Solutions to Common Pet Problems
Problem: Your Cat Tosses Food on the Kitchen Floor
Why it happens: Kitty might be implying she doesn’t like her bowl. “If it’s made of plastic, she’s right,” says Julia Szabo, author of Animal House Style. “Plastic harbors bacteria and imparts an off-putting taste to food and water.” Or she may just be playing with her food―it’s a game.
What to do: “Upgrade to a stainless-steel or china bowl,” says Szabo. If that doesn’t work, try different food or a deeper bowl. Or have a play session before mealtime.
Problem: Your Cat Scratches Everything
Why it happens: “Cats scratch to mark territory and to shed the outer layer of their claws,” says Stephanie Shain, pet-adoption director for the Humane Society of the United States, in Washington, D.C.
What to do: Temporarily limit his access to furniture and find him the scratching post of his dreams, suggests Shain. “Some cats like sisal or carpeted posts―even cheap cardboard posts work for many,” she says. “Also, different cats scratch differently. Some want something flat on the ground. Others like to stretch up.” The key is to put the post right next to the piece of furniture he’s ruining until he learns what is OK to scratch and what isn’t. (Consider the Corner Saver, which fits over the corner of a couch; $95, terisstore.com.) Once he has adapted to the post, move it to a place that’s less intrusive to your design scheme.
Problem: Your Dog Barks When the Doorbell Rings
Why it happens: “Many breeds bark to signal someone approaching the family pack,” says Mary Burch, director of the Canine Good Citizen program of the American Kennel Club, in Raleigh, North Carolina. Because barking seems to banish intruders, your dog will want to keep it up. “The action reinforces the behavior,” says Shain. “The dog barks, the delivery person leaves, and the dog thinks, I’ve done my job!”
What to do: First, have a friend or a family member approach the door and scratch it softly enough that the sound does not elicit barking. Praise the dog and give him a treat. Work up to tapping the door, then knocking, and finally ringing the bell. “Soon the dog will start sniffing for treats whenever there’s a noise at the door,” says Chicago dog trainer Jeff Millman. “Add verbal praise before the treat and eventually his reward will be your saying ‘Good boy!’ and you won’t have to use treats.” But remember―it takes time to teach an old dog…you know.
Problem: Your Dog Urinates When You Get Home
Why it happens: “There may be a medical reason. Have the dog evaluated for urinary-tract problems,” says Ann E. Hohenhaus, a veterinarian at the Animal Medical Center, in New York City. It may be a behavioral issue known as submissive urination. “The dog is saying, ‘I mean you no harm,’” explains Millman. “It’s common in puppies and often goes away on its own. But any behavior that is rehearsed can become a habit.”
What to do: Avoid rushing to Rover when you come home. “Give your dog time to calm down, managing him in a crate or behind a baby gate,” says Millman. “When you approach, do it in a low-key way, with your body turned, so you’re not confrontational. Kneel and avoid eye contact.” Then take your dog outside to relieve himself.
Problem: Your Hamster Runs on His Wheel at Night
Why it happens: “Hamsters are nocturnal. They sleep a lot during the day and are active at night,” says Burch.
What to do: You can’t stop his marathon, so keep the hamster in a quiet, dimly lit room at night, away from anyone’s bed, and make sure he’s got the Ferrari of workout wheels. “The noisiest wheels are metal,” says Shain, who advocates a solid plastic running wheel. If you have a metal wheel, rub some olive oil on the spot where the running circle and the bar connect.
Problem: Your Cat Won't Use the Litter Box
Why it happens: Perhaps she’s trying to tell you there’s something about the litter or the box she doesn’t like. Or she could simply want a separate facility for defecating.
What to do: Experiment. “If the box has a cover, see how she responds to an uncovered one,” says Szabo. “Some cats don’t like to feel too closed in while in elimination mode. And some hate the fragrance or the dust of different litters.” Also try changing the location of the box. If it’s in a cold place or next to an appliance that makes a noise, your cat may feel uncomfortable about defecating there. If all else fails, have two litter boxes―one for each function. And, of course, clean them meticulously with hot water and no soap (fragrance may be a factor).
Problem: Your Dog Pulls His Leash
Why it happens: A dog is a bundle of curiosity with a wet nose attached. He’s outside and he wants to see and sniff everything all at once.
