They aren’t always a match made in heaven. How to steer clear of problems
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
You love your old cat, but he’s not as active as he used to be. It’s wonderful to cuddle with him on the sofa, but you miss his antics as a youngster. Wouldn’t it be great to get a kitten so you could enjoy those good times again and still relish the pleasure of your aging cat’s company?
Not so fast. It’s easy to think that a young pet and an old one will get along and that the young one will even rejuvenate a senior, but sometimes expectations and reality clash. Senior cats faced with a rambunctious kitten may be grumpy or even aggressive, and youngsters can become fearful or learn bad habits when their overtures are forcefully rejected. Here’s what to know to help ensure a happy, respectful relationship.
First, think twice before getting a kitten at all. Introducing a young cat to senior cat household can be a bigger problem for cats than introducing a young dog to a senior dog household, says Marsha Reich, DVM, a veterinary behavior specialist who lectured at the American Veterinary Medical Association conference in Indianapolis last month. That’s because cats in general don’t welcome the addition of other cats to their environment.
A senior cat who doesn’t want to interact with a kitten may begin by simply walking away, but that doesn’t always work.
“Some young cats want to play with the senior cat no matter what,” Dr. Reich says. “These are the ‘me, me, me’ kitties. In some cases, the younger cat stalks the senior cat with what seems like play but is really aggression, ending with the senior cat aggressively defending himself from the younger one or fleeing the younger one and being chased. If the senior cat doesn’t think it’s play, it’s not play.”
This can lead the older cat to engage in more active behaviors to avoid interaction. Hissing, growling, swatting and chasing are all signs that a cat has had enough of another’s behavior.
It can be difficult (and sometimes painful) to interrupt and redirect a cat who is behaving aggressively. With cats, managing the environment is often the best way to reduce conflict. Give the younger cat something to entertain him, such as interactive toys or a bird feeder that he can watch from a window. Spend more time playing with him so he has less time and desire to annoy your old cat.
When you can’t be there to supervise, keep the cats separated. If your older cat is sedentary, confine him to a comfortable room with everything he needs: food, water, a litter box and a comfy place to nap.
Place resources such as food and water bowls and litter boxes in separate areas. Neither cat should be able to guard those items and prevent the other from using them.
Sometimes owners are surprised that there’s a problem because the cats seemed to get along at first, Dr. Reich says. Often, that’s because the kitten was recovering from a respiratory infection or some other kittenhood illness so his behavior was muted until he was feeling better.
Finally, consider whether your senior cat is grouchy because he’s in pain. Degenerative joint disease is seen in 90 percent of cats older than 12 years. Other conditions that may cause pain include lower urinary tract infections, dental disease, kidney disease and endocrine disorders such as diabetes. Loss of vision and hearing can also contribute to spats between cats because the older one doesn’t see or hear cues from the younger pet. Take your cat in for a checkup to rule out potential health problems and get them treated if necessary. Your veterinarian has more options for managing pain in cats than in the past.
Help dog develop
Q: I have two dogs, and the younger one (male) is very attached to the older one (female). My older dog is having surgery in a few months and will be away from home for several weeks. I’m concerned about how he will respond to her absence. He’s very anxious when he’s not with his family. He flips out when they go to the vet and she is taken out of the room to be weighed. How can I prepare him so he is comfortable staying with a pet sitter and not so nervous while she’s gone? -- via Facebook
A: It’s not unusual for dogs to have separation anxiety when their humans go away, but it can also affect them when they are missing their canine friends.
Fortunately, you have plenty of time to help your younger pup prepare for this separation. There are several things you can do to help him develop some independence, which is an important skill for every dog to have.
If you don’t already have a pet sitter, find one you like and that the dogs like. Look for one who is Fear Free certified and will have the skills to help your dog adjust to his friend’s absence. Start with some short visits at her home, first while you are there with him and then later for short stays on his own of an hour or two. This will help him learn that you and his canine buddy will return. Gradually, introduce some longer stays -- overnight or for a weekend.
Another good step is to take them out for walks separately so he learns that he doesn’t have to be with her every second and can even have a good time when she’s not around. Reward him with some extra-special treats when he’s not acting clingy. For more help, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a Fear Free certified behaviorist or dog trainer. -- Mikkel Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
What’s your canine
cost of living?
-- How much does it cost to live with a dog? According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, for veterinary visits, food, grooming, toys and treats, a license and other miscellaneous expenses, you should budget at least $1,000 a year for a small dog, $1,214 for a medium-size dog and $1,448 for a large dog. That doesn’t account for one-time costs such as spaying or neutering or a crate. Pet deposits and monthly “pet rent” that some landlords charge isn’t included, either. Besides pet health insurance, a pet savings account can help you meet unexpected bills related to a dog’s care. The love you get back? Priceless.
-- There’s more to feeding your cat than just opening a can or bag, says feline expert Tony Buffington, DVM, who lectured on the subject at the 2017 AVMA conference in Indianapolis. He says cats are intermittent feeders, so it’s OK to feed them as often as you want. Place food in a safe area where other pets can’t get to it. Buffington is a fan of enriched feeding -- in other words, using food puzzles to encourage a cat’s prey and play behavior. You can purchase food puzzles or make them yourself. For ideas, visit foodpuzzlesforcats.com, which has tips on different types of food puzzles and how to make them at home.
-- If you are flying into San Jose, California, keep an eye out for a special four-footed greeter. Moet, a Rhodesian Ridgeback show dog owned and handled by Jennifer Underwood of Watsonville, belongs to the K9 Crew Therapy Group. He and the other dogs visit passengers and employees at the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport. When he’s not welcoming people at the airport or competing in a dog show, Moet participates in dog sports, including agility, obedience, rally, lure coursing and barn hunt. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.