Aquarium & Pets
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The Pet Project – Part 10 – Cleaning and Maintenance
This is a post about poop!
There’s a pretty vibrant and lively FB group for guinea pig owners in Singapore, and there’s a lot of sharing, discussions and cute to-the-max photos of cavies in the forum. A frequent question that comes up is the amount of cleaning and maintenance required to keep up with cavies. So, here’s my offering:
Guinea pigs defecate more than hamsters – by a lot! For Stacy – our just over a year old Syrian hamster now – we just need to change her sand bath every 3-4 days, and do a full clean-up of her enclosure ever month or so. That’s it. For Rudolf and Danny, our two boar cavies, their clean-up work happens everyday.
Guinea pig poop is, essentially, solid, odorless and easy to sweep or pick-up by hand even – unless there’s something wrong with their diet. Their urine though can be quite a stench. It’s not too bad if there’s plenty of air movement – e.g. a ceiling fan is on and the windows are opened/air-conditioning is switched on. But when it’s not, the smell build-up can be quite strong, e.g. when we’re back home from work.
A lot more clean-up materials are required. Our arsenal includes a mini-brush with dust-pan, animal-safe wet-wipes, two different types of pee-pads, and small pet recycled pellets as litter.
Our current enclosure is a simple C&C of 90x60cm and still evolving. With that in mind:
I use two types of bedding:
- Two layers of charcoal pee pads (totally four sheets of 45x60cm) as the base layer.
- A third layer (of 33x45cm) at their favorite pee spot, which at the moment is the furthermost right corner of their current enclosure. This third layer is secured by letting their house and cage wall sit on it.
There’s also a 280mm x 228m x 150mm Gex square toilet that I first place a pee-pad inside, then fill with about 4cm of small pet litter on top of it. I’ve been using Pets Dream Paper Pure from Pet Lovers’ Centre for a year now, but am just switching to Nature’s Eco Recycled Paper and giving that a try. The pee pad here and pellets are changed every 3-4 days, and the toilet unit gets washed (I have a second toilet of similar size and color that gets rotated in). As our two cavies like to pee/poop in the far corner of the toilet, I scoop up and dispose of the most obvious poop bits, and also re-arrange the pellets to spread the used pellets.
If the cage wall base is coated with dried poop, the wet-wipes come in for spot-cleaning.
The top (of two layers) of charcoal pee paid is changed every 7 days, and the bottom layer kept as it is as a backup-layer.
Every month, everything gets dismantled for a thorough cleaning. It takes a bit of time to scrub all the dirt off and have it sun-dried, but I’ve got plenty of cage spares.:)
All in; my daily maintenance takes about 5 minutes, and the weekend maintenance maybe about 10 minutes in all. Quite manageable!
The Olympus 40-150mm f2.8 – Updated
A check on my ongoing log of camera equipment purchases shows that my last lens purchase was almost exactly two years ago now, and specifically the 40-150mm f2.8. There are still a few m4/3 lenses that I’m keeping an eye on – including an ultra wide-angle of roughly between 7 to 14mm coverage, and also a general all-purpose travel lens of 12-80mm or so coverage. None constitute a real pressing need though since our travel photography needs are largely met by the 12-40mm and 40-150mm f2.8s, so I’m happy to wait until good deals for these other lenses show up, either new or as pre-loved equipment.
The one lens that has turned out to be quite a surprise from projected to actual use is the Olympus 40-15mm f2.8. Specifically, at the point of purchase, I’d intended the lens to be just for occasional use. But the two years I’ve had this lens have seen it become a regular staple for me to take pictures of our kids whenever we’re out of doors both in and out of Singapore, full moons, and most recently now – of our Syrian hamster and two cavies.
The lens really lives up to its ‘Pro’ designation: it’s unfailingly sharp even wide-open at f2.8 – though subject motion, especially when coupled with lower shutter speed settings that are necessary when I’m shooting our pets at home is a perpetual challenge – and the lens, interestingly, seems to find the optimal focusing solution ever so slightly quicker on my Panasonic GX85 than the Olympus E-M1.
Pictures as always!
