All About Marie

Animal Files columnist of the Orange County Register from 1992-2016; Emmy Award winning producer of Educational Television Programming; Host of "The Pet Place Radio Show" heard world-wide at; click the player below to listen. Producer/Director/Editor/Co-host of "The Pet Place TV Show" during the 19 years it ran on KDOC TV in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; Wife, Mother of five kids, Grandmother of two baby boys and one baby girl, and pet parent of two cats, one dog, many fish, and a cockatoo.

Listen To The Pet Place Radio Show with Marie Hulett

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Dog Licks Baby's Face

Dear Marie:
I've always heard that the mouths of dogs are cleaner than the mouths of humans. I need to know if this is true because I am wondering if it is sanitary for my dog to lick my baby’s face. Please let me know.
Mrs. B

Dear Mrs. B:
The idea that the mouths of dogs are clean is basically a very popular public myth. That is not to say that human mouths are any pristine location either...but based upon what I have seen some dogs eat or lick (use your imagination), I wouldn't recommend letting your dog lick your baby’s face!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mountain Lions near City

Dear  Marie:
I am moving into a home that borders the Cleveland National Forest and I have just learned that Mountain Lions may pass through the developed area.  One of the reasons I was attracted to this location was because of the semi-rural atmosphere.  But, I never expected to be sharing the land with Cougars!  What kind of danger am I getting myself and my family into?  Also, I have a Cocker Spaniel.  Will I be able to leave him outside?  I am really concerned. 


Dear Sandra,
The area you are moving to has quite an assortment of wildlife.  Though there are occasional mountain lions that pass through, you’ll probably never actually see one.  You should however,  plan on encountering coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes, skunks, opossums, raccoons, numerous birds of prey, and many other interesting animals.  As long as you are aware of these animals and follow simple, common sense safety precautions, you should never have any problems. 

I would strongly recommend that you keep your Cocker Spaniel indoors unless you are physically outside with him.  Though it is true that he would be easy prey for a Mountain Lion, the chances of one of these big cats coming through your yard are remote.  Nevertheless, smaller predators, such as coyotes, can easily scale residential fences and take small dogs as prey.  Please use extra caution with him and any other pet you have.  Never let him run loose on community trails or in parks, no matter how tempting this may be. 

Some general safety rules for you and your human family members are these:

·        Never leave small children unattended outside, even in a fenced yard.
·        Talk to older children about local wildlife.  Teach them to stay away from wild animals, even those that look somewhat docile.
·        When hiking, jogging, walking, or biking, have a buddy go along too.  If children are participating in these activities, never allow them to lag behind or get too far ahead.
·        Pay attention to your surroundings.  Walk in the center of paths rather than along the edges.  Listen for the sounds of rattlesnakes and other animals that may be resting under bushes and shrubs.  If you hear suspicious noises, go the other direction.
·        Do not feed wild animals or attempt to make them pets.
·        Stay away from baby animals.  Their parents are usually close by and can be very protective and aggressive if you attempt to handle their young.  
·        Keep your home landscaping from getting dense and providing shelter for wild animals.  

Again, it is very unlikely that you will have any interaction with Mountain Lions; but you will, no doubt, come in contact with an array of other wild animals.  You will have to take steps to avoid potential nuisances and dangers that stem from inhabiting the same area with these creatures.  Don’t consider this a problem.  You are very lucky to be able to enjoy the beauty of “The Wild.”  

Friday, May 23, 2014

A dog companion for a shy person...

Dear Marie,
I’d like to get a dog for my adult daughter who lives on her own.  She is a very shy person and doesn't seem to get out much and I worry about her always being alone.  I think if she had a dog, it might prompt her to be more active and get out more.  We always had dogs when she was growing up and she loved them.  Her apartment complex definitely allows pets and if there is any additional monthly charge to have one, I’d gladly pay for it.  I don’t think she would ever get a dog on her own simply for the reason that she only leaves her house to go to work or to go grocery shopping.  Do you think I am overstepping?
Jenna, Buena Park

Dear Jenna,
Your letter leaves me a little stumped.  Normally, I tell folks to NEVER give a pet as a gift.  Bringing a companion animal into one’s life is a very personal decision and one that should only be made after much thought and consideration. But I don’t know your daughter as well as you do so I don’t know if you are overstepping. 

