Sydney, Australia. Veterinarians from around the world attending the 32nd Annual World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress in Sydney, New South Whales, Australia answered these reader questions.
Q: My kitten is naughty. He loves my kitchen counter, and I can’t keep him down. I’ve tried to spray him with water. I need your help. S. C., Rochester, NY
A: Dr. Kersti Seksel is a veterinary behaviorist based in Seaforth New South Wales, Australia and is the only veterinarian Boarded in Behavior in both Australia and America. She’s also President of the Australian Companion Animal Council. She says, “Make sure your cat has places where he can climb in the kitchen, window ledges, shelves, wherever you will allow him – perhaps even a cat tree. Encourage him to go to these places by feeding him there or placing treats there throughout the day. Pay attention to him and give him praise when he goes to these alternative places as well.”
Spraying him with water with only help you to train your kitty to be a stealth counter walker. He’ll be a good boy when you’re in the same room, but wait until you leave the room or – for sure – when you leave the house. He’ll understand, if you’re not there to spray, he won’t get wet. Seksel says you can use double-stick tape or a product called Sticky Paws (available at most pet stores and online) to adhere to the counters; cats detest walking on ‘sticky stuff.’ But the clue to success is to be sure that nothing tempting – like dirty dishes from your baked salmon dinner – is left on the counters, and that those more appealing climbing opportunities are offered.
Q: When a person walks by our house, our dog goes bonkers. What can we do? M. J., Glastonbury, CT
A: Here’s what happens, your dog barks, going bonkers at a passerby or the mail carrier. From your pup’s perspective – it’s fun, and it works. The dog barks, then the ‘intruder’ goes away. Of course, the person walking down the street just continues walking anyway, and the mail carrier goes on to the home next door. But to your dog this barking is totally self-rewarding, and eventually habit forming as a result. Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Sarah Heath of Chester, Cheshire, England says that it’s possible that rather than having fun your dog may be anxious.
No matter, begin by teaching your dog to come to you from the window. Start off when there is no one outdoors, not when your dog and is all revved up. When the dog comes offer a chewie such as rawhide, a Greenie, or stuff a yummy inside a Busy Buddy or Kong toy (available at pet stores and online). “Whatever you choose it has to be high valued food, and something to keep your pup busy for a while,” says Heath. Only use this reward for responding instantaneously for coming. The reward must take time to chomp on because that way she won’t run back to the window and begin barking immediately.
Once your dog consistently arrives instantaneously when there are no distractions outside, you’re ready to work when someone really is outside. Heath says to attach what she calls a houseline to the dog’s collar, which is a long line of rope. Using this line will help you to “convince” your dog to come (if necessary) also avoid the potential of you grabbing her by her collar (which could potentially cause her to snarl or even bite).
When the dog does bark at passerby’s, withdraw attention. My guess is that you’re (understandably) acting a little bonkers yourself when the dog transforms into a maniac. This attention and your own stress may feed into the problem,
Also, plug in a diffuser called D.A. P. (Dog Appeasing Pheromone, a kind of aromatherapy for dogs).
Q: When our phone rings, our dog goes ballistic. He runs up and down the hall barking, and continues to bark even after we’ve answered. Our house is crazy land. Can you help? K. D., Penn Yan, NY
A: Is going ballistic worse or better than going bonkers? The easy way out of ‘Crazy Land,’ invest in an expensive telephone system which lights up instead of rings. The cheap way out is to just ignore the dog. “It is not an easy thing to do I realize,” concedes veterinary behaviorist Dr. Patrick Pageat from Avignon, France.
Ignoring the ballistic barker will be a challenge of wills, and a noisy one. By withdrawing any attention whatsoever for that barking (except for perhaps leaving your dog for the relative quiet of closing yourself in a bathroom or den), your dog will escalate attempts to garner attention before finally giving up. But totally withdrawing attention will eventually extinguish the barking.
Pagaet is one of the world’s experts on pheromones, chemical receptors released by animals. He invented an analog of a pheromone for dogs, called the Dog Appeasing Pheromone or D.A.P. It emits from a dog collar or can be purchased as a diffuser which you plug into the wall (at pet stores, veterinary offices and online). D.A.P. works as a sort of canine calmer. It’s not a drug, so it’s without side affects.
At the point where you’re on the phone, and your dog is actually quiet – now reward with a chewie. Another benefit of that – if your dog is chewing, your dog is not barking.
Q: My 13-year old cat, Tut, is overweight; weighing 20lbs. He’s slowed down, basically eating and sleeping and that’s it. He also limps. We’ve tried to help him to lose weight but in reality we don’t know what we’re doing. Can you help, or is it useless? S. B., Henderson, NV
A: For starters, thank you so much for writing about this. Your cat can win the battle of the bulge – it’s not useless to try. And even at this age – weight loss could add years to his life. At the World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress, two talks focused on this topic, one presented by Dr. Jacquie Rand, professor of Companion Animal Health at the University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia (the other was presented by me).
For starters, see your veterinarian. Dr. Kim Kendall, a veterinarian with an all-cat practice in Sydney, Australia points out that arthritis is under-diagnosed in cats. And no cat should be in pain.
Rand explains, “Overweight cats have slower metabolisms, and as they slow down more they burn fewer calories, but they continue to eat the same amount, or more. Exercise is something that can be done, even in cats.”
Obviously your King Tut is food motivated. Hide food in different places around the house, and at different levels if your home has stairs. No only will your cat be forced to burn calories seeking food, but the ‘hunt’ will actually help him to feel good by sparking his prey drive. Food should not be left out all day. Instead, feed a set amount at two or three times daily. To determine what that amount is, ask your vet. Also, moist food may be a better choice since there are fewer carbohydrates (than in dry food). A recent study also suggested cats fed primarily moist food (you can still feed some dry) are less hungry. Your veterinarian can also suggest a specific diet.
Also, begin to gently play with your cat. At 13, and limping, the definition of play may be pretty sedentary – but it’s something.
One warning: Absolutely avoid any crash diet. Cats on crash diets can suffer a potentially deadly liver disease.