While it may be hard to imagine why anyone would steal a pet from its caretakers, it happens all too frequently. According to Last Chance for Animals, an estimated 2 million pets are stolen in the United States each year.
Fortunately, there are some precautions you can take each day to minimize the risk of pet theft.
1. Never leave pets unattended in public.
As a pet sitter or pet owner, it is your responsibility to make sure you stay with pets at all times when you are out in public, whether you are at a dog park or the grocery store. Leaving a pet alone even for a few moments can put them at risk of theft, so always keep them with you, and keep them on a leash. Even if you are nearby, it is easier for a criminal to try to run off with a pet if it is not on a leash.
If the dog will be spending time outside at home, ensure that the yard has a secure fence. Just keep in mind that it is still best not to leave the dog unattended for long, since even fences are not a deterrent to some criminals.
Another important thing to remember: Never leave pets in your vehicle, even if you plan to be back in a few minutes. Not only does it pose a health risk to pets, since temperatures can drop or rise quickly even while the heat or air conditioning are on, but it also leaves the pets susceptible to people with bad intentions who may see them alone in your car.
2. Research your pet-care providers.
Whether you are looking for a pet sitter, trainer, groomer or other pet-service provider, be sure to do your research. You should always use the services of a trained professional who can provide references, proof of a background check and insurance coverage, etc.
This is especially important when selecting a pet sitter. More and more horror stories are coming out each year of people who posed as “pet sitters” only to steal (and then sell) an animal they had been hired to pet sit. Just because someone is listed on an online directory or app doesn’t mean he or she is a qualified pet sitter running a professional business.
Pet Sitters International (PSI) offers a free checklist of questions pet owners should ask any potential pet sitter. Pet owners can also visit petsit.com/locate to search for a PSI member in their area. Hiring a trustworthy pet sitter ensures that pets get to stay in the comfort of their own home and that pet parents have peace of mind.
3. Make sure pets have current IDs.
Always make sure that the pets in your care are wearing collars and ID tags with up-to-date contact information. While you should take steps to prevent pet theft, you want to be prepared in the unlikely event that the pet is still stolen somehow. If the pet gets away from the thief and is found by someone else—or if someone gets suspicious of the pet’s origins and intervenes—the current contact information will let them know where the pet should go.
But pet parents should also consider having their pets microchipped. A thief can remove a pet’s collar and ID tags, but he or she may not realize that the pet has a microchip. A simple trip to the veterinarian may then reveal the crime, PetHub explains, and lead to a happy reunion.
4. Keep accurate records.
Also be sure to keep current photos of pet and parent, as well as documents proving pet ownership (e.g. vet records, shelter adoption paperwork, etc.).
While you would like to think the best of the people you know, it is not unheard of for people (especially former roommates or partners) to claim falsely that a pet is theirs. By having records clearly proving ownership, you can help prevent this type of pet theft.
New Year’s Eve is a fun celebration for you, but loud music, laughter and fireworks can be stressful for your pets. Help your cats and dogs stay safe and relaxed during the holiday parties by following some of our tips listed below.
1. Keep your pets inside! Many pets find fireworks, crowds of people and the loud sounds of partying overwhelming leaving them anxious and frightened. Noisy poppers can terrify pets and cause possible damage to sensitive ears. Consider keeping your pets safe and secure at home in an escape-proof room as midnight approaches. Make sure your pet has plenty of water inside the room and your cat has access to a litter box.
2. If you must take your pet outside, keep them securely leashed or confined in a crate. Pets can run away from strange people and loud sounds. If your dog or cat doesn’t have a secure harness and you think they might easily slip out of a collar and leash, it is probably best they should be left safe at home.
3. Keep your pets microchips and vaccination tags up-to-date. Parties mean doors getting opened a lot. Even if you’ve thoughtfully hung a sign on a bedroom door saying ‘Do Not Open,’ or if you have your pets safely contained in a crate inside a bedroom, accidents happen. Make sure your pet ID tags and microchip information has your current address and phone numbers.
4. Keep alcoholic beverages away from pets. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, alcohol can be toxic to both dogs and cats resulting in symptoms such as drooling, dry heaves or vomiting, distended abdomen, low blood pressure, weakness and collapse, and possible coma and death. See your vet immediately if you suspect your animal has ingested any kind of alcohol.
5. Keep pets away from bones and fatty foods. Fatty foods can create digestive problems for your pet causing them to suffer from vomiting, diarrhea and bloating. Additionally, when torn apart by teeth, cooked bones have been known to result in torn intestinal, stomach and esophageal tissues. Bones can also get stuck around the teeth and jaws, in the esophagus, stomach and intestines and end in blockages that may need surgical intervention.
