Dr. D Recommends: Catification

 

“Dr. D Recommends…” is a sporadic presentation of something I love (or just like a lot) that pertains to pets and/or veterinary-type stuff.  Something I think you might also like or find useful.

 

Or it might be silly.  That happens around here sometimes.

 

Catification

Catification. 

 

It’s a made-up word that means “making small changes to your living environment that benefit the cats you reside with”.  It was coined by the wonderful Jackson Galaxy, a cat-whisperer who got his start in Boulder, CO.

 

If you’ve seen any of Jackson’s popular Animal Planet show “My Cat From Hell”, you know that he has an uncanny ability to understand cats and their specific environmental needs. In the book Catification, Jackson explains how to give your cat opportunities to practice their natural instinctive behaviors to climb, scratch, and rest safely in your home, while still maintaining a stylish and comfortable home for the humans who live there.  His ideas range from simple DIY to fancy store-bought, and everything in between.

 

If you have a cat, you have probably heard me talk about environmental enrichment for their mental well-being. Cats have very specific and instinctive needs that we can accommodate fairly easily in our homes.  Without opportunities to climb, scratch, play, rest and own their space, cats will develop behavioral and medical problems.

 

I love this book, and here’s why:

  1. Jackson explains the most common personalities of cats, including my personal favorites – the tree-dwellers vs the bush-dwellers.
  2. He helps cat people determine what, if any, issue is plaguing their feline roommates, and how to remedy most situations with easy solutions.
  3. He empowers and encourages cat people to live freely with their felines, embracing what we love most about them and improving the human to cat bond.
  4. There are so many amazing ideas that are quick and easy to implement, right now!  In fact, right after I read this book, I immediately gave my kitties a couple new beds (which I made myself) and some new toys.  My home is in a constant state of improvement for the kitties’ benefit.

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If you have a cat, go pick up this book from your library or purchase it for your future reference! Also, this would be a perfect gift for the cat-lover or veterinarian in your life… just sayin’.

 

 

Do you have a cat with behavioral and/or medical issues, and you are ready for some professional help?  Give Dr. D a call – she does in-home consultations!

 

Things You Should Know: How to tell if your dog is stressed out.

 

Here’s one of my articles that bears repeating, and there’s no better time than on National Stress Awareness Day!

 

Do you know how to tell if your dog is under stress or feeling anxious?

 

When I ask this question, most pet owners will tell me that they see their dog:

 

  • Cower or hide under a chair
  • Pee or poop on the floor
  • Growl when afraid, but he would never bite!

 

These are certainly signs of fear, make no mistake.  However, the signs that the typical pet owner notices are usually the last in a series of attempts by your dog to avoid whatever is causing them fear or anxiety.  The signs leading up to these are much more subtle, but once you know what to look for, they will become apparent.

If you can recognize the early signs of anxiety and stress in your dog, not only can you help your pet relax before they go to the “dark side”, but you might just avoid a dangerous situation.  Dogs who are allowed to progress to the fear stages listed above are the ones who will either be permanently mentally damaged by that situation (leading to behavior problems), or they will bite. 

 

stressed dog

 

Allow me to tell you a story:

Once upon a time there was a cute little puppy who had never been to the big doggie park.  Her loving owners decided, when she was about 4 months old, to take her there so she could play and have fun!  When she arrived, there were so many smells and so much noise!  She stopped and sat down on the sidewalk, but her loving owners tugged on her leash and encouraged her to keep walking toward the park.

When they arrived at the gate, it made a really loud squeaking sound that hurt her ears! Her eyes widened, and she laid her ears back; she tried to avoid the big gate, but her loving owner picked her up and carried her through.  When they set her down in the grass, she was suddenly surrounded by big dogs!  They were sniffing her and running around in circles, panting and barking.  The puppy tried to find shelter between her loving owner’s feet, but her loving owner walked a few steps away.

