Make Your Garden Friendly for Senior Pets

No matter the size of your garden, it’s an area for the whole family to enjoy, and that includes the family dog. By adding a few dog-friendly features to create special canine areas, you can make it more enjoyable for your dog, especially if he is a senior, to be outside and spend quality time with you.

Here Comes The Sun

Like elderly people, older dogs are more likely to be uncomfortable in extreme heat and humidity. Age aside, it’s important to remember that unlike humans, they do not have sweat glands all over their bodies; their sweat glands are only in areas not covered by fur such as their noses and paw pads. Further, certain brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds such as Pugs, Pekingese, Bulldogs, and Boxers are more prone to suffering heatstroke because they aren’t able to pant as efficiently as dogs with longer muzzles.

Special shady places in the garden allow pets to lie down and stay out of direct sun. Consider adding shade features such as pergolas or trees especially for them. You can also find special pop-up pet tents in different sizes. Look for one that folds flat when not in use.

A dog lying on the ground will feel the heat, chill, or dampness of the surface. Providing him with a special outdoor elevated steel-framed cot covered with a waterproof fabric will solve this problem. Cots such as the K and H Manufacturing Pet Cot Canopy address both the ground contact and the sun problems. A memory foam mattress with a waterproof covering will be much appreciated by an older dog too.

Water On Tap

It’s equally important to ensure that your dog has access to water at all times.  The paw-operated All for Paw’s Chill Out Garden Water Fountain turns a garden hosepipe into an instant drinking fountain. With a little training, even a senior dog will master where to step on the rubber pedal to let the water flow. It doesn’t take much paw-power to operate.

Drinking water quickly becomes lukewarm in ordinary stainless steel bowls. So it’s worth investing in a container such as a Frostybowlz, which has a gel core that is frozen before being placed inside the bowl. It keeps water cool for 14 hours. There are also outdoor pet drinking fountains that eliminate the need to top up daily.

Flowerbeds And Pathways

Elderly dogs are often sight-impaired. And because dogs rely so heavily on their noses, it’s important to remove all thorny bushes and plants from your garden to prevent them getting too close and hurting themselves. This is particularly important along garden pathways. Also, be wary of any toxic plants. You can find a comprehensive list of safe plants and shrubs on the ASPCA’s website

For pathways, materials such as cedar chips or wooden planks may be more paw-friendly than hot concrete and flagstones.

Sharing Outdoor Space

When it comes to landscaping your outdoor area, it important to note that dogs don’t understand property lines and flat spaces; they need verticality to designate boundaries and areas. The best way to do this is with shrubs or fencing. To share the space amicably with your pooch, observe how he uses the garden, in particular where he likes to pee. Then using a fence or shrubbery, create a specific toilet area for him. This will definitely help to preserve the lawn.

A pheromone-treated garden stake that attracts dogs is a useful training device in helping your dog learn that he has a designated toilet. Male dogs of course will appreciate a permanent marking post in their toilet area. You can use anything from driftwood to an attractive fire hydrant garden statue. To keep your doggie toilet hygienic, odor-free, and low maintenance, cover the ground with an easy to clean material such as cedar chips or artificial grass, which is easy to hose down.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT

Get the Goods: What You Need for Your New Cat

You’ve visited the shelter and found the perfect cat for you. But before you bring her home, it’s time to do some shopping. You’ll want to stock up on the supplies that will turn your house into a Fear Free feline paradise. Here’s what you’ll need to ensure your new cat’s wellbeing, safety and happiness.

Collar and tag. Choose a breakaway collar that will slip over your cat’s head easily if he gets it stuck on something. Cats are notorious for losing collars, so buy two. Have the tag engraved with your name and at least two phone numbers, such as your cell phone and a landline or your veterinarian’s office.

Carrier. Bring your cat home in style in a soft-sided or hard carrier. Look for one that allows you to place the cat in it from the top and side (some hard carriers have a top that comes off). Make it seem inviting by spraying or wiping it down with feline pheromones that will help your cat feel at ease. Place some yummy treats and a catnip toy inside, too. Once you get home, leave the carrier out in an area where the family spends a lot of time and continue working to make it appealing to your cat so that she comes to view it as a nice place to hang out.

Litter box and litter. If you’re going with a basic box, most cats prefer one that is uncovered so they can keep an eye out for any approaching dangers. And covers hold in odors, which cats don’t appreciate. An uncovered box lets you see immediately that the box has been used so you can scoop it right away. That helps to keep stinky smells at bay. You can also choose from among the many automated litter boxes that scoop themselves. Choose unscented litter that won’t offend your cat’s sensitive nose. As far as texture, give your cat several options and see what he likes best.

Food and water. Ask what the cat has been eating at the shelter and get some of that. Then you can gradually mix in whatever you’d prefer to feed. Do this over a period of about 10 days to avoid stomach upset or diarrhea. You don’t need to buy special water, but it can be a good idea to get a fountain for your cat to drink from. A still surface won’t attract cats to drink but the splashing of a fountain can. Cats are often chronically dehydrated, so getting them to drink is important for good health. Choose ceramic or weighted stainless dishes (plastic can cause kitty acne). Wash dishes in hot soapy water after every meal. Even better, get some food puzzles and put her daily allotment of food inside them so she can “hunt” for meals and get all-important physical and mental exercise at the same time.