6. Beware of New Year’s decorations. Shiny streamers, noisemakers, bright balloons and crinkly tinsel can be swallowed causing possible digestive issues and blockages.
7. Keep your pet on their usual feeding, sleeping and walking schedule. Your pet may feel less likely anxious when they stick to their daily routine.
8. Talk to your veterinarian about giving your pet anti-anxiety medications during the holiday. There are several different types of drugs available for animals. Please note: Do NOT attempt to dose your pet with any type of medication without first consulting with your veterinarian.
9. Exercise or play with your pet during the day to release any excess energy. The extra workout can reduce your pets stress level, helping them remain calm after dark.
10. Consider leaving your noisy neighborhood for the evening to someplace quieter. If you know for sure that none of the tips here will help your pet’s severe anxiety, pack up the travel crate and all of the other things you will need for an overnight away from home and take off to a more relaxing place.
The thyroid is a small but important gland in the neck. A cat’s thyroid or dog’s thyroid consists of two segments, one on each side of the windpipe. This gland produces the hormone thyroxine, along with several other important thyroid hormones. In a healthy pet, these hormones automatically work together to coordinate your pet’s energy levels, growth, body temperature and heart rate.
Cat thyroid problems and thyroid problems in dogs occur when the hormone levels become too high or low. According to Dr. Rachel Barrack, DVM, CVA, CVCH and founder of Animal Acupuncture in New York City, signs of a thyroid problem in dogs or cats occur gradually and can be easy to miss. “Symptoms are often subtle at first but become more overt with progression of the disease,” she says.
Pet owners can sometimes fail to recognize a cat or dog thyroid issue until their pet is at risk for more serious complications. That’s why it’s important to be aware of the subtle signs and symptoms. If you know what to look for, you can bring it up to your vet and possibly catch the disease in its early stages.
Thyroid Disease in Dogs and Cats
Thyroid problems are extremely common in pets. However, dogs and cats aren’t typically affected the same the way. Dogs are most commonly afflicted with hypothyroidism, or low thyroid hormone levels. According to Lori Pasternak, DVM and co-founder of Helping Hands Affordable Veterinary Surgery and Dental Care, hypothyroidism usually affects dogs around the age of 2 to 7 years old.
Hyperthyroidism, or high thyroid hormone levels, is more common in cats. While dogs and cats can be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism at any age, cats generally don't show signs of hyperthyroidism until they are at least 7 years old. While either disease can occur in both species, it is rare.
Here are the key symptoms of cat and dog thyroid problems to look out for:
1. Changes in Behavior or Activity Level
According to Dr. Pasternak, the biggest sign of a thyroid problem is changes in your pet’s behavior or activity level. “Generally, when pets exhibit behavior changes, it is usually their way of telling us something is wrong,” she says.
Since the thyroid hormone helps regulate your pet's energy level, a common sign of hypothyroidism in dogs (low thyroid) is that they tend to be less active or lethargic. Your dog may seem less playful at the dog park, or doesn’t want to play fetch, or just won’t walk as far as he used to. He might also be sleeping more than usual or won’t get up with you in the morning.
Cat hyperthyroidism (high thyroid levels) is the opposite problem—they tend to have more energy than usual. According to Dr. Pasternak, this can sometimes be tricky to pinpoint. “Most people think it is a good thing when their older cat starts becoming more active,” she says. “They don't realize it’s a thyroid issue until the levels are so high that the cat starts to show more serious signs.” While increased energy might be a good sign in your older cat, it’s always best to run it by your vet to rule out a cat thyroid problem. Other symptoms commonly seen with hyperthyroidism in cats include increased thirst, urination, hunger and vocalization as well as intermittent vomiting.
2. Weight Gain or Loss
Another sign of thyroid problems in dogs is weight gain that’s not caused by overeating. Instead, your pet slowly packs on a few pounds despite you feeding him a normal diet. According to Dr. Barrack, this weight gain can even lead to obesity in your pet if the thyroid problem isn’t corrected.
Conversely, cats with thyroid problems often experience weight loss, despite having a ravenous appetite. As with increased energy, Dr. Pasternak cautions owners against mistaking increased appetite in an older cat for a good thing. When paired with weight loss, it’s always something you should bring up to your vet.
