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What Can You Do To Get Your New Christmas Pet To Behave?

What Can You Do To Get Your New Christmas Pet To Behave?
Are you having trouble with that new puppy you got for Christmas? We speak to a local dog trainer, and a local vet about what you can do to improve the behavior of a new pet. And, we give tips about the behaviors you should look out for when looking for a new dog or cat.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. There are few things more delightful than a puppy with a big red bow sitting under the Christmas tree. Or maybe a kitten, or even a bowl of gold fish, if that's what you really wanted. But holiday pets don't always come with instructions, and right about now if your puppy is howling while you’re at work or your kitten is tearing up the furniture, you might need a little advice. And, that goes for people whose pets are not used to bad weather in San Diego and get just a little weird when it's cold and wet. The people with the advice are my guests this morning. Dr. Katy Allen, local veterinarian and owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. Katy, welcome back.

DR. KATY ALLEN (Veterinarian/Owner, Canterbury Tails Veterinary Service): Good morning, Maureen. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: And Carol Harris, a certified petdog (sic) trainer – pet dog trainer, and the owner of The Educated Pet. Carol, welcome.


CAROL HARRIS (Owner, The Educated Pet): Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: We’d like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. Did you get a pet recently and you need some help understanding your new companion? Or are you wondering if you should take your dog out for a walk when it’s raining? Give us a call with your questions or your comments about pets, 1-888-895-5727, that’s 1-888-895-KPBS. Carol, what are some of the most common problems new pet owners might run into?

HARRIS: Well, especially around this time of year because they’ve had the holidays off, they’ve spent time at home with their puppy or their kitten or their new dog, and then they suddenly go off to work and the puppy or – the animal has not been taught to be home alone and they come home to destruction or urine or, you know, evacuation of some sort. And that’s a problem, and it’s really because the owners haven’t taught the pet to be alone and given them those coping skills. So it’s a very common problem right now.

CAVANAUGH: I said in the opening, Carol, that there – you know, the pets, during Christmastime, if people get holiday pets, they don’t often come with a lot of instructions.

HARRIS: That’s true.


CAVANAUGH: Do you think that that – I’d like to get your feeling on that, about – because I know what Katy’s going to say and I’m going to ask her in a minute. But I want to get your feeling about that. What should people do if, indeed, they’re going to be getting or giving the gift of a pet to someone.

HARRIS: Well, first of all, I don’t think anybody should give the gift of a pet.


HARRIS: I think that they should give a gift certificate for a pet down the line when the holidays are over. And they should maybe put the collar and leash under the tree or something like that so there’s something to unwrap but the family themselves need to choose their pet and they need to be very, very honest about what they’re getting. The problem is a lot of times we get pets because they’re cute, which they all are, there’s no doubt about that, but that’s not always the right pet for the right family so people need to be very honest about what they’re getting and how much time they have to spend, how much money they have to spend and the training and the veterinary care and, you know, the basic needs being met of this pet. So I think that a lot of it is don’t do an impulse buy of a pet and don’t buy somebody else a gift of a pet. If somebody else really wants a pet, help them find one. But I really don’t like to see pets bought for someone.

CAVANAUGH: But Dr. Katy Allen, I mean, the whole tradition of you know that your son or daughter really wants a dog, you know what kind of dog they want or a little kitten, and there it is, you know…

DR. ALLEN: Oh, absolutely. How wonderfully gratifying for us as parents to see that big smile under the tree and, oh, mommy, daddy, thank you, I love you, I love you. However, when you have a pet it’s not actually about you anymore. It’s like when you have a kid, it’s no longer about you anymore. So pets as gifts, I really am against that idea. It puts them in the same category as buying a kid a bike for Christmas or a Wii or something like that, and those things don’t come with any responsibility at all. A pet comes with a lifetime of responsibility, not just time and energy and so forth but money. And if you bought your 16 year old a car, you wouldn’t get them a car if they couldn’t then afford the insurance and the repairs and maintenance and gas and license and on and on and on. So, in that way, a pet is the gift that keeps on giving except it actually keeps on taking.

