Nameowste: Cats Reap Yoga Benefits, Too

As soon as I sit down, my cat Natasha becomes my yoga partner. She helps me stay focused when she swishes her tail under my nose while I’m in Half Moon pose or swats my ponytail while in Downward Facing Dog. She’s a master at shavasana, the relaxation pose at the end of practice.

Cat-loving yogis have always admired their pets’ abilities in the practice of yoga, and now more people have the opportunity to experience the benefits of yoga cat-style, thanks to cat yoga classes. The fun, furry, and physical phenomenon is popping up in shelters, cat cafés, and other places from coast to coast.

From philanthropic to physiological, everyone benefits from cat yoga events. Participants get a good workout, with the bonus of interacting with cats. Shelters and rescue groups raise needed funds to care for cats. Cats get to brush up on their socialization skills with people, making them more adoptable. Win-win-win!

Symbiotic Health Benefits

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health identifies yoga as one of the most commonly used complementary health approaches to maintain health and wellbeing, relieve stress and anxiety, and enhance quality of life. Health benefits include lower blood pressure and heart rate, relief of depression and insomnia, reduced symptoms of low back pain, and improved strength, flexibility, and overall fitness.

A wealth of research points to health benefits of yoga for humans, but do shared yoga classes benefit cats as well? Science says yes.

During the session, some cats actively engage with people, seeking to touch or be touched, and people respond accordingly. Touch receptors beneath the skin of humans and animals activate the flow of oxytocin and a cascade of “feel-good” brain chemicals, creating a calming effect. Physiological effects of this type of beneficial touch include lower blood pressure, heart rate and respiratory rate, and drops in levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

Heads up if you’re new to cats: studies find cats prefer to be petted in the temporal region, between the eyes and ears, followed by the chin area, and do not like their tails touched.

Cue Music

Music is like a second heartbeat and can have a profound effect on living beings. In yoga, music helps to prepare the body, mind, and breath for the practice ahead. In Wales, recent veterinary school graduate Sian Barr studied the effects of yoga meditation music on cats in the veterinary clinic. In the yearlong test she observed body postures, ear and eye placements, and measured respiration levels. In an interview she said, “I found that the music had a dramatic effect on respiration rates, with those exposed to the music decreasing to a relaxed rate much quicker than those not exposed.”

Other research has found that cats prefer species-specific music based on pitch, tempo, and timbre. One sample was based on the tempo of purring. The research shows such music can reduce stress and bring about calm behavior. Purringtons Cat Lounge, in Portland, Oregon, has weekly cat yoga classes, and co-owner Kristen Castillo said she noticed cats responded favorably when an instructor started the class with a loud purring sound that lasted for several minutes. Perhaps Om Shanti yoga meditation music strikes the right chord for cats.

Yoga At Home

If you don’t live near a facility that offers cat yoga, you can practice at home with your own cat. Not only will you both enjoy the health benefits, the interaction will help strengthen your bond. Even if you’re not a yoga enthusiast, just sitting on floor doing gentle stretches will get your cat’s attention.

Cat yoga provides health benefits to both people and cats and, bonus, you get to train with feline masters of flexibility, mindful meditation, and the art of living in the moment.Nameowste.

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

Pet Pain: What You Don’t Know May Surprise You

I hope you aren’t in pain as you read this. But if you are, you probably know that pain is one of the most common reasons we go to our doctors. Pain in humans is such a major problem that in the U.S. alone, billions of dollars are spent treating pain and compensating for lost productivity from workers in pain. Pain also leads to social isolation and health problems,  not only from the painful condition itself but also from the effects of pain-induced stress.

To cope with the magnitude of this problem, a number of medical doctors choose to specialize solely in the treatment of pain, and some work in pain-specific treatment centers. But in spite of the vast problem of pain, many people still don’t recognize just how pervasive pain is and how debilitating it can be. To help spread the message, many pain organizations have deemed September to be Pain Awareness Month.

Pain Awareness Month is also an important campaign for pets since many people, including some veterinarians, still hold to the myth that animals don’t feel pain. Animals, however, have the same anatomical and physiological processes that produce pain in people. So if something would hurt us, we can say scientifically that it would hurt an animal. The reason pain in pets often goes unrecognized is because animals are very good at hiding pain, so we don’t always recognize that they’re suffering and need treatment for pain.