3. Skin or Coat Problems
Skin and coat issues are also a sign of thyroid problems in dogs. Hypothyroidism typically causes dull hair, hair loss or a dry coat, according to Dr. Pasternak. You might notice that your pet’s skin flakes off more than usual when you’re brushing him. Or, he might start to experience patches of thinning hair.
Hyperthyroidism in cats causes the opposite problem. According to Dr. Barrack, your cat’s coat may start to look greasy and matted. Cats will sometimes stop grooming themselves and develop an unkempt appearance.
4. Intolerance to Cold
According to Dr. Barrack, aversion to cold can indicate hypothyroidism in dogs. You might notice your pet shivering in the cold or turning back toward the house to cut potty breaks short on cold days. He might also sit close to the heat vent, burrow under blankets or be reluctant to leave his warm bed.
5. Vomiting or Diarrhea
Over time, hyperthyroidism in cats can progress to a more serious symptoms, such as vomiting. “Left untreated, cats with thyroid problems can also develop secondary problems such as high blood pressure and heart disease,” warns Dr. Barrack.
If your pet is experiencing any of these symptoms, talk to your veterinarian. If your dog or cat does have thyroid problems, they can typically be treated with prescription pet medication. However, when left untreated, these problems can greatly affect the quality of your pet’s life.
Bad behavior: the big picture
Happy New Year! Did a new dog join the family this holiday season? Are you aiming to start a brand-new year with fine habits and manageable goals? Is this the time to tackle your dog's problem behaviors, the ones that have had you perplexed?
A solid foundation in positive training gets you off to great start, either with that new puppy or with your older dog. But training has to be more than just a foundation, especially if there are any undesirable canine behaviors on the scene. Consider the whole picture when it comes to behavior problems, and review the most common reasons a dog "behaves badly." Understanding the common explanations for behavior problems is the first step in solving and preventing those problems.
Reason #1: Not Enough Exercise
Dogs need physical exercise to be happy, and on-leash walks around the block are not usually sufficient. Activities like off-leash runs, running with you on a Walky Dog or Springer bike leash, fetch games, a pole toy like a Chase-It, or dog-dog play/daycare for social dogs are more appropriate exercise choices.
Reason #2: Not Enough Mental Stimulation
Mentally stimulating puzzle toys help eliminate
boredom and keep dogs out of mischief.
Often-forgotten mental stimulation is essential for a well-balanced dog. Mental exercise can be just as tiring as physical; someone who works at a desk job can be as tired at the end of the day as a landscaper. Utilizing your dog's daily rations for food-enrichment activities or for a bit of training as often as you can will go a long way toward tiring your dog mentally. Something as simple as hiding your dog's meal or spreading the food in the yard can be an enrichment activity. Dogs love to forage or work for their meals.
Reason #3: Health Problems
Health problems cause behavior issues more often than people realize; health issues are often missed. Think about it—if you are not feeling well, you are probably going to be cranky or not yourself. Your dog is the same way, except a dog does not have words to tell you. Health issues that can change your dog's behavior include arthritis, hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, sore teeth, thyroid problems, epilepsy/seizures, ear infections, digestive issues, skin or environmental allergies, yeast infections, hearing loss, eyesight loss, and cancer. If aggression or another behavior issue shows up suddenly, contact your vet. There is a good chance one of the above health complaints, or something related, could be causing your canine to be cranky.
Reason #4: Genetic Issues
Sometimes behavior issues have genetic causes. Behaviors that range from aggression to hyperactivity can come down to what your dog inherited from its parents. If you are buying a puppy, it is imperative to find out if the parents have positive temperaments. If they do not, the chance of your puppy having a poor temperament is very high. Sometimes, with very good socialization, you can override poor genetics, but often even with the best socialization program there are behavior issues if your dog has lost the gene pool lottery. Genetic issues tend to show up very young and are difficult to treat with behavior modification.
Reason #5: Inconsistent Environment
If you sometimes let your dog jump on you because you're wearing casual clothes, but at other times punish him jumping, how fair is this to your dog? Dogs do not know the difference in clothing! This pattern, or lack of pattern, is very confusing for them and can cause anxiety. It reinforces jumping or any other behavior you are rewarding inconsistently. If you want your dog not to do something, be consistent by making that clear to him in a kind manner. If your dog jumps, for example, take time to practice sitting with positive reinforcement (providing something your dog likes such as treats or play immediately after the behavior) and ignore your dog completely if he jumps. Ignoring your dog means no talking, touching, or eye contact, as all are forms of attention and can reinforce behavior you don't like. Cross your arms, turn your back, and ignore your dog until all four paws are on the floor.
