Sunday, November 27, 2016

Using Exercise to Stop Hamsters From Cage Bar Biting

A common behavior problem among pet hamster species is that they bite the bars of their cages for hours every night. They do this because they are bored. Provide your hamsters with physical and mental stimulation.

CHUNKCHUNKCHUNKCHUNK!!!!  This is a familiar sound to many hamster keepers, especially those with Syrian or golden hamsters.  The beloved hamster is gnawing endlessly at the metal bars of its cage.  Since hamsters are nocturnal, no one in the home is getting any sleep until the hamster stops bar biting.

In 1998, some unknown person dumped a cage full of Syrian hamsters at our apartment complex parking lot.  My roommates and I managed to rescue two.  We thought we were ding the best we could by getting Habitrail cages that alternated plastic bottoms, tunnels, wheels and metal bars for better ventilation. 

And then the bar biting began.

Is This Normal?

Hamster teeth grow throughout their lifetime.  Gnawing regularly on hard objects helps to wear their teeth down.  Some gnawing behaviors are normal.  But, according to Training Your Pet Hamster co-authors Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville, obsessive gnawing is not.  Although all hamsters will test the strength of their cage bars, they should not be biting the bars for hours a night every night.

This is because hamsters evolved to wander for miles every night among arid, desert regions in Asia and the Middle East, constantly looking for food.  Syrian hamsters have only been domesticated since 1930.  Other pet hamster species only entered the pet trade in the 1970s at the earliest.  The instinct to run, search, dig and store food is still strong in pet hamsters.

Hamsters can also break their teeth chewing on metal bars, according to  When hamsters bite the bars of their cages, they tend to lean on one side, which means their teeth are not getting worn down evenly.  This can make eating more difficult as well as cause tooth damage.

Causes of Bar Biting

Hamsters bite the bars of their cages because they are trying to find a way out.  According to Martha Boden, writer for Small Animal and Bow Tie Press, hamsters are trying to find a way out because they have a ton of energy and very little roomto release than energy.  Even a cage we may think is large is practically nothing for an animal that evolved to scramble across the desert for miles every night.

Hamster may also try to escape if they scent another hamster in breeding condition anywhere nearby.  This was what happened to the two hamsters we rescued back in 1998.  Unfortunately, one was male and  the other was female.  Despite keeping them in separate cages and separate rooms, Hamnesty the male somehow managed to escape and have a tryst with Miss Whiskers. 

A couple of weeks later, a heavily pregnant Miss Whiskers managed to squeeze through the bars of her cage despite being as round as ping pong ball.  The reason she escaped was because of hunger.  She was found inside the food bowl of our terrified guinea pig’s cage.  Cinnamon the guinea pig, although being far larger species, knew better than to argue with a ravenous pregnant Syrian hamster.  The next day, Miss Whiskers gave birth to eight healthy babies.

More Physical and Mental Stimulation

For most hamster owners, males and females arranging trysts are not the main causes of bar biting.  Boredom is.  Some owners with large imaginations and some spare cash create elaborate cage structures for their hamsters so they have yards and yards to explore. 

Other hamster owners cannot afford such elaborate set-ups.  But they can give their pets some physical and mental stimulation by taking the hamster out of the cage and placing them in a toy like a hamster ball.  Ten or fifteen minutes is plenty of time inside of such toys because the air may run out.  Always supervise your hamster when he or she is in a hamster ball.

Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville also recommend placing the hamster in an empty bathtub for 30 minutes to one hour per night.  Hamsters cannot jump out of the bathtub, but you should still supervise them anyway.  Toys and chew treats can be placed in the tub with the hamster.  Sticking a treat inside of a scrunched up ball of clean paper makes the hamster work for his or her food.

After all of this activity, the hamster should be tired and more than ready to get back to his or her cage, check on the caches of treats, groom and sniff about the premises to make sure all is well.

In Conclusion

Hamsters are highly intelligent and highly active little creatures.  They are not satisfied with a clean cage, plenty of food and a wheel.  If these needs are not met, they turn to potentially dangerous and highly annoying habits like biting the bars of their cages.  They need to discover new things and take time to run about outside of their cages.  If these tips do not work, consider housing your problem hamster in an aquarium. Be sure to keep the aquarium away from heat sources like bright sunlight.


Training Your Pet Hamster. Gerry Bucsis and Barbara Somerville. Barron’s; 2002.