Why should you care about pain in your pet? If a pet can hide pain, it can’t be that bad, right? Unfortunately for our pets, that actually isn’t right. Pain causes tremendous stress on the body’s normal physiologic processes. Negative health effects of pain occur whether the pet is hiding pain or not. These negative effects can include fast and irregular heart beats, high blood pressure, impaired healing from surgery or wounds, decreased sleep, decreased appetite, behavior changes that can include aggression, and many other negative effects. These can compound the negative effects of the original pain-inducing disease or condition.

How can you tell if your pet might be in pain? If the pet has undergone any surgery or suffered trauma, pain will occur, and you should discuss pain management with your veterinarian. When your pet leaves the hospital, pain medication should be dispensed for administration at home.

Of course, there are many causes of pain other than surgery or injury, and you might not know that your pet has a painful condition. Changes in behavior are often a major clue. Of course, changes in behavior can occur for many reasons, and you need to consult your veterinarian, but pain should be one of the diagnoses to consider. For example, we often find that pain is a problem in dogs who don’t want to play with their favorite ball anymore and in cats who won’t jump up to their favorite sunny windowsill. There is more information on recognizing pain in pets at the IVAPM website (, particularly in the pet owner blog section.

If you have a pet who might be in pain, the good news is that the International Veterinary Academy of Pain Management (IVAPM) has declared that September is Animal Pain Awareness Month. The IVAPM campaign is designed to help owners and veterinarians recognize pain in pets so it can be treated. Since identification and treatment of pain is also a primary mission of the Fear Free movement, pet owners can rest assured that the recognition and treatment of pain in their pets will be part of everyday, standardized care as these two organizations work to decrease pain in animals.

Just as in human medicine, doctors can be certified to treat pain. The IVAPM offers training to veterinarians and veterinary nurses for a special pain certification, or Certified Veterinary Pain Practitioner (CVPP). Veterinarians and veterinary nurses can also be certified in Fear Free, which includes pain management as a major component of certification So, for “pet’s” sake, take advantage of the Pain Awareness Month campaign and take your pet to a Fear Free certified CVPP for a discussion on pain and analgesia.

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

Hospice Care: What to Know About Quality of Life

The goal of hospice is to ensure your dog’s health, comfort, and happiness. Those three elements comprise quality of life: your dog’s physical, mental and social wellbeing.

“The philosophy of maintaining quality of life at the end of life honors the human-animal bond,” says Alice Villalobos, DVM, a veterinary oncologist who is considered the godmother of hospice for pets, which she refers to as “paw-spice.”

Assessing quality of life is an essential aspect of providing hospice care, and it’s important for preventing fear, anxiety, and stress. Here’s how to measure and monitor your dog’s quality of life.

Ask yourself the following questions, scoring the answers from 0 to 10. If your dog has a score of 35 or higher, he likely has good quality of life. A lower score is a signal that you may need to make some changes to improve his wellbeing.

  • Can my dog’s pain be managed by medication or oxygen therapy?
  • Is my dog having difficulty breathing?
  • Does my dog have a good appetite?
  • Does my dog drink enough water?
  • Is my dog clean and well groomed?
  • Does my dog still greet me and enjoy petting and other interactions?
  • Can my dog get around easily?
  • Does my dog have more good days than bad?

For each question, your veterinarian can help you recognize potential problems and make adjustments as needed. For instance, rapid respirations or labored breathing can signal that your dog is in pain. Depending on his condition, medication or at-home oxygen therapy may help.

Appetite stimulants or hand feeding can improve a dog’s willingness to eat. Sometimes all it takes to encourage him to eat is warming his food or giving him a nice scratch on the head or neck.

If your dog isn’t drinking enough water, he may become dehydrated, which can make him feel sick. The running water provided by a fountain may entice him to drink more water. You can also get liquid in him by freezing some chicken broth and giving him the cubes to lick.