If your dog has a behavior problem, look to yourself—how do you respond?If your dog has a behavior problem, look to yourself—how do you respond? There is an excellent chance you have been reinforcing the behavior with attention, and may have actually trained your dog to perform that behavior! Another example of a reinforced bad behavior is barking. Dog barks, you yell, dog thinks you are barking along—look at the attention I got! Dog barks more, you scold more, dog barks more, and on and on it goes.
Having a consistent set of boundaries and consistent rules in your house helps your dog understand that the environment is predictable. It also shows your dog that you provide guidance, leadership, and access to all the good stuff. Take the time to teach your dog rules using patience and positive reinforcement. Teaching your dog not to jump up, or training to eliminate any undesirable behavior, takes patience, consistency, and knowing what to ignore and what to reward.
Reason #6: Misunderstanding the "Normal" Dog Behavior
Barking is a natural behavior for some breeds.
Normal dogs bark, pull on leash, eat poop, roll in dead things, jump up to greet, guard food and bones (to a degree), growl when they are threatened, chew whatever they can get their mouths on, pee and poop wherever, nip, protect property or their family, herd, chase small animals, and sometimes kill small animals. All of these "nuisance" behaviors are perfectly natural parts of a dog's repertoire, and vary depending on breed. Find a dog breed that is compatible with your lifestyle. It's simply unfair to get a mastiff and be shocked when he barks at strangers approaching your home. These dogs have been bred for thousands of years to be guard dogs. Siberian huskies and northern breeds may not be reliable off leash and may kill small animals. Border collies might herd your children. Daschunds are known to bark a lot. These traits are due to selective breeding to perform a job or to natural canine behavior. Sometimes you can train an alternative behavior, and sometimes you cannot. It depends on how genetically hardwired the behavior is.
Reason #7: Changes in Routine
Changing the routine can be stressful for your dog, and may cause your dog to act out.Changing the routine can be stressful for your dog, and may cause your dog to act out. Just like us, dogs need a sense of security. Drastic changes in environment or routine can really throw them off, causing anxiety that is commonly expressed as problem behavior. Moving to a new house often causes a lapse in house training, among other issues. A change in work schedule can confuse your dog, and a new pet or child joining the family can also be very stressful. In all of these cases, be patient with your dog and guide him through the struggle with kindness while he adjusts to the changes.
Reason #8: Changes in Diet
Switching your dog to a poorer quality or less suitable diet may also cause him to act up. Diet has a huge influence on behavior (going back to health influencing behavior). Switching your dog's diet to something that is of poor quality or that doesn't agree with him may change how the dog acts. Always feed your dog a high-quality diet, and change foods gradually over a week or so.
Reason #9: Poor Socialization or Negative Socialization
Proper socialization lays a foundation for a well-balanced dog.
Socialization is the process of providing your puppy positive, controlled exposure to other dogs, people of all types, sounds, surfaces, and new experiences. Dogs need to be socialized to the human world starting as young puppies and continuing throughout their lives. The period from 3-16 weeks of age is the most critical socialization period. This time lays a foundation for a well-balanced dog. If a puppy doesn't get proper socialization during its critical period, it can grow up into a shy, fearful, or aggressive adult. A well-run puppy class can be a fun way to kick-start your dog's socialization skills.
Even a dog that has been well socialized can develop behavior problems after negative experiences. Being attacked by other dogs or teased by children when out in the yard are occurrences that can affect your dog's behavior negatively. A poor experience at the vet, training class, or groomer can do the same. Be selective about where you take your dog to socialize and which professionals you trust to handle your dog. I would also advise against leaving your dog alone in the yard when you are not at home, as you never know what could happen.
Reason #10: Fear Periods or Adolescence
It is normal for puppies to go through several fear periods as their brains develop.If your normally fearless puppy suddenly turns shy one day, don't panic. It is normal for puppies to go through several fear periods as their brains develop. The first generally occurs somewhere around 8-12 weeks of age and another period occurs around 5 or 6 months of age. Depending on the breed and bloodlines of your dog, your dog may experience more or fewer fear periods. Do not panic; just let your puppy go through this phase. You may want to avoid going to the vet, training class, groomer, or new places for a week until your puppy is back to his normal behavior. If during a fear period something frightens your dog, it imprints very strongly. So, rather than trying to work through a fear period, it might be best just to let it pass.
Adolescence starts at about 6 months of age and usually continues to 12 to 18 months of age. Adolescence is when most dogs are turned over to shelters. This is a period when puppies start testing their world and their boundaries. A previously "good" dog may become a nightmare. Continued obedience training, maintaining structure and boundaries, patience, and skilled management are all essential practices during this phase. Management means setting up the environment so that the dog doesn't get a chance to do "naughty" things, and includes techniques like crating the dog when you cannot supervise directly.
