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Category Archives: Animal Behavior

The Madness of Moving


At our house, we are in the midst of moving. The process begins with thinning of possessions, much like on those “Clutter Buster” shows on cable. For weeks, we have been sorting into piles of “keep, sell, or donate.”

One of our cats tried his own move today. Twice he jumped into the open window of the truck parked in our driveway that was waiting to haul away our donations. We didn’t intend to donate him!

The pets definitely know we are moving. There are empty boxes in which to play and wads of newspaper to bat. The dogs try to escape from the open gate whenever we briefly prop it open to haul out boxes. It is a great game for them. I wonder whether they feel how the game helps increase my anxiety.

Moving creates madness. Each new day seems to bring more frenzied activity and chaos. Routines are disrupted. It is the perfect moment for a pet to escape.

So how can we make the moving process safer for our pets? Here are a few tips:

1. Make sure the pets have proper identification including a collar, a tag, and a microchip that is properly registered.
2. Take current photos of the pets and keep them with you.
3. Have your veterinarian prepare a Health Certificate that documents your pet’s current vaccinations and any health issues.
4. Get an extra supply of any prescription medications your pet may need as well as a copy of their medical records to take with you.
5. Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a mild sedative to give your pet before long trips, or try an alternative to sedation such as a pheromone collar (DAP or Feliway) or a few drops of a Bach Flower Rescue Remedy.
6. Long before beginning to move, make sure your pet is comfortable being confined to a carrier or a crate and knows how to wear a harness or a leash.
7. If traveling by airline, be sure to call the carrier several times on different days before your flight leaves. Confirm the rules for flying with your pet. Carriers have been known to frequently change their rules for shipping pets and you don’t want to get caught by surprise change at the airport.
8. Make a reservation at a good pet day care facility or boarding facility. Your pet may be safer there on the day the moving truck arrives.
9. When you arrive at the new location, do NOT let your pets near the outside doors for several days. They may try to bolt out the door. Now is the time to confine them to one room of the new house or to a crate. Use a DAP or Feliway diffuser in the room where you confine the pets, to help calm them in their new location.

And when the madness seems particularly chaotic, stop and take your pet for a walk. It will do you both good. It will help you both say goodbye to old familiar surroundings and become familiar with your new surroundings.

Bon Voyage!

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Cat Talk

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Cat Talk

Does your cat talk?  If so, what does he say when he is hungry? “Meow?”  What does she say when scared?  “Hiss?” When she is happy does her motor go, “Purr?”   Compared to a parrot who might actually be able to speak hundreds of words, or a dog who might know a hundred words,  the verbal vocabulary of a cat is limited.  That isn’t to say that cat’s aren’t intelligent or that they cannot communicate.

Cat’s have a rich non-verbal  vocabulary.  The classic “Halloween” cat image communicates much about its attitude..  When a cat arches its back, fluffs its tail, flattens its ears, and opens it mouth, you had best beware!  It is likely safer to pet a cat that displays a softer posture, with half-opened eyes and erect ears.

Cats also communicate with chemical signals.  Special glands on their heads and on their paws emit an odor (a pheromone) that we mere humans cannot appreciate.  When a cat smells this scent, it has a calming effect on the cat.  The makers of a product called Feliway synthesized this pheromone and sell it in spray bottles and room diffusers.  It really works.  If you spray it inside a cat carrier before traveling, many cats will relax.  Room diffusers of Feliway will usually calm cats who are anxious about strangers or new surroundings.  I often install Feliway diffusers in the cat rooms at animal shelters and spray the towels I use in exam rooms.

Felines also communicate by marking with urine.  Yes urine.  Both female and male cats will “spray.”  The more cats in the household, the more likely one of the cats will start marking on walls, rugs, couches, and beds with spritzers of urine.  There is nothing more appalling to an owner than to come home and discover that the cat urinated on the pet owner’s bed or in their shoes.

What is the cat trying to say by gifting us with urine?  Many owners wrongly assume their cat is spiteful for some perceived wrong.  But cats have other non-verbal ways of showing anger or fear.  Cats that spray are simply saying, “Mine, mine, mine, mine, mine.”  The cats are claiming their territory, in a quiet, wet, and smelly fashion.  The tough part for cat owners to accept is that for a cat, communicating by spraying urine is normal behavior.  It is just as normal as meowing, hissing, or purring.  If you punish your cat for spraying, the cat will spray more because you obviously didn’t understand the message.  They will just try again and again, until they think the message has been sent.

