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

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plastic-Licking Cat

Dear Marie,
My cat is weird!  He likes to lick and/or eat plastic.  When I go shopping and bring the groceries in, he can’t wait to lick the plastic bags.  He wakes me up in the night or early in the morning with his constant licking of the plastic liner over hanging my bedroom trash basket.  He chews on plastic wrappers, plastic ribbon, and anything else plastic he finds.  I’m not talking about food wrappers either – although if those are plastic, he likes them equally well.  But it’s not the food scent that’s getting him all worked up.  It’s the plastic!  Occasionally, he gets his paws on my photographs and licks and chews them.  This is especially upsetting because he has ruined some of my favorite photos. Sometimes his plastic licking goes on for hours.  Is my cat just a freak or do other cats do this too?

Dear Tracy,
You are not at all alone.  Many cat owners report the exact behavior exhibited by your cat in their own pets and they are just as baffled.  Though the attraction to plastic varies in degree from individual to individual, it is not at all uncommon for cats to lick, chew, and even eat plastic. 

Cats who seem to be most obsessed with plastic are often the type of feline who may still try to “nurse” as an adult (sucking on blankets, or their people’s clothes, etc.) or are otherwise orally fixated.  These are cats who were most likely taken or weaned from their mothers at too early of an age.

One major concern relating to this behavior is that when cats consume plastic, especially the decorative plastic grasses that line Easter baskets and gifts, or plastic tinsel, they can become seriously ill from resulting intestinal blockages.  Consequently, you should try to the best of your ability to keep your cat from ingesting plastic.

Many plastic products today are made with a number of biodegradable components, including cornstarch.  These ingredients along with various petroleum products emanate an odor, undetected by people, but irresistible to certain felines. 

The texture of plastic also seems to be a factor in this bizarre activity.  It is speculated that many cats just enjoy the smooth, cool feeling on their tongues. They also enjoy the sound that plastic makes.  (A cat's tongue on a plastic bag can be VERY noisy.  I have been awakened by my own cats licking plastic bags more times than I can count!)  This combined with the aroma, may give cats a very pleasurable sensation akin to enjoying a lollipop that never gets any smaller no matter how many times it gets licked. 

I do caution you to keep all photographs safely stored away in photo albums or behind glass frames.  Some photographic processes use chemicals that can potentially cause liver and kidney damage if consumed.  So please be very careful with these items.

Licking or eating non-food items may also be a sign of a serious illness such as feline leukemia or other immunodeficiency diseases.  Just to be on the safe side, you should have your cat tested.  Most likely however, this behavior is nothing to worry about as long as you restrict it to licking and not consuming.

If you feel you must stop your cat from continuing in his plastic quest, you should first eliminate the type of plastic he targets from your household environment.  Next, increase his fiber intake with specially formulated high fiber content pet foods.  You can also grow “kitty grass” indoors so that your little friend has something more natural to chew on or lick.

Finally, some cats become addicted to plastic licking simply because they are bored and don’t get enough stimulation.  I would strongly recommend getting some new toys for your cat and adding some extended playtime to his daily routine.  Give him a lot of extra affection or brush him more frequently.  If he is alone during the day and you work, perhaps you should consider getting him a little feline buddy with whom to pass the hours while you are away or busy.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Male Sun Conure Laid Egg?

Dear Marie,
My 8-year-old “male” Sun Conure just laid an egg a couple of days ago!  That was a surprise!  Fortunately, “his” name works for a “her” too.  But that’s not why I am writing.  Since she laid the egg, she seems very irritable and lethargic.  She is also just staying in a corner of her cage where the egg is instead of coming out during the day and sitting with me, or playing with her different toys.  The egg is not fertile since I don’t have any other birds so there is no reason for her to stay with it but she won’t let me take it away and because she seems so tired, I’m concerned about her health.  She’s just not her old self and she has absolutely no interest in me right now which makes me sad.  He’s…she’s my best friend.