We all feel better when we are clean and neat, and that includes our dogs. Your dog may enjoy being gently brushed or combed. Give him a butt bath if necessary for his sanitation and comfort.

An unhappy dog may seem depressed, anxious or isolated. Consider changing his environment if possible. He may do better in a quieter area if the noise of kids playing bothers him. More social dogs may want to spend time in the area where the family is gathered, such as the kitchen or den.

Your hospice dog may have trouble negotiating steps or getting on and off the furniture the way he used to. Try adding a ramp or pet steps to make his life easier. Be sure he has a soft but supportive bed, such as one with an egg-crate mattress or a warming or cooling element.

Finally, pay attention to the ratio of good days and bad days. If your dog starts to have several bad days in a row, it may be time to consider giving him the gift of a peaceful death.

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

Manage Your Own Vibes To Give Your Cat A Fear Free Experience

If we share a home with a beloved cat, we’ll likely have the opportunity to engage in cat-care interactions that may be a challenge, a perceived challenge, or unfamiliar. If we are giving our cat a pill for the first time, we may have preconceptions about how the pill-giving event is going to transpire. We may assume the worst. We could be riding in the car with our cat for the first time, clipping claws, or giving subcutaneous fluids. And if we’re not mindful and we assume the worst outcome, our body and our actions will betray us, and our cat will pick up on our own vibe, potentially creating more stress for the cat and for us.

We humans can create an entire good or bad story about an action before we carry out that action. We have busy and untrained minds and imaginations that can spin into many directions.  Guess what? We tighten our bodies, stop breathing, picture bad outcomes, and approach the needed action with aggression, clumsiness, nervousness, or fear. Our cats pick up on this. If we assume that something we need to do to our cat (giving a pill, for example, or clipping claws) is going to go badly, then we’ll proceed with ingrained tension, and chances are that our cats will pick up on this. How can we make sure that we make cat care, and our cat interactions in general, a fear free experience for both human and cat?

Mind Control

Put those expectations out of your mind.

Remind yourself that you can never really know the outcome of something you want to carry out. Try to enter into each experience without assuming the worst. If your cat had a bad experience taking a pill, that doesn’t mean that the cat will always have the same experience. Believe that you can swing the outcome in a different (better) direction by modifying your thoughts and your actions. If it’s too much of a stretch to picture a positive outcome, try not picturing any outcome. Instead, keep your mind in the present moment.

Take A Deep Breath

Breathe through the nose, and repeat.

Deep breathing (or diaphragmatic breathing through the nose on the inhale and the exhale) will instantly induce relaxation in your body. This is counter to the way that most of us breathe much of the time. Try it, and keep repeating, breath after breath. This will help you to interact with your cat calmly. Do this all the time, and you’ll move through life a lot more calmly – with your cats and with anyone else.

Approach Calmly

Now that your mind is a blank slate (right?), physically enter into the interaction slowly. Don’t surprise or rush your cat. Make your presence known and let your cat see you, rather than surprising the cat from behind. Show the cat the claw clippers or the brush. Take it slow. Move slowly and without stress.

Know Your Cat

All cats are different. Know your cat, and know what works for your cat. If your cat does better in a quiet environment, clip his claws in the absence of jarring noise. If your cat hates to be held with his belly exposed, see if you can clip his claws without exposing his underside.

We worked slowly with my black cat to get him to enjoy being brushed. We knew that he loved the feeling of the brush against his jaw, so we let him lean into the brush. We mostly brush his head (which he loves), and we occasionally brush the rest of his body. He’s not as crazy about that, but we’ve learned to read his moods and know when he’s more accepting of a full-body brushing experience.

Our own demeanor, and the thought that we bring to carrying out cat care, can make all the difference between a miserable or a fear free experience for our cats.

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

Catherine Holm is the award-winning author of cat fantasy fiction and cat-themed memoir. She lives in Vermont with her husband and five well-loved cats. Learn about her work at

Home Alone? Ways To Ease Your Family Dog Into School Year Schedules

With the fall season, the family dog may suddenly be reduced from full-time companionship with his favorite person or people to being home alone for at least part of the day. Our family went through this with my kids’ personal dogs both for regular school and then when they went off to college. This may be a traumatic shift for your pet, but there are ways to ease him into the new routine.