What to do: To manage a pup who’s a puller, try a front-clip harness or a head halter. Better yet, train the dog to walk properly. “A big part of my leash-walking strategy is to be more interesting than the environment,” says Millman. “Get excited when your dog looks at you; do quick, gentle changes in direction; and talk to him a lot to keep his interest.
Problem: Your Dog Takes Too Long to Go
Why it happens: “Your dog probably knows that all the fun ends―she goes inside and is alone―when she does her business,” says Millman.
What to do: “Teach her that she needs to go before the walk starts,” says Millman. Take her to a specific location and use a command, such as “Go potty.” Wait a few minutes. If she goes on cue, give her praise and a treat; if not, bring her inside and try again in 10 minutes. Once your dog responds to the potty command, take her for a walk. This training requires time and patience. You may have to wake up earlier for a few weeks to get her into the habit.
Problem: Your Cat Meows at Night
Why it happens: “If this is an older cat, a vet should check the thyroid. Nighttime vocalization is one sign of hyperthyroidism,” says Patti Iampietro, a veterinarian with Best Friends Animal Society, in Kanab, Utah. An aging pet may lose certain cognitive abilities, says Edward Moser, a veterinarian in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania. “Older animals become less restful at night,” he says. Other causes could be something provoking the cat, a change in her routine or environment, or boredom. And if your cat hasn’t been spayed or neutered, these night howls could be mating calls. Even another cat hanging around outside at night can evoke vocalization, says Iampietro.
What to do: If mating is the motive, promptly “fix” your pet. If not, test the cat for hyperthyroidism with a simple blood test. Treatment options are surgery, daily medication, or radioactive-iodine therapy. A change in diet may also help. “Antioxidants and vitamins E and C may reverse brain-aging changes,” says Moser. Once you rule out medical issues and outside disturbances, you’re probably dealing with a cat who wants attention at 3 a.m. Shain suggests giving the cat some nighttime-only toys before you hit the sack. “It’s a test of will, so steel your nerves and ignore her,” she says.
Problem: Your Pet Sheds
Why it happens: Excessive shedding may be due to dry skin, a poor diet, or stress.
What to do: The first line of defense is to groom your pet for five minutes a day. To reduce shedding, try moisturizing your pet’s skin and hair through his diet. “Dry skin sheds more hair. Dry hairs drop off animals like the needles off a Christmas tree,” says Szabo. She recommends adding a few drops of olive or flaxseed oil to your cat’s or dog’s kibble. Your veterinarian might suggest a dietary supplement such as Derm Caps, which include fish and safflower oils and vitamin E, to improve coat condition. When it comes to cleanup, Szabo swears by the Dyson DC17 Animal ($550, dyson.com), a vacuum designed for a hairy home, and StickySheets ($20 for 12, stickysheets.com), which provide the fuzz-lifting action of a lint roller for a larger surface area.
Problem: Your Dog Chews Everything but His Toys
Why it happens: It’s healthy for dogs to chew. It feels good on their teeth. But in adult dogs, eschewing the chew toy in favor of other items can indicate boredom or attention-seeking behavior.
What to do: Make his chew toys irresistible. “Put toys away when not in use to keep them more novel and interesting,” says Millman. Use a variety of playthings and rotate them. Try sturdy, treat-dispensing toys filled with nutritious munchies.
Problem: Your Cat Claws at a Caretaker
Why it happens: “Most cats will not attack unless provoked,” says Iampietro. So your cat, cranky because you had the audacity to leave, is probably swatting at its overly solicitous caretaker.
What to do: “Slowly introduce the pet to the visitor so the cat will feel more comfortable with her at vacation time,” says Kathy Kwieran, founder of Kathy's Kitties, a cat-rescue and fostering facility in Kempner, Texas. “The caretaker shouldn’t pet or pick up the cat but should let the cat approach her.
Problem: Your Pet's Poop Adheres to Her Backside
Why it happens: Your pet’s stool may be too soft. This can be a problem for long-haired animals.
What to do: “Try a more digestible diet to result in a small amount of firm, dark-colored stool that won’t stick to fur,” says Moser. “Look for a cat food that is 32 to 33 percent protein, 12 to 14 percent fat, and relatively low-fiber. For a dog, you want the protein level at 22 to 24 percent, fat around 12 to 14 percent, and low-fiber, low-residue.” If you still have a sticky situation, carefully crop the fur around the rear end with a beard trimmer or nose-hair scissors, or have a groomer do it.