CAVANAUGH: Taking, right.

DR. ALLEN: So, yes, so I just don’t think of them as being gift material, to be honest.

HARRIS: The other thing is, as a gift, they can be considered disposable. You know, think of how many toys or instruments or items your child has gone through that were wonderful gifts on Christmas and then they weren’t very important by summer. The same thing happens with pets, unfortunately. The child looks – views them as a disposable item as opposed to a living, breathing creature who needs ongoing care.

CAVANAUGH: I know I’m hearing what both of you are saying but I still think that occasionally it could be a good idea.

DR. ALLEN: It could occasionally but I have two – Just on my one little street, there are two families that bought puppies for their children and now not four weeks later, the parents are walking the dog in…


DR. ALLEN: …the morning. The kids lost interest very, very quickly. It didn’t even last until summer.

HARRIS: Well, and the thing is, that’s something that you have to understand. If you’re buying a pet, quote, unquote, for your child, you better like that pet a lot because it’s going to be yours.

CAVANAUGH: We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. Let’s take a call right now. Heidi is calling from Coronado. Hi, Heidi, welcome to These Days.

HEIDI (Caller, Coronado): Hi. Thanks for taking my call.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

HEIDI: Can you guys hear me okay?

CAVANAUGH: Perfectly.

HEIDI: Great. I just wanted to agree with you on definitely about the gifting. You know, it’s picking an animal is – should be a family decision and it should be conscientious and everybody should be involved. And when you just hand it to someone in a box, maybe that’s not the best way to go about it. But the reason I’m calling is I have an Akita, a wonderful, sweet Akita, that we adopted and it’s an aggressive breed but it’s terrified of wind and vacuum cleaners.


DR. ALLEN: Wow. It wouldn’t have that problem in my house.

CAVANAUGH: And what has – what – How does she – Is it a she?

HEIDI: It’s a boy.

CAVANAUGH: A boy. How does he react to wind and vac…

HEIDI: He gets, you know, like low to the ground and tail between the legs and fearful, and the head looks up and, you know, sort of moves away like when we’re walking in these recent storms. You know, in Coronado, we’ve gotten a lot of the heavy winds…


HEIDI: …and he’s just afraid of something hitting him, falling from the sky. And the same with the vacuum cleaner. I turn it on and even when it’s not turned on, he suddenly runs around frantically trying to avoid it. It’s bizarre.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for the call. And, Carol.

HARRIS: Well, actually that’s not an uncommon problem, especially with the wind because in San Diego we just don’t get that much wind and the dogs are not used to it. Vacuum cleaners are another thing that dogs are frequently afraid of. And it’s really not hard to work them through it. You do need to take the time and one of the things that I do is, I just set the vacuum cleaner out or I recommend that people set the vacuum cleaner out so it’s out all the time so it’s not a big deal. It may not – It may be a little unsightly but it helps your dog. And every time he approaches it, give him a little treat, tell him how wonderful he is. You know, don’t force him but – until he’s used to it. And then you move it a little bit closer to his food dish and a little bit closer to his food dish, so he starts getting – associating the vacuum with him being fed. Once he’s comfortable with it being quiet and out in the room, then you can start turning it on in another room and just kind of leaving it running for a bit. And feeding him treats and telling him how marvelous he is, playing a ball, playing a game that he likes especially and kind of associating a good thing with the previous negative thing. The wind is another thing. It’s a noise phobia and he needs to kind of get over himself. But you need to make sure you’re not feeding into it by saying, oh, you poor little baby, oh, I’m sorry it’s windy. You know, just act very matter of fact, bring some treats along, go for a nice jog, make it a fun experience as opposed to helping him feed into his fears.

CAVANAUGH: Katy, the wind and the bad weather is so unusual in San Diego, I would – I feel Heidi is not alone in having a pet react strange, you know, differently to this strange weather for us.