The little puppy didn’t like the big doggie park after all.  And so she growled and snapped at the big doggies who wanted to meet her.  Her loving owner scooped her up – she was safe!  But then her loving owner scolded her, telling her she was a bad dog.  The little puppy was confused and scared, and from that day forward she hated the big doggie park.

Did you recognize the signs of anxiety and stress in the story?  The puppy in the story is a real dog, now an adult; she continues to have problems greeting other dogs, and she NEVER goes to the dog park.  Had her loving owner recognized her initial signs of stress, these permanent behavior problems might have been avoided.

 

Stressed bully breed dog

 

Here are the signs of anxiety that you NEED to recognize in your dog:

  1.  Ears laid back
  2.  Wide eyes (“fish eyes”)
  3.  Brows furrowed
  4.  Panting (without being hot or thirsty)
  5.  Licking lips
  6.  Acting sleepy or yawning
  7.  Moving in slow motion
  8.  Hypervigilant (looking in many directions)
  9.  Moving away
  10.  Pacing
  11.  Suddenly won’t eat, even if they were hungry earlier

Start watching your dog for these signs.  I guarantee that you will begin to see them, and maybe even in situations that you didn’t know were causing your pet stress.  Once you become attuned to your pet’s body language, you can intervene early to help your pet relax!  If your pet experiences the signs of fear listed at the top, the damage is already done.  It’s up to you to be your pet’s advocate!

And here’s a handy-dandy handout for you:

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!

Thank you to Dr. Sophia Yin for all her work in this field!

If you need help understanding your pet’s body language, or realize that your pet already has some fear issues, give Dr. D a call!

Q&A: How do I teach my dog to stop jumping up?

 

Being a house call vet, I’ve seen just about every possible canine greeting there is.  From barking and backing up, to searching my pockets for treats, to the crazy jumpers, and even humpers.  🙂

But the one that bothers my clients (and their guests) the most is the jumper.  These dogs are so darn excited to see another live being that they just can’t hide it!

Jumping up is probably one of the hardest habits to train out of our dogs because they receive all types of reinforcement for the behavior (you’ll understand that statement better after seeing this video).

I’ve shared Mikkel Becker’s videos before, and here’s another great one!  I share them because Mikkel has the ability to make training simpler and more doable for everyone.

Watch the video below!

 

Source: Video: Teach Your Dog to Stop Jumping Up

 

Do you have other training or behavioral issues you’d like to see more information on?  Give me your suggestions in the comments below, and your question might just make it into a new blog article!

Great Indoor Games to Play With Your Dog

The weather outside is frightful…  but my dog is going crazy!

 

When you can’t get outside with your pooch, here are some ideas for great indoor games that will give your dog some mental and physical exercise.  Feel free to involve your kids as well if they are big enough!

 

Play Hide and Seek

Give each family member a handful of treats and have them take turns hiding somewhere in the home.  The hiding person calls the dog to them and then rewards them with treats.  When the treats are gone, tell your dog “all done!”, and then go hide again.  Repeat ad nauseum!

 

Tug and Fetch

Playing tug and fetch are great physical games that can be played anywhere!  A long hallway or stairs can add extra exercise to a game of fetch for a young and healthy dog.

 

Find It!

This game involves sniffing and eating, two of your dog’s favorite things!  You can use your dog’s regular meal or some low calorie treats for this game.  Show your dog a treat or piece of kibble; say “find it!” then toss the morsel onto the floor.  If your dog doesn’t quite get the point, start by dropping the food right in front of her, and gradually toss the food farther and farther away.

You can make it even more difficult for good sniffers by asking your dog to “stay” while you hide the food somewhere, then release them to go find it!

 

The Muffin Tin Game

I love this game for its simplicity and mental enrichment!

Place a treat (or piece of kibble) in each cup of a muffin tin, and place a tennis ball on top of the treats in about half of the cups (not all of them).  Put the muffin tin on the floor for your dog.  Once they find all the uncovered treats, it won’t take them long to figure out that they can find more treats by knocking out the tennis balls!