Toys! Your cat will love playing with you if you dangle a big peacock feather or fishing pole-type toy. Move it erratically, the way a mouse or bird might move. When you aren’t there to be a playmate, your cat will enjoy using her brain to get at treats or kibble inside a food puzzle or testing her physical skills with a ball inside a track. Your cat may or may not respond to catnip (up to half of them don’t), but if she does, she’ll love rolling in ecstasy and bunny-kicking toys filled with it. Be sure to freshen or replace them periodically.

Treats! You’ll want these to help make friends with your cat, reward him when he does things you like, teach him tricks (yes, cats can learn all kinds of tricks), or just because you love him. Look for treats that are tiny but have a strong aroma.

Scratching post or cat tree. Cats love hanging out in all the high places. Put a tall cat tree in a prominent spot where family members gather so she can watch everything that’s going on. Cats love scratching too, and it’s a natural behavior for them. At a minimum, a basic scratching post should be at least three feet high so your cat can stretch out her whole body as she scratches. It’s good exercise and it just feels good. Consider offering a horizontal scratching post as well. Some cats prefer that to a vertical post. If necessary, you can use a product such as Feliway Feliscratch to attract your cat to the area you want her to scratch.

Grooming items. The basics are a rubber curry brush for a shorthaired cat, a Greyhound comb for a longhaired cat, a nail trimmer, and a toothbrush and toothpaste made for cats. Brushing and combing your cat regularly reduces the amount of fur your vacuum will have to suck up.

Bed. At the end of the day, your cat will likely end up on your bed, but she’ll appreciate having a bed of her own where she can hide away during the day. From teepees to tunnels, you can find a variety of beds that will suit your cat and your décor.

Now, you’re ready to bring your cat home to a great life together.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

When Cats Grieve: How to Help

Grief is the price we pay for love. When one of our cats dies, we have lost a beloved family member, and we feel it deeply. We may lose sleep, lose our appetite, spend more time alone, or spend more time seeking comfort from others. Our routines feel off, because they included the cat who is now gone. We may sometimes think we see him out the corner of our eye, and then catch the thought and be hit by a wave of sadness.

When a feline family member dies, everyone grieves, including our other cats. A close attachment has been severed. But we don’t really know what cats feel when they grieve. It’s likely there is some confusion: Fluffy was here and now suddenly he’s not. A lot of things change, too. Cats work out complicated territory arrangements in our homes, and all that is upset when one cat dies. Who eats where, who sleeps in the window perch, who gets to sit next to us on the sofa—all that is now in flux. It’s confusing and disturbing for a family of cats who probably spent months working all that out.

Recognizing Feline Grief

You may find that a cat who typically spent play sessions sitting across the room just watching suddenly joins in, or one who never slept on the bed now does. These areas and activities may have previously been controlled by the cat who died. You may also see little spats and disagreements between your cats over spots they never contested before. This can be a tense time as they redraw boundaries and renegotiate relationships.

Cats’ sadness and confusion may be obvious as they wander from room to room and call out for their lost companion. Or it may be subtle. How cats grieve has actually been studied, and many of the signs mirror our own.

In 1996 the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals conducted a study called the Companion Animal Mourning Project, which assessed the behavior patterns of cats after a companion cat died. They found that about 70 percent of cats changed their vocalization patterns, meowing significantly more or less than usual. More than half became more affectionate and clingy with their owners., Many changed their sleeping patterns—sleeping more, less, or in different places—and 46 percent ate less than usual. Other signs included pacing, searching, changes in play and activity patterns, hiding, and overgrooming. Overall, 65 percent of cats showed four or more behavior changes after the death of a family pet.

Clearing up the confusion when a cat “disappears” is the idea behind the advice to let cats sniff and examine the body of a deceased companion. There is no evidence either way that it does or does not help. While it’s likely they know the body they are sniffing is dead (cats are hunters, after all, and kill their prey), they may or may not know that it’s their companion.

Speaking from my own experience, I have had cats who were euthanized in the veterinarian’s office and cats who died at home and were thoroughly sniffed by their feline family. I have not seen any difference in the way my other cats behaved. In all cases, they seemed confused and stressed by the disappearance of their friend. And seeing that broke my heart even more.

Of course, cats are sensitive to our moods, so as we grieve, they will join us in our sadness. For myself, I found that helping my cats work though their grief also helped me work through mine.

Helping Cats Grieve

What can we do to help them? First, we need to understand that, just like us, all cats grieve in their own ways. Some seem to move on quickly; some take months to adjust. Just as you want your friends to accept your grief and be supportive, don’t judge your cat or set any expectations.

Stick to feeding and play routines as much as possible, but also try to develop some new games or cuddle routines that focus on the surviving cat(s) in ways that seem special to them. If your cat seems clingy, give him more attention. It’s good for both of you! Give him as much attention as he needs. Pet and play with him as often as he seems to want it. If he is vocalizing, call to him so he hears your comforting voice and feels less lost.

Should You Get Another Cat?

It is tempting to go out and get another cat but think long and hard about that. Introducing a new cat is always stressful, and this is not a time to add more stress to your feline household. Give your cat time to grieve and adjust and figure out his new place in the family. If you now have just one cat and find that he suddenly blossoms and becomes more interactive, chances are he played second fiddle a lot of time and is now enjoying being an only cat.