DR. ALLEN: Yeah, absolutely. A lot of them don’t want to go outside and the medical downside to that, that I’m seeing, is actually animals coming in with urinary tract infections or they’re constipated because they’re not being taken out on their proper walks or they’ve being chucked out the back door to go in the garden and they just turn around and come right back in again and they’re holding onto everything that they should be letting go. And that has – so it has a medical side effect, too. So I’m sorry if you guys are going to get wet. You have to walk your dogs.

CAVANAUGH: Now, that’s my question to you. Is it because the dog doesn’t want to go outside or is it because the human doesn’t want to go outside?

DR. ALLEN: The dog probably doesn’t want to go outside without the human, you know…


DR. ALLEN: …because just sending them out in the back yard while it’s raining is not going to be a fun experience for them. So you have to get a rain jacket, you have to go buy one maybe, and go out in the rain. I mean, if you lived in England and you didn’t walk your dog when it was raining, you’d probably only go out ten days a year.

CAVANAUGH: We are talking about pets, new pets, old pets, cold pets. 1-888-895-5727 is our number. And let’s take a call from Devon in University City. Good morning, Devon. Welcome to These Days.

DEVON (Caller, University City): Hi, guys, how’re you doing?

DR. ALLEN: Great.

DEVON: Good.

CAVANAUGH: Yes, very good, thank you.

DEVON: Good. I wanted to give you guys a call. I love that you are bringing this topic to the surface. I think that, you know, proper pet care is so important and especially – I know we’re backtracking here but I completely agree with your comment about not giving pets as gifts during the holidays. That’s something that I feel very strongly about because, you know, one of you guys mentioned that, you know, pets are cute and fluffy and fun but the reality of the responsibility doesn’t quite settle in until, you know, a few weeks later, so I’m very happy that you are warning people about that on the air. That’s very important. And basically the reason I’m calling is I’m a pet owner. I have a puppy. He’s a Golden Retriever-Border Collie mix, a boy. And he just turned six months today. And, you know, he’s a very well-trained dog and it’s an absolute joy having him in my life but, you know, it is so much of a responsibility and, you know, before I decided to get a dog, my relationship situation was different so it was two of us taking care of the dog at once and now it’s just me. And, you know, the cost is quite considerable. It’s so much money. And I want people to be aware of, you know, even when you’re preparing to get a dog, people will warn you and say, well, it’s a big responsibility and it costs a lot of money but it’s so – it goes so much farther than that. It changes your life. It absolutely changes your life in every way that a life can be changed.

CAVANAUGH: Devon, can you give us a hint as to how your life has changed by taking care of the pet by yourself?

DEVON: Well, you know, I can’t go away on weekends. I can’t spend the night at a friend’s house if there’s some impromptu get together. That’s not an option, which for my age, I’m 26 years old, so that’s what people my age are doing. They’re getting together and they’re going out drinking and having fun and going to parties and spending the night at each other’s houses, and that just isn’t an option to me any more. And…

CAVANAUGH: And you’ve got your dog at home. Thank you so…

DEVON: Yeah, I have – I have my fur baby. And…

CAVANAUGH: Devon, thank you for the call. I really appreciate it. I want to get some reaction from our guests. So that sounds exactly what you’ve been talking about, about the responsibility of pet ownership.

DR. ALLEN: Absolutely. And that’s wonderful that she is taking that responsibility so seriously and, you know, kudos to her for that. But if you listen to how she was talking, it’s almost like a new mother talking.

HARRIS: Umm-hmm.

DR. ALLEN: You know, all of my social life is gone. And so for her situation, which I understand changed, but for her situation, she needs a cat, you know. A cat is a pet for her because a big bouncy dog, that dog probably needs to go out two, three times a day for half an hour, maybe more each time, and then the cost associated with feeding a big dog rather than a small one, any medicines for a big dog rather than a small one. Everything is magnified by the size of your dog, so that’s huge for her and I’m glad she’s taking it seriously but, you know, I’m sorry.