Perhaps in the past she has mentioned that she wants a dog but for whatever reason, is too shy to deal with a rescue organization or a local shelter.  If that is the case, then it is really important that you talk to her and ask what she thinks about the idea of moving forward.  There may be something you don’t know that has led to her decision to not have a pet in her life that has nothing to do with being shy. 

Your daughter may feel that from a financial perspective, she really can’t have a pet.  Even if you offer to pay any additional rent incurred, remember that pets can be very expensive.  There is much more to caring for a pet than providing food and toys.  If a companion animal becomes sick, veterinary bills can be overwhelming.  Even regular vet checks and preventative care such as dentistry, vaccinations, etc. can cost more than what your daughter is able to afford right now.  Are you willing to help with that as well?

If she’s not ready, don’t push her into this.  Just let her know that if she is ever interested, you’d be happy to go with her to a shelter or rescue and visit some of the animals.  If she finds one she likes, help her deal with the staff or the volunteers.  For someone who is extremely shy, it may be a daunting task to get through some of the interviews and/or paperwork involved with pet adoption.

Dogs do help get people outside and more active to a certain extent.  (That's the whole idea behind getting dogs for people suffering from PTSD, particularly veterans.) But if your daughter doesn't enjoy getting out and about, having a dog won’t change her routine much.  Some dog owners will walk their dogs just long enough to get “business” taken care of.  In cases like these, dogs become as much homebodies or couch potatoes as their owners, as evidenced by the growing number of morbidly obese pets seen by veterinarians.    

If your daughter does decide to get a pet, offer to walk with her every day.  If there is a local park that’s suitable for daily strolls, suggest that location.  The great thing about walking in a park or a local greenbelt area is that there are usually lots of other dog owners who are doing the same thing.  Dog-people are universally a chatty, friendly bunch.  They talk about their dogs more than they talk about their kids (if they have kids).   When one passes the same people with the same dogs every day, it’s hard not to develop somewhat of a bond, and before you know it, you’re smiling at strangers, and not long after that, conversations ensue.  It’s great.

I walk my dogs most mornings at a particular greenbelt area.  Along the way I meet Bonnie the Pitbull and her “dad,” Harley the Australian Shepherd and her “mom,” Anubis the Labrador and his “dad,” the “parents” of the Newfie named Buddha, the Australian Cattle Dog named Sally, the Shiba Inu named Shibi, and many others.  We always stop to talk with each other while our dogs do their meet-and-greets.  There’s nothing like a happy-go-lucky dog to help break the ice and get people talking.  If your daughter is shy, then this would be a great way for her to meet people and break out of her shell.  Dogs are terrific therapists in this regard.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dog Humping Friends' Legs

Dear Marie,
I have a small mixed breed dog that has been neutered since he was 4 months old. He is now almost 2 years old. Generally, he is a very good dog but he has one obnoxious and terribly embarrassing behavior. He humps the legs of everyone who comes to visit. He is especially bad when my little nephews and nieces come over. They literally walk across my house with him attached to a leg. If they push him off, he gets right back on within a second or too. The strange thing is, he never tries this behavior on my husband or me so we can’t do any training when we are all alone together. Please help!

Dear Amanda,
As you have probably already guessed, the behavior you describe has nothing to do with your dog’s desire to procreate your visitors. In fact, many female dogs participate in this same deed - and I agree, it can be quite embarrassing.

What is happening in your situation is a simple display of territorial dominance. Your dog understands that you and your husband are the leaders of the pack. That is why he never attempts this behavior with the two of you. However when visitors arrive, your dog wants to make it perfectly clear that their place in the pack hierarchy is lower than his.

Some dogs behave in an aggressive and or dangerous fashion to prove their dominant point. Hence, barking at the mailman or even biting strangers who come to the house. Occasionally, mounting behavior does progress to a more aggressive form of acting out dominance; consequently, nipping the “embarrassing” behavior in the bud is very important.

You pointed out that it is difficult to train this behavior out of your dog because your husband and you are never targeted. However guests, especially children seem to garner most of your dog’s unwelcome attention. Therefore, you need to make a list of the type of person with whom your dog is most likely to assert himself. For example, does your dog act out with men? Does he leave women alone? Do the variables height, weight, volume and tone of voice make a difference with whom your dog chooses?

