Tips for Taking Your Scaredy Cat (or Dog) to the Vet

A lot of people get nervous when they have to go to the doctor. But imagine how much more terrifying a doctor visit would be if it meant traveling to an intimidating and unfamiliar setting to have an enormous stranger poke and prod at you for, seemingly, no good reason. Oh, and don’t forget that in the waiting room, other patients will be sniffing you, staring at you and possibly trying start fights with you. Now, perhaps, you can imagine why your otherwise placid dog or cat freaks out every time you get her carrier out to go to the vet!

Whether you’re taking your pet to see a veterinarian for the first time, or your pet has a history of bad or terrified behavior at the vet’s office, these tips should help ensure a smoother and less eventful visit.

Vet tips for both cats and dogs:

Make car trips fun and regular – Many animals, and especially cats, strongly dislike taking car trips – which, unfortunately, is generally how we have to take our pets to the vet! Car-avoidant pets might be scared to be in such an unfamiliar (and moving!) environment, they might get car sick, or they might associate car trips with unpleasant visits to the vet’s office.  To get your pet used to the car, use it to take them places other than the vet. For dogs, this might mean visits to the park or other places your dog likes to go. Although cats typically don’t like to “go” places, it’s good to take them in the car sometimes, even if it’s just to go to the taco shop drive-thru, so that they realize that not every car trip ends in a dreaded vet visit. Reward both dogs and cats with treats for good behavior in the car.

Make your pet carrier more comfortable – Your pet probably hates his carrier for the same reasons he dislikes the car: he’s not used to it, and/or he associates it with going to the vet. Change this by making the carrier a fixture in your home that your pet can enter, exit and hang out in as he pleases. Both at home and when taking your pooch or pussy-cat to the vet, place a towel or blanket, and some of your pet’s favorite toys in there to make the environment more comfortable and inviting.

Bring ‘em hungry – Don’t feed your pet in the few hours before taking them to the vet. If they have food in their tummy, they are more likely to get car-sick and/or throw up. Bringing your pet to the vet on an empty tummy will also make the reward of receiving their favorite treats – which you should give them in the waiting room to calm them down and as an incentive for good behavior – more effective. However, if you anticipate that your pet will receive X-rays of their bladder or digestive tract during this visit, you should wait to give them their treats until the visit is over, as any food in their belly might block the radiographer’s view of their internal organs.

Use calming chemicals – Dogs and cats create certain scents, or pheromones, to calm themselves and others. Thanks to modern science, you can buy products containing synthetic versions of these soothing pheromones to make your pet feel calmer during stressful events like a trip to the vet. There are both dog and cat versions of these products, which are typically administered as a liquid that you spray in the air or on fabrics/upholstery. About fifteen minutes before going to the vet’s office, simply spray a good amount of the pheromone product on the towel or blanket inside of the carrier you use to transport your furry friend, per the product’s instructions. If your pet has a history of especially severe anxiety or aggression at the vet, your veterinarian may also prescribe a short-acting anti-anxiety medication that you can give your dog or cat before bringing them in.

Do your research – As a pet owner, you are probably all too aware that trips to the vet can frazzle the owner’s nerves, too! If your pet is acting up, you may be too distracted to ask the vet pertinent questions and pay attention to what she tells you. Therefore, it’s important that you do some pre-appointment research and planning ahead of time so that you come prepared. Your first step of research, before you even make that appointment, is to find a vet with strong credentials and a good reputation. Your pet will probably have a much better reaction to a vet who knows what they’re doing and has a calming demeanor than compared to an inexperienced or inept vet. So, check the vet’s reputation on Yelp or a similar service. Next, research your pet’s condition online so you have a good idea of what to expect, including possible diagnoses, projected costs, and available treatment options. Finally, think of good questions to ask (e.g., questions about the benefits of one treatment over another, or how to administer medicine) and write them down before you go in.

Additional vet tips for cats:

Choose the right carrier – That is, a hard plastic carrier which has a top-loading option. These are much easier to get your kitty in and out of compared to side-loading carriers. Also, it’s especially important that you put a towel in your pet carrier if you have a cat – cats, of course, use their claws to grip onto things for balance, and if your cat doesn’t have anything that she can sink her claws into, she’ll feel a lot less secure in her carrier.

Let the vet do their thing – You may think that you’re helping out in the vet’s office by petting or holding your cat, but it’s generally best to let your vet or the vet’s technician do all the handling of your cat. Your touch may actually over-stimulate the cat and cause him to bite or scratch you. The people who work at your vet’s office are trained in handling scared kitties.