You can start in “everyday” life. It is tempting for kids to give their dog an emotional farewell in the morning and a huge greeting when they return in the afternoon. Instead, concentrate on making those comings and goings regular parts of his day. When the school year gets back in session, your dog figures it is just a quick trip out when your son or daughter leaves.

Obviously it helps if there are other people or pets in the home. Even a canary can provide some company to your dog, who is a social being. Our dogs were lucky in that I was working from home, and we had other pets, including other dogs. If you don’t have other pets and can’t be around, you need ways to get your dog over the initial disappointment of being left alone.

Many dogs have special toys, treats, or chew items. Give your dog one of his favorites as the kids head out the door in the morning. That will help ease his disappointment at being left behind. If you, the parent, will be at home, plan some extra exercise for the lonely dog. A long walk is good for him both mentally and physically. In fact, if you are feeling “empty nest syndrome” with kids off to college and away from home, it is good for both of you!

For daily separations, try some of the standard “amusement for a lonely dog” tricks. You can record your child reading his favorite book (or his dog’s favorite book) and play it for the dog. Leave yesterday’s t-shirt by the dog’s bed so he has your child’s scent for comfort. If you will all be gone, consider calling home and leaving a message for the dog on your answering machine. (Try this trick on a day you don’t actually plan to leave so you can gauge his reaction to this. Some dogs get very excited hearing the voice of their person. You want calm, not crazy.)

If your dog just won’t settle, ask your veterinarian about using a calming supplement, pheromone sprays or bandanas, or some melatonin. A few unusual cases may benefit from an actual sedative or behavior-modifying medication.

A boy and his dog become inseparable over the summer. (Photo by Mike Weir)

When your child heads off to college, the adjustment can be more difficult for the dog, but we discovered a few tricks that helped. My son’s Australian Shepherd enjoyed Skyping with “his boy.” Some dogs get hyper, and others don’t react at all to phone calls or Skyping visits. You have to experiment.

Keeping an old, unwashed sheet or shirt with your child’s scent on it is comforting to a dog who is feeling lonesome. Just be aware that an old shoes and clothing may get chewed as a “comfort” item. If possible, keep these items in your dog’s crate or near his favorite resting spot.

My daughter solved this problem by taking a dog to college with her after her freshman year. That did still leave me with her other two dogs (plus my own!), but I think both Kate and her dog were much happier that way. She rotated which dog got apartment privileges with her.

Dogs going off to college life must be extremely stable and not inclined to bark or be destructive. Apartments that allow dogs are often few and far between. You don’t want to change a landlord’s mind about allowing pets!

Finally, college students need to be realistic about their schedules. Baloo, my son’s Aussie, would have been a great college dog, but Tom’s schedule as an engineering student was not at all compatible with having a dog. Kate’s English major schedule, on the other hand, was perfect.

With experience, your dog will learn the school-year routine and adjust his habits accordingly. And who knows? You and the family dog may develop your own special relationship while the kids are off at school.

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

Pup Has Potty Problems? How To Troubleshoot Housetraining Issues

Puppies learn to toddle away from their bed (usually the pile of siblings) to relieve themselves almost as soon as they have control over their bowels and bladder. It’s this instinct to not soil the nest that allows us to teach puppies and adult dogs not to relieve themselves in our nest–our home.

Sometimes, though, housetraining efforts go sideways, and not just during puppyhood. You may find puddles in the entryway or a pile in the bedroom. Here’s how to get to the root of the problem and promote better communication for housetraining harmony.

Talk To Your Veterinarian First

According to behavior experts, approximately 20 percent of canine behavior issues are related to health problems. When it comes to housetraining, that percentage may be higher. Among the health issues that could cause puppies or adult dogs to have problems holding their urine or stool are urinary tract infections, digestive upsets from food allergies, diabetes, or medication side effects.

When you take your dog to the veterinarian, provide details:

  • When did the behavior begin?
  • What does the urine look or smell like?
  • What do the feces look and smell like?
  • Where is your dog relieving himself? Is this new?
  • How often do accidents occur?
  • What time of day or night?
  • Bring a sample of your dog’s feces with you to be checked for parasites.