Understanding common potential causes of problem behavior in dogs can make it easier to sort out what is happening with your own challenging canine. Target to change. Understanding common potential causes of problem behavior in dogs can make it easier to sort out what is happening with your own challenging canine. Eliminate each of the various origins of change, if possible narrowing down to a trigger for the undesirable behavior your pet is exhibiting. With more detailed information, you will have a better chance of eliminating the frustrating behavior quickly. Of course, if your dog's behavior problems are severe, look for a reputable trainer to help you.
About the author, Sarah Fulcher, KPA CTP, offers group and private training, daycare, boarding, and other pet services through her company Barks and Recreation in British Columbia, Canada. With an impressive educational background and experience that includes fostering dogs as well as training them, Sarah is particularly interested in helping puppies, newly adopted dogs, and dogs that have behavioral issues.
I'm about to have some houseguests arrive, and they'll be here for a few days. Why am I telling you this, you ask? Well, it turns out that they have a black lab mix - he's young, a bit spastic, and he has been known to be aggressive with other dogs. So, in the interests of everyone being able to get along for the next 5 days, I am dusting off the old manual to tell you about the best way to introduce two dogs to each other. These are the basics of introducing your dog to another dog. In an upcoming article we will talk about specific strategies to handle severe aggression between two dogs. If you were to rate dog aggression on a scale of zero to ten, with ten being the MOST aggressive (and zero being not aggressive at all), these techniques will work with dogs in the zero-to-six-or-seven range. Dogs in the eight-nine-ten range...well, they deserve a special article all to themselves. So, without further ado, here is the best way to introduce your dog to another dog, in ten easy steps:
As always, thanks for stopping by, and if you have any questions, feel free to leave them in the comments or e-mail me: neil at naturaldogblog dot com.
We don’t just love animals, we know them. We know their behaviors, we understand their issues.
It isn’t just about feeding and walking; it’s about making them happy. We understand that they are sad when the family leaves town, we have pets too; so we get that. So we love to be able to entertain them, exercise them, love on them and care for them. Our hearts are at peace when we leave your house knowing that they have had fun, have been fed and are happy and tired.
We are sad when we lose a pet to the rainbow bridge or when one moves out of town. We form bonds with your pets and when we enter your house, we are just as excited to see them as they are to see us. Our pets have been with us for several years and they are a part of our family too. We often ask each other updates on our pets; “How was Bella today, I’ll bet she just loves this weather!” or “Did Reggie walk a little faster today since he’s lost weight?” Your pets are our pets too. We miss them when we haven’t seen them in a while. We worry about them when they are sick or injured.
It just might be your pet that we think of when we wake up in the morning. We love them too.
Signs your dog or cat might not be feeling well.
1. Vomiting or Diarrhea
2. Lack of Appetite
3. Decrease in Activity
4. Urinating more or less frequently
6. Hair loss or itchy skin
7. Stiffness or difficulty getting up
For more information on these symptoms, go to this article from Pet-WebMD.
At least 10% of all cats develop elimination problems. Some stop using the box altogether. Some only use their boxes for urination or defecation but not for both. Still others eliminate both in and out of their boxes. Elimination problems can develop as a result of conflict between multiple cats in a home, as a result of a dislike for the litter-box type or the litter itself, as a result of a past medical condition, or as a result of the cat deciding she doesn’t like the location or placement of the litter box.
Once a cat avoids her litter box for whatever reason, her avoidance can become a chronic problem because the cat can develop a surface or location preference for elimination—and this preference might be to your living room rug or your favorite easy chair. The best approach to dealing with these problems is to prevent them before they happen by making your cat’s litter boxes as cat-friendly as possible. See our common litter-box management issues below, and our ways to make litter boxes cat-friendly. It is also important that you pay close attention to your cat’s elimination habits so that you can identify problems in the making. If your cat does eliminate outside her box, you must act quickly to resolve the problem before she develops a strong preference for eliminating on an unacceptable surface or in an unacceptable area.
Litter box use problems in cats can be diverse and complex. Behavioral treatments are often effective, but the treatments must be tailored to the cat’s specific problem. Be certain to read the entire article to help you identify your particular cat’s problem and to familiarize yourself with the different resolution approaches to ensure success with your cat.