If your cat and the departed cat were best buddies, he may still not want a companion. If I became a widow tomorrow, I would not appreciate my mother sending over a replacement husband—someone she picked out—weeks or months afterward. Cats typically don’t enjoy having new “friends” thrust upon them. That’s especially true for older cats. They do not want a new kitten in their lives, jumping and chewing on them and basically being the adorable pain in the neck all kittens are. Ask yourself, “Is this new kitten really for my cat at home, or is she for me?”

The situation was reversed when my beloved cat Cannoli died a little more than a year ago. Cannoli was eight, and was a big brother to Spike, a very active three-year-old who was actually more focused on his cat buddy than on me. Cannoli died at home but Spike still seemed lost and confused by his absence, wandering from room to room and searching the closets. He became more affectionate and attentive with me, but he also played less. He spent a lot of time staring out the window.

I actually didn’t want another cat, because the loss of Cannoli at such a young age really broke my heart. But Spike had been so focused on his brother, and was playing so much less now, that after about five months, I decided a young cat might be just what he needed. I chose a kitten because Spike was so young and active—a slightly younger cat with similar activity level and play style tends to be the best match. Spike and T’Pring are inseparable now. I hope they both live very long lives.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Beth Adelman, MS, is a cat behavior consultant in New York City. Beth is currently on the executive committee of the feline division of the Pet Professional Guild and is a frequent speaker on cat behavior. 

Understanding Canine Motion Sickness

As the summer comes to an end, many of us will be traveling to fun places and hoping to bring our dogs with us. In fact, a recent study showed many pet parents travel with their pets every year! It turns out most of us take our dogs with us on daily errands (bank, gas station, coffee, etc), and nearly half of us bring our dogs along on weekend trips.2

Sadly, these activities with our furry friends can be impacted if that dog suffers from motion sickness.  A 2018 study found that nearly half of dog owners (48 percent) say their dog experiences some signs of motion sickness when traveling in a car.2 This has a significant impact on the relationship between the pet parent and dog, because frequently they cannot go on trips together as often, or sometimes not at all.  This is unfortunate and leads to feelings of sadness and guilt for having to leave our dogs behind.

What exactly is motion sickness?  Some call it “car sickness,” however it is not limited to riding in automobiles. Just as in people, some dogs do not feel well when they ride in cars, planes, or even on boats. Of course, dogs are individuals, so not all dogs will suffer from the same condition to the same degree. The most common symptom we tend to think about is vomiting, however there are many other signs and symptoms that dogs can exhibit, either alone or in combination, that can still be related to motion sickness. These include4:

  • Drooling
  • Dry heaving
  • Excessive lip licking
  • Excessive panting
  • Inactivity
  • Pacing
  • Restlessness
  • Shaking
  • Vomiting
  • Whining
  • Yawning

What might surprise you is that motion sickness can also be related to fear and anxiety. This occurs when the areas of the brain responsible for motion sickness combine with the area of the brain responsible for memories of fear and anxiety from previous experiences.5,6 That means it is important to pay close attention to the onset of signs that could indicate motion sickness and note any correlations with travel, including anxiety or avoidance behavior like resistance to getting in the car. Sharing this information with your veterinarian can help determine the right treatment so that we can stop our pups from experience this distress and prevent if form getting worse.

Even though many dogs suffer from this condition, only a handful of pet parents who notice the symptoms will report them to their veterinarian.7 These dogs are truly suffering, and early recognition is key to long term success.  Fortunately, there are ways to alleviate this distress, and discovering them starts with reaching out to your veterinarian. Ask about Cerenia® (maropitant citrate), which is the number one choice among veterinarians for the prevention of vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs8 and does not make your dog drowsy. Finally, your veterinarian can also discuss behavioral conditioning and work with you to find ways to keep your furry friend by your side.


Use CERENIA Tablets for acute vomiting in dogs 2 months and older, and for prevention of vomiting due to motion sickness in dogs 4 months and older. Safe use has not been evaluated in cats and dogs with gastrointestinal obstruction, or those that have ingested toxins. Use with caution in cats and dogs with hepatic dysfunction. Pain/vocalization upon injection is a common side effect. In people, topical exposure may elicit localized allergic skin reactions, and repeated or prolonged exposure may lead to skin sensitization. See full Prescribing Information.


  1. 2017–2018 National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA).
  2. ZMR: Omnibus study Motion Sickness and Noise Aversion 2018.
  3. ZMR: Cerenia Owner AU Report-Jan 2018.
  4. Conder GA, et al. Efficacy and safety of maropitant, a selective neurokinin 1 receptor antagonist, in two randomized clinical trials for prevention of vomiting due to motion sickness. J Vet Pharmacol Ther. 2008;31(6):528-532.
  5. Yates B, et al. Physiological basis and pharmacology of motion sickness: An update. Brain Research Bulletin, 1998 47(5), pp.395-406.
  6. Encarnación H, et al. Vomiting. Compendium: Continuing Education for Veterinarians. March 2009.
  7. ZMR: Brand Health 2018 Emesis and Motion Sickness.
  8. ZMR: Cerenia Motion Sickness Incidence by Symptom 2012.