Dear Billy,
Many, many bird “parents” who think they have “boy” birds find out they have girls in a sequence of events that occur exactly as you have described!  It’s especially surprising when a bird has been in the family for almost a decade.  However, in a number of species, it might take a several years before a female lays her first set of eggs—and yes, you should probably expect at least one or two more eggs.  If she doesn't lay another egg in the next day or two, and continues to appear lethargic, she may be egg-bound and this can be very serious.  A trip to the veterinarian would be your next move.  The vet can determine if there are any more eggs inside your bird that are not passing.  If necessary, your bird can be anesthetized and a procedure can be done to remove an egg(s) that is/are “stuck.”  Hopefully, everything is working the way it should be and this is not the case for your bird.

Laying eggs is not easy and your little bird will need to have an extra good diet of calcium rich food right now.  Cut up some broccoli, kale, and spinach and mix it with a little grated cheese.  You can toss that with some calcium fortified orange juice to make a yummy “salad.”  Almonds and walnuts also have a lot of calcium, and if left in their shells will provide some fun, interactive feeding activity for her.  Of course, give her a variety of fruits and other veggies, along with some high quality pellets too so that she has a well-balanced food offering. 

Even though her eggs are not fertilized, her mothering instincts will be present.  She is not going to want anyone to “mess” with her babies.  It’s not that she doesn’t love you anymore; she’s just assuming the role of “mom” and takes it very seriously. Give her a nesting box and try to move (without getting bitten) her egg into the box.  She’ll lay her other eggs there when she is ready and this will make her feel far more secure and happy. 

As time passes, she will eventually decide she has had enough and will leave the eggs.  This is a good time to take the entire nesting box away.  Don’t remove the eggs before she is leaves them or she will lay more and you don’t want that to happen.  Egg-laying takes a lot out of birds and the more you can limit her cycles, the healthier she will be.

Generally, parrot parents should ensure their female birds get plenty of sleep.  Try to get your bird “to bed” by 6:00 PM each evening.  It helps if you have a room with light-blocking shades on the window.  Cover your bird’s cage as well.  During the day, expose your bird to plenty of natural sunlight and let her get lots of exercise and playtime.  By having a routine like this, you may be able to reduce the frequency of her egg-laying cycles.

Keep a watchful eye out for the signs that another cycle is beginning.  Female birds tend to be noisier and a little bit cranky or “bitey” when an egg-laying cycle is getting started.  That’s the time to put her nesting box back into her cage and to begin giving her the super charged diet I outlined above.

The good news here is that once she is done with her eggs, you will be the object of her affection again and she will be the same old bird that you know and love…aside from the fact that she is not a boy!  Good luck.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Shelter Seems Anxious to Euthanize

Dear Marie,
I purchased a beautiful 1.5-year-old Male Border Collie mix from the local animal shelter.  His previous owner had given him up for adoption, but I was never informed of the reason why. He was a wonderful, fun-loving, incredibly intelligent dog.  He also adored me, showering me with love and affection. I own a modeling agency and kept him with me in the office.  We were together 24 hours a day.  Unfortunately, he had some bad behavioral traits.  Among them, he was destructive, would defecate to punish me and on three occasions nipped at my clients when they would intervene.  He simply didn't want strangers telling him what to do. 

Obviously, I could discipline him, but he wouldn't tolerate anyone else doing the same.  He never broke the skin, but it was indeed a problem.  I might have been able to solve the other behavioral problems, but I couldn't have a dog at my business that might hurt someone.  

Reluctantly, I decided to take him back to the animal shelter and put him back up for adoption.  I got there and explained the situation and was told that they could not accept him for adoption since he was being brought there for the second time, but more important, because he had nipped at people.  They were willing to take him back, but they told me he would be put down.  

I anguished for hours.  I had to go back east to be with an ailing relative.  Animal Control spent a lot of time trying to explain to me the danger of putting him up for adoption.  I was told of the risk and the liability if someone were to get hurt.  