Why Do Some Cats Eliminate Outside the Litter Box?Litter-Box Management Problems
If your cat isn’t comfortable with her litter box or can’t easily access it, she probably won’t use it. The following common litter-box problems might cause her to eliminate outside of her box:
Some cats develop preferences for eliminating on certain surfaces or textures like carpet, potting soil or bedding.
Litter Preference or Aversion
As predators who hunt at night, cats have sensitive senses of smell and touch to help them navigate through their environment. These sensitivities can also influence a cat’s reaction to her litter. Cats who have grown accustomed to a certain litter might decide that they dislike the smell or feel of a different litter.
Location Preference or Aversion
Like people and dogs, cats develop preferences for where they like to eliminate and may avoid locations they don’t like. This means they might avoid their litter box if it’s in a location they dislike.
Inability to Use the Litter Box
Geriatric cats or cats with physical limitations may have a difficult time using certain types of litter boxes such as top-entry boxes, or litter boxes with high sides.
Negative Litter-Box Association
There are many reasons why a cat who has reliably used her litter box in the past starts to eliminate outside of the box. One common reason is that something happened to upset her while she was using the litter box. If this is the case with your cat, you might notice that she seems hesitant to return to the box. She may enter the box, but then leave very quickly—sometimes before even using the box.
One common cause for this is painful elimination. If your cat had a medical condition that caused her pain when she eliminated, she may have learned to associate the discomfort with using her litter box. Even if your cat’s health has returned to normal, that association may still cause her to avoid her litter box.
Stress can cause litter-box problems. Cats can be stressed by events that their owners may not think of as traumatic. Changes in things that even indirectly affect the cat, like moving, adding new animals or family members to your household—even changing your daily routine—can make your cat feel anxious.
Multi-Cat Household Conflict
Sometimes one or more cats in a household control access to litter boxes and prevent the other cats from using them. Even if one of the cats isn’t actually confronting the other cats in the litter box, any conflict between cats in a household can create enough stress to cause litter-box problems.
Medical Problems That Can Cause Inappropriate EliminationUrinary Tract Infection (UTI)
If your cat frequently enters her litter box and seems to produce only small amounts of urine, she may have a urinary tract infection. See a veterinarian to rule out this possible medical problem.
Feline Interstitial Cystitis
Feline interstitial cystitis is a neurological disease that affects a cat’s bladder (“cystitis” means inflamed bladder). Cats with cystitis will attempt to urinate frequently and may look as if they are straining, but with little success. They may lick themselves where they urinate, and they may have blood in their urine. Feline interstitial cystitis can cause a cat to eliminate outside of her box, but this is only because of the increased urgency to urinate and because there is pain involved in urination. Feline interstitial cystitis is very serious and can be life-threatening to the cat. It must be treated immediately by a veterinarian.
Kidney Stones or Blockage
If your cat has kidney stones or a blockage, she may frequently enter her litter box. She may also experience pain and meow or cry when she tries to eliminate. Her abdomen may be tender to the touch.
Other Behavior Problems to Rule OutUrine Marking
Urine marking is a problem that most pet owners consider a litter box problem since it involves elimination outside the box, but the cause and treatment are entirely different from other litter-box problems and therefore it is considered a rule out. A cat who urine marks will regularly eliminate in her litter box, but will also deposit urine in other locations, usually on vertical surfaces. When marking, she’ll usually back up to a vertical object like a chair side, wall or speaker, stand with her body erect and her tail extended straight up in the air, and spray urine onto the surface. Often her tail will twitch while she’s spraying. The amount of urine a cat sprays when she’s urine marking is usually less than the amount she would void during regular elimination in her box. For more information about this problem, please see our article, Urine Marking in Cats.
What to Do If Your Cat Eliminates Outside the Litter BoxBasic Tips for Making Cats Feel Better About Using Their Litter Boxes
The first step in resolving elimination outside the litter box is to rule out urine marking and medical problems. Have your cat checked thoroughly by a veterinarian. Once your veterinarian determines that your cat doesn’t have a medical condition or issue, try following these guidelines:
If your cat seems to prefer eliminating on a certain kind of surface or in a certain location, you’ll need to make that surface or its location less appealing. If the preference is in a dark area, try putting a bright light or, even better, a motion-activated light in the area. You can also make surfaces less pleasant to stand on by placing upside-down carpet runners, tin foil or double-sided sticky tape where your cat has eliminated in the past. At the same time, provide your cat with extra litter boxes in acceptable places in case part of her problem is the location of her usual litter box, and be sure to give her multiple kinds of litter to choose from so that she can show you which one she prefers. Put the boxes side-by-side for a while, each with a different type of litter, and check to see which one your cat decides to use.
Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
If Your Cat Has Developed a Litter Preference or Aversion
Cats usually develop a preference for litter type and scent as kittens. Some cats adapt to a change of litter without any problem at all, while other cats may feel uncomfortable using a type of litter that they didn’t use when they were young.
If you think your cat may dislike her litter type, texture or smell, try offering her different types of litter to use. Cats generally prefer clumping litter with a medium to fine texture. They also usually prefer unscented litter. To help your cat pick her preferred litter, put a few boxes side-by-side with different types of litter in them. She’ll use the one the she likes best.
Clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
If Your Cat Is Unable to Use Her Litter Box
Special-needs cats such as those who are older, arthritic or still very young might have trouble with certain types of litter boxes. Boxes that have sides that are too high or have a top-side opening might make it difficult for your cat to enter or leave the box. Try switching to a litter box with low sides.
As in any situation where the cat may have eliminated outside her box, clean accidents thoroughly with an enzymatic cleanser designed to neutralize pet odors. You can find this kind of cleaner at most pet stores.
Treatment for Negative Litter Box Association
If your cat has experienced some kind of frightening or upsetting event while using her litter box, she could associate that event with the litter box and avoid going near it. Things that might upset your cat while she’s eliminating in her box include being cornered or trapped by a dog, cat or person, hearing a loud noise or commotion, or seeing something frightening or startling. These experiences—or any other disturbing experience—could make your cat very reluctant to enter her litter box. If your cat is afraid of her litter box, you may notice her running into the box and then leaving again very quickly, sometimes before she’s finished eliminating. You may also notice her eliminating nearby, but not inside her box. This means that your cat is worried about using her box, especially if she has reliably used litter box in the past.
Changing the Way Your Cat FeelsIf your cat associates her litter box with unpleasant things, you can work to help her develop new and pleasant associations. Cats can’t be forced to enjoy something, and trying to show your cat that her litter box is safe by placing her in the box will likely backfire and increase her dislike of the box. It’s usually not a good idea to try to train your cat to use her litter box by offering her treats like you would a dog, because many cats do not like attention while they’re eliminating. However, a professional animal behavior consultant, such as a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) may be able to help you design a successful retraining or counterconditioning program. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, for information about locating an applied animal behavior professional.
Sometimes retraining to overcome litter-box fears or aversions may not be necessary. Here are some steps that you can try to help your cat learn new pleasant associations:
Cats sometimes stop using their litter boxes when they feel stressed. Identify and, if possible, eliminate any sources of stress or frustration in your cat’s environment. For instance, keep her food bowls full and in the same place, keep her routine as predictable as possible, prevent the dog from chasing her, close blinds on windows and doors so she isn’t upset by cats outside. If you can’t eliminate sources of stress, try to reduce them. Incorporate the use of sprays or diffusers that deliver a synthetic pheromone that has been shown to have some effect in relieving stress in cats.
Treatment for Multi-Cat Household Conflict
Sometimes an elimination problem can develop as a result of conflict between cats who live together. If you have multiple cats and aren’t sure which cat is soiling, speak with your veterinarian about giving fluorescein, a harmless dye, to one of your cats. Although the dye does not usually stain carpeting, it causes urine to glow blue under ultraviolet light for about 24 hours. If you can’t get or use fluorescein, you can temporarily confine your cats, one at a time, to determine which one is eliminating outside of the litter boxes in your home.
If there is a conflict between your cats and one of them seems stressed, provide additional litter boxes in locations where the anxious cat spends the majority of her time. Also be sure to provide adequate resting areas for each cat. It can very useful in multi-cat households to create vertical resting spots on shelves or window sills or by buying multi-perch cat trees. It may help to distribute resources such as food, water, cat posts or trees, and litter boxes so that each individual cat can make use of them without coming into contact or having a conflict with one of the other cats. Using synthetic pheromone sprays or diffusers can reduce general social stress in your household.
Always consult with your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist before giving your cat any type of medication for a behavior problem.
Medications can provide additional help in treating inappropriate elimination when the behavior is in response to stress or anxiety. It’s unlikely to be helpful if your cat eliminates outside her litter box because of litter-management problems, an aversion to a particular kind of litter or location, a preference for a particular surface or location, or a physical inability to use the box. If you’d like to explore this option, speak with your veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist who can work closely with your vet. Please see our article, Finding Professional Behavior Help, to locate one of these professionals in your area
What NOT to DoRegardless of what you do so solve your cat’s elimination problems, here are a few things to avoid:
Dr. Ernie Ward, DVM
I recently received a letter from a reader about her grief-stricken dog. Her senior pooch had lived an entire life with a recently departed mother and wasn’t handling the loss well. She shared that her dog was becoming increasingly depressed and despondent. The writer didn’t know what to do and wanted to know if there was anything that might ease her pet’s pain.
