Veterinary Behavior Symposium: Experts Answer Pet Behavior Questions

Veterinary Behavior Symposium: Experts Answer Pet Behavior Questions

CHICAGO, IL. -- These reader pet behavior questions were answered by experts from around the world attending the Veterinary Behavior Symposium July 19 in Chicago, just prior to the 150th Convention of the American Veterinary Medical Association.

Members of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior and American College of Veterinary Behavior hold this forum annually to present research and clinical information about animal behavior. Topics included: Do cats really prefer uncovered boxes?, Do handlers' of working dogs need to see their handlers' faces? How modifying cages can impact the welfare of shelter cats, and the influence of the environment on farm pigs.

Q: I'm ready to euthanize my 16-year-old cat. I don't know what to do with him. He's been thoroughly checked by my veterinarian, so I believe there's no medical issue. He wakes up after his afternoon nap, yowling. But the biggest problem is the overnight yowling. I'm exhausted. Any advice? -- H. W., Cyberspace

A: French surgeon and behavior specialist Dr. Patrick Pageat says to first make sure your veterinarian has ruled out hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperthyroid disease, arthritis, diabetes, or even gastrointestinal issues.

"Once those possibilities are eliminated, consider feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome," he says. This condition is similar to Alzheimer's disease in people. Other symptoms may include confusion, forgetfulness and/or accidents outside the litter box. The explanation for the yowling may also include hearing loss.

Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Gary Landsberg, of Thornhill, Ontario, Canada, rattles off several products you could try,  including a nutraceutical called Senifline (which contains -Resveratrol) and Novifit (which contains  S-adenosylmethionine  or SAMe). In addition, the changes going on may cause anxiety (in your cat); Feliway, a copy of a calming pheromone,way may ease that issue. Also, ask your veterinarian about a higher protein diet.

"It's variable as to what works best for individual cats," says Landsberg, who is a contributor to "Decoding Your Dog" (due out early next year, by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; $27).

He adds that there's a drug called Anipryl specifically used for a similar syndrome in dogs, may also be prescribed for cats.

Please don't lose hope. Having said that, when owners wait too long, the syndrome may become very advanced, making it difficult for these products to achieve as much affect as they might with early detection.


Q: Our 1-½- year-old Golden Retriever eats every toy we buy. He seems to always want something in his mouth, especially when he gets excited. The only toy he hasn't torn up is a Kong toy. He eats chew-sticks in minutes. What kind of toys do you recommend? -- K.C., Cyberspace

A: Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Melissa Bain, of the University of California School of Veterinary Medicine-Davis, wants to first insure that this chewing up of toys isn't only happening when you're not home (to rule out either a dog who doesn't know what to do when their people aren't around, separation anxiety, or boredom). Secondly, Bain wants to know if your dog is actually ingesting parts of toys, which is very dangerous. If that's the case, be super vigilant, and simply don't leave out any toy you think there's even a remote chance of the dog chewing up unless an adult is present to supervise.

"Also, understand that no toys are truly indestructible," Bain says. If you're not already doing so, ask about heavier-duty Kong toys. Also, smaller boutique pet stores often carry a myriad of special toys for 'heavy chewers."

Still, Bain is worried about the toy holding up but not your dog's mouth, as some dogs chew in such a manner that they break teeth. She suggests upping the interaction you have with your pup by tossing toys, and teaching her to drop them once fetched, so there's no time for chewing.

If your dog is merely walking around with toys in his mouth when he gets excited, he's being a typical Golden.


Q: Our 7-year-old Miniature Pinscher/Rat Terrier mix is a total high-energy dog. We have very low windows so he can see the bird feeder. He barks like crazy at the birds and other critters. We have an invisible fence, and he's usually good about staying in the yard. But he's killed at least six creatures, including bunnies, birds and squirrels. What can I do? -- B.F., Woodbury, MN

A: First, readjust your expectations, suggests veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kelly Moffat, of Mesa, AZ. "You have a terrier, who without supervision or being given another alternative activity is simply playing out what he was bred for eons to do."

If you like, you might teach your pet an alternative behavior. For example, one idea is to create a digging pit -- a place where your dog can dig away, and even discover a treasure of treats stuffed inside Kongs and other toys. Some dogs might be convinced that digging for those items is even more fun than chasing little critters. However, all dogs already entrenched in the habit of chasing down small animals may not be convinced.

As for that barking - again your dog is only being a terrier. You could keep him in another part of house, behind baby gates, perhaps. Or you'll be forced to somehow relocated the bird feeder.

"As frustrating as it is for you to listen to that barking," says Moffat, "It's equally as frustrating for your dog, who can't get to the birds."

As for the invisible fence, Bain is truly worried that you say your dog is "usually good about staying in the yard." The implication is that he sometimes  goes beyond the boundary of the fence. Therefore, he may run into traffic or wander off and get lost. "Invisible fencing isn't desirable for many reasons," she notes.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services


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