So what can you do if you think one of your cats is spraying or marking in the house?  Begin by taking your cat to your veterinarian for an exam.  Let your vet first determine whether the cat has any underlying medical problems that might cause frequent urination that could be  mistaken for marking behavior.  Cats with kidney disease, diabetes, thyroid disease, or a urinary tract infection will sometimes urinate outside the litter box.  Cats that have developed an aversion to their litter box will also start voiding in inappropriate places.  (See my earlier blog on Cat Box Blues.)  If there are no medical issues involved, your veterinarian can prescribe an anti-anxiety medication such as fluoxetine (generic for Prozac)  to help your cat decrease its urge to communicate in this way.

For more information, visit these web sites:

http://www.feliway.com/us

http://www.vet.cornell.edu/fhc/healthinfo/brocuhre_housesoiling.cfm

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida.

www.BPAnimalClinic.com Please LIKE us on Facebook!

727-863-2435

 

 

Cat Box Blues

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Cat Box Blues

Thinking outside the box is generally regarded as a creative and rewarding activity. Unless it is your cat that is thinking outside his/her litter box. Feline litter box issues are the main reason cats either end up living totally outdoors or get surrendered to animal shelters. Best to prevent the problem if you can. If your feline friend has already decided that the litter box is out-of-bounds, here are a few tips that could help return the cat to the proper potty place.

How many litter boxes do you need? Veterinary behaviorists recommend you have one more litter box than you have cats. Yes, if you have three cats, you need four litter boxes! The boxes need not be all the same. Nor do they need to be in the same spot in your house. Some can be covered. Some can be open models. Many cats are fearful of the mechanical (self-cleaning) litter boxes, though, so don’t make this your only option.

What type of litter should you use? That’s simple. Use the type your cat prefers! Sometimes cats don’t like the feel or the smell of certain litters. To each their own. You might need to set up a kitty litter buffet to test which type your cat prefers for duty. You can do this by getting several cardboard soda flats from the store. Place a sample of different litters in each flat. You might try clay, recycled paper, corn cob, sand, some with odor crystals, some without, some pelleted, some clumping, etc. Paws down, your cat will accept the challenge and christen her preference. Not all boxes in the household need to have the same type of litter, however. If you have multiple cats you might offer a variety of litter types.

Where to place the litter box? You might know where you want the box. But your cat could have other ideas. Tucked away in the laundry room seems like the best spot for many households–until the cat is inside the box when the dryer alarm rings or the washer spins off-balance. Once the cat is startled in the privacy of her box, she may never return to that location. So pick some quieter, more private spaces. Next to the cat’s food and water bowl is not a prime choice either. If your cat is older, don’t make him climb the stairs to get to his box. Also get a low-sided box for cats that have arthritis symptoms. If your cat is already soiling the bathroom rug, you will need to put the litter box on top of the rug! Leave it there until the cat reliably uses the box on the rug, then gradually move the box an inch away each day until it is relocated in a more convenient place.

How often should you clean the litter box? Ideally you will scoop every day, each time the box is used. And you will empty the box and scrub it with soap and water at least weekly. Promise. Because if you don’t, you might later regret it. Cats are fastidious about odors and textures. If they need their box and it is already soiled or smells like bleach, they might decide to go elsewhere. Cat box liners are not recommended either. They might make your messy cleaning job easier, but cats typically don’t like the plastic feel in their space.

Remember, it is relatively easy to train dogs. For cats, just do what they want and everyone lives happily ever after.

Next time I’ll discuss what to do about cats that spray or mark objects (like your shoes) with urine. Spraying is a whole different cat problem that is not necessarily related to avoiding the litter box.

Have you ever experienced cat box blues in your household? If so, I’d love to hear about it.

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, Florida

www.bpanimalclinic.com LIKE us on FaceBook!

727-863-2435

My Pet Peeves

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Writing this particular blog makes me feel a bit uncomfortable.  I don’t like discussing controversial subjects.  But,  I would like to discuss some common pet-related actions that annoy me because they result in harm for pets.  Since pets can’t speak for themselves, it becomes my duty as a veterinarian to advocate for them.  So please let me address a few of my “pet” peeves.  I would appreciate reading your comments.  Do you share my pet peeves?  Do you have a few  more of your own?  I’d love to hear about it!

