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.

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Monday, September 29, 2014

Importance of Dental Care

Hi Marie,
Last week my dog went to the veterinary hospital to have a fatty tumor removed. It was considered minor surgery. The veterinarian noticed that a couple of my dog’s molars were in very bad shape and suggested extracting them. My dog’s front teeth always looked so good, so I never considered that the back teeth had any problems. Since he was under anesthesia, this was the first time we were really able to get a good look at his back teeth. I agreed to the dental work since it seemed like a good time to take care of everything. A short time later, my veterinarian called and told me that my dog’s heart had stopped during the procedure and he had died.

Apparently, this had been due to the dental infection affecting his heart. I had not known that
dental problems could lead to this outcome. I thought this might be a good topic for your
column so that people can understand how important it is to keep on top of their pets’ dental

Dear Judy. First, I am so sorry for your loss and I know how sad you must be; but thank you for sharing your experience to help other people and animals. Yes, maintaining dental health in pets is very important. Usually, most people do not consider this unless their pets have serious bad breath, or exhibit other obvious symptoms associated with gum disease and tooth decay, such as constant drooling, difficulty eating, loss of appetite, etc. In fact, eight out of ten pets have minor to serious dental problems because their people don’t realize anything is wrong.

Just like humans, pets should have regular dental check-ups. Their teeth should be cleaned as recommended by their veterinarians. But people can take active steps at home to maintain their pets’ dental health via daily teeth brushing.

Of course, it is easiest to start this process with a very young pet, but any pet can be trained to cooperate, and even enjoy daily teeth brushing. And as I always say whenever teaching a new behavior is needed, it will take time, patience and a lot of practice to achieve a good comfort level – for all parties involved!

There are many different brushes and finger tools that are available at most pet supply stores. Meat-flavored toothpaste can usually be found nearby the toothbrushes. Purchase a few different flavors of paste and at least a couple different brushes and/or finger tools. You’ll find one combination that your pet will tolerate. NEVER use human toothpaste on a pet. Pets cannot spit out the extra nor rinse their mouths and if they swallow it, they can suffer serious intestinal and stomach problems. They need their own, special formula.

It is not easy to get your pet used to having his teeth brushed. In the beginning, only try and
brush a small section. If you are successful, be sure to heap praise on him. Each day, increase
the area that you are able to clean until you are able to brush every surface of every tooth. You should also provide your pet with chew toys that have bumps. Many of these toys’ labels will indicate that they promote good dental health. Additionally, crunchy dog treats and dry kibble help scrape away plaque.

If you have an adult dog (or cat) who appears to have tartar buildup on his molars, he will need
to have a professional cleaning and that must be done under anesthesia, especially if he requires
a tooth to be extracted. However, it is very important to have various blood tests performed prior
to this procedure. These tests can determine if your pet has a bacterial infection, liver, kidney or heart problems, or other issues that must be considered before anesthesia. Your veterinarian may need to put your pet on a course of antibiotics, or another medication prior to completing the dental procedure.

Poor dental health can cause bleeding gums, loss of appetite and energy, heart, kidney and intestinal problems, joint pain, and more. Keep your pets healthy and happy by setting aside a few minutes each day to clean their teeth.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Licking Dog

Hi Marie,

I have a dog named Molly. She is doing well but we have a new baby in the family—my 2nd granddaughter—and my son (and especially my daughter-in-law) does not want to bring the baby to my house because of Molly. Molly is a licker. She licks everything. The floor, clothes, blankets, pillows, and especially people. I have done everything to discourage this behavior but nothing seems to help. She also jumps on people from being so excited to have company, but that seems easier to stop with a sharp “NO.” Well, sometimes it helps. My questions are: How do I break her of jumping up on people, licking them, obeying my commands to stop. I need to let you know that she grew up with another dog and every time she sees a dog, she absolutely flips out and wants to get to it to play. This excitement carries over to when people come to visit. She is uncontrollable when she is excited. I can’t afford dog training classes otherwise I would be there with her. If you can give me some suggestions it would be so much appreciated.

