Q:I just adopted a new dog, and he's fine around our other dogs, but I've noticed he tends to get aggressive around unfamiliar dogs at the dog park. How do I get him to play nice with his new friends?
A:He probably just needs just more practice and your supervision. Start with playtime sessions with only one or two other dogs. The sessions should be short and with guaranteed success. Pick these playmates carefully. Successful play will hinge on matching him with other dogs of similar size and temperament. The age of the playmates has to be considered; also the breeds involved. Make certain there are not any playtoys, or balls in the playground area that the dogs will get jealous and fight over. Dogs with any previous aggressive tendencies have to be monitored very,very closely. There are many dogs who are not good candidates for dog parks. At my boarding facility we have found that the smaller dogs will play together the best. The larger dogs usually won't play safely or gently enough with the smaller dogs. The larger dogs can be mixed but only with close monitoring and only if we are familiar with them. You will have to do likewise. Consulting with a veterinary behaviorist would be very beneficial for both of you.
Q:Aside from leaving them inside, what are some ways to keep pets cool when summer temperatures rise?
A:Keeping your dogs and cats safe when the temperatures soar in summer time is actually extremely important in humid areas like Chattanooga. The obvious steps are to insure they have plenty of clean water to drink and lots of shade to escape the sun. As with your children, don't ever leave them alone in your car. Another step to beat the heat is to keep your pet's hair coat cut short. They will stay cleaner, and with shorter hair fleas and ticks are easier to see. Skin inflammations ("hot-spots") are easier to detect too. Large box fans can keep a room or garage cooler. These fans are cheap to buy and inexpensive to run; so don't scrimp if this is your only solution. I have heard of owners installing duct work off their homes HVAC into their dog's doghouse in the back yard. That's a lucky dog.
Not so obvious are the dangers when your pet is extremely overweight or if your dog has a heavily muscled body type, ie...pit bulls or American Bulldogs. These pets are at high risk for heat stroke, especially if they over-exert during the heat of the day. Competition or working dogs can acclimate to the heat with work-outs scheduled only in the cooler morning hours. They still may need over one hour to rehydrate and cool down afterwards. They may even need to be moved to a quiet, isolated environment to calm down. The early stages of heat stroke start with dogs and cats both panting furiously, slobbering and drooling excessively. If you suspect your pet is overheating immediately wet him down with water, even using your garden house. Consider contacting a veterinarian too and ask for guidance. It may save your pet's life. An even worse situation is when your overweight dog is also cursed with a very short or no nasal passages at all (think English Bulldog). These are heat strokes waiting to happen. Dog's with heart problems are also more sensitive to the high temperatures of late summer. All of these dog's need to be in air conditioning. With a little forward thinking, you and your pets can have a great summer.
Q:What are some ways to keep cats' stress levels down and prevent problem behaviors in multi-cat homes?
A:Territorial and dominance issues are common in multi-cat households, especially when they get bored, or at feeding time. Trying to relieve their boredom is important for resolving these issues. Leaving cat nip laced toys when you leave for work can brighten the cats' day and encourage play instead of sleep. Having a good window to look out is also very stimulating. If it is a safe situation, allowing the cats outdoor time to explore and get exercise is ideal. Installing an in-wall door flap can allow them to come/go as they wish. The flaps can even be controlled, unlocking only when your cat's collar is nearby. When cats become bored, those lower in "pecking-order" may get beat up and denied access to food and water.
And these cats may quit using litter boxes too. Its best to have one cat box per cat, and in separate locations too. This arrangement may not be needed permanently, just long enough for a contentious atmosphere to subside. You may be able to get by with fewer litter boxes IF you keep the boxes immaculately clean.
Some situations can also be defused by using Feliway pheromone spray. It isvailable in a pump spray and a "plug-in" that continuously releases a pheromone. This can have a soothing action on all the cats. Some vets swear by them for calming agitated cats in the exam room. Look for activities that will challenge your cat's nature to explore, climb, and hunt. A series of perches or climbing trees can be very fun for cats for playtime as well as sleeping and over-watching. Hiding their meals inside paper towel card board tubes can make the cats work to eat. Simply twist the end of the tube to keep dry cat food contained inside.
Chasing strings is by far my cats favorite game. There are even electronic versions now, some with timers and remote controls. Be sure the reviews are favorable. Laser pointers can also challenge your cat to catch the red dot. Be careful to not shine directly into anyone's eyes, human or feline. Pet friendly versions are readily available.
Consult your veterinarian about the situation too. There are several anti-anxiety medications available that can be quite helpful. Keeping toe nails trimmed short is helpful for minimizing injuries.
Remember cats unlike dogs are not herd animals. They do not crave feline companionship. They usually learn that other cats can be the source of playtime fun and stimulating interaction with patience and time.