Additional vet tips for dogs:

Take them on a walk first – The exercise will put them in a calmer, more docile mood. Make sure that your pup relieves himself during his walk so that he’s less likely to have an accident at the vet’s office or – even worse – in the car.

Visit the vet for fun – In addition to regular check-ups, consider occasionally taking your dog into the vet just to visit and get a treat. Like regular car trips and exposure to their carrier, this will help your doggy associate a trip to the vet with normalcy – and if possibly even good times.
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Springtime Safety Tips

With the change of season, our thoughts inevitably turn to Easter celebrations, spring cleaning and much-needed home improvement projects. But the new balmy weather can prove not-so-sunny for curious pets—or their unwitting parents. Before you embark on seasonal chores or outdoor fun, take inventory of potential springtime hazards for your delicate, furry friend. A few quick tips to help avoid problem….

  • Easter Treats and Decorations – Keep Easter lilies and chocolate bunnies in check—chocolate goodies are toxic to cats, dogs and ferrets, and lilies can be fatal if ingested by our furry friends. And be mindful, kitties love to nibble on colorful plastic grass, which can lead to an obstructed digestive tract, severe vomiting and dehydration. Moreover, while bunnies, chicks and other festive animals are adorable, resist the urge to buy—these cute babies grow up fast and often require specialized care and make less than desirable pets for those who do not have appropriate space or expertise for care!
  • Screen Yourself – Many pet parents welcome the breezy days of spring by opening their windows. Unfortunately, they also unknowingly put their pets at risk—especially cats, who are apt to jump or fall through unscreened windows. Be sure to install snug and sturdy screens in all of your windows. If you have adjustable screens, make sure they are tightly wedged into window frames.
  • Buckle Up! – While every pet parent knows dogs love to feel the wind on their furry faces, allowing them to ride in the bed of pick-up trucks or stick their heads out of moving-car windows is dangerous. Flying debris and insects can cause inner ear or eye injuries and lung infections, and abrupt stops or turns can cause major injury, or worse! Pets in cars should always be secured in a crate or wearing a seatbelt harness designed especially for them. An unsecured dog inside a vehicle or in the bed of a truck will become a missile in the event of an accident, definitely at risk for injury and/or death and may cause injury or death to anyone they come into contact with.  Many jurisdictions now have laws making it illegal to transport an unsecured pet in a vehicle.
  • Spring Cleaning – Spring cleaning is a time-honored tradition in many households, but be sure to keep all cleaners and chemicals out of your pets’ way! Almost all commercially sold cleaning products contain chemicals that are harmful to pets. The key to using them safely is to read and follow label directions for proper use and storage. And remember that a pet walking on a wet floor that has been cleaned with a chemical cleaner/bleach will invariably lick those feet, thus ingesting the chemical which will now become in ingested poison.
  • Spring Cleaning 2  – There is just something about spring that makes us want to “clean”.  When cleaning out the bathroom cabinets use care when disposing of old, outdated or left over medications.  Do not dispose of old medications in the garbage to prevent your dog from finding and ingesting them. Human cold, allergy and sinus medications, especially those containing pseudoephedrine, can be toxic to dogs. Prescription drugs and pain relievers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil), can also be very toxic. According to Health Canada, it is best to return expired or unused medicine to a pharmacy for proper disposal.  They do not mind doing this.
  • Home Improvement 101– Products such as paints, mineral spirits and solvents can be toxic to your pets and cause severe irritation or chemical burns. Carefully read all labels to see if the product is safe to use around your furry friends. Also, be cautious of physical hazards, including nails, staples, insulation, blades and power tools. It may be wise to confine your dog or cat to a designated pet-friendly room during home improvement projects.
  • Let Your Garden Grow—With Care  – Pet parents, take care—fertilizers, insecticides and herbicides keep our plants and lawns healthy and green, but their ingredients aren’t meant for four-legged consumption and can be fatal if your pet ingests them.  Always store these poisonous products in out-of-the-way places and follow label instructions carefully. In our climate, slugs are a real problem and slug-bait is commonly used.  This product is highly toxic for dogs that seemed to really love the taste.
  • Poisonous Plants  – Time to let your garden grow! But beware, many popular springtime plants—including Easter lilies, rhododendron, daffodils, tulip bulbs, oleander, tomato vines, grapes, garlic, onions and azaleas—all are highly toxic to pets and can easily prove fatal if eaten.    Keep poisonous plants out of your home and yard or have measures in place to prevent Fido from gobbling them.
  • Ah-Ah-Achoo! – Like their sneezy human counterparts, pets can be allergic to foods, dust, plants and pollens. Allergic reactions in dogs and cats can cause minor sniffling and sneezing as well as life-threatening anaphylactic shock.
  • Pesky Little Critters – April showers bring May flowers—and an onslaught of bugs! Make sure your pet is on year-round flea and tick control program.
  • Out and About – Warmer weather means more trips to the park, longer walks and more chances for your pet to wander off.  Make sure your dog or cat has a microchip for identification and wears a tag imprinted with your address, cell number and any other relevant info.
  • Sick again? – With warmer weather and a renewed interest in outdoor activity comes more potential exposure to infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, parasites). More exposure to other pets (dog parks, walking trails, parks) means more likelihood of exposure to infectious disease.  Ensure that your pet has a current vaccination history to ensure adequate protection against common infectious disease.  When were your pets last vaccinated?