CAVANAUGH: Well, Carol, let me ask you for the people who perhaps have – Devon was in a new situation with her dog but perhaps have a new dog. And you mentioned about people going back to work, back to school, and the fact that now the dog’s alone for a long time. Is there any way to keep dogs occupied and happy if they spend long hours alone?

HARRIS: Oh, absolutely. There’s a lot of things that you can do. The first thing you need to do is teach it to be alone and be comfortable with that, and you do that just with – just by short periods of leaving it and leaving it something wonderful while you’re gone, like a stuffed chew toy, a stuffed Kong, something like that. There’s wonderful doggie daycares that people can send their dog to one or two times a week. You don’t want to send them much more than that because then they get over stimulated and they get even nuttier. But a couple days a week of doggie daycare is never a bad thing. Working with the dog’s mind, teaching it new tricks, teaching it hide and seek games, teaching it things that occupies its mind will tire it out as well. Making sure it gets plenty of exercise, appropriate exercise for that individual dog. And this is something that, in this country, we are woefully neglectful in, getting the dogs appropriate exercise. In other countries, you know, the dogs go with us a lot of places and they get a lot more outings. There’s interactive toys that your dog can have, treat sticks and tug-a-jugs and things that you can put treats in that when they play with the toy, the treats fall out. So…

CAVANAUGH: When you’re not there.

HARRIS: When you’re not there.


HARRIS: So there’s lots of things that can be done, absolutely. And…

DR. ALLEN: And for cats, also, because the cats can start, you know, will start shredding things or whatever and you can enrich your cat’s environment at home as well.

HARRIS: Umm-hmm.

DR. ALLEN: And there’s a wonderful website I’d like to recommend. It’s called, one word, And it – there’s a lot of advice about enriching your cat’s environment to keep them busy during the day that will really help you out.

CAVANAUGH: Because people can be gone for just hours and hours and hours.

DR. ALLEN: Umm-hmm.

CAVANAUGH: And even a cat can get lonely in that time.

DR. ALLEN: Yeah, they can get bored and they can – yeah, they’ll get very lonely and they can do a lot of destruction.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, yeah.

DR. ALLEN: They’re only small but they’re really good at it.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. We’re taking your calls, by the way, at 1-888-895-5727. David is calling from Clairemont. Good morning, David. Welcome to These Days.

DAVID (Caller, Clairemont): Good morning. I’d like to ask your guest if she has any advice for people with dogs that have a dreadful fear of thunder? I’d forgotten about the issue until last week when we had the thunderstorm again and Angie just perked up and she shudders and she’ll pace the floor for hours. I want to go to bed and she’s in there panting and pacing around, and it’s very hard to get her to calm down. I’d like to know if there’s any way that a person can adjust them or acclimate them to loud noises like that.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you for that.

HARRIS: Thunder’s a pretty difficult one to work on in San Diego because we just don’t have it that often. It’s much easier to work on in the Midwest when you have it all winter long or all fall long. You can – there are tapes that you can use and CDs that you can use that can help to acclimate the dog to these things. Sometimes if you’ve got a dog who reacts really, really adversely, you may want to talk to your vet about some things. I mean, anti-anxiety medications or something that the vet could provide your dog a little bit of pharmaceutical comfort if there’s a big storm coming up.

DAVID: That’s – I appreciate that.

DR. ALLEN: You can also – Yeah, you can put them in an inside room if you have a room that’s got no windows or whatever. That will help. And have some other noise going on to, you know, background noise. That helps.

DAVID: Well, I have the television going and I do have other noises going on in the house but she’s very acute, you know, attuned to the rumble or whatever it is. She’ll hear the thunder before I will.

CAVANAUGH: Yeah, she can probably feel it.

DAVID: Yeah.