Your Cat’s Vet Visit Begins at Home

America’s cats are facing a healthcare crisis. The findings of a feline health study conducted by Bayer Health Care in 2014 found that 52 percent of America’s 74 million cats are not receiving regular veterinary care. The actual number is probably much higher, since this study captured data only from cat owners who seek some veterinary care, not those who never take their cat to the veterinarian.

These disheartening statistics have two main reasons. One is the perception among many cat owners that cats don’t need veterinary care – a misconception perpetuated by the feline ability to hide signs of illness. Veterinarians often don’t see cats until an illness is advanced. Often, that’s because getting a cat to the veterinary clinic can be such a stressful experience for both cat and human that even conscientious cat parents throw in the towel at the thought.

Veterinary clinics have made great strides over the last few years to create a less stressful experience for cats once they arrive at the clinic. However, making vet visits less stressful for cats begins with a number of things cat parents can do at home, long before the actual trip to the clinic.

Get Your Cat Used to the Carrier

The cat carrier should be part of your cat’s everyday life. Not only will it make the  trip to the vet easier, it can also save your cat’s life in case of an emergency.  Creating a positive experience with the carrier is key to a fear-free vet visit.

From picking the right carrier to making it an alluring part of your cat’s everyday environment, training a cat to accept the carrier is not difficult. It just takes persistence on the human’s part and lots of rewards for the cat.
Don’t stash the carrier in the basement or a closet. Keep it out in an area where your cat spends a lot of time. Make it interesting for your cat by keeping a cat bed or soft blanket inside. If your cat responds to catnip, sprinkle it with catnip. Leave favorite toys or treats inside. You may even want to feed your cat inside the carrier.
Once your cat willingly enters the carrier and is comfortable in it, practice closing the door. Close the door for only a few moments and reward your cat with a treat if he remains calm. Gradually increase the time you leave him in the carrier. Practice picking up the carrier, holding it carefully in both arms. Work up to taking short rides with your cat in the car.

Calming Remedies

Spraying the carrier with feline pheromone sprays or calming remedies such as Rescue Remedy or Stress Stopper can help keep your cat calm. These remedies can also be great tools to use while you get your cat used to the carrier.

Medical Aids

For cats who become extremely stressed during a vet visit, a medication called gabapentin, commonly used to treat chronic pain and epilepsy in humans, can make a significant difference in how some cats experience a veterinary visit.  The medication has few side effects, and any that do occur are usually transient. The general recommendation is to administer a capsule 90 minutes before putting the cat in the carrier.

Andrea Tasi, VMD, owner of Just Cats Naturally, a feline house call practice, has used gabapentin successfully with her patients. “It is remarkable to me that cats who previously hid from me or were otherwise impossible to handle will now come to me and be relaxed enough so I can perform a thorough physical exam,” Dr. Tasi says. Even though Dr. Tasi’s practice focuses on homeopathic and holistic remedies, she believes in an integrative approach to medicine: “If I can minimize stress for my patients with a safe medication with few side effects, that’s good for the cat and the cat’s guardian.”

Limit Food and Treats Prior to a Vet Visit

Veterinarians and staff like to use treats to create a positive association with a vet visit for your cat. By limiting food or treats before the visit, your cat will be more receptive to the veterinary offerings. She will also be less likely to get car sick.

In the Car

Most cat owners place the carrier on the passenger seat and use the seatbelt to secure it. Unless your cat carrier has been crash-tested and certified, Center for Pet Safety founder Lindsey Wolko has this advice: “Don’t use the seatbelt to strap in the carrier. Place plastic carriers and soft-sided carriers on the floor of the vehicle behind the front driver or passenger seats.”

Cover the carrier with a towel to reduce your cat’s exposure to potentially frightening sights and sounds. Even though your instinct may be to talk to your cat in the car, unless you are truly relaxed, worried emotional talk such as “There, there, it will be okay; I’m not going to let anything bad happen to you” will probably not calm your cat. Instead, play calming music composed especially for cats.

Manage Your Own Energy

Cats are sensitive and pick up on their humans’ stress. For this reason, it’s important to manage your own energy before and during a vet visit. Your stress at the thought of taking your cat to the vet can make a visit more challenging than it needs to be.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

How to Cope When You Hear the “C” Word

It’s a sad fact that roughly six million dogs and a similar number of cats are diagnosed with cancer each year in the United States, according to the Animal Cancer Foundation. No animal lover wants to hear the dreaded “C” word, but many of us have or will.

Colorado resident Britton Slagle knows the pain of a beloved pet’s cancer diagnosis all too well. In 2012, she noticed an enlarged belly on her Labrador retriever mix, Suetra – then saw blood in her urine. She rushed Sue to the veterinarian and learned that her dog not only had hermangiosarcoma, a cancer of the blood vessels, but that a tumor had burst and the dog was bleeding to death. Slagle had to make the difficult but loving decision to end Sue’s suffering right away.

“It’s still a little emotional for me to think about because it puts me right back in that place,” she says.