Let your vet know you’re willing to talk to a trainer or behaviorist but wish to find or eliminate any health concerns first. If your dog’s health checks out fine, then you can approach this as a behavior issue.

Teenagers May Forget

If your dog learned his housetraining skills well as a puppy but at nine to 12 months of age is having accidents in the house, welcome to adolescence. Regression in training is common in adolescent dogs.

You may find urine spots, feces hidden in a back room, or leg lifting on the furniture. Don’t think just males leg lift; nope, girls may also.

Clean all the spots well using an enzymatic cleanser made specifically for urine. Did you know a black light will show up urine spots? Wait until evening, turn off all the lights, and walk your house looking for spots you may have missed. With luck, there won’t be too many.

Until his mind matures a bit more, restrict your teenage dog’s freedom in the house just as you did when he was a puppy. He can be on a leash by your side, in his crate, or in another safe management location.

Old Dogs Can Forget, Too

Geriatric dogs can also lose their housetraining skills. Older female dogs may have some incontinence issues, and both genders can develop cognitive dysfunction that causes them to lose housetraining. Health issues such as urinary tract infections, bladder stones, and kidney problems can also cause a lapse in housetraining skills.

Geriatric dogs who show housetraining issues should visit the veterinarian for a thorough examination. Your vet will probably recommend bloodwork to see what’s going on. Other tests may be recommended as well.

Meanwhile, don’t punish your old dog for lapses. To prevent accidents, use a belly band for males and diapers for females. Both of these use a pad to catch urine, which will protect your floors and furnishings. Introduce each of these accessories with a happy voice, a handful of treats, and lots of praise and petting. Check and change belly bands and diapers regularly for your dog’s comfort.

When You’re Gone Too Long

If your dog has accidents while you’re away from home for a number of hours, you are probably asking him to hold it too long. Although some dogs can and often do hold their bowel and bladder for many hours, that doesn’t mean all dogs can do it or even that it’s healthy for them to do so.

Most adult dogs can reasonably go all morning and then all afternoon if they get a good break at mid-day. If you can, go home at noon to let your dog out, or try to enlist another family member or a neighbor for potty duty.

Many dog owners hire a dog walker or pet sitter to give their pets a mid-day break. How often depends on your dog’s needs and your budget. Puppies and geriatric dogs may need more frequent visits.

Other Accidents

With other housetraining accidents, play detective. Where did your dog go? When? Look at the situation from your dog’s point of view. Was it snowing or raining outside? Was there a lot of noise outside? Were you and your dog playing inside and he didn’t want to leave a good time?

When you have answers to these questions, you can figure out how to can make sure this doesn’t happen again.

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

Planning A Party? How To Keep Anxiety (Yours And Your Pet’s) At Bay

When you have pets, party planning takes on a whole new meaning, and not necessarily in a good way. Many dogs and cats are spooked by the presence of strangers noisily enjoying themselves in the living room. Similarly, they don’t share any enthusiasm for backyard barbecuing or raucous swimming parties with children shrieking and splashing about.

In these situations, a pet’s stress and feelings of anxiety are very real; from their standpoint it is an invasion of their territory and privacy. So it’s important to cater to them by ensuring that they are sequestered in a part of your home away from all the revelry and loud music. Here’s how to throw a pet-friendly party.

Getting Ready

If you are expecting a large crowd and planning involves moving furniture, outside caterers coming in to take over the kitchen, and possibly a teenage cousin showing off his DJ skills and doing sound checks, confine pets in a safe, comfortable area during this preparation stage.

During such preparation, front doors and outside gates are often left open and unmonitored as people go in and out. This makes it easy for pets to slip out and run away. By the time you notice their absence, they may have hotfooted it some distance from home.

Safe Room Savvy

To prevent canine and feline angst, give pets a party of their own by setting up a quiet room for them and kitting it out with toys, treats, their favorite beds, and necessities such as a litter box, food, and water. Placing a plug-in pheromone dispenser can help to create a calm zone where pets feel relaxed.

