When the unthinkable happens and one pet wants to kill another, rehoming one of them can be the best -- and only -- solution
By Kim Campbell Thornton
At first, Clooney loved Esmeralda. He treated her gently, and everything was perfect. Then his love turned lethal. Clooney began to stalk her, lying in wait and attacking. Esmeralda feared for her life.
"Clooney did not ever draw blood, but I was right there and intervened instantly," says Deborah Wood of Hillsboro, Oregon. "I was truly afraid he would seriously hurt her or even kill her."
Clooney is 12 pounds of big, powerful cat. Esmeralda is 5 pounds of passive dog.
In the past, Clooney lived happily with the two papillons Wood had when she adopted the cat. After the death of her last papillon, she looked for a small, gentle dog that Clooney would like and adopted Esmeralda, a Chihuahua-mix.
But after their auspicious beginning, Clooney became increasingly aggressive toward the little dog. He batted at her with his paw, making her cower or run. He attacked when she came in through the door.
"The attacks began as swats of his paw with the claws in, and eventually became full attacks with him grabbing the dog and rabbit-kicking her," Wood says. "Esmeralda shook in fear when we'd return from walks and would struggle to not come inside."
Wood is an experienced pet owner, and as the aggression problem developed, she tried everything to make the situation work. She separated the two, placed Clooney on Prozac prescribed by her veterinarian and fed a cat food meant to have calming properties. She placed a Feliway diffuser in each room to help Clooney feel relaxed and dosed the water dish with Rescue Remedy. She had her veterinarian perform blood work on Clooney to rule out thyroid and other medical problems that can cause aggression. She gave Clooney attention on his own and played with him every day to tire him out.
For many cases of feline aggression, these steps would have resolved the problem, but nothing worked. Clooney was increasingly obsessed with Esmeralda.
The day Wood knew she needed to rehome one of them was when the smoke detector went off in Esmeralda's room because the battery needed replacing.
"While I wrestled the ladder into the room, Clooney darted between my feet and attacked Esmeralda," Wood says. "Imagine a cat running into a room with a blaring smoke detector screeching away. That is a cat that wants to attack."
Making the decision to place one of her pets in a new home was agonizing. Wood loved Clooney, and she'd had him longer -- four years.
"If the aggression toward the dog had started when I adopted her, I would have given up the dog," Wood says. "However, by the time it developed, I was really bonded to both of them."
Ultimately, Wood decided to rehome Clooney.
"He was the one who was aggressive, and I feared that if I kept him, I would have problems between him and future pets. Keeping Esmeralda gives me the ability to have future pets in the household with her. I was fortunate that both pets were very adoptable. If one had not been adoptable, I would have kept that one."
After trying desperately to place Clooney with someone she knew, including offering to pay for his pet insurance and promoting him on Facebook, Wood turned to a local shelter that specializes in cats. Clooney was adopted within two days of becoming available.
It's easy to give people grief for making the decision to place a pet, but Wood's story is not uncommon. She says a number of friends shared stories of pets who had attacked and even killed other pets. All said they wished they had rehomed the animals earlier.
"I struggle with the fact that I do not know the adopter, but it was the best choice I had under the circumstances. Those feelings are balanced by Esmeralda's happiness. She wags her tail when we come home rather than shaking in fear."
Why do dogs bark
but wolves don't?
Q: I read recently that wild dogs like wolves don't bark. How come dogs do? -- via Facebook
A: Wild dogs aren't silent, that's for sure. They howl and yip and whine, but they don't make the percussive and repetitive sound that we know as the bark. It's one of the behaviors that separates dogs from wolves.
A Hungarian ethologist (someone who studies animal behavior) named Csaba Molnar suspects that dogs bark because, well, we designed them to. In several studies published in various scientific journals, he hypothesized that a dog's barks share information about his emotions or surroundings and that humans are able to understand what dogs are communicating with their barks.
In an article on Wired.com, Brandon Keim explains the results of one of Molnar's studies:
"Molnar's statistical algorithm showed that dog barks displayed common patterns of acoustic structure. In terms of pitch and repetition and harmonics, one dog's alarm bark fundamentally resembled another dog's alarm bark."
That makes sense because it's important for people to recognize an alarm bark quickly.
Other studies found that people could reliably identify the context of different dog barks. People with different experience with dogs were asked to describe the emotional content of several artificially assembled bark sequences based on five emotional states: aggressiveness, fear, despair, playfulness and happiness. The researchers found that people with different levels of experience with dogs described the emotional content of the bark sequences similarly.
According to study summaries, the authors suggest that dog barking emerged through selective processes and that dog barks may present a functional system for communication in the dog-human relationship.
The other thing to know about barking is that in wolves, it's a behavior seen only in juveniles. When we domesticated dogs, it's likely that we selected for more friendly, less threatening behavior and appearance, and perhaps the bark accompanied those traits. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to email@example.com or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Top 10 cat breeds
-- For the second year in a row, the exotic takes the top spot in the Cat Fanciers Association's registration statistics. The popular felines are Persians in all but name and coat, sporting plush short fur instead of glamorous long hair. Of the 42 breeds recognized by CFA, the remaining members of the Top 10 are the Persian, Maine coon, ragdoll, British shorthair, American shorthair, Scottish fold, abyssinian, sphynx and oriental. The 10 cat breeds with the fewest registrations are the American curl, European Burmese, Havana brown, American bobtail, Korat, burmilla, American wirehair, Turkish van, LaPerm and, the newest, ranking 42nd, the Chinese li hua.
-- Is your dog or cat at risk for the mosquito-borne Zika virus? Probably not, says Scott Weese, DVM, on his blog Worms and Germs. Weese, an internal medicine specialist at Canada's Ontario Veterinary College, says there's currently no evidence that pets can get sick from Zika virus exposure or that they could become infected by it and serve as a reservoir for the virus, passing it on to mosquitoes. "The risk to pets in areas where the virus is circulating (areas where there are Aedes egpyti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes) is probably very low," he writes.
-- At Vintage Books in Vancouver, Washington, Becky Milner might hold the title of owner, but she knows who really runs the show: 19-year-old Henry and 7-year-old Dickens, the 6,000-square-foot store's cats. Henry, the more sociable and charming of the two, greets customers, sprawls across keyboards and attends book signings, while Dickens naps on the shelves. Customers who come in ask about the cats before noting their reading needs. Not surprisingly, Henry has favorite people who come in just to visit him. The pair got the star treatment last month in an article in The Columbian on "business cats." -- 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.