Q:My cat is scratching up my furniture, and I don't want to de-claw him. What can I do?
A:Scratching is a natural cat behavior that can be a form of territorial marking. Cats will also do it when bored or just wanting attention. With that said, positioning several scratching posts in prominent locations in your home and baiting them with cat nip is the furniture's best hope. Several scratching posts, with different surface textures (corrugated cardboard, carpet, etc) will usually attract even the fussiest of felines. Make sure they have a sturdy design that doesn't crash over when your cat is using or climbing on it.
If caught in the act of shredding the couch; try calling for your cat to come to you. Rewarding this good behavior with lots of praise and favorite food treats is also a step in the right direction. Cats with a strong food motivation are usually quite receptive to learning new behaviors. If he won't ever come to you, then try carrying your cat over to the closest scratching post. Repetition is the key to changing behavior, so allow 3-4 months to learn the new behavior. Make any training fun for your cat with plenty of food rewards.
I recommend toe nail trims every 2 weeks. My cats will usually not scratch at all if I remember to do it this often. I recommend new kitten owners handle the kittens paws, nails and pads when they are very young and are mellow and cuddly. This will teach the kittens to accept the handling necessary for toe nail trimming.
Soft plastic nail covers can be applied with an adhesive to prevent furniture damage when your cat scratches. They have to be applied every 4-6 weeks, as the nails will continue to grow. Like fake fingernails, these nail covers frequently fall off. Other weapons in the arsenal include double-sided "sticky" strips that when applied to furniture will discourage the scratching. Draping aluminum foil, or a thick quilt over the targeted area may eliminate the desire to scratch that place. The use of pheromone sprays on furniture or into the air in your living room can sometimes placate territorial or bored behaviors. If boredom is the problem, maybe a second cat will liven up things.
Q:I have a three year old dog who has suffered from allergy problems her whole life. Until recently, Benadryl has kept her grass allergies in check, but lately it doesn't help her "hot spots." She's on a grain- free food; what else can I do to help her? I'm afraid springtime will only make her problems worse.
A:If hot spots are occurring right now, call your regular vet's office and find out if they have Apoquel. It is a new allergy medication that quickly shuts down itching as long as you give it daily. They will need to examine her and treat the secondary infections that are occurring. They will also try to determine what really is the cause. Collecting a blood sample now for allergy testing, when there are no drugs in her system is ideal. The sample can be frozen and stored for allergy testing later on. More about this later. Your comment that she has had allergies all her life is quite important for your vet to know. Symptoms due to food allergies are actually quite rare in dogs; but the symptoms can start at a very young age and usually occur year-round. Thus a food allergy must be atleast considered. Much more likely to be the cause is flea bites and environmental allergens such as pollen, molds, grasses, and house mites. All of which are year round in our area. You must use good flea control year-round. Taking your dog back to the same vet for rechecks is smart. This will allow them to learn and teach you what actually works best for your dog's allergies. If a food allergy is still on the plate, there are now prescription diets that will rule in/rule out food allergy in as short as 4 weeks. If the symptoms really resolve, then a special diet really will be beneficial to your pet. This is when the previously mentioned blood sample becomes important. It will remove a lot of the confusion if the cause of the symptoms is still unclear and needs to be known. Having obtained the blood sample when your dog is free of the big gun drugs will mean there's no chance of weird misleading results. Finally fatty acid supplementation using qualty products for dogs, not people, is very helpful for itchy skin relief. They also help her skin to heal and will make her hair coat beautiful.
Q:At what temperatures should I bring my typically outside dog in doors? How do I keep my dog comfortable when I do have him outside in the cold?
A:Cold weather can be very tough on pets. When temps drop into the 30F range all outdoor pets need some extra consideration; but can do fine. A good windbreak or doghouse with a small doorway is needed. Extra bedding is good too. A Mylar film (ie a “space blanket”) lining to a doghouse can warm the interior of a doghouse. It’s easy to clean too. Large plastic storage bins turned over and with a small opening are cheap and effective shelters for totally outdoor or feral cats. Again, lots of bedding for burrowing too. Water bowl needs to be checked for freezing frequently; tongues usually won’t stick to porcelain water bowls. Planning ahead and having a garage or room already allocated for escaping bitter cold temps is smart. An outdoor dog or cat suddenly confined indoors may become very destructive and/or injury itself. So just be sure it’s safe. Antifreeze and the other dangers that lurk in many garages can be just as dangerous.
Dog sweaters and coats are readily available and if snuggly fitted can be safe and helpful.
Q:My two dogs, ages 5 and 7, want to bolt every time I open the front door. If they get out, the only way to get them back in is to get in my car and get them to jump in. How do I get this behavior to stop?
A:The grass really must be greener on the other side. Your dogs bolt like this because they find it more exciting and interesting than being indoors with you. And once they escape they get a lot of attention from you. Chasing them may even have become a really fun game (to them).