Once you have compiled your data, match real people to those characteristics and assemble a list that contains at least a half dozen names. You’ll need to call each person and ask him or her if they would be willing to help you break your dog of his bad habit. If they have experienced his “enthusiasm” in the past, they will most likely be happy to help you teach your dog good manners.

One “assistant” should visit your home each day. Immediately upon arrival, he or she should be handed a leash. The assistant must than put the leash on your dog and take him for a brisk walk. The key here is a pace too fast to mount a leg. Further, by being the one to leash your dog and hold the leash during the entire walk, dominance over the dog is implied. Of course if children are the walkers, be sure and accompany them but remain a short distance behind.

Upon return to the home, the assistant should engage your dog in various obedience routines such as: sit, stay, down, etc. This portion of the training should span 10 to 15 minutes. The assistant should offer occasional food rewards for good behavior.

Your dog associates dominance with individuals who give him obedience commands as well as food and praise. The walk, followed by obedience training and yummy treats/praise will send the message that the visitor is a dominant individual. If at any time during the visit your dog attempts to mount the assistant, he or she must—without delay—push him away and give him a basic command. “Sit!” usually works best.   Or, releash him and take him on another brisk walk.

To completely eliminate the mounting behavior will take two to four weeks of daily visitor training. Some dogs learn more quickly, and some dogs take longer to get the idea. The more expansive your list of assistants, the better the training. A varied and large group of people who visit and participate, help your dog learn that all visitors should be respected.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Territorial Dog Issues

Hi Marie!
I have a 4 1/2-year-old spayed lab/whippet mix. Ninety percent of the time, she's an absolute angel, but the other 10% of the time she's quite a handful. She is extremely territorial and fiercely protective of "her" people. When taken for walks, she tries to attack every dog that crosses her path. If anyone unfamiliar comes to our house, she has to be put outside to ensure their safety. She has a severe case of separation anxiety as well. If she's left outside alone for any length of time, she'll tear up all the screen doors trying to get in. But if I leave her inside unattended, she's prone to tearing up the furniture. I spent $1,300 on training classes, which taught her some basic commands, but did nothing to alleviate her fear of strangers or make her less aggressive. Someone suggested that she might benefit by having another dog for a companion. Perhaps a happy-go-lucky male would make her feel more secure. What are your thoughts on this? Any advice you can give will be greatly appreciated!
Kelly W.

Dear Kelly,
You have outlined a number of problems that would best be served over a period of three or four complete columns. However, I’ll give you some basic information to help get you going down the right path and I am sure you’ll be able to take it from there.

Let me answer your last question first. Do NOT get another dog for her until her behavioral problems have been resolved. She will either teach the new dog all her bad habits, hurt the other dog, or get hurt herself.
You should first deal with her aggression towards other dogs. I have found that the best way of dealing with this problem is through redirection rather than tightening up on a leash or shouting at the dog. The reason for this is that dogs pick up on their humans’ emotional tension and amplify it with their own defensive behavior.

Your dog is trying to understand your body language and vocalizations and interprets them incorrectly. To
avoid this miscommunication, carry with you a soda can filled with pennies. As any other dog approaches, shake the can just prior to your dog beginning to react. (You should have a sense of your dog’s comfort zone.) Follow this up with some other commands such as “shake, sit, rollover, etc.” The loud noise of the can interrupts your dog’s thought processes and resets her emotional reaction to the approaching dog.
Repeat as necessary.

In the beginning, you may have to immediately walk you dog away from the stranger to keep her from reacting. But with time, you should be able to hold your ground and keep her focused on you. The most important factor is that you should create the illusion that you are not concerned about any other dogs in the area.

Her aggression towards strangers is another problem. It either stems from viewing your
guests as threats, or her association of visitors with punishment (i.e., being put outside).
She needs to learn that all guests are welcome and that she is not being penalized for their
You’ll use your penny filled soda can for training away this problem as well. First, have everyone who lives in your household take turns going outside and ringing your doorbell or knocking on your door. As soon as they do this, your dog will most likely begin her reflexive aggressive reaction, to which you must immediately respond by shaking the can. Then, begin having “happy talk” with the closed door. Ignore your dog until she
settles down. Continue with the happy talk, open the door, and let your family member come in. Repeat constantly for 2 to 3 days.