 

Training Manners and Having Fun

Using your stuck-indoors time to reinforce your dog’s obedience training can be an excellent way to exercise his brain and tire him out!

You can test and treat your dog on the “Basic Five” – sit, stay, come, down, and heel.

Or, you can teach your dog some new tricks, like spin around, roll over, shake a paw, or close a cabinet.  Let your imagination run wild, and have fun!

(By the way, there are some excellent training videos online to learn from…  just make sure that you are only using positive rewards during your training so you and your dog are both having fun!)

 

Schedule A Doggie Playdate

Does your dog have a best friend?  Invite them over for a playdate!  This is a great way to wear your dog out.

Just make sure you clear some space of breakables… we all know how crazy dog play can get!

 

Stuff A Kong

Are you worn out from all this play, but your dog is still full of it?  While you sit with your cuppa tea or coffee and a good book, give your pup a stuffed Kong to occupy his time!

You can stuff a durable Kong toy with peanut butter and kibble, or freeze it full of peanut butter or broth.  I love this article from Puppy Leaks with some excellent Kong-stuffing ideas!

 

If you use these or any other ideas for your indoor play, I’d love to hear about it!  Leave me a comment below with your favorite indoor games!

 

How to Teach Your Dog Patience

 

Dogs typically don’t have a lot of patience, especially when it comes to something they really want – like food, or going outside, or their favorite toy.  Teaching your dog “impulse control” can be very useful in these situations.

The following link will take you to a video by trainer Mikkel Becker that will teach you the basics of training your dog to be patient.  Although she focuses on “waiting for the food bowl”, this technique can be applied to many other situations in which patience is a virtue.

Video: Learn How to Train Your Dog to Wait for the Food Bowl

I promise it’s not too difficult!  In fact, I often use similar techniques to encourage patience during my veterinary visits with dogs.  Many times, the owners don’t realize what I’m up to, and the dogs learn very quickly what I am asking of them.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you try this training skill with your dog!

Replacing FEAR with FUN: Meet Jill!

 

One thing that I am passionate about, and a big reason why Small Things exists, is to provide fear-free veterinary care for pets.  I specialize in helping dogs and cats feel comfortable with their medical care, reducing their level of stress, and increasing the fun.

I’d like you to meet Jill – a lively Jack Russel Terrier with strong opinions and a passion for playing ball.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (3)

Rewarding Jill with ball play.

 

The first time I met Jill and her brother Jack (another Jack Russel Terrier), Jack jumped all over me right away.  Jill came to say hello, tentatively.  I examined Jack without a problem, but Jill figured out what was going on and would not approach me.  She refused any attempt on my part to engage her, touch her, or play with her.

Jill was a classic case of “fearful dog”.

 

When I meet a dog like Jill, the best thing I can do for them is to provide some counter-conditioning.

Counter-conditioning is a process that aims to change a pet’s negative feelings about a particular stimulus or situation in order to avoid or reverse phobias.

Counter-conditioning replaces the fear response entirely.  It is not just about changing the way that the dog behaves.  It is about changing the way that the dog feels.

Successful counter conditioning will enable the dog to be happy and relaxed in the presence of the previously fearful stimulus.

(From Totally Dog Training)

Jill was scheduled for six sessions with me.  My ultimate goal was that at the end of the six sessions we would achieve the following:

  1. Jill would trust me and have confidence that I am not a threat.
  2. Jill would associate medical procedures, and me, with a positive experience.
  3. Jill would allow a complete physical examination, including vaccinations.
  4. At the end of any medical procedures, Jill would recover quickly from any anxiety, exhibiting playful and happy behaviors.
Look at that happy face!

Look at that happy face!

There are many ways to help a dog develop a positive association with potentially stressful experiences, and each individual dog has his or her own “favorite” reward.  Some (most) dogs respond well to food rewards, but Jill’s favorite was her ball.  Jill was very motivated to do anything for that ball, and she was extremely intelligent, learning quickly how to get me to throw it.