My  “pet” peeves include:

  1. Dogs riding unrestrained in the back of pick-up trucks.   Really, there should be a law against this in our County.  When the dogs fall out or are thrown out of the truck into traffic it is never pretty.  Most of them die.  The few that don’t die receive fractures and serious injuries to their pads and skin. I’ve had to treat many animals for such unnecessary injuries.  I don’t think it is legal for passengers to ride unrestrained in the beds of trucks, so why should we allow it for animals?
  2. Pets riding on the laps of drivers.  It is not OK to talk on your cell, text, or cuddle your dog while driving.  They are all equal distractions.  I don’t want my family on the road with distracted drivers.  I  also don’t want anyone to crash because they had to pull a barking dog back into the window (remember that scene from Marley and Me?), or because the pet stood on the electric window control and got stuck, or because the dog was thrown to the floorboard of the car under the brake pedal–just as the driver slammed on the brakes.  Like children, pets should be confined to the back seat and away from the windows, or else strapped in carrier or harness while traveling in a car.  Otherwise, they pose a  serious distraction to the driver  and can become potential projectiles during an accident.
  3. Dogs left chained and unattended.  Any tethered, unattended dog is more likely to bite than a dog that is free-roaming and able to escape a perceived threat.  For this reason, even a normally well-behaved dog that is left tied outside a store while the pet owner goes inside can pose a threat to passersby. If the dog becomes fearful, it cannot escape its tether so its only defense becomes biting.  An alarming number of  children are seriously injured by dog bites each year, and many of these injuries are caused by dogs left tied.  And dogs who remain chained  for long periods tend to be poorly socialized, bored, and  territorial of the small space allowed them. I’ve even treated dogs that were accidentally strangled by their chains.   It is a sad life for the dogs.  And it is a public health hazard for people who come near a tethered dog.  In some places, it is a crime to leave a dog tied up and not immediately visible to the owner.  I wish that were true here.
  4. Retractable leashes. These are not leashes.  They are more like zip-lines for dogs.  The pet is really not under  control while walking on one of these devices.  I’ve  cared for dogs severely injured when they zipped to the end of the line and were attacked by another dog they had set out to greet .  One memorable exam left me bound like an insect in a spider web after two dogs wearing zip-lines wrapped themselves around my ankles.  It was chaos in that exam room!   I can only imagine what goes on when multiple dogs wearing zip-lines are walking down the sidewalks.

Thanks for letting me voice my pet peeves.  I only want what is best for the pets and for public health.

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey, FL

727-863-2435

www.bpanimalclinic.com   Please LIKE us on Facebook !

Thunder and Noise Phobias

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Thunder and Noise Phobias

It’s finally the return of the rainy season here in Florida.  I love that time of year when you can set your clock by the afternoon thunderstorms.  This is the “lightning capital” of the U.S., though.  So, every storm brings another anxiety-ridden few hours for some pets.  They cower, tremble, hide, and generally feel miserable while their pet owners fret over what to do.  And if the cracking of regular thunder boomers isn’t enough to terrify pets, think about what happens around New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July–because the sales of fireworks are not restricted here in Florida.  For weeks around those holidays some neighborhoods sound and smell  like war zones.  Pity the poor noise phobic pets and their owners!  These are times when some pets try to escape, and later find themselves checked in to the closest animal shelter, lost and frightened.

What can a pet owner do to help a pet through such noisy events?

  • If your pet is still young, try to prevent noise phobias from beginning.  During the critical first 4 to 6  months, make sure to calmly expose your young pet to loud noises so they won’t be frightened later as an adult.
  •  Be calm yourself, offer immediate food treats and praise for relaxing while loud noises occur.
  • Train your pet that a crate or a kennel is a safe and comforting place to be anytime–and reward them for going to their assigned dens during loud noises.  Reward them in their dens with special treats and toys.
  • “Jolly” pets through loud events, as you might a young child by playing or distracting them during a stressful time.  If your pet experiences a loud event calmly and associates it with comfort, then future noisy events should  be less of a problem.
  • Microchip your pet.  Update the microchip registration every year.  Also be sure your pet is wearing an ID tag and proper license tag.  Proper identification will help get your pet back to you should they make an escape attempt during a stressful event.
  • If your pet already shows symptoms of noise phobia, employ a good dog trainer to set up a desensitization/counterconditioning program  for  you and your pet.  Such programs might take several weeks or months of practice before achieving good results.
  • Try a “storm jacket” or “thunder coat” to swaddle your pet during noisy times.  “Dog muffs” are also available to help dampen noise for pets.
  • Ask your veterinarian to prescribe a sedative or tranquilizer to give your pet during very stressful times, such as Independence Day.  Certain sedatives help pets relax and focus enough to receive training.  Others sedate so heavily the pet becomes sleepy and cannot focus on training.  Work with your veterinarian to pick the correct medication for your situation.  Your veterinarian will need to do a complete physical exam of your pet before prescribing any medications.