DR. ALLEN: So then you might want to go to your veterinarian and see if there’s something that is appropriate. There are anti-anxiety drugs that will work right then at the moment, and there are others that sort of need to be on board for a while, just like with sort of anti-depressives in people that…

DAVID: Yeah.

DR. ALLEN: …have to be on board for days or weeks before they can help. But there are options but you need to talk to your veterinarian first because of side effects that are possible.

DAVID: Sure.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, David. Thank you for the call. I’m wondering, Carol, you know, when you talk about getting your pet, your dog or your pet acclimated, that is, to different noises and so forth. How long is a pet’s memory? I mean, you have a pet who – I have a cat who got all upset about the first storm and the next day got equally upset about the next storm, and the storm after that. I mean, it’s as if he didn’t get used to it at all. I mean, it was a brand new experience every day.

HARRIS: Well, they’re not going to get used to it in that kind of environment because that environment instills fear. And once that mem – that fear take – that flight or – fight or flight syndrome takes over, then your cat is, you know, already aroused. He’s already up there; he can’t come back down. So you need to start when there’s not a storm. And just like I was talking with the vacuum cleaner, kind of acclimate them slowly to these noises. You know, if you – I mean, we’ve got such good sound systems now, which we didn’t used to have and this is really kind of nice because you can have fairly realistic sounding thunder and that sort of thing and you can play it very softly in the background, just very, very softly to the point where your animal does not react, and be giving them treats and playing with them and having a wonderful time, so now we’re associating this noise with a positive. And, again, you’re just kind of acclimating over time. But it is a fairly lengthy process to desensitize an animal to a problem or to acclimate them to a new situation. And you’ve got to take the time and the effort to do it and do it in baby, baby steps. Everybody kind of wants it now. There’s a storm now, I want my dog comfortable.


HARRIS: That’s kind of difficult to do.

CAVANAUGH: We have to take a short break. I’m speaking with Carol Harris and Dr. Katy Allen, and we’re talking about pets, pets when it’s cold and wet and cat – cats and dogs when they’re brand new to your home. We’re taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And we will be back in a few moments. You’re listening to These Days on KPBS.

CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking about pets. We’re talking about pets reacting to cold and wet weather in San Diego, which is very unusual, and also about brand new pets that people might’ve gotten over the holidays. We are speaking with Dr. Katy Allen. She’s a local veterinarian, owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. And Carol Harris, certified dog trainer and owner of The Educated Pet. We’re also taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. There are a lot of people who want to speak to us, so I’m going to start with phone calls right away. Barbara is calling from Oceanside. Good morning, Barbara. Welcome to These Days.

BARBARA (Caller, Oceanside): Good morning. I have a rescue little pet that’s part Chow and she’s new to us two years and she still has horrible manners. She’s fearful on a leash and she won’t let any human being near her. However, when she sees another animal, she just goes wild. And we don’t know too much history about her but she is quite a challenge.

DR. ALLEN: How old was she when you got her?

BARBARA: I’m guessing around three. She’s about five now with little whiskers, little white whiskers coming.

DR. ALLEN: So, Carol, what do we think about the – the age?

HARRIS: Well, the age makes it a little bit more difficult but, really, what – all – what you need to be doing is working with a good behaviorist that will help you with some of these challenges and give you particular protocols for your dog. It’s really hard to kind of diagnose this over the phone, so to speak.


HARRIS: But when you’ve got a dog who’s reacting out of fear and out of stress and then overreacting to other situations, what they need is some coping skills and there’s lots of ways that we can help her to be the best dog that she can be. You know, that is something that kind of needs a one-on-one, you know, you and a behaviorist working on the problem and helping her to be more comfortable.

DR. ALLEN: And it does bring up an important point. I think that’s wonderful that you took on a rescue dog, and a lot of people do do that and I applaud you for that but this is a good example of a good impulse now having to, you know, follow through with that, which obviously you are, you know, for years, for the life of that dog.

BARBARA: Yes, yes.