The Pet Project – Part 9
It’s about a month since Rudolf and Danny joined us. One fun thing about having additional inhabitants of the pet variety joining our family is that a good portion of our time gets oriented around creating things for them! We’re already into version four of their enclosure! I’ll do a separate post on that later.
In the mean time, and after getting inspired by a YouTube video, I decided to do a simple maze for our two cavies. I didn’t want the maze to be of the throwaway type though, which meant that the base materials had to stand up to cleaning and easy washing. And for that, the best all-round material that’s both affordable, reasonably sturdy and easy to work with remains coroplast boards.
Coroplast boards are pretty much widely available in book and stationery stores here, and we picked up four pieces from Evergreen Stationery @ Parkway Parade at $3.10 for a 75x52cm sheet (Popular has them at $3.20, but you get the usual 10% discount as a member). This was a daddy-daughter Art N Craft project, and we spent our Saturday night constructing it up. The maze base is 80x55cm, and constructed from two sheets, with 11cm all round walls on the side.
I reckon it’s possible to build even larger mazes. Weight is a non-issue – coroplast boards are very light – but whether the resulting maze is too wide to hand-carry is a real consideration! The thing needs to be able to be carried past our typical Singapore-wide room doors into shower stalls for cleaning.
The Pet Project – Part 8
It’s been over a week since our two cavies joined our home, and it’s been quite a fun experience learning about their habits, nuances and also how different they are from Syrian hamsters. Ling chose the names for our two cavy boars. Rudolf – the chocolate-coat Sheltie has brown eyes with a tinge of evil red – is the braver of the two, and Danny – the black Vienna Chestnut coat – seems to follow his brother’s lead, but is, at the moment, also shy.
Granted that 9 days is still a very short span, our observations:
I reckon that as both cavies were from the same litter – born 24 Jun this year – the two get along great, and took just 8 hrs after bringing them home to finally venture out of their house to explore and dine.
Danny is a lot more timid, and it shows in many ways. He’s skittish, and whenever possible, would nervously approach food in my hand, pick them qickly then retreat back to his hiding home to eat in privacy. Movement or even a shift of body weight from one of us in the room is typically sufficient to send him scurrying! Rudolf is, relatively, adjusting quicker to their new home and his human owners though he too will scurry away occasionally.
Neither cavies are yet comfortable enough to be touched, and will instinctively start to back away when we approach them in their enclosures. One trick however is to try – as much as possible – not to put our hand into the cage from the top, but to slide our hand and arms and keep a low profile as far as possible. In comparison, Stacy – our Syrian – took just days before she adjusted to us and was willing to run to our hands if there was food to be had.
The cavies are also learning to recognize the rustling of hay when we top up their hay feeder twice a day. Depending on their mood, they just might ‘popcorn’ – where the cavies will leap into the air – and squeal in excitement.
Several enthusiasts note that the heart to cavies is through their stomachs, and that’s definitely true for these two! Of the fruits and veggies we’ve tried feeding them, the two especially love wheat grass, corn and Japanese cucumber, and to lesser degrees: lettuce and papaya.
Cavies poop – a lot! We bought a corner litter pad for their enclosure, and while they do a good amount of their ‘business’ there, a lot of their excrement is still outside that. Like hamsters, cavy droppings are solid and odorless, but their urine does stench quite a bit.
Hamsters need exercise wheels to burn excess energy. Cavies do run laps too – just not on wheels, but round and round their enclosures! They make quite a din when doing so, but it’s crazy fun to watch to two scoot after each other and trample on the 3M antislip mat furiously.
While the cavies are starting to settle in, we’re starting to think also of how to improve their abodes. Short of changing their current enclosure altogether, top on my list is how to fabricate a enclosure door and still maintain cage structural integrity at the same time. It’s to help our cavies develop confidence to step out of their cage easily when we get to floor time, hopefully soon!
