothing more than to be with you – they both need and crave your company, love and attention.

Image by Richard Adams

Image by Richard Adams

3. You don’t need much space.
Of course this depends on the animal in question (clearly a large 200lb tortoise won’t work), but there are popular and exciting options for anyone who doesn’t have enough space for a cat or a dog. Many pets will happily live in a small tank, and some (like praying mantises) will actually struggle to cope with a large tank. Insects, frogs and smaller snakes will generally take up very little room, and even the smallest apartment will probably have space for them.

4. You don’t need much time.
If you’re a busy person who doesn’t spend much time at home but still wants a pet, something labor-intensive like a dog just won’t work. Luckily there are many exotic pets that require very little attention; some prefer never to be handled at all and are much happier when left alone. Some of these creatures only need feeding on a weekly basis or even less frequently, so there’s plenty of potential for even the busiest person. Creatures that don’t need to be fed often are also ideal for people who travel a lot for either business or pleasure.

Image by Matt Cunnelly

Image by Matt Cunnelly

5. They’re fascinating.
As exotic pets tend to be much less studied and understood than ‘normal’ pets, just keeping one and watching it grow provides a wonderful insight into a little known world, complete with unique behavior and individual variations to keep you on your toes. If you keep more than one animal then the social interactions are worth watching too, but a single pet is equally interesting – whether or not you want to watch, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from a snake swallowing a mouse!

6. Exotic pets are just plain awesome.
This shouldn’t be the only reason you buy an exotic pet, but it’s why most people become interested in the first place. Scorpions and tarantulas, lizards and tortoises, parrots and frogs – they’re all amazing in their own unique ways, and while just liking the idea of keeping one of these fantastic creatures as a pet won’t cut it alone, the enthusiasm is absolutely necessary and it’s the best possible place to start.