Hamsterific. “Stop Chewing on Those Bars!”

Small Animal Channel. “Hamster Bites Cage Bars and Water Bottle.” Martha Boden.

Personal experience with Syrian hamsters

Image by Ferryhalim for Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Effects of Snacking Late at Night

Although clinical studies vary on if late-night snacking causes people to gain weight, it can certainly interrupt your sleeping patterns. Not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain.

My favorite time for snacking is late in the evening. Although I know I shouldn't do it, I eat late in the evening anyway. Why? Perhaps because I associate eating with relaxation.  Perhaps I got into the habit of eating a meal before going to bed when I worked the graveyard shift.  Or perhaps I have bad eating habits. 

Because I have never been able to break this habit, I have curtailed it a bit. I generally don't snack in the daytime (usually because I'm not hungry). Instead of having something high calorie and high protein, I usually limit it to a few cookies or a bowl of cereal. And I string out the time it takes me to eat my snack by reading, writing or watching my goldfish in order to distract me from my belly.

Do You Gain Weight Or Not?

One of the reasons that eating late at night is discouraged is because it it generally believed that you gain weight faster when you eat and immediately sleep rather than eat and go throughout your day, burning those calories. However, this might not necessarily be true. (But if believing eating right before bed will make you fat is enough to stop you eating before bed, skip the next paragraph!)

A 2006 study done by the Oregon Health & Science University studied the weight gain of 47 female monkeys. Eating at night didn't cause any significant weight gain over eating during the day. Giving hysterectomies to 19 of the monkeys didn't make a difference, either. Apparently, you need more than just a day to burn off calories consumed.

Contrast this with a 2005 study done on college students who regularly snacked from 8pm to 4am. Conducted by The American College of Sports medicine, 212 college students described as "sedentary" gained at least 1.1 pounds when they snacked at night.  And another study released in 2009 also linked eating before sleep to weight gain – well, for mice, at least.

Your Sleep Is Disrupted

But the big reason not to snack right before bed is that the digestion often interrupts your sleep. This can be because you have to go to the bathroom, or that you get heartburn after lying down too soon after eating, or you are snacking with caffeine and sugar that can keep you awake.
You also want to avoid alcohol a few hours before bed, because not only does that pack on the pounds (no matter what time of day you drink it) but it can also make you have irregular sleep patterns.

When you don't get enough sleep, you get stressed. And when you get stressed, your body puts out a chemical called cortisol that gets your body ready to run for its life or fight for survival. When cortisol is released, it tells the body to stop certain functions so you can have the most energy diverted to fighting or fleeing. One of these is digestion.

So, you can't digest your food as thoroughly when you're chronically stressed with sleepiness as when you have enough sleep. Because stress can make you fat, it can be extrapolated that eating a lot right before bed can make you not only tired and stressed, but fat.


Mayo Clinic. “Insomnia: Causes.” 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Cymbalta Side Effects and Withdrawal Symptoms

The body needs about 2 to 4 weeks to adjust to Cymbalta (duloxetine hydrochloride.) It often causes sleep problems. Here’s how to know when to call the doctor.

Cymbalta is the brand name for duloxetine hydrochloride, which in the family of antidepressants called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). More familiar drugs like Prozac (fluoxetine) and Paxil (peroxetine) are also in the family. Although many people with depression, fibromyalgia and/or general anxiety disorder (GAD) have been helped with Cymbalta, side effects are common and to be expected.

Normal Side Effects

It can take up to a month for the body to adjust to life with Cymbalta. This means that some normal side effects can last for a month. Some people adjust as soon as ten days. The normal side effects of Cymbalta for new users are:

  • Fatigue
  • Increase in appetite (although some people have a decrease in appetite)
  • Dry mouth
  • Constipation or diarrhea (but not both)
  • Increase or decrease in sleep
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Mild nausea that goes away after a couple weeks.

Serious Side Effects

Like any other drug, some people can be allergic to Cymbalta. These serious side effects will show up within the first week of taking it, maybe even after just a couple of days. Contact your doctor immediately if you get any or a combination of these symptoms: 

  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Sudden nosebleeds
  • Sudden, unexplained bruising
  • Black, grey or tar-like stools, which usually indicate blood in the stool
  • Loss of coordination or inability to stand up
  • Vomiting (although some nausea is common, vomiting isn't)
  • Hallucinations or mania
  • Intensification of anxious symptoms (if you are taking Cymbalta for GAD)
  • Seizures
  • Shallow breathing or problems breathing

Since you may not be aware if you are hallucinating, it's good to let a trusted person like a parent or friend know that you have started taking Cymbalta. Sometimes the doctor's office will act in this capacity. All they need to do is check up on you once a week to see how you are doing. If you start talking about demons out of the wall, then they can let you know that you are hallucinating and you need to get in contact with your doctor.