The Pet Project – Part 7
There are several key differences between domestic guinea pigs and hamsters as pets: one is their obvious difference in sizes – both of our two cavies are just two months old and already several times larger and heavier than Stacy, who is herself an adult hamster. Another is their social behavior: Syrian hamsters are solitary by nature, and do not need or desire enclosure partners. Thirdly: hamsters are escape artists, while cavies are not. This latter behavioral difference was instrumental in my deciding whether to build my own enclosure or buy a large one off the shelf. And I decided for the former since I didn’t have to worry about the critters gnawing, jumping, squeezing through or climbing their way to freedoms in a custom-built enclosure!
There is quite a bit of information on custom built enclosures for cavies, and one popular design type is known as C&C, which stands for Cubes & Coroplast. The basic idea is to get prefabricated wire meshes to form the basic cage frame, and coroplast boards for surfaces. The coroplast boards are easily available at stationery shops like Popular Bookstore. As for wire meshes, quite a few cavy owners have gone with professional metal workers – like this company for instance – who custom make metal shelving, and also animal cages. The other and very popular option is to get them from Daiso.
The Daiso wire meshes come in varying sizes – which is very helpful for me to not just implement the design but also expand the enclosure later. Not all Daiso stores carry the meshes though, and it took four trips to different Daiso stores before I acquired enough meshes to not only build a first cage, but also a larger playpen area that I’ll bring over to our parents’ place on weekends for the cavies to roam about in the garden.
Materials and tools for our 1.5 level 2×3 feet enclosure
10 wire meshes (of 30x60cm size) @ Daiso ($20)
Animal pee pads (two 60x90cm for the base level, and four 30x45cm for the loft level) @ Daiso ($12)
A pack of cable ties @ Daiso ($2)
A pack of velcro strips @ Daiso ($2)
3 Coroplast boards @ Art Friend/Plaza Singapura ($5.90 each)
2 3M Anti-Slip mats @ Self-Fix Store (45x60cm and 60x90cm of about $35 and $78)
Glue, tape, sharp pen knife, cutting board, etc.
And about 5 hours of labor spread across two days later: here’s the finished product.
Pet Lovers Centre @ Suntec City sells a pre-made wooden bridge specifically for enclosures, but the weight of it would had put too much stress on the loft’s wire mesh. So I made my own. Constructing this set of stairs connecting the first and loft level by far was more challenging, relatively that is since the entire enclosure really wasn’t that tough to build from scratch to begin with!
The total damage involved in building this enclosure was about $167. About what I’d paid if I’d bought a pre-made cage from the store, but my custom-made one is expandable, materials can be recycled, and way more fun to build them yourself! :)
The Pet Project – Part 6
My parents decades ago forbade the three of us at home to have our own pets. My mom would quip that there were already three monkeys at home, and she didn’t have the energy to take care of any more haha! I reckon that, in a sense, I felt that I missed a part of my childhood when growing up, that I’ve gone full-on with having different pets as our family friends now that we’re our own family unit.
The childhood reliving started off with aquariums, then Stacy our Syrian Hamster a year ago. Our care for Stacy has settled into a pretty organized routine, since she’s such an easy animal to care for – whether is it her dietary preferences, cleaning her enclosure, or playing with her. So much so that I reckoned it was time for me to add new persons to our family. And this time, it was guinea pigs, known also as cavies, next!
To be absolutely clear though, neither of our kids asked to keep guinea pigs (though now that we have them, they’re thrilled). It was all Daddy LOL who’d prepare, construct, decide and subsequently care for them. After a fortnight of reading up on the environments that would be required, and long-term challenges and care for them – one of the most useful resources I’ve found on YouTube is a wonderful channel of a lass based in Europe who video blogs of her five Cavies – I was good to go.
We’d get two cavies. Unlike hamsters, cavies are very social – and unless you’re able to spend all your breathing time with them, they need another member of their own species to play and interact with when you’re not at home.
Some cavies have beautiful long-hair coats, but I concluded that helping them keep their coats luxurious was going to be too challenging. So, I looked out specifically for short-coat cavies.
Most of the pet store cage enclosures would be too small, and the ones that are big enough – at least 2 by 3 feet – are routinely very expensive for what they offer, and also have design quirks that I hoped to avoid – e.g. bases that were far too deep. So, I’d build my own enclosure, and make sure that it’s not only easy to clean, but also easily expandable. More on that in the next post!