Dear Jo,
A dog’s licking is completely, socially accepted in the dog-world. When one dog licks another,
it is a demonstration of affection and symbolic of being a close family member. You just need to
be able to communicate to Molly that you understand she loves you and you love her too without
getting drenched with slobber.

First, go ahead and let her lick you for a few seconds. Then pet her a bit yourself (this is the equivalent of you licking her) and position yourself in a manner that makes it impossible, or at least very difficult for her to continue licking you. If she tries to lick you more after that, tell her, “enough licking” and walk away, engaging yourself in other activities.

This is also a good time to get HER engaged in other activities. I would suggest giving her a toy that can be stuffed with food goodies that she has to work on for an extended period to be able to get the treats out. While she’s having fun with her treat toy, you can sit on a chair next to her and read, or watch TV, or whatever you want to do. Mostly, just go about your business being happy together so that she experiences fun-family-time that doesn't involve licking activities. She has probably learned that when she licks you, she gets attention, even if it isn't necessarily good attention. So you want to replace this idea with a brand new model. Take her on more walks, play with her more often, teach her basic obedience (you can do this on your own without taking classes), and develop a routine that she can depend on.

By teaching her basic commands (sit, stay, come, down, heel) and then rewarding her for completing them, you will find that you can easily control her when she gets overly excited. But you must spend at least an hour a day working on basic commands and you must be consistent. It is also essential that you provide your dog with the knowledge she needs to make good decisions.

If you tell your dog “no” but then don’t offer her an alternative, acceptable behavior to perform, she won’t understand what you want from her. So here is what you need to practice. Invite several friends (preferably those who like your dog) to help you with this. Have them come to your house to visit (one at a time, and later in groups), over several days. On every occasion where Molly gets overly excited and begins jumping, tell her to sit. If she does, have your friends give her a little treat and/or tell her, “Good sit!” Then go about having a visit with your friends. At any point if Molly gets too rambunctious, she should be reminded to sit, or given a new behavior to carry out. This is also another great time to give her a treat-filled toy that she can work on.

Eventually, have your son come over and practice these strategies with him. If his wife is a willing participant, she can work with Molly as well. Licking and jumping behaviors don’t go away over night, so please be patient and consistent, and praise Molly when she does well. Dogs really just want to please their people, but they need to know how—and with your love and leadership, Molly will become a perfectly well-behaved dog that can be trusted not to slobber on, or jump up on your new grandchild.

Best wishes to you.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Klepto Kitten

Dear Marie,
I adopted a kitten about six months ago.  She is absolutely adorable and the whole family loves her.  Needless to say, she can do no wrong and we are really bad about correcting inappropriate behavior.  She is just so cute when she is naughty, that we usually just pick her up and kiss her.  I know – we are terrible pet parents!  We’re reinforcing bad behavior.  But most of it is really no big deal and it just makes us laugh.  But she has one habit that is really getting out of control.  She steals ANYTHING she can carry.  If my daughter sets a pen down while she is doing homework and leaves to get a drink of water or something, the kitten steals the pen.  And she is faster than greased lightning!  Now that she is big, she is stealing big things!  She nabs stuffed animals off of beds.  She’s taken heavy key chains with important keys.  She’s taken cell phones.  And today, when I laid out my clothes while getting ready to go to work, she nabbed my bra while I was in the bathroom showering!  The worst part of it is I don’t know where she is putting half of these items!  She doesn't go outside so they are in the house somewhere!  I’d really like to stop her cat-burglar ways but I have no idea what to do.  Please help!


Dear Rachel,
It sounds like you have your hands full with a delinquent kitten!  I think a lot of cat owners can relate to your problem as kleptomaniac kitties are not unusual.  There are some pretty cute online videos and news stories about some of the more infamous cat burglars who were caught in the act.   Obviously, you have plenty of real-life experiences with your own little four-legged thief, so let’s get down to the business of solving your situation. 