Don't Just Stop

You shouldn't stop taking Cymbalta cold turkey, unless you've only been taking it for a week. But over a week, the body starts getting used to Cymbalta and can give you painful withdrawal symptoms if you suddenly quit. You may just need a reduction in dose. Eventually, years down the road when your doctor says the time is right, you can wean yourself off of Cymbalta by gradually reducing your dose. But that's a subject for another article.

Withdrawal symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Migraines or headaches
  • Vomiting
  • A strange tingling or burning sensation
  • Sweating
  • A return of all the symptoms you had before you started taking Cymbalta
  • Changes in sleep patterns (too much or too little)
  • A marked increase in irritability
  • Trembling or shakiness
  • Nightmares

These can last from three days to three weeks. Being dependent on Cymbalta or any medicine that helps better your quality of life is not a sign of moral weakness.


The Family Intervention Guide to Mental Illness: Recognizing Symptoms & Getting Treatment. Bodie Morey & Kim T. Mueser, Ph.D. New Harbinger Publications; 2007.

US Food & Drug Administration. "Cymbalta (Duloxetine Delayed-Release Capsules) Medicine Guide."

Wikipedia. “SSRI Discontinuation Syndrome.” 

My Mom has also been taking Cymbalta for yonks.

Causes of Charley Horses or Nocturnal Cramps

Charlie (or charley) horses are also known as nocturnal cramps or simply muscle cramps.  They are mostly located in the arch of the foot, the calf and up the leg.   Medical science doesn't agree as to their causes but they do agree that charlie horses can be prevented.  

The main triggers for charlie horses include too much exercise and certain drugs.  The most serious cause is increasingly poor blood circulation (or intermittent claudication), so muscle cramps in the legs and feet should be checked out by a doctor.


Since the cramps are commonly associated with vigorous or prolonged exercise, it's thought that there may be a chemical imbalance that causes muscles to contract and then refuse to relax.  Various theories have been batted about that the muscles loose too much electrolytes or that circulation has been somehow damaged during dehydration or muscle strain which then causes the body to be unable to properly flush away toxins.

Whatever the true reason, fear of intensely painful nocturnal cramps may keep some people from engaging in regular exercise.  They may begin an exercise program and do too much at once, causing not only  charley horses but other pains.  This is why it is important to talk to your doctor before you start on an exercise program and to begin slowly.

Adventure Vacations

Although charley horses may be seen most often in children, the elderly and athletes at the beginning of their sports' seasons, there is another section of the population very prone – the vacationer.  This person has sat at a desk job for 50 weeks of the year and wants to have an active, sports-filled vacation, such as riding at a dude ranch.

However, his muscles are not used to the sudden burst of activity.  A few hours in the saddle leads to charley horses and a miserable rest of the vacation.  If planning an adventure vacation, it is best to begin regular exercise at least three months before the vacation starts.  During exercise, be sure to drink plenty of quality fluids like water.  This at least gets the muscles used to activity.  It may not prevent all charley horses, but it may lead to less painful charley horses.


But this does not explain all causes of severe leg and feet muscle cramping. Certain medications can also trigger charlie horses.  These include antipsychotic drugs like amytriptaline; blood pressure medications like statins; drugs for diabetics and corticosteroids like prednisone.  Addicts of drugs such as heroin may also suffer from charley horses and not do any exercise, according to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons.

One theory is that these medications (as well as illegal drugs) take out fluids that the body needs to properly maintain the endocrine and circulation systems.  But just exactly why these drugs cause cramps and not others is unknown.


Women’s Health & Wellness 2003. The Editors of “Health” Magazine. Oxmoor House; 2002.

The American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. “Your Orthopedic Connection: Muscle Cramp.” 

ABC News. “The Mysterious Pain of ‘Charley Horse’.” Lauren Cahoon. April 1, 2008 (no joke).

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Killing Bed Bugs in Electronics

Yes – they can hide in electronics.

Your home has bed bugs. Your home will need at least two treatments from professional pest managers in order to kill the bed bugs. 