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8 Secrets Your Dog Won’t Tell You

By Lisa Spector

If dogs could talk, they would tell you these secrets in human language. But they have other ways of communicating these messages, if we are really listening and observing them.

1. I’d rather work for a8 Secrets Your Dog Won’t Tell You living than lie around all day with nothing to do. Give me a purpose, and I’ll be happy.

People enjoy doing work they love and getting well paid for it. Why wouldn’t dogs? People also love doing work that encourages them to learn. Dogs are no different. Better yet, turn work into play, and tails will be wagging!

2. I don’t like to be hugged. Why are you always putting your arms around me?

In human behavior, a hug is a sign of affection. I know it can be tempting to say, “I love you” to your dog with a hug. But, that’s not what it means to him. In dogs it represents social status and they can easily feel like they are being restrained. It’s an invasion of their space. Some dogs can tolerate hugs, but many can’t.

3. I don’t much care to be pet on my head either. Please don’t let strangers approach and pet my head.

Again, some dogs can tolerate this, but many can’t. A hand reaching over a dog’s head can feel very threatening from a stranger. Instead, reach under a dog to rub his chest. If it’s a dog you’ve never met, always ask for permission first and let him come to you to sniff you first.

4. Humans have created a crazy sound environment that I often find stressful. Please know that I hear sounds more than twice as high as you. I’m always trying to orient every sound to know if it’s safe or not.

Humans hear sounds between 20-20,000 Hz. Dogs hear at least twice as high, sometimes all the way up to 55,000 Hz. While I think it’s great that more events and public places are dog friendly, so often those environments are created for humans. A fundraising party for dogs and their people that benefits your local shelter, doesn’t benefit your dog when a loud band is playing. Please be careful what sounds you subject your dog to, and provide simple sounds at home that calm the canine nervous system.

5. Don’t correct me for growling. It could be my way of telling you that I feel threatened.

Dogs communicate with their growls. If it’s a play growl, think of it as your dog laughing. But, if it’s a growl that is communicating stress — showing teeth, fur raised, body tense — then it’s his way of saying, “I’m not comfortable right now. I’m feeling scared and threatened.” While you don’t want to ignore their growl, correcting it or scolding him for growling will only increase his fear. It’s a way of telling him not to express his fear and there is something to be afraid of. Next time, he may skip the growl and just bite.

6. It’s very confusing to me when you ask me to do something that I’m rewarded for one time and scolded for the same behavior another time.

You come home from work and your dog is so excited to see you. He jumps up on you and gets praise and attention. The next day, your neighbor knocks on the door, and your dog gets so excited and jumps on them and you yell at him. This can be very confusing to a dog.

7. I’m older now, and my nervous system is more sensitive than when I was in my younger years.

Like people, dog’s nervous systems are more sensitive as they mature. The same things that used to be interesting to them may now be annoying and stressful. Maybe they could handle loud, crowded environments as a youngster but in their senior years, they might prefer to stay home and watch the grass grow.

8. Even if you never listen to all of my secrets, I’ll still love you anyhow.

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Breaking Bad Cat Habits

By Paul Ciampanelli

Humans first domesticated cats more than 5,000 years ago, but cats still haven’t adapted to civilized, indoor life in every way. Most cat owners are familiar with a handful of bad cat habits that can be difficult to break, like clawing at furniture, not using litter boxes correctly and more. Fortunately, no cat behavior problem is hopeless. Read on to learn how to deal with the most common bad cat habits.