I eventually relented because I was so pressed to go to the hospital to see my relative.  To this day, I regret the decision.  Had he not nipped at clients, I would have never considered giving him up.  So my question after this long-winded email is why is animal control so anxious to euthanize such a wonderful animal?  Is there really that much risk that a dog that nips will turn on someone and genuinely injure them? Thanks for whatever comments you might have.

Dear Alan,
I am going to answer your question but what I have to say is probably not what you want to hear.  Let me start with your basic question first.

Technically, public animal shelters have no legal obligation to place owner-relinquished pets up for adoption; however in practice, many do make an effort to re-home the majority of these animals.  Still, shelters have their hands full with stray pets; owners who add to this almost overwhelming load by giving up their own animals are not afforded much credibility.

Everyone who drops off his or her own dog or cat has "a story."  Sometimes the explanations are maddening – the new boyfriend or girlfriend doesn't like the cat or dog; or new carpet is being installed; or it sheds too much; etc.  Needless to say, shelter staff members become pretty hardened to owners with “stories” about why it’s just not feasible to keep a pet any longer.  

However, a shelter’s concerns with liability are well-founded.  We live in a society where lawsuits are the norm.  A shelter that adopts out a dog or cat that is known to be a biter/nipper leaves itself wide open to substantial financial liability, and with the small budgets shelters have to work with as it is, this is not something they can take lightly.  As a result, they generally choose to euthanize owner-relinquished pets that have a history of biting.

Prior to living with you, your dog had been in a home and subsequently given up.  For all you know, he may have had several homes prior to entering your household.  His emotional state was fragile at best.  At a year and a half old, the most important, formative months of his life were spent in a state of flux, which led to the behavioral problems that you observed.   Contrary to the old saying that "you can’t teach an old dog new tricks," all of his behavioral issues could have been addressed and eliminated with training, patience, love, and stability.

I get the impression you did not have this dog too long prior to your family emergency and I understand that you felt you had no alternative but to give him up.  I am surprised that the animal shelter you dealt with did not offer you the names and phone numbers of rescue organizations and support groups, as well as advice regarding what you could have done, including boarding your dog while you tended to your family matters, and then working with a trainer upon your return.  

Still, I believe that all too often, even with good advice from staff members, pet owners look at shelters as a quick solution to eliminating "their problems."  This is not what shelters are for and we can’t blame them for the unpleasant consequences that arise from public irresponsibility.        

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Cats and Hairballs

Dear Marie,
We have a fairly new cat that constantly hacks up hairballs.  We inherited her from a friend who had to move away.  At first we thought the cat wasn't using her litter box because the hairballs we found looked like cat droppings.  But one day, I saw her throwing up, and sure enough, the thing that came out was exactly what I have been finding all over the house.  I talked to one of my neighbors about it and she said it was definitely a hairball and that her cats do that too sometimes.  I can handle “sometimes”.  But this is an everyday event.  What can I do?  Our cat has long hair and a very thick coat.  I’m sure that has something to do with it.  Thanks for any advice you have to offer.

Dear Jennifer,
Many cats suffer from problems associated with hairballs and there are many different opinions as to how to deal with the situation.  The simplest method for controlling the ingestion of too much hair is daily brushing. 

Most cats enjoy being groomed by their owners.  Generally, I brush my cats while I catch the evening news.  My kitties love the attention and frankly, I think they would prefer the news to last all night long.  They stretch out and roll around on my lap to ensure I don’t miss a single spot.  They enjoy grooming time so much, that when they hear the closing soundtrack of the evening news, they usually grab a hold of my arm to try and keep me from leaving!

Usually, this type of grooming is enough to keep hairballs from forming.  But cats who are under stress tend to shed more than well adjusted, happy cats.  Given that your feline buddy just came into your home and left her familiar surroundings, she is probably experiencing quite a bit of anxiety and hence shedding significantly more than she normally would.

