Saturday, November 29, 2014

How to Achieve Litter Box Success




In part one of my blog, I addressed many reasons why a cat might choose to NOT be a faithful litter box user. Now let's get into how to retrain your cat to the litter box, while convincing her not to go elsewhere.

It’s important to realize not all cases of inappropriate elimination are a "behavior" problem. In confirmed behavioral driven house soiling cases, 20% of the cats also had a contributing medical condition at the time. So even if it sounds like a behavioral problem, see your veterinarian to ensure your cat isn’t the 1 in 5 that has discomfort, infection, or other health problems influencing her litter box use.

Drawing kitty to the “right” spot

First perfect the litter box you are providing by following tips in my last blog.

Check the condition of the box- is it urine stained on the bottom? Throw it out and get a new one. Keep the box clean by scooping twice daily and by performing a complete litter change out twice a week for non-clumping litter or every 2-3 weeks for clumping varieties.

To entice kitty back to the litter box try a litter box attractant like the herbal based cat litter additive called “Cat Attract”. 

Multi-cat homes or those with outdoor cats nearby should use pheromone (scent hormone) products to ease social stress and facilitate litter box harmony.

Kitty eliminates near, but not quite in the litter box

Your kitty is telling you that she understands what you want her to do, but something isn’t quite right in the litter box environment. First start with providing a larger box, even if this means buying a plastic under bed storage box for this purpose. Look for one sized 18 x 36 inches in size.

Remove any litter box covers. Revisit the traffic flow in the litter box area- ensure box is in a quiet, low traffic area. Keep the box unquestionably clean.

Is your cat urinating in tubs or sinks?

Chances are your cat has urinary tract inflammation or infection. The cool surfaces provide relief to the inflammation or discomfort of a medical condition.  See your veterinarian for a urine evaluation and treatment since environmental changes alone will not stop the behavior.

To preventing further episodes, decrease access to tubs and sinks, close doors to bathrooms, or fill the bottom of sinks and tubs with a small amount of water. 

Kitty eliminates on throw rugs and won’t use litter box

Your cat has already made a litter preference- perhaps the texture of carpet is more appealing than the litter used. Provide a litter box smorgasbord – This is when you provide multiple litter pans at the same time, each with different litter varieties such as clay, clumping, and natural pine litter. Be sure to include one litter box with sections of throw rugs or carpet remnants lining the bottom. During this time, remove all throw rugs from the house or block kitty’s access to those areas.

If kitty demonstrates a litter preference, switch her litter boxes to that style of litter.

If kitty chooses the rug-lined box, then continue providing carpet lined litter boxes to establish a good pattern of repeated box use. Gradually start sprinkling small amounts of cat litter in the box on top of carpet surface. With time, many cats can be retrained to accept the box as the carpet is phased out and  just litter remains.

Prevent returning to scene of crime

Clean all house soiling accident sites with an enzyme based pet cleanser. The enzymes break down the chemical component of the odors, and do more than just cover up with scents. Do not use ammonia based cleansers on accident areas- doing so is counterproductive. (Remember that urine contains ammonia products.)

Cats dislike eating in areas that they eliminate, so place food and water bowls in the site of the accidents, or try placing pieces of aluminum foil in areas to deter kitty’s use. 

Citrus scents are offensive to cats and can be an effective cat deterrent. Use citrus or potpourri scented air fresheners in the area. If your cat is eliminating in house plants, place lemon or orange peels in the pot to make the area less attractive. And of course, make sure you aren’t using citrus scented cleaners on the litter pan!

To keep your kitty away from areas she continues to eliminate on, use double sided sticky tape or turn plastic carpet runners upside down. Another option is to invest in motion-activated devices that spritz out citronella or puffs of air when the electronic eye picks up motion in the off-limits area.

The tough reality


For some cats, environmental changes aren’t enough and drug therapy may be a necessary tool. But remember that behavioral medications aren't a shortcut- drug therapy must be used with veterinary monitoring and in conjunction with environmental changes.

Want to hear some bad news? In households struggling with many years of feline house soiling, it may be necessary to discard urine marked furniture, change out carpet, carpet pads, and treat sub-flooring to effectively remove scent triggers for future elimination issues. It may sound extreme, but it can be important step to achieve faithful feline litter box success.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

How to Build the Perfect Litter Box






One sniff upon entering your home and you recognize the unmistakable odor of cat urine and feces. Simba has used your entry hall as his litter box again. But before you lose your temper- stop. By scrutinizing the environment through your cat’s eyes, you will likely discover the cause of his toileting mishaps. 