I was mindful of whether the two cavies would get along, so I had a strong preference for acquiring them as a pair who were already introduced and oriented to each other. SPCA had none available for adoption. I checked out also personal ads for adopters, but the owners putting up their cavies for adoption – routinely, interestingly, also asked for adoption ‘fees’ to make sure that their pets would not be re-sold again. Odd sort of practice, with some owners even asking for fees that were as much as what one would pay for in stores. As I had only a window of five days off work to build their enclosure and acquire cavies, I waited for as long as I could to adopt, before turning to pet shops for them.
Say what you will about some of the irresponsible pet breeders out there, but the Nex outlet of Pet Lovers Centre – where we also bought Stacy – seems to be a responsible establishment with an eye to really care for the pets they sell. We’ve been to numerous outlets of the store, and very often will observe their staff diligently clean and scrub down every enclosure, and replenish supplies. Contrast that to some of the pet stores we’ve seen elsewhere who cramp half a dozen cavies into a smaller enclosure than what Pet Lovers Centre would normally set aside for a single pet.
We don’t see them sell pairs of cavies at the same time normally there too, but – by sheer luck perhaps – stumbled on exactly two boars for sale three days ago. They were from the same litter, so were already introduced. Both were a little pricey though – $180 compared to the usual $125 as they were the premium breeds. We made sure that every one of us four were in favor of it, since while Daddy will be able to do all the menial cleaning and feeding work, it was going to be a total family effort to socialize with our two new members.
The purchasing process was a little, well, involved! The store staff practically interrogated me to ensure that I knew what I was getting into, that I was already familiar with their broad social habits, and had their feeds and enclosures ready. Thereafter, it was a ten minute introduction where Hannah was shown how to pick-up, carry and stroke them – under the careful supervision of the staff. We took the opportunity to personally carefully inspect both cavies a second time to ensure they were of the same gender, then bought both home.
More in the next post!
The Pet Project – Part 5
It’s been quite a while since we did an update post on Stacy – our pet Syrian hamster. Well, briefly put – she’s just over a year old old, which in Syrian Hamster years means that she’s middle-age now. Looking at how she was a year ago when we first ‘adopted’ her as the fifth member of our family:
After we couldn’t discourage her from gnawing the paint off her cage bars, we switched to an aquarium-styled tank instead, and moved her cage to the coolest part of the house – our Master bedroom LOL. We have to dress the accessories and toys in her cage with quite a bit of thought though, as every thing – even the water bottle – is a gadget for her to use and escape the enclosure!
She’s still exploring her current enclosure everyday – even 8 months since moving into it! In fact, our two kids’ love observing her try to reach for the tank’s wire-mesh cover but climbing up on everything she can get her paws on. Stacy is absolutely fearless! On several mornings now, we’ve woken up to see her water bottle on the ground as she was – somehow – able to climb on top of the water bottle and chew through the string that secures it to the lid.
With the exception of Peter whom we think is still too young to handle her, Stacy seems comfortable being carried by Ling and Hannah, though being hamsters, Syrians aren’t particularly affectionate to humans to begin with.
She’s still very much a night creature. She’ll sleep soundly through the day, and be up to play usually from around 8:30PM onwards or later.
She can be a bit of a picky eater too, including rejecting specific food pellet types. But once she likes a particular brand of trail mix, she’ll pretty much happily eat it all the time.
She can nip – and it’s quite painful if she sinks her teeth into your finger – though not because she’s scared. Most of the time, it’s because she thinks my finger is food.:)
All things considered though, Stacy has been extremely easy to care for. We’re mindful though of the fairly short lifespans of hamsters in general, so when the time comes, we’d need to work with our kids to deal with her passing.
Year in Review – 2016
Doing an update to this ongoing series of year-end review posts can be really distressing on account of how the year again just went past and that we’re all a year older again.
Playstation PS4 – Mixed: our first toy-technological purchase of the year, and the number of PS4 games I’ve played on it is still.. one. The device works great as a Netflix, YouTube, media and Blu-Ray player – but is criminally underused as a gaming rig.