Your best bet is to make her feel as comfortable as possible.  You may need to groom her several times a day during this adjustment period, just to keep on top of her nervous shedding.  If you notice that she is licking her fur excessively, try and interrupt her by introducing another activity.  Playtime is always a good distraction.  In addition to keeping your kitty’s mind off losing her previous home, it also keeps her body fit.  Sedentary and obese cats tend to have more problems with hairballs than active, svelte felines.

Aside from hairballs being a hassle for people – especially while walking barefoot at night – they can be a health hazard for cats.  If enough hair accumulates in the esophagus, it can get stuck and create a blockage.  In the stomach, a hard matted hairball may need to be surgically removed.  This can also occur anywhere in the intestinal tract and could potentially be fatal.

Some experts believe that feeding only dry cat foods compounds this problem and suggest providing canned cat foods with dry for a healthy, balanced diet.  Furthermore, cats that seem to have a propensity for hairballs should be given special lubricants with their food such as Petromalt, Laxatone, CatLax, or any other brand that your cat will take without a fight.  Many cats like the flavor given to these products and will lick the appropriate portion straight out of the tube.

Finally, check your cat for fleas.  External parasites cause a lot of discomfort and itchiness that leads to licking and biting the fur.  If you do notice fleas, I would urge you to use a once-a-month flea control product such as Advantage or Frontline to eliminate these pests and make your cat very happy.  The less time she spends licking her fur, the less likely she is to develop hairballs.

If after trying all of these suggestions and giving your cat time to settle in to her new surroundings, you still find that she is expelling excessive amount hairballs, you should check with your veterinarian. But for now, enjoy your new friend and welcome her whole-heartedly.  Your love and attention is the best medicine she can receive.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dogs eat Poop

Dear Marie,
I am the proud grandmother of two Basset Hounds (4 and 2) who I am babysitting while my son and his wife are in the Peace Corp.  Have had them about a year now - another year to go.  They have always been poop-eaters.  Recently I started giving them a little variety and, hopefully better health, by adding some olive oil at breakfast and non-fat, plain yogurt at dinner to their lamb/rice dry food.  AND, I am giving them pills from PetSmart that are supposed to make the poop taste horrible so they'll quit eating it.  Well instead, it hardly hits the ground and they are both at it!  So, I follow them into the yard and grab it before they can eat it!

Help!!!  It's disgusting!

Dear Sheri,
Thanks for the interesting question!  I have answered this one a few times over the years – but your “grand-dogs” have added an unusual twist. Generally, when dogs eat feces, it is because they are missing various nutrients that seem to get processed out of commercial dog food.  Cat feces are frequently a big attraction for dogs because there tends to be a lot of protein remaining in these droppings.  But – it sounds like the Basset Hounds are getting plenty of good food.  You might want to add a vitamin supplement to their diet to see if it helps; however, I suspect dietary issues may not be the only triggers involved in this situation.

Usually, when dog owners add the type of product that you have used – one that makes feces have an intolerable taste - that puts an end to the behavior.  Yet, you say it is even worse now.  I am assuming you've already made a trip to the vet to make sure that the dogs don’t have intestinal parasites.  If not, please do.  Dogs with parasites have an insatiable appetite and as a result, almost always eat feces.   

If you have ruled that out, then the last idea I have is that this is somewhat behavioral.  Do you get upset when the dogs eat the poop?  Do you yell or act in a way that may make the dogs feel like they are doing something bad?  I have a feeling that initially, this all began just as a normal behavior that many dogs do from time to time.  However, if you possibly reacted in a way that made them feel “in trouble”, they may have decided that doing their business is what makes you upset rather than their eating of their own excrement.  This is further compounded by the fact that you immediately scoop everything up.

In a nutshell, they see a huge reaction from you each time they have a bowel movement.  They hear a tone in your voice that means “no” or “bad” and that’s very stressful for them.  They also see you rush to get rid of their droppings.  So, in spite of the horrible taste that they now have to endure, they are compelled to “get rid of the evidence” so that you won’t be upset.  Remember, dogs will do almost anything to please their people.  So even though they are misunderstanding why you do what you do, they think they are helping and being good dogs when they do what they do! 

