Las Vegas, NV. Dog and cat behavior were among the most popular lecture topics presented at the Western Veterinary Conference in Las Vegas, February 17-21. Two veterinary behaviorists and a veterinary technologist who spoke at the conference – attended by 8,000 veterinary professionals from around the world – took time to answer these reader questions.
Q: I found Spazzie, or more appropriately, he found me two years ago as a skinny outdoor cat. Spazzie, who was previously neutered, has adapted well to living with us indoors. There are two Spazzie issues. He shrinks away from being petted. Is that because he wasn’t handled enough as a kitten? Also, he rubs on black clothing that I leave on the floor. He kneads it, rolls in it, and sinks his teeth into it, and rakes it with his back feet. Can you offer suggestions about his love/hate relationship with my clothes? K. S., Henderson, NV
A: You may be totally on target concerning Spazzie being handled too little during his critical period of socialization, according to veterinary behaviorist Dr. Jacqui Nielson of Portland, OR.
“Consider adjusting your expectations for this cat who may just never become a great cuddler,” says Nielson. “Still you may be able to teach Spazzie that petting isn’t all bad. Stick one finger out when he’s nearby. Probably, Spazzzie will come over to investigate and rub up against the finger and your hand. Now, offer a treat. The next time, pet Spazzie two strokes, and offer treats. Next time, maybe five strokes. So, soon Spazzie will associate your touch with the treats.”
As for Spazzie ‘spazzing out’ on your black clothes, Nielson suggests it’s unlikely it’s because the clothing is black. Perhaps, it’s is a certain texture which your black clothes happen to be, or maybe you wear a specific perfume when you dress in black.
Of course, the clothes have your scent, and that’s apparently exciting Spazzie. “Perhaps, this is actually a misdirected sexual behavior, even neutered cats do have some testosterone,” Nielson says.
If you notice Spazzie consistently excites on the black clothes all year-round it’s less likely a sexual-behavior (sexual behavior tends to be seasonal). It could be Spazzie is just having a great time. It’s also possible this behavior is a odd manifestation of a hold-over of nursing behavior.
Aside from picking up your clothes, since Spazzie’s spastic black clothes ‘fetish’ is doing no real harm, Nielson suggest giving her an old black t-shirt of yours as a gift.
Q: My Aussie-mix slept in our bedroom next to our bed for four years. All of the sudden, she began to jump onto the bed at around three-in-the-morning and frantically paws at the covers until she wakes me. Nothing in the house has changed. I even cleaned the house in case there was a new smell that bothers her. The vet gave her a thorough exam. He has no idea what’s going on. Do you? L. B., Las Vegas, NV
A: See your doctor. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valerie Tynes of Ft. Worth, TX suggests your dog may be channeling Lassie. Seriously, your dog may be attempting to tell you something. Perhaps, you have sleep apnea, or you’re talking in your sleep. Dogs have alerted their owners in the middle night when if blood sugar drops, or to predict subtle heart palpitations.
Another possibility is that your dog is having nightmares or suffering from some other sort of sleep disturbance.
“Perhaps, your dog was frightened by something happening outside and wakened you once,” suggests Tynes. “Your response gave her attention, and now it’s evolved into an attention-seeking behavior.
Assuming you’re confident that you and your dog are healthy and there are no bad dreams – consider withdrawing all attention on those early morning canine wake up calls. Of course, you could also keep your dog in another room overnight, at least until she unlearns this habit.
Q: I have three dogs, two are normal Bichons and the other is an 18 month-old English Cocker Spaniel. The Cocker is afraid of everything. He’s normal with our family, but he’s scared around everyone and everything else. When people visit, he hides. If you drop anything, he goes off running. What can we do to get him over his fears? K. Z., Rochester, NY
A: Being this fearful isn’t a great way to live. And a veterinary behaviorist is the perfect place to start to determine how you can help your dog. You can find one through the Diplomates of the American College of Veterinary Behavior, www.dacvb.org. Anti-anxiety medication may help to take off the edge just enough to make it possible to teach your dog to become more confident. Ultimately, he may even be able to attend a dog training class, which can also boost his confidence. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Valerie Tynes of Ft. Worth, TX says, “Behaviorists treat dogs like this all the time, and we do help. While your dog may never become a social butterfly, there is hope that he can learn to enjoy life without being so fearful.”
Perhaps, when people visit, they can toss little pieces of hot dog toward your pup. However, they shouldn’t push your dog by attempting to pet him at this juncture. The bottom line is that until you get help, don’t force your dog into situations which terrify him. It won’t help, except to make him even more anxious and conceivably force him to respond with a bite.
“You may be able to help your pup using clicker training,” suggest veterinary technologist Julie Shaw, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, IN. “Understand that your dog has a, well, sort of handicap. And that should reflect your expectations. Be glad for what you will be able to get him to do for appreciate him for what he can be, not what he isn’t. Meanwhile, for get the clicker training timing down right, hands-on help is a good idea.”
Q: My 8-year old Persian has been defecating on the floor. He does urinate in one of the two litter boxes. His litter is changed weekly. What can I do? B. B., Boynton Beach, FL
A: “This cat needs to see a veterinarian,” says veterinary technologist Julie Shaw, Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, West Lafayette, IN. “This scenario screams a potential health issue, whether it’s arthritis or a bowel issue, or any number of other possibilities.”
Behavior therapy you can try is to separate the litter boxes so they are not in the same room. Many cats decide spontaneously, they want one box for number one and another to do number two. When boxes are located side-by-side, the cat generally considers them as one large box. If the cat is going very close to the box, he’s not complaining about the location, but have a concern about the litter. Have you recently changed brands? If so, return to the old favorite.