Welcome to summer in Florida!

For more information, visit these websites:

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/9/Fear-of-Noises.aspx

http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=81e3bfeb-9444-4df5-8c5b-8a3daa837bb2

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/92/Weekend-Crate-Training-.aspx

http://www.healthypet.com/PetCare/DogCareArticle.aspx?art_key=91544a78-a549-4837-9be5-ceaf7bb3ef1e

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/14/Desensitization-and-Counterconditioning.aspx

https://anxietywrap.com/default.aspx

http://www.petexpertise.com/dog-safety/mutt-muffs-hearing-protection-for-dogs.html

http://www.aspcabehavior.org/articles/32/Finding-Professional-Help.aspx

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic

727-863-2435

bpanimalclinic.com

Off to See the Wizard

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Off to See the Wizard

By Terry Spencer, DVM

My son and I just re-watched The Wizard of Oz.  And I admit, I still cry when Toto is in danger.   But these days, I view those scenes through a different lens.  When I was younger, I always felt disgust toward the cranky old neighbor who complained about a loose and menacing ankle-biter.  Now I just think, really?  What was Dorothy thinking not putting that little terrier on a leash?   It isn’t Toto’s fault that Dorothy is an irresponsible pet owner.   Why does Toto have to pay for her lapse? Perhaps I need a trip to the Wizard to ask for some tolerance.

Dogs don’t come with owner’s manuals.  It is as difficult to raise a well-adjusted dog as it is to raise a well-adjusted child.  The difference is the window of opportunity for socializing and training a dog isn’t as wide.  Most of the opportunity lies between 6 weeks and 2 years of age before the dog goes through puberty.  After that, you can still teach an old dog new tricks, but it is much easier if the dog already knows the basics.  I urge early puppy socialization experiences.  Research shows that children who attend Head Start or preschool do better as adults compared to those children who don’t get early socialization experiences.  The same is true for puppies.  Just think of how differently the fictional movie dog Old Yeller behaves compared to the one known as Marley.   Both are yellow Labrador Retrievers.  But,  I would bet Old Yeller attended preschool everyday as a puppy.  Marley skipped too many classes.    

In my practice, I like to “start” puppies.  It is fun to see them every three to four weeks for their wellness care visits.  They grow quickly, and I like to hold them and smell their “puppy breath” as I work to keep them healthy with basic vaccinations, dewormings, and other preventive care.  But I also take each opportunity to remind new puppy owners about socializing this new addition to their family.  During those first sixteen weeks of life, I want puppies to experience everything they need to be comfortable with as mature dogs.  I ask pet owners to go through a checklist of experiences:  has the puppy experienced riding in the car; seen people in uniforms; had its ears, feet, mouth, tail, toes, touched daily; been left alone; been around other dogs and cats; heard loud noises; worn a collar and a leash; received a bath and grooming, waited for a food bowl; had a food bowl taken away while still eating; played with children; had its nails clipped; etc?  And after sixteen weeks it is time for spaying or neutering and completing basic obedience classes.   To me, all of this makes for a well-socialized pet and a responsible pet owner. 

What does all of this have to do with veterinary medicine?  I think it is one of the most important things I do.  I believe in “holistic” veterinary medicine where I care for the health of the whole dog.  This includes both behavioral and physical health.  And I want pets that enter a home to bond to that home and stay homed for life.   I have failed if a dog ends up given away, turned over to a shelter, or forgotten in the back yard.     

You see, I have worked for many years in animal shelters.  Most of the dogs surrendered to shelters are un-neutered, poorly trained animals less than three years old.  The fate for most of these impounded dogs is euthanasia.   I cannot tolerate that.  So when I went to the Wizard and asked for more tolerance, this is what I received:   a veterinary degree.     The Wizard was wise. 

Dr. Spencer practices at Bayonet Point Animal Clinic in Port Richey 

www.bpanimalclinic.com     727-863-2435