Cats are hunters by nature.  For many cats, the instinct to hunt, catch, and hide prey is reduced to merely playing with a toy for a few minutes between cat naps.  Domestication over thousands of years has truly changed innate behaviors and most cats prefer to be pampered royalty who are fed, pet, brushed, fed again, and given appropriate attention by their “indentured servants” (cat owners)!  But there are still plenty of cats who have retained the large part of their predatory instincts and your kitten seems to be one of those felines.

If you have been kissing her and laughing at her thieving ways, I know that YOU know that this needs to stop right away.  Cats LOVE this kind of attention and your kitten believes she has your permission and approval when she commits these acts of thievery.  Please get everyone in the house on the same page or you won’t be able to address this problem at all.

You’ll need to set some “traps” for her.  If you know that she will steal certain items if they are left unattended, like your daughter’s pens for example, spray them with Bitter Apple (a product available from most pet supply stores).  As soon as she picks up an item that is laced with this foul-tasting coating, she’s going to drop it.  You’ll need to be spying on her when this is happening.  As soon as she drops it, take her into a room designated for play.  Give her a catnip-laced toy and interact with her there.  Repeat this training measure as often as possible, spraying other “inappropriate” items, and then redirecting her to toys. 

Swap out her toys often.  Cats get bored playing with the same thing over and over.  Be sure to praise her with pats, affection, and happy sounding words when she “hunts” her toys.  And any time you catch her taking something that does not belong to her, take it away and immediately redirect her to her own things.

Be sure to engage in active play-time with your kitten throughout the day.  As a youngster, she has a lot of energy to burn.  If no one ever channels that energy into acceptable activities, she’s going to figure out what to do on her own, which is probably not a good thing in her case.  As she gets older, she’ll mellow out and not need as much playtime, but for the time being, make sure everyone in the family gets involved in keeping her busy.

You will probably notice that she hides some of her toys.  Do your best to spy on her as she carries them away.  Cats tend to hide their stash in one or two locations.  If you are not overly obvious, you should be able to locate where she has hidden your previously stolen items. 

It sounds like you have a fun little companion.  Enjoy her but remember, you are the pet-parent and you (and your whole family) need to set the rules and consistently enforce them in a positive and loving way.  Good luck!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Hiking with your Dog

Dear Marie,
I've just adopted a two-year-old shepherd mix from the animal shelter.  We've named her Bonnie.  She is lively and lots of fun and has already settled nicely into my home (and was already house-broken before we got her).  I can’t say enough good things about her, and to anyone who thinks that pound-pets are rejects, you've just not given these guys the chance they deserve.   My husband and I are avid hikers.  We’d like to take Bonnie with us but this will be a brand new experience.  We've never hiked with a dog before.  Do you have any tips that you can give us?
Jeanne, Jerry, and Bonnie

Congratulation on adopting Bonnie!  I completely agree that shelter pets make great companions and I wish there were more people like you giving dogs like her a second chance.  More and more often, animals at shelters have been given up due to economic reasons rather than for anything else.  So just like Bonnie, a pretty significant number of shelter dogs are already trained and essentially turn-key pets. 

As far as hiking goes, always check to see if dogs are welcome on the trails you plan to visit.  Generally, dogs are allowed on leash in most areas, but there are some environmentally sensitive locations that prohibit dogs.  I’d hate to see you make a long trip for nothing.

You’ll want to make sure Bonnie is physically ready for hiking.  To do this, walk with her in your neighborhood two to three times a day, gradually increasing the distance.  Even though she won’t protest, if you take her out on a five or ten mile nature hike without working up to this distance, she’s going to suffer physically.  Dogs mask muscle aches and pains, so you won’t know she’s in any discomfort; but that doesn't mean she’s feeling fine. 