Meeting Needs

After the subsequent deaths of her other dog, Karma, and guinea pig, Boogie, Slagle decided to channel her grief into a way to help others. She earned a master’s degree in nonprofit management and wrote her thesis on the nonprofit she went on to create in 2016: KarmaSue. A large part of her research involved interviewing numerous people about what they needed when their pet was diagnosed with cancer. She learned the biggest needs were for education, counseling, and financial assistance.

As a result, KarmaSue offers free or low-cost educational counseling as well as financial assistance to Colorado families whose companion animals have cancer. Slagle hopes to spread the word that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed or scared when a pet is diagnosed with cancer.

“They love you unconditionally and you want to do the same for them,” she said.

Tips on Coping

It’s also important to remember that every situation and animal is different: a cancer diagnosis is not necessarily a death sentence. We’ve all seen “tripods” (a.k.a. “tripawds”) with an amputated leg thrive after surviving cancer. But pets don’t always receive a promising prognosis. How can we cope?

Slagle suggests being open and honest with your veterinarian and veterinary oncologist. A good veterinarian will listen to your questions and concerns and offer resources. She recommends these communication tips:

  • Ask for clarification if you don’t understand a term or phrase.
  • Request a cost estimate for recommended protocols, as well as any secondary options. Also ask what your pet’s life expectancy is with and without treatment, and about staging (cancer stages).
  • Talking about a pet’s illness can be a lot to process, so bring a notepad and take notes. A friend can also help listen during the visit. Consider bringing a list of your pet’s medications and food to the appointment.
  • Ask your veterinarian about alternative therapies that might help with pain, such as laser therapy, acupuncture, or massage.
  • Find out if there is anything that could help make your pet more comfortable at home, such as moving a water dish closer to their bed, and whether your veterinarian has any dietary or exercise suggestions.
  • See if your veterinarian recommends any resources: support groups, books, financial aid programs such as The Brodie Fund or Waggle Foundation, or payment options like CareCredit.
  • Ask if there are multiple treatment options and what is best for your pet.

Finding ways to emotionally cope during your pet’s cancer journey is of paramount importance. Slagle says many people want to spend every minute with a pet after a cancer diagnosis, which can lead to compassion fatigue and burnout. She suggests allowing yourself to take a break from caregiving from time to time, even if you need to ask a friend to sit with your animal while you check the mail or take a shower.

“You have to not only take care of your animals, but also take care of yourself and your own wellbeing,” she says.

Slagle’s suggested coping strategies include the following:

  • Ask for help when you need it. “I really want to try to break the stigma of the shame in requesting assistance from your family, friends, advocates, and counselors,” she said. “It takes a village to combat companion animal cancer.”
  • Take educational therapy or group workshops.
  • Trust your veterinary team more than “Dr. Google.” When you do research online, consult credible sources like the Morris Animal Foundation.
  • Keep your daily routine as close to normal as possible for both you and your pet.
  • Create a “love list” and post it on the refrigerator. The list should include things you enjoy doing, from free activities–listening to music, reading a book, hiking–to splurges like massages. Do one thing on the list every day.
  • Give yourself permission to fall apart from time to time. “A lot of us try to remain strong and that only goes so far, so it’s okay to fall apart and allow yourself space to do that.”
  • Remember that it’s okay to laugh and smile and forget that your pet has cancer sometimes.
  • Spend time loving your pet.

While it can be hurtful when people make insensitive comments like, “It’s just a pet,” many animal lovers relate to what you’re going through, Slagle says.

“There are people that understand the human-animal connection and that your loved one that has been diagnosed with cancer is not “just a pet” – he or she is your family member,” she says. “You’re not alone.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Nose Work Is Scent-sational for Dogs

Everyone knows dogs love to sniff, but we tend to think of it as a distraction, that walks should be for exercise, not wasting time dawdling and sniffing. But exercising an animal’s mind is important too, and a substantial part of the dog brain is devoted to smells.

A study–“Let me sniff! Nosework induces positive judgment bias in pet dogs”– published last year in Applied Animal Behaviour Science shows that letting dogs use this natural behavior in the sport of nose work contributes to their wellbeing and has implications for what we should all do with our dogs.

Testing, Testing

In the study, two groups of dogs were taught that a bowl in one spot would always contain food, and a bowl in another spot would always be empty. Then they were presented with a bowl placed midway between those two spots, and researchers measured how fast they ran for that bowl.

This is called a test of “cognitive bias,” the effect that emotional states have on judgments. More informally, we can think of it as testing how optimistic the dogs were about that middle bowl.

“The idea is, if the dog is expecting it to contain chicken, they’re expecting a positive outcome, they’ll get there faster, and they’re considered to be more optimistic,” says Zazie Todd, PhD, author of the website Companion Animal Psychology and the forthcoming book Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy. “Whereas if they’re slower to get there then they’re not expecting this positive outcome, and they’re considered pessimistic.”

Next, one group spent two weeks taking a heelwork class, where dogs are rewarded for walking close to their handler. The other group took a class in nose work, which involved searching for treats in boxes by sniffing. Both classes involved food rewards.

Afterward, the cognitive bias test was administered again, and measurements showed that the dogs in the nose work group ran faster toward the middle bowl than before the classes, while the dogs in the heelwork group did not.

The researchers conclude that nose work training gave the dogs a more positive outlook: they were more optimistic about whether there would be food in the middle bowl. Heelwork training didn’t have this effect, even though both kinds of training used positive reinforcement.