Elimination issues are a main reason for veterinary visits and a primary reason for relinquishment of cats at shelters. House soiling problems can be multi-factorial, with an overlap of behavioral, environmental and medical causes. Feline house soiling can be managed however with sleuth work and patience. The challenge is to think like a cat.

First and foremost, say this and repeat it…”My cat does not eliminate out of the litter box to get even with me.” Cats do use urine and fecal scent marks to communicate territory, but this isn’t done with spite or in effort to “get even” with you. Inappropriate elimination is a cat’s way stating that something isn’t right in their world. Understanding this is key before tackling feline house soiling. Focus on what’s wrong in Simba’s toilet area, not on how the house soiling makes you feel.

Start with a Vet Check

Cat owners often struggle with house soiling mishaps for months or years before enlisting help from their veterinarian. But seeing the veterinarian should be the first step, since health disorders may be at the root of some house soiling issues. Your efforts in restoring litter box usage will be doomed if an underlying medical cause is not addressed at the same time.

Size does matter

Make sure your cat’s litter box is of adequate size to allow maneuvering. Litter box size should be 1 ½ times the length of cat’s body length. Height of the edge also matters. For older kitties, try lower profile litter boxes or plastic under bed storage boxes. An arthritic older cat won’t complain or cry in pain with arthritis, she’ll just chose to eliminate elsewhere. 

Consider the view

Cats don’t want to be startled while in the loo. Don’t place the litter box in a high traffic area where people and pets are always a-coming and going. Cats prefer a low traffic area where they can have an eye out on things.

Don’t place the litter box near appliances which give off noise, vibration and heat, all which disturb your cat while eliminating. Once a negative aversion is created, your cat may not return to use that box in the future.

Ditch the litter box cover. While some nervous kitties prefer the privacy of litter box covers, the majority of cats dislike the tight quarters and limited ventilation litter box covers provide. Consider how you feel in a public porta-potty... do you like to touch the walls when inside? Sure, people like the way the lid contains odors, but does it really matter how little odor comes from the litter box when your cat is pooping on your oriental rug? 

Provide more than one box

A common error is assuming that one litter box is all your cat needs. What cat owner loves the litter box, and relishes seeing more of them in the home? But the more the better when it comes to faithful litter box usage, especially with multiple cats. The general rule is to provide one more box than the number of cats. Some cats share litter boxes, others will not. Unless you provide alternate sites you may have elimination issues in multiple cat homes.

Another special consideration is differences in cat’s personalities- timid cats may avoid crossing paths with other more assertive pets in home. Be sure to provide litter box sites that won’t be blocked by other animal’s movements. 

If you live in a multilevel home- you must provide litter box sites on each level. This is especially important in multi-cat homes, those with senior cats or those with health conditions. 

The pick of litters

Litter texture preferences vary and there are many choices from scoopable, clay, crystals, or natural litters. However in one research study of cat’s litter box habits, it demonstrated that the majority of cats prefer fine grained scoopable clay based litters that have carbon as their odor absorbing ingredient. Every cat is different though, so try other litter varieties until you find your cat’s preference.

Skip the scents. The verdict is still out on what odors cats prefer, but avoid heavily scented litters or deodorizers if your cat is missing the box. Interestingly enough, one study showed cats preferred cedar and fish odors, while avoiding citrus and floral scents, while another study concluded cats preferred fish or bleach smells to other scents.

Ideal litter depth is 2 inches- more isn’t always better. Some cats thrive on scratching the bottom of the pan, which is obscured by excessive amounts of litter.

Keep it clean

Cats are fastidious by nature and will avoid using a soiled or smelly box. The overall cleaning frequency depends on the number of cats in the home. General advice is to scoop twice a day and deep clean the litter pan weekly. Change out clumping litter every 2-3 weeks. 

Build it and kitty will use it

By building your cat's dream litter box, your cat will find litter box nirvana. And you’ll come to enjoy a better relationship with your kitty family members without those unwanted "presents" in the foyer.

Need more help managing those frustrating litter box “Oops”? Look for my next blog on how to deter the return offender to the site, and how to draw kitty to the right spot.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

How to NOT train a dog


The other day I was walking my dog in a community area and encountered a lady with two Shih Tzu’s. As we approached, her dogs rallied with barking and tugging on their leashes. I asked if her dogs were friendly, so as to decide if we could approach.  The lady scowled, embraced her still barking dogs and grumbled, “Do they look like they're friendly?”

Realizing this dog owner was more unsociable than her dogs, I decided to vamoose, but not before I envisioned this blog topic- how pet owners mold unsocial dog behavior.

