Veterinary behaviorists attending the 2015 Veterinary Behavior Symposium on July 10 in conjunction with the Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Assn. chimed in to answer reader questions this week.
Q: My 6-year-old coonhound is too friendly. I can't have company without him jumping on guests. Is it too late to train him? His behavior is embarrassing. It's one thing for him to jump when people first arrive, but he won't leave them alone. Any advice? — S.R., Buffalo, N.Y.
A: Some simple training would be helpful, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Ilana Reisner, of Media, Pa. "Teach your dog to touch your hand or to sit when guests arrive, and then instantly he receives something very good to chew on or low fat peanut butter stuffed inside a Kong toy. If he's occupied touching your hand, sitting or chewing, he's not jumping on people," Reisner says.
If your dog gets bored with a chewy, have a stuffed Kong or a food puzzle ready for him. Meanwhile, train your guests not to pay any attention to the dog until he settles down.
Finally, old dogs can, in fact, learn new tricks. And your pup isn't old — just middle-aged.
Q: My two cats will both be 20 years old this year. The female is on medication for kidney and thyroid problems. Feel free to laugh, but both cats seem to get lost, forgetting where the litter box is. And they get constipated. None of this is a laughing matter to the cats or to us. Sometimes they just cry out. I hold them and talk to them, which seems to comfort them. What's going on? — A.B., Las Vegas
A: I'm not sure anyone would laugh at your situation. In fact, I congratulate you, since the fact that both cats have made it to nearly 20 is no small accomplishment.
"It may be that your cats are suffering from feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome, the cat version of Alzheimer's disease," says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Canada. He is renowned for his expertise regarding geriatric pets.
Landsberg advises dealing with any medical issues while addressing the cats' apparent cognitive decline as best you can. You could ask your veterinarian about Anipryl, a drug for dogs that some veterinarians will also use for cats to slow cognitive decline.
Regarding the constipation, talk with your veterinarian about supplementing the cats' diet with canned pumpkin or Metamucil, and consider trying a veterinary prescription diet. Fish oil supplementation might bolster the cats' brain health.
Also, engaging the cats — simply calling them to come to you and getting a response — offers both brain exercise and physical exercise. As they're capable and if they're willing, light play is also good.
"The more litter boxes you have the better," adds Landsberg. "Even if the cats forget where they are, they may stumble upon one. Make sure the boxes are easy to get into, as most 20-year-old cats have some arthritis."
Plastic storage containers meant for sweaters (available at hardware and big box stores or online) make good alternative litter boxes. Cut down the sides so the cats can step inside easily. Even a cookie sheet with raised edges can work. With all the specialization going on these days in the pet industry, I wish a manufacturer would create a litter box for older cats.
"Continue to offer plenty of TLC," Landsberg adds.
Q: I can't get my 8-month-old dog to stop chewing on everything. Meekah chomps through her toys and has chewed up a part of the wall molding. I know the problem is separation anxiety, though she's alone only an hour before my wife comes home. An American Eskimo Dog, Meekah is a great watchdog, but the chewing is a big problem. What can we do? — D.W., via cyberspace
A: "How do you know your dog truly has separation anxiety?" asks Dr. Nicholas Dodman, director of the behavior clinic at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, North Grafton, Mass. "Perhaps she was never taught how to behave in the house with people away — just given too much freedom at too young an age without supervision. The value of crate-training is that the dog can't get into trouble. Maybe Meekah is just bored and entertains herself chewing. She's at an age where she's likely teething; it feels especially good to chew."
Dodman continues, "Definitely, this dog needs to see a professional to determine what's really going on. (The problem) may be separation anxiety, but it may not be."
In other words, it's important to pinpoint the cause of your dog's chewing before you can solve the problem.