Here’s what needs to be done now.  First, the cycle needs to be broken.  You can accomplish this by letting only one dog out at a time – on a leash.  When he’s finished going potty, walk him away from the area, give him lots of affection, and pay no attention to what he’s left on your lawn.  Put him back in the house.  THEN clean up the mess, and repeat the process with the second dog. 

Eventually, this habit will be broken and you’ll be sending back to your son and his wife two perfectly behaved Basset Hounds.  

Hang in there!

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Difficulty in House-training a Dog

Dear  Marie:
I am having a problem house breaking my 13-month-old male Doxie.  I got him at 6 months of age and tried to housebreak him for several weeks, but without success.  I live in a condo and am gone about 8 hours every day.  As soon as I get home, I open the patio door and he goes out and does his job.  However, he still wets on the carpet so I got a 2’ X 4’ cage that I keep him in during the day.  He does well most of the time; however, this morning, after I fed him and before I put him in his cage, he wet on my bed even though the patio door was open for him to go out.

Do you have any suggestions that may help, or will he grow out of it as he gets older?

Dear Jean:
House breaking puppies is one of the most difficult and often times frustrating tasks pet owners face.  Your puppy is now 13 months old and you feel, very understandably, that your pet should already know where the “right” place is to do his “business.”   It seems as though you’re doing all the right things yet your little guy is still having “accidents.”

You gave me a few hints about some possible problem areas in your letter.  The first big clue was the fact that you allow your dog on your bed.  This is a huge “no no!”  At least for the time being..Bear with me now, because we’re going to have to think like dogs for a second or two! 

You and your family must always hold the position of “Top Dog” in your puppy’s mind.  As “Top Dog”  (or parent) you must never allow your dog on your bed because if you do, you are sending the message to your puppy that he is an equal to you.  As an equal, he will not feel as inclined to follow your rules; thus, he might decide that going to the bathroom outside is one rule he will ignore!  On the other hand, he may feel confused by being allowed on your bed.  He probably knows deep down that you are the “Alpha” in his life, and therefore he knows your bed should be off limits.   So, to show you respect and gratitude, he urinates and turns belly up in your presence.  If you were a dog, you would appreciate this act of submission and respect!   However, I expect that your sentiments at the time were far from appreciation and your resulting behavior would have further confused your little guy. 

Using a crate to house break your dog is an excellent training method.  A crate simulates a “den.”  Generally, dogs will not urinate and defecate in their sleeping/den area.  (Provided they are given the opportunity to go outside on a regular basis to relieve themselves.)  The big job is demonstrating to your pet that your entire house is “THE DEN.”  

One way to accomplish this goal is to move the crate into a different room every day.  In addition to this, you must immediately take your pet outside to relieve himself when he is released.  Use a phrase or one word consistently to let him know the reason for going outside...for example, “potty time” or some other phrase that you will always use that does not sound like any other command.  When your dog completes his “function,” be sure and praise him with similar consistent phrases such as, “Good potty.”  (And lots of pats!)  Furthermore, even if you leave a door open for your dog to go outside, you should still frequently escort him outside yourself and use your “potty command.”

Always take your puppy outside after his meals.  Wait for him to urinate and defecate before bringing him back in.  If it seems as though he doesn't need “to go” and you allow him back into the house, you are setting him up for failure...he WILL need  “to go” soon after a meal.

You did not mention if your dog is neutered.  If he is not, I strongly recommend that you make an appointment with your veterinarian immediately!!!  Not only will this help with indoor urination problems, but it will  also lead to your dog leading a longer, healthier life, and you will be doing your part as a responsible pet owner to curb pet over-population!

Above all, keep your patience.  Eventually, your little angel will learn what behavior is expected from him.  At 13 months old, he is still just a baby!  He needs all the praise and encouragement you can give him.  Hang in there!