When your dog has realized that no one bad is coming in, add a dog-knowledgeable friend to the mix. Then, add more, willing and well prepared participants until you have at least a half a dozen strangers visiting without incident, for 10 days straight. Try to avoid putting your dog out during any visits.

Finally, for separation anxiety, know that most dogs begin destructive behavior after being alone for 20 minutes. On your next weekend or extended period off work, place your dog outside for small increments of time, beginning with just 5 minutes and working up to longer periods from there. For the indoor destructiveness, follow the same procedure by leaving and returning repeatedly and increasing the duration of your away time with each try. Ignore your dog for 20 minutes prior to putting her out or leaving,
and ignore her again for 20 minutes when you bring her in or return from your away trip. The goal here is to teach your dog that being separated is really no big deal.

It takes time to accomplish this training, and you'll definitely need some help, but you can get it done.  Good luck!

Monday, May 19, 2014

Dog Left in Parked Car

Dear Marie:
I am so angry. I just met one of the most ignorant people on the planet! Let me explain. I was at Westminster Mall and as I was walking from my car to the shops, I noticed a figure in one of the parked cars. It was moving back and forth frantically and as I got closer, I saw it was a big old black lab. The car was black too and I could tell the poor dog was sweltering. The car was parked in direct sun and the windows were cracked 1/4” if that. I’d say the outdoor weather was about 75 degrees, but I am sure it was significantly hotter in the car. At least it wasn't as hot as it was last week. But it was still hot! The dog was panting hard and looked like he was really not doing well. I was going to find the mall security people when right at
that moment, a young man came to the car. He asked me what I was doing and I could barely hold back! I tried to tell him how irresponsible it was of him to leave his dog in the parked car but he just got mad at me, used a few expletives and told me to mind my own business as he drove away, squealing his tires. I guess my question is this....if I felt the dog was in danger, could I have broken a window to get him out without
getting into trouble?

Dear Janis,
I don’t blame you for being angry. So often, people leave their pets in exactly these circumstances even though it is entirely against the law. And you are right. The temperature in a parked car, especially a dark
colored car, is much hotter than the temperature outside. Even with the windows partially cracked, the dog was in definite danger. It only takes minutes for brain damage, and ultimately death to occur as a result of being overheated.

However, unless you are in the middle of nowhere, I strongly recommend that you contact the authorities to rescue animals left in these circumstances. You were absolutely correct in your thinking to track down the mall security. They are prepared to handle these cases and thus, you will be relieved of any civil liability for breaking someone’s window. You can also contact the police or the animal control department that has jurisdiction.

Unfortunately, cases such as the one you described, are common, especially in the summer. Pet owners think that their companions would enjoy a ride in the car and yet fail to realize that while they are enjoying the air-conditioning of the mall or market, their pets are suffering in a virtual oven. The rule of thumb is this....if you can’t take your pet with you when you arrive at a destination, it is best to leave your pet at home.

This brings me to some general warm weather advice. As the summer approaches, hot days are inevitable. Make sure your pets have extra supplies of water before leaving to work or school. Provide shelter from the sun. Limit walks to the early morning or evening hours to avoid your pet overheating or burning his feet on hot pavement or cement. And finally, get ready for flea season by taking preventative measures now.
By taking these steps, your pet will have a comfortable and safe summer.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Short-Haired Dog is Shedding

Dear Marie,
We have a 9-year-old, male Boxer who seems to be shedding hair much more than we remember from past years. He doesn't seem to have any skin problems and he doesn't scratch himself. Is this age related?  Is there some way to reduce the amount of hair he's shedding?

Dear Vicky,
Since a Boxer has short hair, you might think that he won’t shed much.  But actually, short-haired dogs shed just as much as their long-haired counterparts. They just don’t have thick undercoats, like German Shepherds, for example.  But, they still go through complete sheds twice a year, and have continual, minor shedding yearlong.

Now that it is officially spring (and we've had record-breaking heat), it is also officially shedding season for dogs and cats.  So be prepared to do a lot more brushing than usual and stock up on pet hair rollers.  I would also avoid wearing dark colors and stick to springtime prints.

I am somewhat concerned that you said that he seems to be shedding more than what he did in the past.  This may be a symptom of a health problem.  As the owner – you know more than anyone what is normal.  If this seems far beyond the usual to you, than it would be wise to schedule an appointment with your vet just to make sure there is nothing going on. 