Aftershock S17 – Win: the largest notebook I’ve owned with its 17.3″ screen. The S17 is now a permanent fixture in our bedroom, sitting on top a portable laptop desk on the bed. The machine is brisk, the keyboard offers great depth and tactile feel, and I’ve gotten use to the relatively less bright matte screen. Not so good for watching video material, but great for productivity!
Melbourne – Win: our longest family vacation to this point, and one in which nearly everything went along swimmingly: the accommodation we selected, the itinerary, the three day-tours, and the flights both ways. The only mishaps: weather was gloomy for the second half of the stay, and the newly purchased Xiaomi Mi Note 3 kissed concrete.
Fujifilm X70 – Mixed: lovely form factor and takes stunningly beautiful pictures when used outdoors. But indoors focusing is a real hit and miss when your subjects – i.e. our kids – are constantly moving. The 3 year old E-PL6 just got fixed too – and and there’s even less reason now not to sell away the X70 soon.
Thule Enroute 2 Blur Backpack – Win: capacity-wise, it’s very slightly larger than the older Enroute it replaced though I still prefer the notebook compartment design of the older backpack.
Huawei Smart Watch – Win: seven months into the watch, and it still looks as pristine and new as it was. The manufacturer provided watch charger dock remains finicky, but cheap third party replacements can be had off eBay that – ironically – secure the watch far easier than the original manufacturer equipment.
Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 – Win: decently spec-ed phone that was picked up for cheap. This phone was purchased specifically for the Melbourne trip and sadly was the only outing it’d ever have. The phone still works, barring the cracked display screen which looks like it can completely shatter anytime and thus dangerous to use. Sigh.
Xiaomi Mi Max – Win: the largest smartphone in my inventory, nicely contrasting display though maximum brightness is a little low, and funnily, as a grey import purchased at an even lower price than the Note 3 above. And the Energizer Bunny battery that runs forever!
Stacy the Syrian – Win: I wonder how many fathers in their mid-40s purchase a Syrian hamster not for their kids LOL. But our Syrian has provided our kids with learning opportunities, though we don’t feel they are yet old enough to provide responsible care and maintenance of the hamster. The only down side? That we’re reminded that Syrians have short lifespans of 2-3 years.
Yamaha U30BL – Win: apart from the Melbourne vacation, our most costly purchase in 2016. I haven’t used the Silent Piano module very much yet, on account that my piano technical skills have, surprisingly, not degraded by that much for me to feel embarrassed of having to practice on the piano. Both Hannah and myself now spend an hour each every night making music. It’s a nosier household sure but also a lot livelier!
Wangz Staycation – Win: small boutique hotel in Outram we stayed at for our 10th Wedding Anniversary. A little light on property amenities, the room was lovingly appointed, clean and modern. Recommended for couples on short vacation stays if you like the off-city location too.
D’Resort @ Downtown East – Mixed: were it not for the bundled admission to Wild Wild Wet – a significant bonus – and that this resort was about the only property to stay in in the immediate vicinity, the resort just wasn’t as cracked up as what we’ve read from social media.
All in, this was a mostly good year for us. We can only hope that 2017 will be just as good!
Staycation Activities @ Downtown East
We’ve got a rule of thumb, and it is to avoid 3D2N holidays as much as possible, even if it means forking extra to stay for a longer period and having to wreck our brains thinking of how to fill up the itinerary! The only 3D2N stay we’ve ever had at this point was at Capella Sentosa 5 years ago. The short duration was largely on account of cost, but that property still remains by far the best we’ve ever stayed at.
While we received admission tickets to Wild Wild Wet for all four days of our stay at D’Resort, we ended up just using passes for one day – as we accidentally dropped our entire ticket stack somewhere in the water park. We did put in a Lost and Found report at the Information Office and the park crew were nice to follow through it, but finally had no such luck finding them back.
