Teach these 3 habits to save your cat’s 9 lives
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
In the aftermath of a disaster such as the recent California wildfires -- a time when people and pets often become separated for reasons beyond their control -- it’s easy to worry about how to respond when lives are at risk. That’s especially true for cat owners, whose pets tend to hide at the best of times and are even more likely to do so during an emergency. Leaving them behind seems unthinkable, but if you are staring down a fire, flood or tornado, you may have no option if your cat can’t be found.
It doesn’t have to be that way. You can teach your cat three habits that may save his life, not just during an emergency but in day-to-day living: come when called, willingly enter and ride in a carrier and scratch on a post. Here’s how.
-- Come when called. When my husband and I acquired our first two cats, we didn’t know the received wisdom that “cats can’t be trained.” So we taught them to come to a whistle. Every time we fed them, we whistled a particular refrain. Soon we could whistle at any time of day, from any place in the house, and our cats would come running. If you can’t just put your lips together and blow, use another signal, such as ringing a bell, blowing a whistle or crinkling a treat bag. Always give a reward when your cat responds. Cats don’t work for free, after all.
-- Enter and ride in a carrier. Every cat owner at one time or another has wrestled a cat into a carrier. No one likes it -- least of all the cat. I asked fellow Pet Connection contributor and lead animal trainer for Fear Free Pets Mikkel Becker for tips on conditioning cats to love their carrier.
She says the key to carrier contentment is to give cats a positive association with it. Leave it out in your living room or other area where your cat likes to spend time, so she can explore it at leisure. Enhance its attractiveness as a hidey hole or resting spot by leaving treats inside for your cat to find (with a trail of them leading up to it), feeding meals in it (leave the door open), lining it with comfortable bedding, placing catnip or silver vine in it and applying a feline pheromone product to elicit calm feelings.
When transporting the carrier, hold it in both arms, close to your body, so your cat isn’t swinging at your side. Place the carrier on the floor of the car behind the passenger seat, where it won’t move excessively while the car is in motion. Play cat-specific music during the drive. Take your cat for rides to places other than the veterinary clinic. We often took those first two cats to the bank drive-through window or to Dairy Queen.
-- Using a scratching post. Coming when called and going into a carrier have obvious benefits, but using a scratching post? You bet. Up to 42 percent of behavior complaints about cats involve destructive scratching, according to the AVMA. Cats who don’t scratch destructively are more likely to stay in their homes for life and to be welcome in homes or hotels if their people have to evacuate.
Four rules apply when teaching a cat to use a scratching post:
1. Never punish or frighten your cat while he’s using the post.
2. If you see him scratching where he shouldn’t, gently redirect him to the post, using a feather or fishing pole toy as a lure. Run your fingers up and down the post; the sound and motion will attract your cat’s attention and encourage him to scratch.
3. Attract your cat to the post with catnip, silver vine or a product such as Feliway Feliscratch.
4. Reward your cat whenever he uses the post, goes in the carrier or comes when called.
Two readers ask
Q: My dog had a nosebleed today. Should I take her to the vet or just see if it happens again?
Q: My dog was sneezing and produced bloody mucus for three weeks. An X-ray and flushing out the nose didn’t produce an answer. He is 14 and doesn’t seem to be in pain. What should I do?
A: In both cases, further examination is a good idea. Dogs experience nosebleeds for a number of reasons. Vigorous sneezing caused by foreign bodies, inflammation or infection can damage delicate nasal blood vessels. Trauma such as hitting the nose on a hard surface can cause nosebleeds. Other possible causes include tooth root abscesses, benign polyps or malignant nasal tumors. Spontaneous nosebleeds might result if a dog ingests rat poison, causing reduced production of clotting factors. Nosebleeds can also be linked to heritable conditions such as von Willebrand’s disease, which slows clotting and can lead to prolonged bleeding.
Those are just a few of the possible causes. Other factors include age, size or nose type. Older dogs or dogs with long noses such as greyhounds or collies are more likely to have some type of nasal tumor. Young small- or medium-size dogs are more likely to experience trauma-related nosebleeds, and large dogs are more likely to have rhinitis (inflammation of nasal mucous membranes) of unknown cause. Dogs who go hiking or hunting with owners may be exposed to tick-borne illnesses, foreign bodies or rodenticides that affect nasal passages and cause bleeding.
A thorough medical history and complete physical exam -- from eyes to rear end -- can help veterinarians determine a not-so-obvious underlying cause. Basic diagnostics include a complete blood count (CBC), general chemistry, urinalysis and blood pressure. A CT scan or rhinoscopy may be necessary as well. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Clinics, shelters help
evacuees find pets
-- Northern California veterinary clinics and shelters are working overtime to help reunite people and pets separated by last month’s wildfires. The North Valley Animal Disaster Group has created a website -- campfirerescuedanimals.com -- to help Camp Fire evacuees track down pets who may have survived. The resources page lists additional shelters and veterinary clinics where missing pets and large animals may be housed. Photos are updated daily. Owners who wish to reclaim an animal can do so by providing photo ID of the pet, describing unique markings or otherwise showing proof of ownership. Identified animals will be cared for until owners can take them again.
-- If you’re a dog lover planning to visit Switzerland, consider a stop at Hospice du Grand-Saint-Bernard in Bourg-Saint-Pierre, where Saint Bernard dogs originated. Located high on a mountain pass near the Swiss-Italian border, the hospice still provides a welcome to travelers, who can stay at the inn, dine at the restaurant or, in the nearby town of Martigny, tour the Barryland museum dedicated to the dogs. Activities include a 45-minute hike with two of the dogs. The walk schedule varies, so check ahead of time.
-- A higher percentage of United States households owns dogs than cats, according to the 2017-2018 Pet Ownership and Demographics Sourcebook produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Approximately 38 percent of households owned one or more dogs, followed by 25 percent of U.S. households with cats. The population of exotic pets is growing as well, with more than 13 percent of households claiming fish, ferrets, rabbits, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, turtles, snakes, lizards, poultry or amphibians. The 10 states with the highest percentage of pet-owning households in 2016 were Wyoming, West Virginia, Nebraska, Vermont, Idaho, Indiana, Arkansas, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Colorado. -- 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.