Stress can also cause rapid shedding.  If anything has been going on in your home that may have frightened or worried your dog, he may be reacting to that.  Think about anything that may have changed recently and do your best to comfort him. 

The good news is daily brushing of your dog will actually calm him down.  It’s like a mother dog grooming her pup; you will always be the “mother figure” in his life and he looks to you for reassurance, even though he is nine years old.

Another reason for shedding is poor nutrition.  If you don’t feed your dog a good, natural food, you should look into gradually switching him over.  Talk to your veterinarian about what food would be best for your dog at his age. 

There are always a lot of factors to consider when looking into different types of food.  But age is something that cannot be ignored.  At nine years old, your boy is a senior citizen now and shouldn't be eating the same food he was given as a young dog.  If you haven’t already switched over to a senior diet, it is definitely time.

Though you don’t want to bathe your dog too often, as this will wash away important oils and dry out his skin, a good bath at the start of spring is highly recommended.  You will find that you can eliminate a lot of the old winter coat with one good shampoo and towel-dry followed by thorough brushing or combing.  He may not enjoy the bath, but he’ll feel so much better afterwards and you’ll be very pleased with the results.

Finally, try to keep your dog indoors most of the time, especially when it is cold outside.  If you control the climate that he is subjected to, i.e., not making him stay outside during the cold night or damp mornings but rather keeping him in the nice, warm house, he will not go through such intense shedding cycles.

I hope this solves the bulk of your dog’s shedding problems. For me, I've just adjusted my attitude with regards to having fur stuck on my clothes all of the time.  I figure it is a very small price to pay for the wonderful,unconditional love and companionship of my pets.

Best of luck.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Dog Bites Base Of Tail Incessantly

Dear Marie,
Our 1-year-old Basset hound mix, Ralphie, started biting at the base of his tail like a maniac this weekend. He’s always had a beautiful coat and he’s never had fleas, so I don’t know what’s going on. I checked him over really well and there is not a single flea on him, plus I use monthly flea and tick medicine. I’ve tried everything I can do to get him to stop and he gets pretty upset with me when I do. I can tell this is driving him crazy and he is making himself bloody and raw. What is happening? Is this a behavioral problem?

Dear Hoa,
Even if you can’t find any fleas and you are using monthly flea and tick medication, your dog may have still picked up one of these pests while out on a walk, or possibly playing in your own yard. For some dogs, all it takes is one bite to set off unbearable itchiness. The flea responsible for the bite no doubt abandoned ship shortly after dining. Remember, monthly medication does not prevent fleas from biting, but it does kill them after the fact. So if there are fleas in your yard or neighborhood, your dog will get an occasional bite.

As we approach summer and warmer weather, we will be getting into flea season again. It might be advisable to treat your yard for fleas. If your dog does suffer from flea allergies, you may need to consider restricting playtime and walks to your own property, at least during the warmest months of the year.

If Ralphie can’t stop chewing on his tail and back, you need to get him straight to the veterinarian. You don’t want any of his open sores to become infected, and they will if left untreated. There are a number of veterinary management tactics that will quickly soothe the problem areas and allow them to heal. In severe cases, a vet may even suggest the use of a special collar that restricts your dog’s ability to bite or lick the hot spots.

A veterinarian may also be able to tell if there is something else setting off your dog. For example, your dog’s anal glands may need to be expressed. Ralphie may not be able to reach the actual spot that is creating the problem, so he is settling for the closest target he can manage. Though you can express your dog’s anal glands yourself, I personally think it’s worth the price of an office visit and routine procedure to have it done by a professional!

Sometimes skin irritations can also be related to a dog’s diet. Talk to your veterinarian about a natural food, or a product that he or she can recommend for alleviating canine skin allergies. There are lots of wonderful pet foods available that are developed by professionals in the field of pet nutrition. But there is also a lot of junk out there, even in high-end pet supply stores. Your veterinarian should be able to steer you in the right direction when selecting a product that will work for your pet.