Life-Enhancing Game

The results suggest that nose work is especially good for canine welfare, and the authors suggest two reasons for this. One is because it allows dogs to use their natural ability to sniff. “We all know that dogs like to sniff and that smell is how they experience the world far more than sight,” says Todd. “We know that when we’re providing enrichment for animals, it’s important to involve their most important senses, which for dogs is smell.”

The other is that nose work involves independent problem solving (something that other research has shown is rewarding to dogs) and using their initiative to make choices (something that has been proposed as being fundamental to animal welfare).  “They have more autonomy in nose work,” says Todd; “they’re deciding which box to go to first.” That contrasts with heelwork where dogs have no choice about what to do; their job is just to stay close to the handler.

Todd believes this study has important implications for dog owners.

“It means that you should be giving your dog chances to sniff and you should as far as possible let your dog have the chance to make choices.”

Any Dog Can Do It

And unlike many scientific studies, this one has results you can put to work with your own dog right now.  Nose work is a sport that doesn’t require youth or athleticism. “It’s even suitable for senior dogs, who can just work at their own pace,” says Todd.

Nose work competitor and teacher Sarah Owings agrees. “Any dog can find treats in a box, so it’s a wonderful food enrichment game.”

Owings has seen real-life evidence that nose work is good for dogs. “I’ve heard of a lot of dogs who are fearful and reactive, but they’re not that way at trials,” she says. It has also been positive for her own two dogs. One is a field Labrador who ended up in a shelter because of his high energy and drive. “He’s exceptional at nose work,” she says. “All those traits that would make him a hard pet make him an excellent nose work dog.” Her other dog was once fearful of strange places but has learned to love them via nose work.

Team Building

Owings also thinks nose work has a positive effect on people’s relationships with and understanding of their dogs. “In nose work, we’re asking the dogs to shine at what they already do so well,” she says. “It lets the pet owner let their dog be a dog and actually celebrate that instead of fighting those instincts. The dogs lead the search. You can cue them to start, but they’re in charge of solving the problem,” she says. “Owners go to classes and learn how their dogs look when they’re catching odor and following odor and watch them solving problems, and they have a whole new appreciation for their dogs.”

While the study doesn’t test other ways to let dogs use their noses, it suggests that those things are also good for dogs. Owings suggests hiding a meal or food toy and letting dogs search for it. Todd points out that independent of the sniffing factor, other research has shown that dogs prefer to work for their food. “The effort is rewarding in itself,” she says.

And when you’re walking, let them sniff!  “Instead of you leading the dog, go to an interesting spot and let the dog lead you for a while,” says Owings. “Slow down and let the dog meander for maybe 20 or 30 percent of the walk. That would be so good for dogs.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Cats Don’t Share. Here’s Why:

There may be nothing on earth cuter than two cats cuddled up in the same cat bed. But while those particular cats may be willing to share a bed, that doesn’t mean they’re okay about sharing everything.

Cats don’t actually share well. The reasons for that have as much to do with territory as they do with stuff.

Territorial Strategies

Cats who live in the same home carve up that space into individual territories. You probably already see that Fluff likes to hang out on the windowsill in the bedroom while Puff prefers the cat perch in the living room.

You might be tempted to say the bedroom is Fluff’s territory and the living room is Puff’s domain. But the borders of Puffistan and Fluffistan are way more convoluted. Fluff may claim the windowsill in the bedroom but not the comfy spot on the pillow, and Puff may control access to the cat perch in the living room but not the armchair. Rather than each cat’s territory being a specific room, they have something more like little islands.

And it gets even more complicated, because territory can be fluid for cats, and its value may change based on time of day and circumstances. For example, my two cats snuggle up next to each other on my pillow during the day. But at night when I’m in bed, the value of that territory changes and suddenly it’s a contested area. Similarly, two cats may be fine together on the kitchen counter, except during mealtimes, when the presence of food makes that a hot spot.

Resource Sharing? That’s a No

These complicated territory arrangements can cause a lot of stress if you have more than one cat. You can address that stress by making sure your cats don’t have to share anything. Each cat needs their own scratching post, elevated perch, hiding spot, litter box, food dish, food-foraging toys, water dish, fuzzy toys, and cozy sleeping spot.

If they’re currently sharing some of those resources, don’t assume they’re sharing happily. More likely they’re sharing out of necessity. The stress that causes might show up in other ways: little spats, hisses, and squabbles; one cat always evicting the other from the sunny perch by the window; or one cat using the scratching post and the other cat using your furniture.

Even if you have two cats and two of everything, if all the resources are in Fluffistan, Puff has to either hang out in a foreign country or cross through enemy territory to get what she needs. So you might see Puff always stepping back when Fluff approaches her food bowl. That’s because they’re both eating in Fluffistan, where Fluff is the emperor. Feed Puff in Puffistan and she’ll feel a lot more comfortable. (Here’s more about the best way to feed cats.) Or you might find that Fluff sometimes has litter box lapses, even though he’s got a litter box in Fluffistan. If he has to cross through Puffistan to get to it, though, Puff may be guarding those borders. This kind of guarding behavior can be subtle, and you may not notice it. But Fluff will—and will pee in your potted plant rather than take a risk.