This time of year there are a lot of fox tails and burrs in wooded areas.  These nasty little plant parts can end up in ear canals, nostrils, between toes, or wound up tightly in fur.  They can cause ear infections, ruptured eardrums, and skin injuries.  Be sure to thoroughly check Bonnie’s ears, nose, toes, and coat after every hike and remove all burrs and fox tails before they create problems.  This is also a good time to check for ticks which tend to latch on under tails, behind ears, and in the warm parts of the abdomen, especially around the inside tops of legs.  If you haven’t already started using a product like Frontline, I would definitely recommend it, especially since you will probably be hiking through tick-infested areas.  

The warm weather creates some other safety issues.  This is the time of year that snakes are most active.  It is not at all uncommon to spot rattlesnakes sunning themselves on trails.  Keep your eyes peeled at all times and make sure Bonnie is always under your control.  If you spot a snake, give it plenty of space and do not let Bonnie pull or tug you.  This is where voice training your dog really becomes important.  You should be able to tell her to sit and stay and know that she will do it immediately.  I understand there is a great temptation to let dogs off leash when one is out in nature, but doing so will put Bonnie at risk so please don’t give in.

You’ll also want to make sure Bonnie has plenty of water.  Carry a collapsible bowl with you and bring along extra water.  Remember, dogs cannot cool themselves the way humans do so watch for signs of over-heating and get Bonnie into the shade whenever possible.  I recommend hiking with dogs in the early morning or early evening when it is still relatively cool.

Of course it should go without saying that you must clean up after your dog.  Carry bags with you and be responsible.  Sometimes there are only trashcans at trail-heads which means you might end up having to carry a full bag during your hike (and I know that is not something to look forward to); but no one likes seeing these bags on the sides of trails, or hanging on tree branches (obviously left by people who intended to get them on their way back), and it is this type of behavior that leads to trails getting closed to our canine companions.  

That said, hiking with dogs is a lot of fun and I suspect the three of you will have marvelous adventures.  Enjoy.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hi Energy Dog

Dear Marie.
Our 1 ½ year old Aussie Mix (Dusty) is a regular power-pack of energy. I walk him in the morning before I leave to work. I walk him during my lunch break (I go home for lunch). When I get home from work, I walk him again. And finally, before I go to bed, I walk him one more time. You’d’ think that would be plenty of exercise…I’m certainly wiped out from all the walking. But he’s still rearing to go. In fact, five minutes after getting home, if I pick up his leash to move it to a drawer, he goes nuts thinking we’re going out again. I feel as though I’m not offering him enough activities. He doesn't get into trouble while I’m away. In fact, he’s a beautifully mannered dog. I got him from a rescue about 4 months ago and he has settled right in. He’s affectionate, perfectly house-trained, and good with strangers and other animals. I couldn't ask for a better dog. But I think he could ask for a better human because I know I’m not giving him what he needs. He seems restless…always looking at the door, wanting to go and do.

Any ideas about what he needs?

Dear Katie,
Australian Shepherds are highly intelligent working dogs that not only need physical activities, but intellectual activities as well. It seems like you are taking him on plenty of walks, so don’t be so hard on yourself. I would recommend, however, replacing one or two of those walks each week with some time at a dog park, throwing him a ball there, or just letting him run around with some new canine buddies. Since he’s good with other animals this would be great fun for him. And he can run a lot faster and harder with four-legged companions than he can with you!

Though doggy-day-care facilities are a little pricey, many have a treasure trove of wonderful activities for their furry charges. If you have the budget for it, this type of facility may be perfect for your high-energy critter. Make sure you tour several facilities to be certain they have a safe and healthful environment and that dogs aren't just put in kennels all day, or at all. An ideal facility will have several play areas with different activities to stimulate a dog’s mind. Some even offer canine-massage and grooming services, to name a few of the frilly benefits.