Occasionally, this condition may be inherited. If you know the owners of your dog’s parents, you should ask them if they have problems with their pets’ skin. Unfortunately, if this is indeed an inherited problem for Ralphie, you should expect to provide a lifetime of consistent care and prevention that will include soothing medication, periodic injections of corticosteroids, and a lot of trips to the veterinarian. For the most part, the condition can be controlled, but a few miserable days here and there are inevitable.

Because of the sudden onset and severity of the problem, this doesn't sound like a behavioral issue. However, if your veterinarian can rule everything else out, then you may need to focus on some redirection activities—interactive dog toys, lots of play time, practicing basic obedience, etc.

Regardless of the source of the problem, Ralphie will need a lot of patience and kindness from you. Don’t be one of those owners who subscribes to the out-of-sight, out-of-mind philosophy and relegate Ralphie to being outdoors 24-7. Dealing with skin conditions in pets can be very frustrating, but there is help close by.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fostering Baby Animals

On this Mother's Day, I thought it would be appropriate to share a letter I received some years ago by a previous program coordinator for the Irvine Animal Care Center foster program.  It's still a valid piece of information and for all you potential foster mothers (and fathers) out there, this is for you...

Dear Marie,
Anyone who’s ever raised even one kitten or puppy knows that it’s a lot of work to care for a baby pet. Now imagine caring for more than a hundred of them at once! That’s the reality every year at the Irvine Animal Care Center, where our kennels are filled with litters of pups and kittens—some with mothers, some without—who need extra-special attention. We call upon our team of Foster Care volunteers to take these little critters into their homes, attend to their physical needs, and give them the handling and socialization they just couldn't get in a kennel. Foster care isn’t an easy job, and it can be more than a little messy, but it’s one of the most enjoyable and rewarding ways to help pets in need—and we’re looking for people who are willing to help us out during the upcoming “kitten season”!
Eliza Rubenstein, Program Coordinator
Irvine Animal Care Center

Dear Eliza,
As always, I am happy to help animal shelters that do such good work as the Irvine Animal Care Center. So readers, if you are interested, here is what you need to know: Training for this very special commitment is offered regularly.  If you work during training dates, but want to attend, now is the time to talk to your employer and make arrangements for a little time off for a good cause. Who knows…maybe your boss will want to come too!

There are a few rules. First, you must be at least eighteen years old. I know you younger animal lovers are all groaning now, but hang in there. You’ll be eighteen before you know it and there are plenty of other animal care activities you can get involved in.

The next big rule is this – you must live in a home or apartment that allows and welcomes pets. Don’t try and sneak a litter of puppies into a no-pets facility. That will only lead to major problems and the potential loss of your home.

Do NOT take on this responsibility if you can’t see it through to the end. These animals have already had a stressful life. Your job will be to socialize them and make them feel comfortable. When volunteers decide a week or two into fostering that it is just too much for them to handle and bring the animals back to the shelter - where they have to wait again for another foster home - irreparable psychological damage may occur, especially if the animals are bounced from foster home to foster home. So please make sure that
you've thought this through.

If you do know that this is what you want to do, or if you want additional information, then please call the center at (949) 724-7745. There is limited space for these free fostering seminars, and reservations are required. You can also stop by the Irvine Animal Care center, which is located at 6443 Oak Canyon, just off Sand Canyon between the 5 and 405 Freeways.The fact that animal shelters are still filled with puppies and kittens brings me to my final point.

For years, humane educators, pet columnists, celebrities promoting animals welfare, veterinarians, and other animal care professionals have been trying to make the case that pet owners must spay or neuter their pets. There is no reason for animal shelters to be anything more than temporary housing for pets that have accidentally strayed from home. Yet this is still far from the case.

Animal shelters are used as dumping facilities by people who fail to take their pet ownership responsibilities seriously. Pet adoption is a commitment that is supposed to last for the lifetime of a pet…not until it becomes inconvenient. That means that pet owners must ensure that their animals do not reproduce unwanted litters of young. It means that all pets wear current identification. It means that all pets are vaccinated against contagious diseases. It means that all pets are kept safely confined. And finally, it means that all pets are loved and cared for as long as they live. For some fairly simple responsibilities, it never ceases to amaze me that we are not even close to making this universally accepted. As a result, our animal shelters are filled to
capacity and taking up the responsibilities as best as they can. We owe them a huge debt of

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Upset Cat Spraying Furniture

Dear Marie:
Help! My wonderful indoor cat has started urinating all over the furniture! It probably has something to do with the fact that we recently took into our home another cat, a stray that had been hanging around our house for several weeks. The new cat has made herself at home and definitely has taken charge of the household, including over our other cat. I can understand this feline battle of wills, but I (and my furniture) can’t take much more. Will this settle down in time? How long? Is there anything I can do? Thanks for your help.