If you give all your cats all the things they need, in the places where they feel comfortable, they’re much less likely to stress each other out. And please don’t forget that resources include play and cuddle time with you. If the center of the living room is Fluffistan, Puff may never feel comfortable playing there. You might see her step back and watch your play session with Fluff and conclude that Puff just doesn’t like to play. Try taking her into Puffistan, closing the door, and initiating a play session. When she’s on her home turf, she might surprise you.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Fear Free: Insights from Dr. Jane Goodall

Dr. Jane Goodall hadn’t heard about Fear Free, but the idea resonates with her. Considering animal emotions is something she once fought for.

It’s hard to think of Goodall as a controversial figure, but when she first began her observational notes on chimpanzee behavior at Gombe National Park in Tanzania in the early 1960s, she was criticized by colleagues for naming her subjects, recording individual personality traits, and documenting emotions.

“I was told to give the chimps numbers, not names,” she says. “Scientists then were outraged that I actually recorded and wrote about individual personalities and emotions because according to them, personalities and emotions were restricted only to humans. As a child, I learned from my dog and other dogs in the neighborhood, they all have their own personalities.”  Goodall pauses and laughs, saying, “Of course, anyone with pet cats and dogs has known this for a very long time.”

Goodall persevered, adding that if she knew dogs expressed and felt various emotions – similar to our own – the same must be true for our closest relatives.

Feelings Across Species

Goodall smiles and holds up plush animals she had laid out on the sofa next to her. “This is why I travel with Ratty,” she says, holding up a plush rat. “Even rats have feelings. And cows; it’s horrible how we sometimes treat cows, as if they have no feelings, but they do. And pigs; they’re as smart as dogs.”

Goodall says that by the time she received her PhD at Cambridge, her work had been publicized by National Geographic, and chimps she had named, like David Greybeard, Mr. McGregor, and Goliath were known to TV audiences. At that time, this further outraged the scientific community. “I was told that I was doing everything wrong,” she says. “Their feeling was that I couldn’t write or talk about animal emotions because they don’t exist.”

Today, thanks to our knowledge of neurochemistry, we know animals feel real emotions. All great apes have nearly identical brain chemistry, and humans are, after all, members of the great ape family.

Goodall supports the notion of Fear Free. “I do know there are ways of alleviating fear in animals,” she says. “There’s a lot of communication that so many people wouldn’t believe it, but now we understand much better. Why wouldn’t we help to fix it?”

The Good Fight

Today, Goodall, who just turned 85, travels nonstop, more than 300 days a year across the globe as an advocate for protecting the planet. And there’s talk of her earning a Nobel Peace Prize because she’s making the world a better place, for humans and animals – for the entire planet.

At Gombe, the Jane Goodall Institute has afforded people improved healthcare and education and offered various tools to get out of poverty. “Now cutting down the forests is no longer necessary to improve their lives,” she says. “They understand that saving the forests isn’t only saving chimpanzees and other wildlife, it will also save future generations of their people. So they’ve become partners with the environment. Where there were barren hills around Gombe, now trees have come back.” This program is a model that now has been replicated in six other African countries.

Making Connections

Goodall says, “Too many animal-rights people leave people out of the picture, but the reality is that we’re all in this together; we are all interconnected.”

She adds, “Children understand this interconnection better than most adults.” That’s one reason she launched her Roots and Shoots program for children, starting with 12 students in Tanzania in 1991. Today there are Roots and Shoots programs in 50 nations, and many thousands of young people have gone through the program.

“The idea is that whether you live in China or the U.S. or in Africa, we are all the same,” she says. “True, we live in different environments, our cultures may be different, and our religions may be different, but we all share two fundamental facts. We are all human. And we all live on the same planet. Each Roots and Shoots program chooses three projects of their own choice, one to help animals, one to help people and another to help the environment. I think we have around 2,000 groups across China alone.”

She continues, “I am confident that young people are rising to the challenge. They must. It’s our future. They realize what’s happening. They can’t ignore climate change, and how forests are disappearing, and how our oceans are filled with plastics. They are our hope for tomorrow.”

Among Goodall’s countless accomplishments were her support for abolishing use of chimpanzees for medical research by the U.S. government and others and fighting against keeping them in small cages with little or no stimulation.

Saving the Planet for Everyone

Fear Free is about enriching environments – whether for dogs and cats or pet birds or pet lizards in our homes to animals in zoos, the very opposite of what those chimps endured. It’s another reason why Fear Free resonates with Goodall.

“Every single day, every single one of us lives – every one of us makes an impact on the planet,” she says. “We have a choice about what that impact will be. And consider even the little choices – they’re not little – what we buy? Did it harm animals? Will it harm the environment? Is it cheap because of child slave labor? If we make ethical choices together – millions of us – it will matter. We can all make a difference.”

Officially Jane Goodall is a United Nations Messenger of Peace, and unofficially I suggest she is an ambassador for the planet.  She has touched millions of lives, but that’s not enough. The world clearly remains a dangerous place, and our planet itself is at risk as a result of climate change. She agrees that the Nobel Prize would allow her to reach even millions more. And at 85 she talks about how she doesn’t have 30 more years to get the job done.