Keep in mind that your dog is a herding dog. Dusty would probably love the opportunity to have herding training. Believe it or not, right here in Southern California, you can enroll your dog in actual herding classes. This would be a great activity for a dog like Dusty. If you prefer doing things together—keep in mind you’ll be even more wiped out from these activities than you are from your walks—then I would encourage you to get involved with a dog agility or flyball club. Do a quick Internet search to find one of these organizations close to where you live.

The great thing about joining a club is that in addition to Dusty having plenty of challenging activities, you’ll meet lots of other folks who have dogs that are just as energetic as yours and have no doubt come up with some great solutions for working out some of that extra oomph. It’s a wonderful way to network and become a better dog-person. If you really get into agility or flyball, you can start entering competitions and make a hobby out of it. Dusty will have a great time and you’ll never feel like you aren't doing enough to give your dog an active and happy life.

Eventually, all dogs start slowing down—some sooner than others—and will not require quite as much high-intensity play. So, if you opt just to do the dog park a few times a week because you do not have time for the clubs or training classes, or the budget for doggy-day-care, that will no doubt be fine. Get your dog a few, high-quality, interactive toys and change them up every few days to keep his mind stimulated…and keep up the good walks. You’re doing a great job.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Friendly Dog Growls

Dear Marie,
I have a basset hound. He is extremely friendly, with a few exceptions. My question is, when he is approached (when in his bed), even if he sees you coming and wags his tail, as soon as you reach him
and pet him he does a grumble/growl (he doesn't show any teeth) and he does that sometimes when
petting him goodbye when leaving. Is this anything I should be concerned about? Also, sometimes
when getting ready to leave he goes in the back and watches me leave through the doggie door, why
is that?
Any help would be appreciated, thanks.

Dear Kari,
Has your basset hound always behaved in this manner or is this new conduct? If the growling started recently, red health flags are certainly waving. With the tail wagging going on until you reach him, he may be worried that you will touch a painful area. It is essential that you take him to the vet to rule out an injury or another health problem.

However, if he has always acted in this way, than you might consider that the growling isn't really a growl. Some dogs vocalize in strange ways. I used to have a German Shepherd who got so excited when she saw me, she made a growling sound that changed to an almost human voice. Sometimes the tones that came ringing out of her great big, tooth-filled mouth sounded like a baby saying, “mama…mama…mama.” It was very funny.

When a dog is truly growling in a fearful or warning fashion, there is usually other body language going on. For example, his lips may roll back over his teeth. He will tuck his tail between his legs or tightly up next to his body. He will appear to shrink away from whoever is approaching. The hair on his back may rise. His muscles will tense up. If none of these other signals are being presented and you can easily approach your dog and pet him, then the growling is most likely just some unusual vocalization.

When he runs to the doggie door and peers back at you at the times you are leaving for work, he is again communicating with you. Dogs are not stupid. He knows when you pick up your keys and head for the door, that the most important part of his life will be gone for a very long time. By running to HIS door, he is simply expressing to you in the best way he can, “Wouldn't you rather come out here and play with me instead?” Next time he does this, look into his eyes and I’m sure you’ll see that imploring message.

Perhaps you can build some playtime into your morning routine. It may require getting up a little earlier and going out into the cold (ugh!), but I think it will really make your little guy’s day. For a dog, the sun rises and sets with his human. He has the innocent love and loyalty of a child, and those feelings nevermature or change. He craves acceptance and assurance, and in return for these small things he will adore you for the rest of his life. The few years that we are lucky enough to spend with each pet that graces our lives go by so quickly. Therefore, we should not let a day go by without making sure our pets feel secure and loved.

This is something all pet parents should consider – that no matter how busy we are, we must be certain to spend quality time with all of our pets each day—not just a pat on the head in passing, but actually getting out and throwing a ball, brushing a coat, and doing all the fun things that animals love.  This action will make you feel good too.