DR. ALLEN: So, again, if you’re going to be adopting a rescue and you’re not quite sure what you’re getting, you have to be ready to put up and deal with whatever it is that you got.

CAVANAUGH: And Barbara…

BARBARA: She just loves – she loves us to death. I mean, we – we’re just her whole life.


CAVANAUGH: Barbara, do you know why your dog has that reaction? Do you know what she was – or he went through earlier in life?

BARBARA: Well, they revealed to us only that she had a large piece of property and they left her in a little wild environment all day long.


BARBARA: That’s as much as we could get out them.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you so much for the phone call. And, Katy, I would like you to talk a little bit more about that because I know that is a wonderful impulse that people have but how difficult is it for rescued cats and dogs to actually become fully domesticated?

DR. ALLEN: It can be very difficult and it very much depends on what their history is. In this particular case, it sounds like the dog was not socialized at all and they need to be socialized to other dogs, any other pets, men, women, children—those are three separate things as far as a dog is concerned. So if you get an adult dog that’s not been socialized, then you’re definitely going to have problems. You may have a pet that’s aggressive, whether it’s through fear or whatever other reason that you need to responsibly deal with that. They often come with medical problems. You know, they’re just like us, as we get older we have a lot of baggage, and older pets that are rescued have a lot of baggage. And there are wonderful rescue organizations, and wonderful people that take care of them but it’s not something to be entered into lightly at all.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Chris is calling from Rancho Santa Fe. Good morning, Chris, and welcome to These Days.

CHRIS (Caller, Rancho Santa Fe): Yeah, good morning, ladies. I have a seven year old Australian Shepherd who was a rescue dog for me as well at about three years old, who I love. She’s a great dog but she has one problem. She loves to lick any piece of skin she can get her hands – or, her tongue on. And, you know, she – we have small kids and so she’s trying to lick their hands or trying to lick their feet or whatever she possibly can. And I just wonder if you had any solutions for that, and I’ll take my answer off the air.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Chris.

HARRIS: Well, the answer to that, the easiest answer to that is, first of all, Australian Shepherds do that. It’s kind of one of the things that they do because it’s one of their things. But the other thing is, put a command to it. So if you could put a command to it and teach her to give kisses, then you can teach her ‘no kisses.’


HARRIS: And so you make this an on demand kiss situation rather than an on impulse kiss situation, and that usually solves the problem.

CAVANAUGH: How likely is that to take in an older dog?

HARRIS: Actually, they can learn this fairly quickly if you’re very consistent with it. They pick up on tricks very well and because – I think mainly because owners enjoy teaching tricks and so it’s fun.

CAVANAUGH: That’s great.

DR. ALLEN: But the licking thing, I would like to address is, you know, you’re supposed to love your dog but you’re not supposed to ‘love’ your dogs. So licking of the face is a bad idea. There are parasites that can be spread that way.

HARRIS: Oh, thank you.

DR. ALLEN: And so it’s very, very important. Don’t let your puppy lick your face, your kid’s face, bad, bad idea.

CAVANAUGH: You know, I have another dog question because I saw a commercial a couple of days ago about – and it goes with this cold weather thing. It’s sort of like a fake piece of lawn on, you know, it’s Astroturf…

HARRIS: Right.

CAVANAUGH: …on top of a container…


CAVANAUGH: …that people use for their pets to urinate on.


CAVANAUGH: And there, the cats – I’m sorry, the dogs don’t have to go out. How effective is this? Have you ever heard of this?

HARRIS: Absolutely, and it can be very effective, especially for small dogs in high condos and it takes you too long to get them outside to be able to do their business. It is not a substitute for walking your dog in the rain but it can be a very helpful housebreaking tool if you’re in a situation where getting the puppy outside is a particularly difficult task in a timely fashion.

CAVANAUGH: But not for larger dogs.

DR. ALLEN: Not for larger dogs.

HARRIS: Not for larger dogs.

DR. ALLEN: And don’t think it means you don’t have to get out…


DR. ALLEN: …of your chair and out the front door and walk your dog.