Still, Goodall must take a breath every now and then, and I asked her what makes her happiest? “The serenity of being out in a forest,” she says. “And spending time with a dog.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.

Get the Facts: Life with an Exotic Pet

Capybaras were almost unknown in the United States a few years ago. Now the world’s largest rodents star in memes about how chill and friendly they are. There’s even a Tumblr of Animals Sitting on Capybaras. And if you’ve ever seen a photo of a pet capybara sitting on a sofa, there’s a good chance it was the late Caplin Rous, who belonged to Melanie Typaldos.

“Caplin was extremely brave,” she says. “I could take him everywhere. He would see dogs, people would mob him, and he was fine. I’d take him out to eat, I’d take him to Half-price Books and Home Depot. He was very comfortable in public.”

But if that sort of thing makes you want to run out and get an adorable baby capybara, or any other exotic pet, take time for a big reality check.

Ethical and Lifestyle Issues
The internet sometimes suggests that completely unsuitable animals are okay to keep as pets. For instance, the supposedly cute videos you see of slow lorises show an animal truly suffering, under bright lights that stress a nocturnal creature, grasping for objects because, used to living in trees, they’re desperate for support. Poaching from the wild for the pet trade is also a serious problem for many endangered species.

But even in the best cases, social media doesn’t give a realistic picture of life with unusual pets. It’s like your friend who only posts on Facebook when she’s at the beach drinking a margarita, and never when her life is a disaster. So even more than with a cat or dog, it’s important to research the reality.

“Bringing a bird, reptile, amphibian, or small exotic mammal might sound like a cool idea. But it might not be all fun and games after the animal joins your home and exhibits natural behaviors that you weren’t prepared for,” says Fear Free certified trainer Laura Monaco Torelli.

Some people keep exotic pets well, but often that’s because their lives revolve around them–and those animals don’t always act like the ones you see online. Even Caplin was not such a social butterfly behind the scenes.

“At home, I would say, he was great the first day, but you better not come back; he doesn’t want people there two days,” says Typaldos.

What You See Isn’t Always What You Get
More important, Caplin was far from typical. Typaldos’ current capybara, Mudskipper, also raised from a baby, turned out totally different. Skipper is too fearful to go out in public. Never mind a jaunt to Home Depot, just getting her to a vet is an ordeal. She’s afraid of some pretty normal things at home as well. “We’re not allowed pass each other in the hall,” Typaldos says. “We constantly have to be aware of each other. If she’s in the hall, a lot of times I’ll just have to stop and wait.”

Animals you see online are the minority. No one’s going to start an Instagram feed of their hedgehog curled up in a ball or their capybara hiding from the camera. But odds are that’s what you’re going to get, because there’s a fundamental difference between a wild animal who’s tame and domesticated animals such as dogs, cats, and livestock. Centuries of selective breeding have made changes in the brains and bodies of domesticated animals. They’ve developed stress hormones that make them more comfortable around humans. Exotic pets still have wild instincts, so the chances that one is going to be comfortable wearing a party hat for a photo are much lower.

Special Care
Physical needs are often different as well, since they haven’t evolved to live in a human environment. You need to understand how the species lives in the wild to provide proper basic care: temperature, humidity, and exposure to light might be critical, and an appropriate diet may not be available at the local pet shop. A species may even have different needs at different times of year, says Torelli, to provide for molting or shedding, say, or require seasonal variations in diet.

The proper environment is important for both physical and mental health. Unless you live on the banks of the Amazon, that could be expensive and complicated. Typaldos has a large swimming pool because water is where capybaras feel most like themselves. “She’s completely different in the water than on land; in water she’ll go up to anyone,” she says of Mudskipper. “In the wild, when they’re afraid, they go in the water, so they feel safer in the water.”

You’ll also need veterinarians and trainers with specialized knowledge and likely a specialized pet sitter as well, if you ever want to leave home. If you already have other pets, that can be a complication, especially for species that will see your cats and dogs as predators—or prey. And don’t forget that before any of that, you need to make sure it’s legal to keep the species where you live.

Truth Telling
If you get an exotic pet, be responsible about what you share online, Torelli says. “Make the effort to share photos or videos that show the exotic animal from a professional and ethical perspective. Putting a sweater on a snake or bird just because you think it’s cute isn’t in their best interest.”

Typaldos, who has often been on TV and in news articles with her capybaras, advises being skeptical of what you see. “The TV shows I did; that’s all a lie,” she says. “They make you do things, and they present things in a way that’s very misleading.” She regretfully recalls one time when she let herself be convinced to coax her capybara Gari into being filmed lying in bed with her watching TV, even though he was the only one she had who didn’t normally get in the bed. Not a huge misrepresentation, maybe, but it shows that what you see can’t be trusted. “They really pressure you, and then they cut it to be not like it really was,” she says.

So ignore the video and think carefully about whether you can really meet an animal’s needs and be accepting of any degree of tameness. Typaldos has found that most people, when they understand the reality, realize it’s not for them.

“On Facebook I have a group I started for people who own capybaras to talk to each other, and for people who have displayed an actual interest in getting a capybara, so they can interact with people who actually own them and can see what they’re really like and ask questions,” she says. “When I hear from somebody who’s actually thinking about getting a capybara I refer them to that group, and I think to a large extent that does discourage people.”

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.