Pheromones are a substance that mother dogs and cats produce to calm their young. They may help alleviate stress-induced behaviors such as separation anxiety, inappropriate marking, chewing, and other destructive behaviors. Allow time for pheromones to circulate in the room by plugging in the diffuser a couple of days in advance of your event.

For pets who are particularly frightened by loud music or fireworks, a pressure garment such as a ThunderShirt is worth considering. They are available for both dogs and cats and come in all sizes, not to mention some fun patterns and colors. They work on the swaddling principle that mothers use to calm babies and small children and are recommended as a possible option by many behaviorists.

While they are sequestered, cats can relieve themselves in a litter box. Some dogs will use a puppy pee pad or an indoor doggie potty system. Alternatively, plan to take your dog for a nice long walk and a potty break just prior to guests’ arrival. This will also tire him out so he will be only too happy to snooze.

Once pets are settled, put a note on the door alerting guests to the pets’ presence and asking them to respect their privacy.

If you are entertaining on a low-key scale, some dogs and cats may enjoy mingling and garnering extra attention. That’s fine for pets who are social butterflies, but make sure they don’t have access to the food you are about to serve or to leftovers that have been cleared from the table, especially things such as bones and corn cobs, which can be choking or obstruction hazards.

To make sure you don’t miss out on any goodies, pack away hostess gifts such as cookies and boxes of chocolate. Some pets cannot resist the temptation. Chocolates are highly toxic to both cats and dogs. And at the very least, overindulging in cupcakes and cookies will make pets sick. Keep them out of the kitchen until you’ve had time to pack everything away, especially if they are accomplished counter surfers.

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

Marriage Pending? How Do You Merge Your Pets?

Moving from San Diego to Dallas a few years ago, I bravely left my being-single comfort zone and joined an online dating service. My biggest concern wasn’t if I would find the person of my dreams, but rather, how dating would emotionally impact my dogs, Kona and Cleo, and my cat, Casey.

Seriously. And, I’m betting I am not alone in that priority. The reason is simple: our pets often represent that one positive constant in our lives for 10 or more years. In the past decade, I’m betting you have changed jobs, moved, entered a new personal relationship, or made other major life decisions. Through this entire time, your pet has been your supportive ally.

In some instances, changes in household routines can affect a pet’s confidence and even trigger fear and anxiety. Imagine what might be going on in the mind of your pet when dating evolves into a marriage proposal and a merger of other pets under one roof.

But that’s exactly what my spouse, Julie, and I did. Her fur family consisted of Bujeau, a 6-year-old Bernese Mountain Dog mix, and Mikey, a shy 12-year-old black cat. Mine comprised Kona, an energetic 3-year-old terrier mix; Cleo, a sweet 16-year-old terrier mix; and Casey, a confident 4-year-old orange tabby.

Together, we created a harmonious Furry Brady Bunch. If a blending of pets is in your future due to a marriage or roommate situation, let me offer tips on how to accomplish this without fur flying:

  • Be candid about your pets. For successful introductions, come clean about your dog’s or cat’s experiences with other pets. Fortunately, Julie’s pets and mine have lived with other pets. All of the pets have lived with other cats and dogs. Casey and Kona travel with me to teach pet behavior and pet first aid classes, so they have been exposed to other pets all over the country. However, if your dog is reactive or your cat has a hissy fit in the company of another feline, it is important to consult a professional pet trainer or behaviorist to help with the intros.
  • Don’t rush the pet intros. Recognizing that dogs and cats possess superior senses of smell, we intentionally had my pets “meet” her pets and vice versa by having the pets first download the other pets’ scents on our clothing without actually meeting.
  • Arrange for a neutral canine meet and greet. The first time Bujeau met Kona was on a leashed walk at dog-friendly White Rock Lake Park in Dallas. Kona and I met Julie and Bujeau at a neutral place in the park. I came packing bite-sized dog treats. Julie and I sported upbeat attitudes. Dogs are stellar at reading our emotional states. We had our dogs plop into sits at a safe distance and handed out treats. We then did a parallel walk in which Kona was on my outside and Bujeau was on the outside of Julie. The goal is to tone down the intro. Eventually, we were able to position Kona and Bujeau so that they were walking side by side.
  • Reach for the towel. To introduce the felines, Casey and Mikey, I first ran a hand towel over Casey inside a spare bathroom in Julie’s house. I kept Casey in the bathroom as I then ran that towel over Mikey, resting in the kitchen. I repeated this action to exchange scents of each cat.
  • Plan for a safe kitty peekaboo. When we were ready to have Casey and Mikey meet face-to-face, I put Casey inside his portable pet carrier and placed it on the living room floor. The curious Mikey approached slowly. We stood back and let the cats have time to see and sniff one another. The dogs were purposely outside in the fenced backyard playing.
  • Play it safe. The final intro involved my 12-pound geriatric dog Cleo and Julie’s 75-pound playful Bujeau. For the initial meeting, we let Cleo roam Julie’s backyard while keeping Bujeau on a long lead. We could step on the lead if we felt Bujeau was being too pushy with Cleo, but that never happened. Cleo had shared most of her life with a big Husky mix named Chipper, so she seemed to easily accept Bujeau as her new stepsister.
  • Don’t play favorites. Julie and I consciously make efforts to spend one-on-one time with each of our pets. When Julie is hanging out with little Cleo on the couch, I am taking Bujeau out for a walk in the neighborhood. We also take turns feeding our Furry Brady Bunch, cleaning the litter boxes, and grooming their coats.

I never imagined one day I would become a stepmom. But that day has arrived, and I am blessed to share my life with Bujeau and Mikey as well as my Kona, Casey and Cleo.

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

Cat Litter Science: Why To Let Your Cat Choose

When cat litter was invented in 1947, it was made of grains of absorbent clay called Fuller’s earth. There was just one brand, called Kitty Litter, and cat owners had a choice between that or natural sand or sawdust.

Today cat litter is a $2 billion industry in the United Sates. Much of that is still clay litter, but now silica, recycled newspaper, corn, wood, wheat, grass, and nut shells are all processed to make cat litter—clumping and not clumping, scented and unscented.

You may be tempted to buy the litter that appeals most to you; maybe it tracks less or smells good or is inexpensive or is environmentally friendly. But it’s your cat who has to step in it every day, so really, it’s only fair to let her choose. When you use a bathroom that’s uncomfortable or smelly or dirty, it’s always stressful (think about the last time you used a portable toilet at an outdoor event). Using a box full of litter she doesn’t like is just as stressful for your cat.

Litter companies spend a lot of time and money researching what will appeal to cat owners, and formulate their litter accordingly. But what kind of litter do most cats like? Several studies have looked at this question.

Let’s start with scent. A cat’s sense of smell is far better than yours. Cats have from two to forty times as many smell-receptor cells in their nose as you do. That means scents that might seem light and pleasant to you can be overwhelmingly strong to them—especially since they are standing right in the litter. Not surprisingly, then, studies tell us that cats prefer unscented litter. That doesn’t just mean added scents and scented deodorizers; it also applies to scents that might occur naturally in the litter, such as pine. Cats prefer their litter to smell like nothing at all.

That said, if they have the choice between a box that smells like the urine and feces of another cat, or a box full of unscented clumps and lumps, cats prefer the box with no lumps. Researchers tested this by scenting one box with the smell of urine and feces but no actual matter, and putting unscented clumps and gelatin “logs” into another box. The results demonstrate yet another reason why it’s important to scoop your cat’s litter box at least twice a day, even if it doesn’t smell.

If this study is pointing you toward unclumping litter, consider another study that found cats prefer a box with clumping litter. While they are not fond of walking through clumps, what they want is a dry box—no walking on a wet substrate.

What about the litter itself? A variety of studies have found that cats prefer their litter to be soft and fine-grained.

A recent study compared three types of unscented litter—wood pellets, silica microgranules, and nonclumping clay granules. Overwhelmingly, the cats chose silica and clay over the pellets. Then researchers offered the same cats a choice between silica and clay, and the majority chose the clay, especially to defecate.

If you’re considering a new litter, here’s a good way to test whether it will be comfortable enough for your cat to walk on. Pour some litter onto a tray. Then roll up your sleeve and press the inside of your forearm into the litter. If it hurts you, chances are it will be uncomfortable for your cat.

