LAS VEGAS — These reader questions were answered by attendees of the Clinical Animal Behavior 2015 Conference from Sept. 25-27, presented by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians and Academy of Behavior Technicians.
Q: Is it even worth it? Bingo gets so distressed about going to the veterinarian, even before the carrier comes out. And then when the carrier comes out, our house becomes a war zone. By the time I get Bingo into the carrier — with my husband’s help — we might get scratched, and I feel Bingo loses our trust. Is it even worth doing all this just to see the vet? S.H., Oak Park, IL
A: No, it’s not worth it today — but you can lower the level of your cat’s anxiety and at that point, certainly seeing your veterinarian for preventive care is very worthwhile.
“What’s more, if you really need to get your cat to the veterinarian because of illness or an emergency, getting there without stressing him out, and stressing you out will be helpful,” said veterinary behaviorist Dr. Theresa DePorter of Bloomfield Hills, MI.
She continues, “The goal is to help the cat to feel her carrier is a portable safe zone.”
For starters, keep the carrier out all the time. Spray the carrier daily with Feliway, a copy of a calming pheromone.
Periodically, drop treats inside it so the carrier becomes a treat dispenser. Once Bingo voluntarily checks out the carrier to see if there’s a treat inside, and does so without hesitation — you’re on your way. Now, begin to feed Bingo from the carrier.
When Bingo is joyously dining from the carrier, the next stop is to close the door and nonchalantly walk down the hall with Bingo inside, and then open the door, and now feed Bingo — so he associates even a short carrier ride inside the house with food.
Give Bingo a tour of your home from inside the carrier. When Bingo is gleefully up for the adventure, you’re ready for a car ride.
Similar to the carrier training, also take this slow. At first, just start the motor and head down the driveway. When you arrive back home, feed Bingo — so the ride is associated with a great outcome. Eventually, drive around the block, then a quarter of a mile, etc. If Bingo is complaining in the car, you’ve gone too far too fast.
“It takes some effort to do all this, but outcome means the cat will be less stressed, and so will you,” DePoter said.
There’s a great free handout.
Wanting to better understand anxiety of cats before and also after vet visits (when they first return home), DePorter and I are conducting a study to measure, define and describe exactly how stressed out cats are, and what that stress typically looks like. Help us and help cats by filling out a survey; to receive a copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: I describe our 7-year-old Springer Spaniel as emotionally laid back but high energy. For the past few months, he’s been acting nervous in the car, trembling and jumping into laps. Especially as we go over rumble strips or we accelerate fast. We like to take road trips. We really need to figure out a calming technique. Do you have any recommendations? S.B., St. Paul, MN
A: “I want to know if anything happened that the dog is suddenly frightened, unless this is an instance of anxiety building over time, particularly as dogs age,” said veterinary behaviorist Dr. John Ciribassi, Chicago, IL-based president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior.
If your dog is also getting sick (which you didn’t mention, so perhaps that’s not the case), ask your veterinarian about a trial of a drug called Cerenia. Motion sickness can make dogs really anxious because they expect to get ill.
Ciribassi said to play with your dog around the car. Tossing toys inside the car — don’t even think about turning on the motor, until your dog’s opinion of the car has changed.
There are tools you can use. Some dogs feel more comfortable wearing a harness, or small dogs might feel cozier buckled into a booster seat for dogs. Some dogs actually prefer being inside a carrier.
“The idea is to convince your dog that a drive can be fun,” Ciribassi adds.
Begin with a very short drive with low fat cream cheese or peanut butter stuffed into a sterilized bone or a toy. Another idea is a rawhide or another chewy. Following the short drive, your dog enjoys a meal. So, the idea is to totally distract the pup, and then your dog learns that the outcome of a drive means a meal.
Over time, increase those slow drives of short distances to faster drives of longer distances. “Also, when going over those big bumps, do so slowly, and try to distract your dog when you doing it,” Ciribassi adds.
Q: Mr. Wiggins stopped using his regular shiny bowl. We’ve tried to use a flat plate or lots of bowls, nothing works. He eats form the floor very happily, but that gets messy. He’s even refused food for a couple of days when I only offered the food from a bowl. How can I transition back to a bowl? L.A., Hollywood, FL
A: “A porcelain or ceramic plate might work because it’s heavy, and may not slide around,” said veterinary behaviorists Dr. E’Lise Christensen of New York City, NY and Denver, CO. “I wonder if the sound of the tags rattling against the bowl spooked your dog. It would be interesting to know Mr. Wiggins is sound sensitive,” she says.
If Christensen’s suggestion doesn’t immediately work, don’t give up. Put newspaper down and spread about 80 percent of the food on the paper, but drop the remainder inside a ceramic or porcelain bowl, which he’ll likely scarf up. Over time increase the amount of food in bowl, as you gradually decrease the food served on paper.
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