Unwanted doggie behavior such as lunging and barking on the leash become established when the dog owner hasn’t made it clear what the appropriate behavior is, fails to correct and redirect to a more suitable behavior, or simply reinforces the undesirable behavior through actions or words. Face it- there aren’t bad dogs, just poorly trained ones.

Avoid making these top 5 training mistakes


1. Secluding your dog in the back yard

Keeping your dog in lock down almost guarantees problem behaviors will develop such as biting, inter-dog aggression and phobias to anything from noises to car travel. Isolated dogs lack the experience and confidence when faced with novel situations while socialized dogs adapt easily.

I see it all the time- the dog owner prides herself in keeping her dog safe. “I didn’t want Fido to catch any diseases as a pup, so I didn’t let him out of our backyard till he was a year old.” The overwhelming fear of infectious diseases like parvovirus causes some well-meaning owners to confine their new dog or puppy to the limits of house and yard. Even more extreme is never allowing a puppy to step foot outside until after their last puppy vaccinations! Puppies are most adaptable to new experiences between 6 and 16 weeks- this is the time to expose them to unfamiliar places, people and animals.

That doesn’t mean you should take your eight week old puppy to dog parks, but rather to use good sense selecting low dog traffic areas and visiting with family and friends outside of the home that have properly vaccinated pets.

2. Skipping obedience training

Going to school is a must for any new dog to a home, whether a puppy or adult. No two dogs are the same, and each learns differently. Formal obedience training is a useful tool to gently reaffirm who’s in charge and sets the rules in the house. Statistics show that dogs that go through formal obedience training are less apt to develop behavior problems and be relinquished to shelters.

3. Reinforcing fear at the veterinary office

In the exam room I cringe when I see a dog owner comforting a nervous, fearful or aggressive pet. That “good boy” and pat on the head reinforces your dog’s behavior, making it more likely that on the next hospital visits he’ll behave the same, or worse. Some problem behaviors escalate making it difficult for the veterinary staff to examine or treat the animal. This may mean additional costs for sedation or anesthesia for routine medical needs.

It’s natural for a pet owner to want to reassure a pet when he is frightened and it can be difficult to hold back the urge to soothe him. However, the best strategy is to ignore those fearful behaviors in the vet office. Don’t be tempted to kiss, snuggle or hold Fido on your lap when he is misbehaving. Rather, place the dog on the floor, refocus your dog’s attention to you, and cue him to “sit” or “lie down”.

4. Not using food as a reward

Food shouldn’t just be for the taking. Don’t leave food out for your dog to graze whenever he wants and don’t give treats just for the sake of giving a treat. Present food and treats as a reward for good behavior such as sitting quietly, going to a pillow, or performing a trick or obedience work. This places you at the top of the household hierarchy. You become the provider of great edibles in the house, and your dog will be motivated to listen to your requests in other situations.

We all love to spoil our dogs and give treats at times. But be sure to give treats for a reason, or you will have a spoiled doggie brat on your hands.

5. Not exercising your pet enough

Inadequate exercise can result in obesity and boredom, and may lead to problem behaviors like separation anxiety, destructive chewing and excessive barking. Dogs should get 30 to 60 minutes of sustained physical activity each day for optimum mental and physical benefit. And no- letting Buffy run around the backyard during the day is not adequate exercise.

Not all breeds are cut out for all exercise- a Labrador may enjoy retrieving games or swimming, a Jack Russell terrier may thrive with jogging or Frisbee, while a Basset hound will be satisfied with a leash walk.

Your dog can’t be a well-adjusted, socialized canine citizen without you, as the pet owner, taking an active role in training. Put the time in, and you’ll be thanked many times over with an outgoing, friendly canine pal that can accompany you on life's adventures.




Saturday, July 12, 2014

What's Your Vet-iquette- How to Be a Good Veterinary Client




Sure you think your vet visits go off without a hitch, but do you know how to be a good veterinary client, the kind veterinarians rave about? Follow these suggestions to participate as a vital part of your pet’s medical care, to ensure your pet gets the most efficient care, and to always be greeted with beaming smiles.
  

Be prepared                                                                                                         

Before you arrive at the office with a sick pet, know your pet’s ins and outs. Without a pertinent history from you, your veterinarian may need more diagnostic tests to sleuth out the answer to the problem. That takes time and can cost you more in veterinary bills.

Expect the questions your vet is likely to ask you. Has your pet been eating? What types and brand of food do you feed him? Is there diarrhea or constipation? 

Bring evidence

Nothing is more useful to your veterinarian as seeing something with her own eyes. Bring evidence like stool samples, vomited material, and medications your pet is receiving. Has your pet chewed on some unusual plant in the backyard? By all means bring a sprig of that plant.