 

 

It took the entire first session with Jill just to get her to let me touch her gently on the shoulder. By the end of our sixth session together, Jill was laying next to me, allowing full body rubs, and I was able to perform a complete physical exam!  A week later, Jill allowed me to give her all her vaccinations and draw blood.  Although those were more stressful procedures, Jill recovered quickly afterward and continued to bring me her ball so I would play.

 

FearFreeJill2015 (2)

Jill wouldn’t come near me at the beginning. By the end of her sessions, she was my best friend!

 

Jill is an excellent example of what we can achieve when we prioritize emotional wellness in veterinary care.  With a little effort, a little time, and lots of positive reward, any dog can have a fear-free veterinary experience!

 

Is your dog or cat fearful and stressed at the veterinary clinic?  Contact me at Small Things Veterinary House Calls and give your pet a fear-free experience!

 

 

 

DIY Cat Scratching Platform (that actually works) for less than $10!

 

I have a cat who loves to scratch.  He is also a horizontal scratcher, which means he likes to get his claws into my carpets.  As you can imagine, over time, my kitty is completely capable of destroying a rug.

Here’s the other dilemma:  Commercial cat scratch platforms are too small.  For a cat to get all the good endorphin release from scratching, he needs a few things:

  1.  He needs to be able to streeeeeeeeeeeetch the full length of his body.
  2.  The platform cannot move when he is scratching violently, or he will be too scared to use it.
  3.  It has to be the perfect substrate, which is different for every cat. (great…)
  4.  It has to show wear over time, because otherwise, how will he show everyone that this is HIS territory??

Because I love my kitty, and I couldn’t find a commercial cat scratch platform that was suitable, I decided to do it myself.  And I want to share it with all of you!

 

Supplies Needed:

 

Supplies needed for Cat Scratch Platform

Sisal rug from IKEA (or something similar), the size of a welcome mat

Scrap piece of plywood, cut a little smaller than the rug

Felt floor protectors (the kind you get for the bottom of furniture legs)

Hammer

Nails (with heads)

 

How to DIY:

This is truly the simplest DIY I think I’ve ever done!  It only took about 15 minutes to complete.

I actually trimmed the plywood myself, but if you have a small scrap you can make it work without cutting it.

Lay the sisal rug over the top of the plywood, lining up the edges.  It’s okay if the rug hangs over the edges a little (like an inch or less).

Use the nails with heads to attach the rug to the plywood, spacing them evenly around the edge of the rug.  Also attach the center area of the rug with a few evenly spaced nails to keep the rug from lifting too much when kitty scratches it.  (Choose nails that are short enough that they won’t go all the way through the plywood and scratch your floor!).

 

Cat Scratch Platform (2)

Flip the whole thing over, and attach the felt floor protectors to the bottom of the plywood.  This will keep the plywood from scratching your flooring when it moves around a little.

Place platform in your kitty’s favorite spot, and let him go at it!  You can entice your cat to scratch on the platform by sprinkling it with catnip or treats, and/or spraying the surface with feline pheromones (such as Feliway).

 

Goose on his cat scratcher

 

I hope your kitty enjoys this DIY project as much as mine does.  Please share pictures of your projects with me; I’d love to see them!

 

Things You Should Know: Trees or Bushes?

You may have heard me say this before:  Cats are typically either tree-dwellers or bush-dwellers.

 

Wondering why this is important?  How can you tell if your cat is a tree-dweller or bush-dweller?  And what are you supposed to do with that information once you figure it out?  What the heck are you talking about, Dr. D?

 

Tree or Bush?

Trees or bushes?  Why do we care?

 

Indoor cats have a unique problem among domesticated animals.  Their instinctive nature is not to be confined in a box, but to be free to climb, scratch, hunt, and hide.  When we bring a cat into our home, it’s easy to expect them to adapt to our human way of life.  Unfortunately, when we don’t provide our feline friends with acceptable outlets for their natural behaviors, they will often act out in negative ways.  This can include scratching your favorite chair, attacking other cats in the home, “going” outside the litter box, or getting sick.