HARRIS: You still have to walk your dog.

CAVANAUGH: Okay. Let’s take another call. Doug is calling from Linda Vista. Good morning, Doug, and welcome to These Days.

DOUG (Caller, Linda Vista): Good morning. Thank you for taking my call. I’ll try and be quick about this. Last Christmas I got my girlfriend a cat. I made the mistake of doing the whole gift-giving thing. And being the big-hearted guy that I am, I actually picked one out at the Humane Society, who was 11 years old. And he was raised in a home where he wasn’t taken care of whatsoever. I mean, he only had 7 teeth left when I adopted him. And I knew it was going to be kind of a challenge and my girlfriend and I have since broken up and so I, of course, have acquired the cat. And he’s starting to exhibit behaviors of being pretty old. He’s starting to urinate on things every now and then and he kind of exhibits some weird behavior, running around crazily and stuff like that. He’s having digestive troubles. And anybody that I talk to about this who has been a cat owner has told me that it’s starting to be to the point where I might want to consider putting him down and, I mean, he’s my little buddy. You know, I love him to death and he’s awesome. He runs around and he seems spritely still. So my question to you is, when do you really know when it’s time to perhaps consider that? And how old should I expect him to get and stay healthy, you know? And I’ll take my answer off the air. So thank you.

DR. ALLEN: Okay, well, let me start with that an 11 year old cat is not an old cat. That’s a middle-aged cat. Those symptoms that you’re describing are typical of several diseases I can call to mind, hypothyroidism is one, and that’s very manageable, very treatable. So whenever your cat, dog, pigeon, whatever you have, exhibits behavioral changes, you always need to rule out a medical cause before you start thinking about it’s time for them to move on to another plane. So I would recommend a visit to your veterinarian. They’ll want to pull some blood. They’ll need to get a urine sample probably to get started. And the odds are they’re going to find some medical problem that will account for your cat’s naughty behavior and then you get to keep your buddy for a long time.

CAVANAUGH: A lot of people who are more familiar with dogs think 11 years old is quite…


CAVANAUGH: …a great age, I’ve noticed. But what can people sometimes expect their cats – what age can they expect their cats to live to?

DR. ALLEN: High teens, you know.


DR. ALLEN: Yeah, so I used to – like 20 years ago, if I had a cat come in that was 11 or 12, I did think of them as an elderly cat but things have moved on and I see a lot of 16, 17, 18, 19 year old cats.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take another call. Nicole is calling from Coronado. Good morning, Nicole, and welcome to These Days.

NICOLE (Caller, Coronado): Hi. Thank you. I have a bit of an odd issue with my dog, Teddy. I rescued him from P.A.W.S. about two years ago. He’s about – he’s probably about three now. And when some dogs get nervous or anxious or upset, they pee. Teddy poops. And he will start running and poop just flies out of him. It’s terribly embarrassing for me, as I have to run around picking up little spots of poop everywhere. But the worst part is he poops in his sleep and I have not had anybody I know of that has ever dealt with that issue before. And I’ve literally – I’ve woken up in the middle of the night with poop on me.

CAVANAUGH: Lucky you.

NICOLE: And he – it’s awful. And he knows that he’s done something wrong and he’ll get up and – and it almost appears that he can’t control it.

DR. ALLEN: Yeah. How old is this dog again? What breed?

NICOLE: He’s a Dachshund-Chihuahua. He’s about three, I think.

DR. ALLEN: Okay, it does sound to me like that might actually be a medical problem because they shouldn’t be able to run and poop at the same time. That’s sort of two different systems and so…

NICOLE: I’ve nicknamed him Shooter.

DR. ALLEN: Now Dachshunds are prone to having neurological problems because of their long backs and short legs so…


DR. ALLEN: …you may be having signs of that, and so I would certainly, again, go see your veterinarian and get that checked out. It also sounds like there’s quite a larger volume of poop involved here and that can often be associated with buying food that has a lot of filler. So I don’t know if you’re feeding him a really high quality food, then I take that right back but for everybody else, the cheaper the food you buy, the more filler, the more poop you get to scoop.

CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you, Nicole…

NICOLE: Just out of curiosity…

CAVANAUGH: Oh, okay, go ahead.


CAVANAUGH: No, I’m sorry, go ahead, Nicole. I’m sorry.

NICOLE: Just out of curiosity, what type of neurological issue could cause him to do that?

DR. ALLEN: A problem with his back, with a disk disease with his back can actually impinge on the nerves that go to the bowels and other places we don’t mention on Public Radio, and so he wouldn’t be quite aware – he wouldn’t be aware that he needed to poop.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Sorry we laughed at your dog’s problem, Nicole, but…


CAVANAUGH: …it just got us the wrong way. I wanted to let you know that a caller, Ivan, who couldn’t stay on the line, wanted to know, we were talking before about that separation anxiety…

DR. ALLEN: Uh-huh.

CAVANAUGH: …that a dog can experience when someone, an owner or a companion who’s always been around is now off to school or work, can getting another dog help with that?

HARRIS: I never, ever, ever, ever recommend getting another dog for your dog. That’s gift-giving in the – to the extreme. If you want another dog and your dog really likes other dogs, then, you know, by all means feel free to get another dog. However, when you have two dogs, your issues exponentially increase. Your costs exponentially increase. And it really isn’t much of a cure for separation anxiety because they’re generally not having separation anxiety because they’re alone. Their separation anxiety is because the owner is gone…


HARRIS: …and that’s a bit of a different issue. Separation anxiety is something that is treated medically and behaviorally simultaneously to be most successful.

CAVANAUGH: Let’s take – let’s try to squeeze in another call. Judith is calling from Poway. Good morning, Judith. Welcome to These Days.

JUDITH (Caller, Poway): Hi. Thank you.

CAVANAUGH: You’re welcome.

JUDITH: I’m calling about a different animal that most people don’t think about but gets purchased a lot at Christmas and that’s rabbits.


JUDITH: And one of the things that is an issue with the rabbits might be a little bit different than what people see with cats and dogs. Is when they get rabbits from a pet store or a breeder, oftentimes it’s just a family, they’ll get two because they understand that, you know, they need a buddy and that’s always a good idea. But a lot of people end up with a male and a female and sometimes they think they’re getting two females but they end up with a male and female and a month later, they have 10 rabbits…


JUDITH: …instead of two rabbits.

CAVANAUGH: Exactly. Exactly.

JUDITH: So that’s a huge problem that we see. I volunteer with a rabbit rescue organization and we’re seeing lots and lots of people calling us and bringing litters of bunnies into the shelter because they didn’t understand that one of the first things you need to do is get the bunnies spayed and neutered.

CAVANAUGH: Thank you, Judith. Thank you so much for that. I’d like to get your comments on that. I hadn’t heard about getting rabbits spayed and neutered but that, indeed, is something that people do.

DR. ALLEN: It’s something that can be done. It’s slightly specialized so you want to make sure that you go to a veterinarian who does it on a fairly routine basis. Rabbit anesthesia is a little trickier, a little more risky, and you want someone who knows what they’re doing.

CAVANAUGH: I see. Well, you know, this has gone so quickly. I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us about a whole range of pet issues. I’ve learned a lot during our conversation. Thank you so much.

DR. ALLEN: It’s my pleasure.

HARRIS: You’re welcome.

CAVANAUGH: And I’ve been speaking with Dr. Katy Allen. She’s a veterinarian, and owner of Canterbury Tails Veterinary Services. And Carol Harris, who is a dog trainer, and owner of The Educated Pet. There were so many people who wanted to talk with us, I want to say I’m sorry to the people that we couldn’t speak with on the air, but please do go online. Post your comments at Thank you for listening. You have been listening to These Days on KPBS-FM.