Unfortunately, adult bed bugs can last up to one year between meals.  What do they do all of this time when they are fasting?  Hiding.  The nearly flat bodies of bed bugs make them insect Houdinis, escaping from insecticides into the narrowest of cracks – including those in your electronics.

How Valuable is the Electronic?

Bed bugs tend to stay in rooms where ever a person sleeps, so unless you sleep in the kitchen, the kitchen electronics should be fine.  A professional exterminator may concentrate his or her energies on checking for infestations in places where people sleep or nap.

Is this a clock radio or a laptop?  When your home or business is infested with bed bugs, assume that everywhere that a bed bug can fit into is home to adults, larvae (called nymphs) and eggs.  If the item can be easily replaced, place it in a resealable plastic bag and throw it out.

Outside Electronics

More valuable items like televisions or personal computers cannot be easily replaced unless you are really rich.  Exterminators will check these items, but you can, too, if you have a magnifying glass, a knife and a vacuum.  Always wrap up an electronic item in plastic before moving it out of a room, or you may wind up giving bed bugs a free taxi ride to infesting yet another part of your home.

The object is to sweep the bugs out of the cracks and vacuum them up immediately.  This works best on light-colored floors, although nymphs are mostly transparent unless they have recently fed.  With the magnifying glass, check screws, seams and ridges for adults or for fecal deposits, which look like rusty-brown or black spots.  If you see them, pass the knife in the crack and force the bugs out.  Zap them up with the vacuum. Immediately empty the bag into an outside garbage container.

Fumigating Electronics

Exterminators use cans of compressed air to blast bugs out of electronics, notes board certified entomologist and author of The Bed Bug Book (Skyhorse; 2011) Ralph H. Maestre.  Compressed air cans are sold in computer stores, often labeled as a safe way to remove dust from sensitive screens.

If the bugs have gotten into the electronic, things get more complicated.  The item needs to be fumigated by deep-freezing.  The only safe method so far is pressurized carbon snow, best known under the brand name Cryonite.  Not all exterminators will be able to use pressurized carbon snow, so ask beforehand.  


Never spray over the counter insecticide aerosols into electric outlets or electronics! This can cause fires.  Never use total release aerosols or “bug bombs.”  Bug bombs do not penetrate into bed bug hiding places.  Over-the-counter insecticides will NOT kill bed bugs, even if they are labeled as killing bed bugs, warns Cornell University’s New York State Integrated Pest Management department.

Pesticide sprays and dusts that do kill bed bugs are regulated, but still may not kill bed bug eggs.  You will need a second or third treatment in order to kill newly hatched bugs.


The Bed Bug Book.  Ralph H. Maestre.  Skyhorse Publishing; 2011.

Cornell University New York State Integrated Pest Management. “How to Deal with BedBugs.” 

University of Minnesota Extension. “Prevention and Control of Bed Bugs in Residences.” Dr. Stephen A. Kells & Jeff Hahn.  2011.  

Bulimia: Symptoms, Types and Treatments

NOTE: Many people with bulimia also suffer from sleep problems. The best way to treat the sleep problems is to treat the bulimia. Talk to your doctor in the meantime about treating sleep problems caused by the eating disorder as you work on managing your bulimia.

When you discover that someone you know has bulimia, it can be hard to believe. Often, bulimics seem to be the envy of everyone they know. That is one reason why bulimia is so hard to recognize and treat in others.

Dangerous Symptoms

Although bulimia is often considered a teenage girl's affliction, baby boomers, young boys and grown men turn to bulimia to help them with their self-image. Symptoms of bulimia in either sex include:
·         Mood swings
·         Problems with teeth, cheek glands, and/or heartburn (see image)
·         Preoccupation with food, even if you never see them eat
·         Fears of getting fat
·         Use of the bathroom soon after meals
·         Irregular to no periods in women.

Types of Bulimia

We tend to think of bulimia as someone stuffing themselves with a refrigerator full of food and then throwing it all back up. There are actually different types of bulimia eating disorders which all showcase a person's self-hatred by their unhealthy relationship with food. Here are the three types of bulimia:

·         Anorexia bulimia: This is when someone alternates between anorexia (not eating) and bulimia.
·         Bulimia nervosa: This is the "usual", where the victim is obsessed about their looks and usually does not eat in public. They then binge eat and purge through vomiting or taking a lot of laxatives. This can go on for years until physical affects are eventually seen.
·         Pro Bulimia, Pro Ana or Pro-Mia: This is when a bulimic is in a state of denial about the damage they are doing to their health. They refuse to see bulimia as a problem, but instead call it a "lifestyle choice." As a consequence, they refuse treatment and resent being told they have a problem which could eventually kill them.