Dear Jan:
This is a question that comes up pretty regularly in my email messages and is understandably a very difficult problem to contend with. The smell of feline urine soaked into rugs and furniture is unpleasant and difficult to eliminate. Often, cat owners give up on their pets out of frustration. This leads to abandonment or
relinquishment of animals in parks or shelters. I am hopeful that you will be able to hang in there and be patient with your troubled kitty.

As with any behavioral problem, you must first make sure that its causes are not physical. A check up and consultation with your veterinarian are highly recommended. If there are no health problems at the root of this behavior, then you are probably correct in your assumption that the presence of your new kitty has led
your first cat to act out.

You will need to thoroughly clean affected furniture and carpeting to rid them of the urine smell. This is no easy task and will require several cleanings. Cats, by nature, will urinate in locations where they have previously urinated. Therefore it is imperative that the odor be removed.

If you have not already done so, have your cats spayed or neutered. This will allow for more harmonious living arrangements. However, even with this taken care of, expect hissing and fighting anywhere from a few weeks to several months. Your cats must work out between themselves what their rank in the family will be.

After they have sorted everything out, they will behave much better. Do not interfere with them unless they are truly hurting each other...then spray them both with a water bottle. The more you try to break up fights, however, the longer it will take for them to resolve their differences.

When you are not home, place your offending kitty in a bathroom or laundry room, preferably without carpet. (You want to eliminate any possibility of urination on furniture while you are out.) Give him food, water, a litter box and a nice sleeping pillow or blanket. Make sure the room can remain cool and comfortable with the door closed. When you return home, let him out immediately and spend some quality time with him. Do not lavish affection on the new cat. Your original kitty will become jealous. You must watch your pet closely when you are home. If he begins sniffing around furniture or carpet, tell him, “No!” If you catch him actually urinating, have your spray bottle ready to use (on mist setting). With diligence, time, and patience, this behavior problem will clear up.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Kitten climbs curtains...

Dear Marie,
Our four-month-old kitten is constantly climbing our curtains and our sofa. He uses them as a jungle gym. Sometimes when he climbs up the curtains, one of his claws gets stuck and he can’t get down. I worry that he is going to hurt himself when this happens and I can’t seem to train him out of this habit. Also, our curtains and sofa look like shredded wheat. It’s embarrassing. We don’t want to get him declawed because we understand that that is pretty inhumane. But we need to do something before he gets hurt and before we go crazy.
Christie and Ray

Dear Christie and Ray,
Raising a kitten is just like raising a young child. You need to be firm and consistent, but still remember to praise success and good behavior.You’re probably going to want to replace your curtains and couch soon if they are in the shape you describe, so now is a great time to train your kitten. You can be stress free and not worry about minor setbacks because you’ll know that any further damage is irrelevant. That will keep the insanity factor to a minimum!

The first thing that you should do is to trim your cat’s claws. If you haven’t been making a regular routine of this, you will have trouble at first because most cats are very uncomfortable with anyone manipulating their paws and toes. So, before you actually begin nail clipping, pet your cat and touch his feet in the process. If he seems to tolerate his paws being handled, you will be able to trim his claws without assistance. If he
becomes agitated, you’ll know that you will require someone to hold him while you take care of business.

Remember; do not trim too short as there is a blood vessel that grows within the claws. Just take off the tips. Plan on doing this once a week and be sure to give your cat lots of love and attention when you are done. Let him know he is a very good boy. In time, he’ll get used to having his nails cut and he will no longer fight about it.

When his claws are short, he is less likely to get snagged on the curtains. But of course, if he weren't climbing on the curtains to begin with, he wouldn't get snagged either. This is where consistent and firm training comes in. I generally encourage the use of a water bottle sprayer (Set on "mist" not "spray")  in this type of training, combined with a loud noise, like an air horn. If the two of you work together, one person can “man” the air horn, and the other can take care of the water bottle.

