by Heike Ewing Ott
Do you know how to recognize a good pet store when you encounter one? When you shop at a pet store, you are “voting” with your dollars to keep that pet store open. If that’s the case, doesn’t it make sense to vote only for the best pet stores? This article details what you should look for before parting with your hard-earned money.
– When you walk into the store, there should not be any strong, unpleasant odor. [If cages are being cleaned regularly, you shouldn’t really smell much. Strong odors of urine, feces, mold, mildew, etc. indicate that basic cleanliness is lacking, and animals housed in these conditions are likely to be ill. (You might notice a -little- odor around rodent tanks or cages; that’s hard to eliminate completely and is probably okay). ]
– The water in the birds’/animals’ cages should not be fouled, green with algae, or smell bad. [Some food or a few droppings in bird water is normal, but no more than that. Birds drinking contaminated water are also likely to be ill.]
– Most or all of the food dishes should be at least half full of food that is appropriate to the cage’s occupant.
– All of the cages should have good light. [Birds kept in the dark may have nutritional problems, defects that are easier to see in good light, or may be noisy if not in the dark.]
– Cages should be reasonably clean. Some droppings or spilled food is ok, but you should NOT see piles of caked-on droppings or the entire cage bottom covered with old food. [ Changing the cage tray is an easy, quick thing to do. If the store doesn’t even care enough about appearances to do -that-, there are probably other severe deficiencies you don’t see. Plus, accumulated feces mixed with food & water is a breeding ground for bacteria, germs, mold, and mildew.]
– The birds themselves are alert, responsive, fairly active, and most of them are in reasonable feather. [Missing or chewed-up tails on babies are normal; bald patches or ragged feathers in other places are not.]
Above are the absolute minimums – if a store doesn’t meet THESE standards, don’t buy a bird there! If you do, you’re only asking for trouble.
– All birds should have at least a couple of perches in their cage, preferably of different sizes.
– Cages should be large enough for an individual bird to spread its wings in at least one direction; and/or have enough room for all birds in the cage to perch with at least the “width” of one bird between them.
– All parrots larger than parakeets or cockatiels should be wing-clipped. [If their wings aren’t clipped, they aren’t being let out of their cages. If they aren’t being let out, they aren’t being socialized, which isn’t good.]
– All parrots and cockatiels should have at least one toy, swing, or -something- to play with in their cage.
– Cages, food & water dishes, and perches are clean; clean enough that it’s pretty obvious they are cleaned daily, or close to it.
– Store employee(s) are familiar and comfortable enough with the birds to call them by their correct names, tell you at least a little bit about them, and willing to handle most of the birds without gloves or net.
– At least a 72-hour health guarantee is offered on birds.
Store employees attempt to suggest proper food, mineral block or cuttlebone, toys, a basic care book, and a decent cage if you show interest in buying a bird.
– Above are the conditions you will find in the “average” pet store. It’s not a -good- place to get a bird, but if it’s all there is, or the best there is, at least you will probably get a reasonably healthy bird that can be worked with.
Attributes of a GOOD pet store:
– Birds are fed a varied diet which includes pellets and fresh food, such as vegetables, fruits, and/or cooked “bean” mix.
– Birds are in spacious, well-lit cages with plenty of room to move around, stretch their wings, play, and climb.
Each bird has a variety (at least 2 or 3) of toys to play with that are the appropriate size for the bird.
– The birds are misted or bathed on some regular schedule and are in good feather (babies’ tails excepted).
– Store employees know enough about each bird to give at least a sketchy description of personality, characteristics, and needs.
– At least one, if not more, of the store employees obviously LIKES the birds, handles them, talks to them, and plays with them. If pressed, they will sheepishly admit that the parrots have been given “names” based on appearance or personality.
– The store has, and uses, an avian vet to which they will happily recommend you, and/or encourage you to call in order to have the vet give a reference for the store.
– There is a playgym or tree stand for the parrots, and most if not all of them are regularly given time out of their cages to play and interact with people. Smaller birds have access to a sand table, large open tank, or large flight at least some of the time.
– Someone in the store (the owner, if no one else) can and will tell you where the bird came from, and provide you with contact information for the breeder or former owner if you ask for it. (One small exception: if the bird is on consignment, they may not be willing to give you the info because they are afraid you will try to get the bird cheaper from the owner.)
– The birds themselves are bright, playful, inquisitive, and move towards you when you approach them. They know how to step up, are used to being handled, and obviously enjoy rather than fear human interaction.
– If you indicate that you are going to buy a parrot, employee(s) encourage you to buy care books, good healthy food, extra perches, toys, and the largest cage you can afford. They explain about giving fresh foods and can give you a list of what the bird has been eating. They ask YOU questions, and may even discourage you from buying the bird if it appears that you won’t care for it properly or don’t have a good situation for it, or they try to steer you towards a different bird that is more appropriate to your situation, experience, and household.
– They encourage you to keep the bird’s wings clipped after you buy it, can tell you why, and may offer to do it for you if you bring the bird back in.
If you find a store like this, you can feel comfortable buying a bird there. Their birds are healthy, socialized, have been properly cared for, and the store will most likely work with you and try to help you if there are any problems after you buy the bird. If you find such a store, be sure to compliment them specifically on the things they are doing right. Tell them WHY you are shopping there, and let them know you will recommend them to your friends. Such stores are few and far between, and deserve to be supported and rewarded for their efforts.