Thus it is important to prevent these escapes. The escapes just reinforce the behavior. To get control of them start off with attaching a long leash to their collars. Better yet clip a light weight (ie…polypropylene) rope 20-30 feet long clipped to their collar whenever the front door escapes are possible. Make sure the collar is not going to slip over their ears, don’t use a harness unless necessary, and that the clip is strong one too. You can grab a long rope much quicker (with less drama) if they do get loose or are about to bolt. This will at least get you back in control, and hopefully prevent a bad encounter with a car, the neighbor and his dog, or become lost.
The next step involves recapturing the dog’s interest in listening to you and returning to you when called. Choose a food reward highly valued by the dogs. Small cubes of a scented meat are good; you’ll need several dozen pieces for each dog per training session. Make sure the dogs are hungry and extremely motivated by the food. Initially teach the dogs to return to you when called while completely indoors. Reward the successful returns when called. You cannot proceed in the training until the dogs will recall when just indoors.
The training then should shift to being able to recall the dogs from the front door. You need a second person helping you now. The ropes must be secured to a post or other fixture that will not move or break. Start with calling the dogs back from the front door when it’s just cracked open or maybe even just a turn of the doorknob. Repeat several times with big rewards of the food and verbal praises. Use the ropes to insure success and only reward the successes. Then progress to opening the door wider and reward heavily. Have the helper open the door two inches, then three inches, then four inches and so on. For each different amount the door is open, call the dogs, reward lavishly with food and praise; and repeat this several times. If the helper can get the door wide open and the dogs still recall without going out, end the training session for the day. Scatter many bites of the food on the floor inside of the front door. Reward lavishly with excitement and praise and food. If the dogs do bolt out the door, the rope is your friend. Just remain inside, close the door and call the dogs. IF the dogs continue to ignore you, calmly and quietly go outside and leash walk the dogs back in the front door. There should be no rewards, no praising or excitement when they bolt. All the good stuff is inside ONLY and when they don’t bolt. Keep the dogs very food motivated by not feeding again or only ½ the usual amount until next training session. Start over at the beginning at each training session and progress only when the dogs are successful. It will probably take several weeks of successful sessions before the bolting will stop. But it will. The dogs will want to stay indoors with the trainer (you) and the wonderful food and praise rewards.
Obviously the dogs will know when the rope is attached to their collar and the post. Repeat the program but with the rope not attached to the post. Progress by shortening the unattached rope until it is only 4-6 feet. When successful here, then add distractions such as children in the yard.
Some dogs really like to run and there will just be times when they will not obey your commands. Consider not allowing these dogs in that part of your house, ie closing doors to the adjoining rooms. Invisible fencing that warns then shocks the dogs might also be useful especially if your dogs are a small size. Basic obedience training classes would be helpful too. When the dogs do escape, chasing them can actually encourage future escapes. You’ll have to balance the benefits and consequences of chasing after them. Every one of these situations is unique; consulting with your veterinarian is the best first step. You may even be referred to a veterinary behavior specialist.
Q:Is it harmful to dye my dog’s hair for Halloween?
A:No; just use a little caution. “Kool-Aid”, the kids drink, will dye light colored pet hair very well and is very safe. There are also safe, commercially available hair paints for pets. Check your favorite pet supply store or go online for these products. Another very safe hair dye is human food coloring. Being food-grade, food coloring will be completely safe and can produce really dramatic colors. All three work best on dog’s with white or light colored hair. You should put a few drops of mineral oil or similar protectant on your dog’s eyeballs; to make sure a chemical burn does not result. And you probably shouldn’t dye your dog fluorescent yellow if he is already real itchy, and has inflamed, red skin (ie from fleas or allergies). Your dog might look better but it is not going to help with the healing process. And if your dog licks enough on his dyed hair, it may turn his poop or urine the same color. This temporary and very dramatic color change will be harmless if you have used a safe product. You definitely do NOT want to use human hair coloring dyes (ie Clairol or Garnier). These products are extremely toxic if ingested and will be very irritating to his skin. Do NOT use them on any dog. With just a little caution dyeing your poodle pink for Halloween will be no more stressful than regular bathing. Your dog may also be thrilled with the new found attention that comes with a new hair color.
Q:I just moved into a new apartment, and I've already gotten a noise violation due to my barking dog. I've been living in my parents' house for the past few months, where he's had pretty much constant supervision, and now I'm gone about eight hours at a time. Any suggestions on how I can get him to quiet down?