If you have a multiple cat household, it is especially important to determine the preferences of each cat and provide them with the corresponding enrichment type.  This will not only provide your cats with mental and emotional comfort, but can help prevent many inter-cat conflicts.

Bottom line:  A cat with a healthy, mentally enriching environment will be a better and healthier companion.

 

Cat in condo

Tree-dweller or bush-dweller?

Okay.  So how can I tell if my cat is a tree-dweller or a bush-dweller?

 

First, read over the following lists while keeping your cats in mind.  Does your kitty seem to subscribe to more “tree” or “bush” behaviors?

Is your cat a tree-dweller or bush-dweller?

 

I’m learning so much!  What can I do for my cats now?

 

Now that you have an idea whether your cat prefers “trees” or “bushes”, here are some things you can do to easily provide your cat’s preferred environment.

A tree-dwelling cat

Observe – the brave tree-dwelling cat in his natural habitat…

For Tree-Dwellers

  • The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a tree-dweller’s space is VERTICAL.  Think cat trees with high perches, beds that hang on window sills, a book shelf or floating wall shelf that your cat can access, etc.  Find a place up high that your cat can get to, and put a comfy bed or blanket there.  Now your tree-dweller can freely survey his domain from on high.

 

A bush-dwelling cat

The elusive and secretive bush-dwelling cat…

For Bush-Dwellers

  • The number one thing to focus on here is HIDDEN.  Bush-dwellers like to hide low to the ground.  Think about adding boxes, hutches, covered cat beds or “condos”.  Even a cardboard box with a blanket inside can be the perfect “bush”.  Placement of the hidey hole is also key – make sure it’s out of the major flow of traffic and that your cat has an easy exit route so they don’t feel trapped.

 

I’d love to hear what type of kitty you have!  Tell me in the comments!

 

Got cat behavior questions?  Check out The Indoor Pet Initiative website for more great information!

How To Move Without Making Your Cat Crazy

 

We’re in the process of purging, selling, and packing up our home to get ready for a local move.  And while the kitties certainly love the empty boxes all over the place, I know as moving day gets closer their stress level is going to increase significantly.

Cats do not appreciate change.  Especially change that involves removing them from a comfortable, well-marked territory to one that is completely new and smells funny.  But, as a veterinarian mommy to these two handsome felines, I know how to help them remain calm, and I’m going to share my tips with you!

(By the way, these tricks will work to reduce cat anxiety in many stressful situations besides moving; think new cat, new baby, new human, new furniture, etc…)

 

GooseBeanFocused

 

Prior to moving day:

Purchase a Feliway diffuser and place it in the room your cat uses most often, especially if they hide there.  Feliway is a synthetic cat pheromone that only cats can smell, and it helps reduce anxiety.  You can begin using Feliway a couple weeks before moving day, and then continue its use in your new home (we’ll talk more about your cat’s “sanctuary room” later).

Play classical music while you’re packing!  Studies have recently shown that cats respond well to classical music and that it reduces anxiety!  As an added benefit, it will reduce your stress as well.  I like this product (for both dogs and cats)!

Get out the carrier(s) and do some positive reinforcement training.  If your cat does not like the carrier, this is really important.  Your cat should not see the carrier for the first time on moving day!  Bring it out several days in advance, put it on the floor in a quiet spot and put a comfy blanket in it.  Prop the door open and put some food or treats in there.  Do this every day leading up to moving day.

Make sure your cat is microchipped and that the info is updated.  Moving is the perfect opportunity for tragedy to strike in the form of an escaped kitty.  Take this simple precaution to make sure your cat can be identified.

Play with your cat regularly during the packing stage!  Be sure to have regular play sessions during the weeks leading up to the move.  This will help reduce any anxiety or loneliness your cat might experience while you are preoccupied with the move.