I reckon it was just as well, as it forced us to think harder of what to fill up the rest of the days with. And of that:
Disney’s Moana @ Downtown East Cathay: Peter’s first late night cinema experience for a cartoon that hearkens back to the Disney themes from its films starting 25 years ago. This one was a gamble as we wondered how Peter would handle an 8:50PM screening – and we lucked out. It didn’t take beyond the film’s midpoint before he got grouchy (probably from just being tired) and generally annoying the heck out of Ling.
Orchid Bowl @ Downtown East E!Hub: you know you suck at something when your 7 year old daughter hands you your butt:
Then again, this is how she got there:
Longkang Fishing @ Mainland Tropical Fish Farm: with ‘longkang’ literally meaning ‘drain’ for our Ang Mo bud.:) Our parents’ generation will quip that this was one of their leisure past times before Gen Y and Z’s iPads, video games and smartphones. But Ling and I just a few years ago climbed down into a large drain opposite Hougang Mall to catch fishes to supplement our freshwater aquarium – and we caught several Corydoras even!
The Farm was just a few minutes drive from Downtown East, and we spent an hour there in a small tidily landscaped and man-made drain of about 18 meters long catching critters. There’s a token fee of $4 per child for every 30 minutes, but the very nice and super laid-back auntie there gave our two kids 45 minutes of catching time.
Some bloggers have remarked how difficult it was for kids to catch these critters given how fast they swim. Funnily, we had no such difficulties. We caught 15 with most going between Hannah and Ling. I was taking pictures, but in the space of a minute also caught three too. The fishes do detect movement – I assume from the mid-morning shadows we cast onto the water – and typically scatter free quickly. So, the trick is simply to use the tiny nets provided in the opposing direction and where clusters of fishes are. We were able to scoop 1-2 critters this way a time.
We returned all we caught back to the farm though, since our home aquarium is already densely populated with tetras and snails. But the kids enjoyed this one – and the activity gets a solid recommendation from us.
Pasir Ris Public Library @ White Sands Shopping Centre: the E!Hub @ Downtown East is a little rundown, while White Sands has just recently undergone refurbishment. Its offering of stores and restaurants remain pretty much standard fare for Singapore shopping malls, but the also recently renovated public library is very nicely done-up. We stayed and left with about a dozen loaned books.
eXplorer Kids @ Downtown East E!Hub: we’d gone by this indoor playground earlier this year. The area was also just recently refurbished, and it looks slightly brighter now, with a few new play areas that we didn’t previously see in our last visit. More importantly is that there’s a current promotion for NTUC Members: each card holder can get free membership for up to two kids. More details here. The offer was good enough for us to drive back home to pick up our kids’ birth certificates for registration.
Starbucks @ Downtown East: half of the indoor seating in the store were squatted by young adults pretending to study, but we managed to put together two separate tables to chill over brewed coffee, Hazel Nut Lattes, and Signature Hot Chocolate for the kids.
Hannah quips that this was our best vacation ever. Putting aside the bleh stay at D’Resort, it was certainly enjoyable also for us parents. We’re start planning for our mid-year vacation spot for June 2017, so more to come on that soon enough!
The Pet Project – Part 4
Stacy – our family Syrian hamster – is now four months old. She’s also grown noticeably larger from about 8cm when we first got her, to 13cm long from snout to her stump tail. From what we’ve read, this is supposed to be nearly about her maximum size already, but I reckon we didn’t expect her to grow up quite so fast!
Though she’s comfortable with either Ling or myself holding her, she’s still quite shy socially and can be easily startled by movements around the house. She’s otherwise pretty fearless, and spends a good amount of time every night climbing the bars of the cage. On several occasions, we’ve seen her hanging precariously at the top of her cage with just one paw. Occasionally, she’ll be able to swing herself up so that her feet can grip the cage bars. More often than not though, she’ll fall right down, dust herself off, and try again LOL.
One habit we’re trying to break of her though is her chewing of cage bars. And that’s despite her cage having about six different types of materials she can chew – apple sticks, mineral chews, ropes, wood blocks, dog biscuits, and even toilet rolls. It got so bad that she chewed through the coating of the cage bars, and we had to physically fastened chew sticks there to block her from getting near the cage bars.