A:The timing of the onset of the problems (dog now alone for long periods) strongly suggests the cause is separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety are usually very calm and affectionate when their owners are around them; but when left alone they will become very destructive (chewing, digging), soiling (urine and manure everywhere) and vocalizing (barking and whining). Dogs with this disorder may follow the owner from room to room, become visibly upset when you get ready to leave, and will greet you over-enthusiastically when you return. They are not doing so in anger or to spite you. Fortunately there are now several medications available when combined with behavior guidelines that will relieve the anxiety. The medications enhance a dog’s ability to learn and you should see rapid results. The owners must implement new behavior guidelines as well. The owner of this dog must pay no attention to the dog for the 20-30 minutes before leaving. Leaving a special toy or a treat to distract the dog when you go is also helpful. When returning you must ignore the dog until he is quiet and relaxed. Then and ONLY then, should you initiate interaction and play. This can be really tough on the both the dog and owner. Sometimes the dog is the only one glad to see the owner when they get home! These steps that promote independence and will him to be at home alone without disturbing the neighbors.
Q:I just got a new rug, and my 9 year old bassett hound continues to use the bathroom on it. Is there any way to deter it?
A:Lapses in "house training" are frequently due to multiple causes and very frustrating for any pet owner. Identifying all of this bassett's issues will be necessary to return to the situation before the rug entered your house. Lets run through the most common causes of the accidents. Was the house training prior to the arrival of the "new" rug adequate? If the answer is only "pretty good" then resuming house training techniques will be needed to improve his batting average. Restricting his free ranging liberty in your home will be imperative; ie back into the pet caddy. When he is out of the pet caddy, he needs to be attached to you by leash 100% of the time. This will allow you to monitor his bathroom body language and get him outdoors when he is giving clues. This is also your golden opportunity to praise his good house training patterns.
Assuming he was perfectly, completely, house trained, then what did triggered the initial (index) accident? If this was an isolated first-time ever accident just because you were delayed getting home, then you may have not cleaned the rug well enough. He may be getting reminded by the residual smells of his urine or manure in the rug. Using an enzymatic cleaner that will digest and remove the smells from the accident sites is necessary.
Territorial marking behavior is another likely cause of repeated "accidents" on a new rug. Primarily a male dog behavior, urine marking on a new rug can be triggered by the a dog's reaction to other dogs in its territory. Dogs with anxiety issues in a moment of excitement or stress will run around in a house barking, and urinating on locations that are meant to alert other dogs that they are to not enter the claimed territory. Bassetts are well known to frequently have anxiety issues (when separated from their owner and jealousy issues with other dogs). Behavioral training with or without medications can be quite successful; it just requires a motivated owner with patience.
Starting at your local veterinarian; the bassett needs to be examined thoroughly. Equally important is a detailed Q/A session with the owner. Your veterinarian will want to determine if an infection in the urinary bladder is occurring. These infections can develop at anytime and smolder like a wet firepit. Your rug won't have a chance if the infection has caused a bladder stone to develop. Other complications to house training failures include sugar diabetes, liver and kidney disease, even hormonal imbalances. It is imperative to obtain both urine and blood samples for testing. Radiographs (x-rays) will be needed if bladder stones are suspected. They can also detect when arthritis in the lower spine is disrupting nerve conduction to the urinary bladder and lower colon. This can cause urine leakages; and fecal incontinence. These can happen when a dog is asleep; thus appearing that the dog is having accidents on that new rug.
Reestablishing this poor bassett's house training skills can be difficult to achieve. Seeking a veterinarian’s assistance is critical for success, especially when additional obstacles are present. Verbally punishing the dog within one second of the accident is useful. Otherwise never reprimand the dog. Never hit the dog. It won't help and will make your dog's anxieties worse. Make certain that all family members are on-board with the needed supervision of the dog house training. It can make or break the success of a house training program.
The timing of the onset of the problems (dog now alone for long periods) strongly suggests the cause is separation anxiety. Dogs with separation anxiety are usually very calm and affectionate when their owners are around them; but when left alone they will become very destructive (chewing, digging), soiling (urine and manure everywhere) and vocalizing (barking and whining). Dogs with this disorder may follow the owner from room to room, become visibly upset when you get ready to leave, and will greet you over-enthusiastically when you return. They are not doing so in anger or to spite you. Fortunately there are now several medications available when combined with behavior guidelines that will relieve the anxiety. The medications enhance a dog’s ability to learn and you should see rapid results. The owners must implement new behavior guidelines as well. The owner of this dog must pay no attention to the dog for the 20-30 minutes before leaving. Leaving a special toy or a treat to distract the dog when you go is also helpful. When returning you must ignore the dog until he is quiet and relaxed. Then and ONLY then, should you initiate interaction and play. This can be really tough on the both the dog and owner. Sometimes the dog is the only one glad to see the owner when they get home! These steps that promote independence and will him to be at home alone without disturbing the neighbors.
Dr. John Haddock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at Brainerd Hills Veterinary Hospital at 423 894-8554