 

Goose in a box (4)

 

On moving day:

Lock ’em up!   Put your cats, their carriers, a litter box, some food and water, and a hiding place in one room with a closed door.  This room should either be emptied before the cats are placed inside, or emptied last.  Whatever you decide, make sure everyone knows the plan and to keep the door closed.  Place a sign on the door as a reminder if necessary.

Move the kitties last.  Once the movers have emptied your home, load up the kitties in their carriers and buckle them up in the car to take them to their new home.  You might consider spraying a little Feliway on the blanket that is in the carrier at least an hour before you are going to load them up.

Cat proof the new house by checking to make sure all the windows are closed, the screens don’t have holes to escape through, and that your cats can’t get stuck anywhere.

Set up a sanctuary room in the new house.  Plug in your Feliway diffuser in the room you have chosen.  Place the litter box, food and water, and hiding places in this room.  If necessary, have the movers put your furniture in this room first, so that the cats will feel more at home.  Let your cats out of the carriers inside this room, and close the door.  This is their safe zone, until you are finished moving for the day.

When you are done moving and all is quiet, open the door to the cats’ sanctuary, and allow them to explore on their own time and terms.  You can also use Feliway in the rest of the house to help your cats adjust more quickly.  Play some classical music.  Maintain the same routines as much as possible, and give them plenty of love and attention as they are getting used to their new home.

 

For super anxious cats:

If your cat is prone to severe anxiety, consider arranging to board them for moving day and the day after.  They may be less stressed this way, and there is less chance of them escaping or hiding out of fear.  Sedatives might also be an option that you can discuss with your veterinarian.

 

Does your kitty totally freak out at the vet, too?  Then call Dr. D – she makes house calls!

Q&A: Why Do Cats Like Boxes?

Every cat owner knows this to be true:  Cats and empty boxes go together like peanut butter and chocolate.  Like wine and cheese.  Like french fries and ice cream… oh, is that just me?

 

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say "Goose-in-a-box"!

My cat Goose will literally find his way into a new empty box faster than you can say “Goose-in-a-box”!

 

But why?  It’s a question that researchers were only recently able to answer.  Getting an answer took so long because, well frankly, cats are terrible at filling out surveys.

There are three prevailing theories that have emerged:

 

Goose in a box (2)

1.  The Predatory Instinct

Cats are predatory by nature, and they prefer to hunt from places of hiding.  This could explain why your cat pounces unexpectedly onto your feet when you walk by an empty box.

2.  Warmth

Anyone who has observed a cat knows that they really like to be warm.  Their normal body temperature ranges around 100-102 degrees F, but the typical home temperature sits around 72 degrees F.  A box (or other small space) may provide insulation and warmth for our dear kitties.

 

Really?  The trash can?

Really? The trash can?

 

3.  Self-soothing and stress reduction

And finally, in a study among shelter cats, it was discovered that chilling in a box greatly reduced stressful behaviors and potentially harmful hormone levels.  Having empty boxes around helped the cats adjust more quickly to a new environment.  Cats apparently derive comfort and security from small enclosed spaces.

 

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

I swear, I have a thousand more pictures like this.

 

So how does this new knowledge benefit you and your cats?  Here are a couple ideas I have that will help you put this information to good use:

  • Provide plenty of empty boxes and/or hiding places if you are bringing home a new cat, or changing your cat’s environment.  This could help with stress reduction and a faster adjustment to their new space (or new house-mates).
  • Use that empty Amazon box as environmental enrichment.  Cats get bored in the same-old-same-old.  A new hiding place will stimulate and encourage their mental and physical health.
  • In the winter (or any time of year, really), try putting a comfy hidey hole right where the sun beam hits your floor.  Not only will they bask in the glow of warmth but they’ll be secure and hidden, completely able to relax during their mid-morning nap.

 

Do you have any theories to add?  I’d love to hear ’em!