Document video on your smart phone. This can be immensely helpful to your veterinarian to witness behaviors that may be intermittent. I’ve been thankful when owners bring smart phone video of seizures, separation anxiety behaviors, and respiratory ailments.

Video eliminates misinterpretation by pet owners, and can permit a quick veterinary diagnosis. Vomiting and regurgitating may look similar, but are caused by different disorders. Pets strain to defecate with both diarrhea and constipation. Inspiratory wheezing, coughing, congestion and reverse sneezing are often described similarly by owners. 

Trust valid resources

By all means do your research in advance of your veterinary visit. Know what questions to ask. But remember that the internet is abounding with both good and blazingly incorrect information, some based on opinions and conjecture without any sound medical basis. Pet owners who value Dr. Google’s opinion over their veterinarian, who has examined their pet, could put their pet’s health care in jeopardy. 

Confine your pet

Make sure your pet is secure before entering the veterinary hospital. Don’t underestimate the unpredictable things pets do in a noisy, crowded waiting room. Birds fly off shoulders landing in snack zone of nearby dogs. Dogs instigate fights, and cats flee the waiting veterinary staff’s arms. Pay attention to where your pet is and don’t allow your pet to approach other animals without the owner’s consent. Some animals are there because they are sick, and could bite in unfamiliar surroundings.

Dogs should be on a secure leash. Flexi leashes are dangerous in the veterinary hospital allowing dogs to bolt quickly toward another dog, or to entangle limbs of humans or other animals in the waiting room. Cats and exotic pets should be secured in an appropriate pet carrier.

If you have a pet that has been or could be aggressive to veterinary staff…absolutely share that information before the visit starts. Veterinarians look out for the safety of people in their employment and appreciate a heads-up in advance to avoid potential staff injury.


Optimize your face time

So now you are in the exam room with the doc, so make the most of it. Put the cell phone away, and by all means…don’t waste time taking a phone call if medical staff is standing in front of you.

Avoid distractions that will limit your ability to communicate with your veterinarian. This might include a roomful of boisterous children or other pets. If possible, arrange child care or pet sitting so your sick pet gets prime attention and you don’t miss any details of the visit.


Emergencies happen

At the vet office, we recognize how valuable pet owner’s time is and try to minimize the wait. But recognize that emergencies are unforeseen and create delays for other pet owners. Most folks understand that emergencies happen and are accommodating during situations as this.

But making a scene or outburst about your wait time, while the veterinary staff tends to a critical pet is just inconsiderate. Recognize that one day your pet could be in that same place and you would be appreciative that your pet’s medical emergency was triaged ahead of the waiting routine appointments. 

Don’t attack the messenger

Emotions can run high when you have a sick or injured pet, but it isn’t an excuse to be abusive to hospital staff. Obscene language and overly aggressive behavior doesn’t help your pet get the care she needs, nor does it endear yourself to those people working hard for your pet’s health. 

Own your own reality

Pet owners have the daunting responsibility for the health and well-being of pets in their care. That means accepting the level of veterinary care you can pursue, and recognizing choices if finances are limited. Pet insurance can help defer the cost of veterinary care, but there isn’t government sponsored Obamacare for pets.

Don’t blame your veterinarian for your pet’s health maladies, or expect her to cover the costs of treatment. People in the veterinary field do what they do because they love animals, but they shouldn’t be expected to take financial responsibility for everyone’s pets. I once heard a veterinary colleague respond to an client’s question, “Doc, why can’t you just do my Sasha’s surgery for free?” His response was, “Because my staff needs to get paid and my kids need shoes.” Recognize that veterinary offices aren't lending institutions, but rather are small businesses with pressing bills, just as anyone.

Share your feedback  

Share feedback with the hospital management about service excellence or shortcomings. Every hospital appreciates the opportunity to improve, or the chance to pat staff on the back. 




Share your pet’s photo or success story with your veterinary hospital’s web page or social media sites. It means a lot to staff members to see a pet doing well after recovering from a harrowing medical crisis in which they were able to assist.

And if all the above tips don’t sound useful…nothing warms the hearts of veterinary staff quite like thank yous of the baked good or edible kind- a sure way to leave a memorable mark at the veterinary office. While we may adore seeing Charlie every time, it sure doesn’t hurt that his doggie momma brings sweets!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Pheromones in Puppy Training




So you just got a new puppy and you have all your training tools at the ready- the collar, leash, and dog crate. But beyond that, do you have the one thing that can make your training tasks easier all around? Tap into your puppy’s own sense of smell using canine pheromones, and ease your new pup’s training and transition into the home.