This is a sadly familiar scenario for most seasoned veterinarians. I’ve had to hospitalize dogs that refused to eat or drink following the loss of a human pet parent. I’ve treated many pets for depression and witnessed many more that die shortly after their human, the result of a quite-literally broken heart. Grief is real for dogs and cats and I personally suspect it exists in horses and other species, as well. Unfortunately, there is no treatment to instantly take away a grieving pet’s ache, but there are a few steps a pet parent can take to comfort a crying soul.
The power of time for grieving dogs
Without a doubt, time helps heal a wounded heart. Ask anyone who has lost a close family member (including me) and they’ll likely tell you that while you may never fully recover, the passage of time makes the loss more bearable. In my clinical experience, the same is true for our pets. The first two weeks seem to be the worst. Searching and sniffing the house and yard for the recently departed is common. Many dogs will pant, pace, drool, and whine almost incessantly or without provocation. Some pets will refuse food and water for several days following death of a human or animal family member. They may sleep more, hide in unusual places, and refuse to play. It’s agonizing to watch a pet go through this normal phase of healing.
Stress-relieving activities and exercise for grieving dogs
The best thing you can do is be there. Take extra walks, spend additional time cuddling on the couch, snuggle a little longer in the bed. Offer favored treats and food, visit a different park or hike a new trail. Exercise is the best antidepressant and stress reliever for both humans and animals. If the symptoms persist beyond two weeks or fail to lessen, your pet is probably becoming clinically depressed and needs veterinary assistance.
Treating depression in grieving dogs
Dogs and cats may develop a form of depression following any loss. My best advice is don’t wait too long before seeking professional help. If you’re increasingly uncomfortable with your pet’s attitude and behavior after two weeks, see your veterinarian. Veterinarians have many medications that can help your dog cope with loss. I’ve prescribed various anti-depressants along with plenty of exercise with successful outcomes. I also recommend pheromones, L-theanine, colostrum calming complex, melatonin, and Bach flower essences for grieving dogs. Most pets can be successfully treated with a combination of natural remedies, prescription medications, and plenty of low-impact aerobic exercise. I’ve found that after one to two months of therapy, the majority of patients can begin resuming normal activities. I think they still long for their lost loved one, but they’re better able to cope with daily life.
It might be more than grief
My biggest concern for grieving pets is something called decompensation. Many pets with intense human-animal bonds are older, placing them at risk for undiagnosed, underlying age-related disorders. The stress and anxiety associated with depression can push a borderline failing organ system over the edge and into life-threatening crisis. I’ve diagnosed too many older pets with heart failure, kidney disease, high blood pressure, and more a month or two after experiencing a loss. I attribute it to the effects of chronic stress. Even if your dog isn’t showing severe signs of grief and depression, if he’s not back to (nearly) normal within a couple of weeks, have your veterinarian check things out. A few simple blood and urine tests and a thorough physical exam can uncover any emerging condition before it’s too late.
Adopting a New Pet?
This may be controversial and it’s a highly personal decision, but I don’t typically advise replacing a deceased human pet parent with a new pet, particularly for a grieving dog or cat. The reason is I believe the bond between human and animal is different than between two animals. If adopting a new pet will help ease the grief of the human family member, I say go for it. If you’re asking me if I think a new dog will ease the grief of an existing pet, I’m not so sure. In my clinical experience, once the family has overcome the initial stages of grief and is healing, that’s a better time to consider pet adoption. Of course, you know your family better than me or any veterinarian, so the decision is up to you. I’ll support you no matter what.
Grief Hurts Everybody
Grief affects the entire human and animal family. Healing takes time and effort, and some pets (and people) may benefit from medical treatment. Overcoming grief isn’t something you “tough out;” it’s something you try to survive. It’s not weak or abnormal if you or your pet needs help. Grieving is natural, normal, and it hurts. Don’t delay talking to your veterinarian after losing a human family member. Ultimately, our shared goal is to restore health and happiness to our animal companions. And take solace from someone who’s been there: It gets better. Maybe not as quickly as you’d like, but it does.
If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian – they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.
Robert M. DuFort, DVM, DACVIM
Monday, October 10, 2016
I welcome your comments and opinions.