Treatment Options

You don't really need a doctor or therapist to diagnose bulimia (especially if you catch the bulimic in the acts of binging and purging), but a professional diagnosis can greatly help the patient face the problem. Any doctor or therapist should be able to diagnose bulimia.

There are many treatment options available, especially if there are any other issues like addiction or depression in addition to bulimia. The patient might not need to do all of them or do a combination in order to feel better about themselves and about food. Bulimia treatments include:

·         Therapy: This could be for the patient or for the whole family as ongoing treatment or an intense rehabilitation retreat.
·         Medication: Bulimia brings on secondary symptoms that need medical attention, such as loss of menstruation or getting tooth damage. The triyclic antidepressant Elavil (amitripyline) is often prescribed for bulimia. Other antidepressants are used when a patient cannot take amitripyline. Another promising drug is Topamax (topiramate.)
·         Support groups: This is essential for ongoing treatment, just to let the patient know they are not alone and don't have to fight alone. Social interaction is also helpful in breaking self-destructive thoughts and to think about something else other than when to binge and purge. You can find anorexia and bulimia support groups online as well as through your doctor or your Yellow Pages.
·         Hospitalization: This is for emergencies, such as collapse or a suicide attempt. Although it might seem drastic, it may serve as a needed wake-up call.


eMedicine. “Bulimia.” Rebecca Barth, MD, et al. Oct. 8, 2010

Mayo Clinic. “Bulimia Nervosa.” 

National Alliance on Mental Illness. “Eating Disorders.” 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

What are the Causes of Cluster Headaches?

Women that have both given birth normally and experienced cluster headaches claim that giving birth hurt less.  But unfortunately, the exact cause of these crippling attacks remains unknown. However, attacks often begin during sleep.

Image: "The Headache" by George Cruikshank (1819)

Cluster or suicide headaches are one of the most painful types of neurological conditions that can happen to a human being.  Women that have both given birth normally and experienced cluster headaches claim that giving birth hurt less.  But unfortunately, the exact cause of these crippling attacks remains unknown.  More research needs to be done in order to determine why some people get cluster headaches and not others.


For an unknown reason, men are far more likely to get cluster headaches than women.  Women aren’t completely lucky because they are three times more likely to suffer from migraines than men.  This may have something to do with hormones, but just how they play a part is still unknown. 

Being a black man over the age of twenty that smokes, drinks and has someone else in the family that also suffers from cluster headaches is the most likely person to develop cluster headaches.  Just why is still unknown. 

Theories For Causes

One theory is that people are born with a genetic predisposition for headache problems, including migraines and cluster headaches.  A variety of conditions have to come about in order to trigger a cluster headache attack.  One of these conditions is the brain not being able to properly absorb the neurotransmitter serotonin.  Perhaps not coincidentally, serotonin problems are also thought to be the blame for migraines, major depression and epilepsy.

One major trigger seems to be a lack of oxygen caused by sleep apnea.  Breathing high-flow oxygen has shown to help many patients that suffer from either migraines or cluster headaches. Lack of oxygen may also explain why many attacks begin one or two hours after a patient falls asleep.  The pain becomes so bad it wakes him or her up.

What About Brain Activity?

The Mayo Clinic reports that MRI scans of cluster headache sufferers had significant activity in the parts of their brains known as the hypothalamus.  Just why is, again, unknown.  Could it be the hypothalamus is malformed or have become damaged in some way?  According to Lori K. Sergeant, MD and Michelle Blanda, MD, sometimes people suffering from cluster headaches did have a head injury in their past.  But not all cluster headache sufferers have had head injuries.

Could the rise or drops in natural hormones produced by the body such as melatonin or cortisol?  Again, we just don’t know.


Migraines For Dummies. Diane Stafford and Jennifer Shoquist, MD. For Dummies; 2003.

ABC News. “Oxygen Therapy Can Help Cluster Headaches.” Lauren Cox. December 9, 2009

eMedicine. “Headache, Cluster.” Lori K. Sergeant, MD and Michelle Blanda, MD. May 20, 2010.  
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