When thinking about these studies, it is important to remember that they tell us what most cats prefer. So, for example, if a majority of cats prefer clay litter, that means a minority prefer something else. Your cat may be in the majority, but she may also be in the minority. How can you find out?

Set up a litter box cafeteria test. In a litter box cafeteria test, you set up several boxes side by side filled with different litters, scoop them all twice a day at the same time, and note which one your cat uses most often. For this test to work, there can be only one variable—the litter. All other factors (location, size of box, frequency of cleaning) have to be the same.

This test is a way to ask your cat exactly what she wants. Because when it comes to litter, your cat should always get to make the choice. After all, she doesn’t tell you how to set up your bathroom.

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. 

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

Storm Brewing? Get Inside Your Dog’s Head To Help Him Manage Fear

Storm phobia is a problem not just because dogs are afraid. The physiological reaction to fear is bad enough—the racing heart, the rush of stress hormones—but fear also causes dogs to react in dangerous or destructive ways. They may destroy doors or jump through windows in an attempt to escape the frightening situation. By the time they start wrecking the house or harming themselves and owners take them to the veterinarian for help, the fear can be deep-seated and difficult to manage.

If your dog does not appear to be afraid of storms or shows only mild fear, you can take steps to reduce the likelihood that his fear will become worse. Here are some psychological and environmental management techniques to help dogs stay calm.

What To Do

First, don’t ignore your dog’s fear. It’s a myth that comforting your dog will reinforce his fear. Think how awful it would be if you were terribly afraid of something and friends or family told you to buck up or that it was all in your head. It doesn’t help, does it? There are better ways to help your dog than to pretend his fear isn’t real and expect him to just get over it.

Your reaction is important to your dog. Dogs read our body language, so if a storm makes you nervous, causing you to act differently than normal, your dog will notice and it may contribute to his own inability to stay calm. You can help him by projecting confidence and calm, says veterinary behaviorist Lisa Radosta, who practices at Florida Veterinary Behavior Service in West Palm Beach.

“Direct him in a way that is productive, like ‘Let’s go in this room. Let’s play tug. Let’s close the curtains.’ Do productive things.”

Associate the storm with good times, especially if you have a young dog who hasn’t yet developed a fear of storms or who exhibits only mild fear. Bring out a favorite toy, play tug or do some nose work, or give him a stuffed Kong or puzzle toy to work on.

“It is important not to reinforce the fearful behavior, but rather to distract the dog and reward less anxious behavior,” says Pamela Perry, DVM, a behavior resident at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, New York.

Get Ahead Of The Storm

While it’s okay to comfort your dog if he seems afraid during a storm, Dr. Radosta says it’s important to recognize that soothing words from you aren’t going to give your dog a coping skill for future storms if you are away from home when they occur. To get around this, teach him that there’s a safe place he can go where good things always happen. Whether you call it a bunker, a safe space, or a sanctuary room, it will always be there for him.

Your dog may have a place where he likes to relax, such as his crate or the back of the closet, but if he doesn’t, you can choose one yourself. Good options include a table with a blanket thrown over it or a closet, bathroom or other area with no windows. The idea is to fashion a space where the dog can go if he’s scared and be less likely to hear or see the storm. Be sure to always leave the door to the room or crate open; your dog should never feel trapped in his safe space.

Every day, rain or shine, take him to his relaxation spot and give him a bone filled with peanut butter, a stuffed Kong, or some other long-lasting special treat. Turn on a white noise machine and let him enjoy his treat there on his own.

During a storm, if you’re home, take your dog to that space and give him his special treat. You should have some filled Kongs or peanut butter-stuffed bones in the freezer so they are ready to give any time a storm occurs. If you’re not home, he will still be able to go to that comforting spot on his own. Prepare the sanctuary room each day based on the weather forecast. Plug in a pheromone diffuser and turn on a white noise machine before you leave and place a special toy or treat there for him to find.

Most important, never punish your dog for being fearful, no matter how frustrated you are. That will make him more afraid. In the next post, we’ll address medication to help dogs cope with storm-related fears.

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