Q: How can I keep my cat from clawing my furniture?

A: First, it’s important to understand that scratching serves several important functions for cats. Scratching is a natural behavior that cats use to exercise their muscles, maintain their claws and mark their scent. Still, that probably won’t make you any happier if your cat shreds your couch, drapes or other furnishings. Your cat has to scratch, though. Your task isn’t to stop it from scratching, but to give it appropriate outlets for its scratching while deterring it from destroying the furniture and other inappropriate targets.

Your first line of defense is to obtain a scratching post or some other similar, appropriate scratching surface for your cat to use. These can take the form of relatively expensive, attractive pieces of

furniture themselves, or simple cardboard surfaces that will cost you only a few bucks. Your cat may take to its new scratching surface naturally, but if not, you can gently drag its paws over the surface to show it the point, or even use your own hands and nails to demonstrate. Meanwhile, keep your cat’s claws trimmed to reduce the damage it does to your furniture while it learns to use the scratching post. Always be patient while your cat learns a new behavior.

Q: How can I keep my cat from going outside the box?

A: There are many reasons why a cat may not use its litter box correctly, and it’s important to consider each one. There may be something wrong with the box itself that is keeping your cat away. First, make sure you’re meeting your obligation to remove waste from the box at least once per day, and keep the area clean and tidy. Cats don’t like to use dirty litter boxes, and if you shirk your duty, your cat will find other places to go to the bathroom. If the box is clean, make sure it is located in a place that is easy to access, but that also provides a modicum of privacy. If you have other pets, make sure they’re not chasing your cat away when it tries to use the box. Any source of stress associated with the litter box can cause your cat to avoid it.

If you can rule out environmental and behavioral factors that could be causing your cat to go outside the box, then the source of the problem may be a medical one. If no other explanation seems likely, it’s time to visit the veterinarian. Describe the behavior to your vet so he or she can rule out or diagnose any medical problem that might be causing your cat’s distress

Q: How can I keep my cat from going on the counter?

A: Cats are natural climbers, and it’s normal for them to jump to high places in their homes. Cats like to be up high because it allows them to survey and explore their environments. It’s instinctual behavior, but it can be a nuisance when your cat insists on walking around areas you want to keep clean and sanitary, like your kitchen counters.

As with scratching behavior, it’s important to understand that you can’t stop your cat’s need to climb, so instead you must provide alternative outlets for your cat to indulge its instincts. There are many kinds of cat “trees” and cat-climbing furniture available commercially. They can be as simple or as complicated as you like, with varying price tags to match. If you’re a DIY type, you can

even build your own cat tree. Another, simpler option is to invest in cat window shelves. These offer your cat not only a high spot to perch, but also a comfortable way to relax and look out the window — a favorite feline pastime.

Q: ​How can I keep my cat from biting while playing?

A: Cats like to play, especially young cats and kittens. Playing and play-fighting are an important part of a cat’s development. Because play behavior usually simulates hunting skills for cats, it often takes the form of a pretend attack. That’s why some play sessions may result in your cat attacking your hand or some other place on your body. Cats may also bite if the cat has had enough petting, or some temperamental cats may bite for no obvious reason.

Biting should be discouraged. Sometimes you may be tempted to “wrestle” with your cat or kitten, allowing it to bite or claw at your hand, because it doesn’t hurt you very much and it’s fun for both of you. However, doing this reinforces the idea that

biting is OK, and your cat may later end up biting other people, or biting you when you don’t think it’s playtime. You don’t want your cat to grow up thinking that hands are toys. Whenever your cat bites, disengage immediately. If you’ve been playing, stop the play and walk away. This tells your cat that biting is a bad move, and doing it will stop the fun time. You may also wish to gently but firmly say no, or clap your hands to signal that your cat made a mistake. Don’t shout or scare your cat.

Q: ​In what other ways can I stop bad cat behavior?

A: Remember that you can’t train a cat the same way or as easily as you would train a dog. Cats are more sensitive and easily frightened, so although your cat can learn that a firm no or other audio cue means to stop what it’s doing, you should never shout at your cat or punish it. More than likely, you’ll only frighten and confuse the cat, and it won’t learn any lesson other than to be afraid of you.

Instead of punishment, use positive reinforcement to encourage your cat to repeat good behavior. Instead of shouting when your cat does the wrong things, offer praise and treats when it does the right things. Offer rewards immediately when your cat earns one, to reinforce the association between the behavior and the reward.

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