Pheromones are scent signals emitted by all animal species, including humans. Various pheromones work under the radar to influence the perceptions and behaviors of others within a species. 

Shortly after whelping, a pheromone is emitted from the bitch’s sebaceous (oil) glands located between the mammary glands. The pheromone, dubbed the canine appeasing pheromone, reassures the puppies, calms them and facilitates nursing. The bitch stops emitting this pheromone as the pups mature, but all dogs retain the ability to “read” this pheromone. Not only do older dogs recognize this pheromone, but it continues to have a natural calming effect on canines of all ages.

In veterinary behavior cases, the dog appeasing pheromone is used for dogs with noise phobias, car travel anxiety, separation anxiety, and other fearful situations. Various forms are available including pheromone collars, plug in diffusers and sprays. The canine appeasing pheromone doesn’t sedate the dog; rather it decreases fear and excitability.

The dog appeasing pheromone is also helpful for newly adopted puppies. Those first few days to weeks in a new home are full of changes for the pup faced with novel environments far from the comfort of mother and siblings. The dog appeasing pheromone has been shown to ease the transition of the pup into new home and improve sociability and training during a pup’s critical socialization period.

Pheromone Research

For skeptics that need to see the proof in the studies...veterinary behavior studies have examined the positive influence of the dog appeasing pheromone. When comparing treatment responses for dogs with separation anxiety, the use of the dog appeasing pheromone equaled the benefit of the anti-anxiety medication, amitriptyline.

One study looked at 66 puppies as they settled into new homes after adoption. Approximately half of the puppies wore a pheromone collar and half wore a placebo. The study found that puppies wearing a pheromone collar displayed significantly fewer nuisance behaviors like vocalizations or scratching within 3 days of adoption. Pups wearing the pheromone collar woke their owner’s less during the night and displayed fewer signs of distress and vocalizations throughout the course of the study.

The researchers concluded that pheromone collars helped both the pup and family. Pups were less stressed and adapted easier. By decreasing the pup’s stress and fearful behaviors, the pet owners found a more enjoyable bonding experience with the new pup and faced less frustration through the training process. 

In another study, puppies 8 to 15 weeks were enrolled in an eight-week long puppy socialization and training class. Half wore a pheromone collar and the other half wore a placebo collar. The pups wearing the collar were calmer in the face of novel experiences and displayed less fear, anxiety, and aggression.  In the end, the pups with pheromone collar not only were less nervous, but had fewer behavioral problems and learned better.  And a long-term effect on sociability was recognized in dogs up to one year after the class and study was completed.

Pheromones and My Pup

As the new owner of a nine-week old Bouvier puppy named Nikki, I used both the pheromone collar and diffuser upon welcoming my new pup home. One day before bringing Nikki home, I placed a pheromone diffuser close to the puppy crate, where it would have maximum benefit during her first nights in the kennel away from mother and siblings. Immediately upon leaving the breeder’s home, Nikki was fitted with a pheromone collar to serve as a source of reassuring pheromones that went everywhere she did. The pheromone collar has become a tool in Nikki’s socialization – it’s on her when she meets new people or animals, when she explores new environments, and during puppy kindergarten class.

Did pheromones help in my pup’s transition and training? The four hour drive home from the breeders was a dream- no crying or whining the entire trip. Now three weeks later from acquiring my pup, and Nikki never soiled in her kennel during the day or night. I’ll admit I had my share of interrupted sleep in the first two weeks, but most of Nikki’s night time wakes were for genuine elimination needs. Overall her transition into the home was smooth and lacked the wailing, inconsolable cries of a stressed pup. 

The canine appeasing pheromone isn’t a magic bullet though. Nothing matches a quality pup obtained from a reputable breeder who focuses on health, genetics, and early socialization. Likewise pheromones do not replace the hard work and consistent training efforts that any new pet owner must provide. However, by adding the the canine appeasing pheromone to your new puppy training, you can help your pup become the best he or she possibly can.

For more information on the DAP products, visit the CEVA’s website:


References:

“Effects of dog-appeasing pheromones on anxiety and fear in puppies during training and on long-term socialization”, Sagi Denenberg DVM and Gary M. Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, JAVMA Vol 233, No 12, December 15, 2008.


“Efficacy of Dog Appeasing Pheromone in Reducing Stress Related Behaviors of Newly Adopted Puppies Coming From a Pet-Shop”, E. Gaultier, L. Bonnafous, D. Vienet-Legue, et al, Pherosynthese Research Center, Saint-Saturnin-les-Apt, France.