Each and every time your kitten climbs the curtains or the sofa, spray him and sound the air horn. He will not associate these two negative stimuli to either of you, but rather to his action. Cats hate getting watered and they equally despise loud, sudden noises. The more he experiences the unpleasant consequences to his actions, the more likely he is to learn that the inappropriate behavior is causing the problem.

You must remember, however, that cats do need an outlet for climbing and playing. Therefore, be sure to invest in one or two carpeted cat trees that he can climb and scratch his claws on. Encourage him to use the cat trees by pulling a piece of string around them to entice him to play. As he wraps himself around the cat trees with playful claws and a happy little kitten face, be sure to tell him what a good boy he is. Be sure to place the cat trees in the rooms where the curtains and the sofa are located. Having them in back
rooms that he rarely spends time in will be of no value at all.

All animals can sense the emotions behind tone of voice. They know when they are being praised and they respond to it. They also know when they are in trouble. If you do not have a water bottle or an air horn close by when you notice a bad behavior, be sure and tell him, “NO!” in a loud and firm voice. Then physically pick him up and take him to one of his cat trees and start playing with him there. Follow this up immediately with a happy, praising tone of voice.

As with all training, your kitten will not learn over night what is expected of him. But if you remain consistent, you will find that you can soon purchase a new sofa and curtains and will never see them shredded – at least until you adopt another kitten! It’s a wild ride sometimes, isn't it? (But worth all the inconveniences.) Best wishes.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Depressed Cat

Dear Marie,
We have had two cats (brothers) for the past 13 years. These two cats were inseparable. They groomed each other. Snuggled. Played together. Ate out of the same bowl. It was always so sweet. Recently, one of the boys got sick passed away in a very short amount of time. We were all so sad. But mostly, the remaining brother was heartbroken. It has been a month and he has little or no appetite. He sleeps most of the day and night. He never seems to perk up. Occasionally, he searches the house looking for his brother and makes the most mournful meow I’ve ever heard. He’s lost a significant amount of weight and I am really worried about him. I’ve taken him to the vet and he checks out fine physically. What can I do to keep him from wasting away?

Dear Brenda,
Your little boy is showing classic signs of depression. It’s no wonder considering what an extraordinary bond he had with his brother. Because his day-to-day life was so intricately tied to his brother’s, he has lost his spiritual routine. Sometimes, just as with people, animals who were very close in life to a special partner literally shut down their own existence as a result of the tremendous void and grief they are experiencing.

It is imperative that you direct him away from this path as soon as possible. In his case, I would suggest adopting an outgoing, playful, female kitten. It is essential not to get a male kitten - even though your cat had been so close to his brother - because a cat of the same gender may try to assert himself and not bond with your kitty.

A kitten will provide constant distraction. She will pounce on your boy’s tail. She’ll stalk him. She’ll annoy him every waking moment. He won’t have time to think about being depressed because he will have a perpetual nuisance buzzing around his head. Yet, as your new kitten matures, the relationship between the two will blossom. In time, she will begin to mellow and they will develop their own special bond.

Of course, you do need to follow standard introduction procedures before setting her free in the house. This means bringing her home in a closed cardboard cat carrier. Once in your home, set the box on the floor and let your old male cat come over at his own pace to check out the box. There will be sniffing and perhaps some growling and spitting. Don’t let that alarm you. Keep the box closed until your male loses interest. Once that phase is achieved, open the box, but do not take out the kitten. Let her come out on her own. Again, when the two see each other, there may be some tense moments. Let them work it out. Don’t worry;
they will.

In the beginning, feed the two cats in separate rooms. However, watch for signs of acceptance between the two. Eventually, you will be able to feed them together. Try not to rush the process. Every cat introduction is unique and has its own pace. Some cats immediately bond to new cats. Others take weeks and sometimes months. But, no matter how much time it takes for a bond to form, the simple presence of a new kitty will take your cat’s thoughts away from depression and that’s the goal.

Be sure to lavish a lot of affection on your boy during this process. He needs to know that he’s not being replaced. He should understand that the kitten is for him and not you. This means that temporarily, you should only pet and interact with the kitten when he’s not looking. Be sure to wash your hands after touching the new kitten to remove her scent.

These extra precautions are only temporary. Once your male has accepted her, you’ll be able to play with and pet both of them simultaneously. It will be just like old times. Best