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.

Ribbon Cutting Ceremony & Celebration

After more than a year of hard work, New Hartford Animal Hospital unveiled its newly expanded facility at a special open house, featuring a ribbon cutting ceremony, tours of the facility and a special treat: Gelato!

A crowd of over 100 people gathered to congratulate the team on the beautiful new and get a behind the scenes look at all of the new features of the hospital.

Dr. Frank Mondi, founder of New Hartford Animal Hospital kicked off the ceremonies with some historical perspective on the new facilities.

“When I founded this practice in the 1970’s, we were in a small basement room,” Mondi remarked. “And although we have gone through several renovations and expansions through the years, this one feels special now that I have retired and can look back on how we’ve grown.”

Dr. Abby Regner, the Hospital’s Medical Director, was especially proud of everything the team had accomplished in making this expansion happen.

Every person who works here inspires me,” smiled Regner. “They are smart, caring, dedicated, selfless and exceptionally hard working. I’m so very proud of all of them.”

With plenty of food and drinks on hand, fun was had by all who attended. And the sweetest surprise of the evening was a Gelato stand to give everyone a cool treat on a beautiful spring day.

The Team at New Hartford Animal Hospital is grateful to all of our clients during the renovations and we look forward to you and your pets taking advantage of our newly expanded facility.

If you were unable to attend, please enjoy the photos from this special occasion.

Crating: Keep Calm and Kennel On

Relaxing comfortably in a crate or carrier is a critical canine skill with many applications. A dog’s crate is an important management tool that assists in building better behaviors and deterring unwanted antics such as chewing furniture instead of appropriate toys or eliminating on the rug instead of outdoors. A kennel is also a protected place where dogs can be housed temporarily during times of excitement or stress, such as when company arrives or workers are going in and out of the house. During car travel and at destinations, crates and carriers are homes away from home. Finally, teaching a dog to rest in a crate or carrier is beneficial for building comfort with the crate in preparation for events such as airline travel, veterinary care, or stays at a grooming or boarding facility.

The key to successful crate and carrier training is building a positive association by pairing the space with feel-good occurrences. Avoid pushing, pulling, or corralling the dog into the crate or carrier. Instead, let dogs investigate the area at their own pace.

Make It Special

To gain your dog’s voluntary movement into a carrier or crate, lay a Hansel-and-Gretel-type treat trail into the space. Randomly leave treats, chews, and toys in the space throughout the day to encourage the dog to return and investigate. Reward any interaction the dog makes with the space, including sniffing it, entering it, or resting inside. Keep treats or favorite toys nearby to reinforce the dog for those reward-worthy moments.

Smearing a soft spreadable treat on the inside edges and back of the crate can also encourage the dog to move all the way in. Or place a stationary food puzzle inside the kennel space. Initially, leave the puzzle at the front of the carrier or crate. Each time you refill it, place it farther toward the back of the kennel space to encourage the dog to move all the way inside. At first, keep the door open to allow free choice to move in and out.

Practice Stays Inside

As the dog stays relaxed, close the door for short periods, starting with only a couple of seconds before reopening. Gradually extend the duration as the dog remains calm. Reinforce the dog for relaxation by dropping in treat rewards through the slats of the crate or carrier. You can also give a stuffed food puzzle or favorite chew in this space as the dog rests inside.

Promote regular resting in the space by placing the dog’s kennel or crate in an area of the home where your dog already enjoys napping. Keep the door open to allow the dog to go in and out freely and regularly feed meals or drop treats or toys inside to encourage your dog to go in. In addition, outfit the space with plush bedding and infuse with Adaptil, a calming pheromone,  to promote relaxation.

Carry Over

Dogs may have more than one crate or carrier they use, such as one that’s a permanent fixture in the home and one that’s designated for travel. It’s helpful to train dogs separately to each space. The foundation laid during prior training increases the ease and speed of training your dog to adjust to other, similar spaces.

Keep in mind that the solution for a a dog who tries to push, claw, chew, or otherwise escape out of a crate is not to invest in increasingly industrial-strength crates. Instead, if a dog displays signs of fear, anxiety, and stress (FAS) when crated or left alone, it’s important to address the root cause of the behavior by seeking the advice of your pet’s Fear Free veterinarian who may partner with the help of a reward-based trainer, applied animal behaviorist, or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.

Adapting to Vision Loss

Connecticut resident Kathye O’Brien Anstis and her family were concerned when Riley, their 5-year-old Beagle mix, started bumping into their legs – it was as if he couldn’t see. They took him to a veterinary ophthalmologist who confirmed that Riley had lost his eyesight and diagnosed him with Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome (SARDS), a disease that causes sudden and permanent blindness in dogs.

Fortunately, pets can overcome vision loss with help from their people. Here are some simple tips to help them find their way.

Put a Check on Changes

Whether vision loss occurs from age or illness, pets can still “absolutely” enjoy good quality of life as long as owners take a few precautions to keep them safe at home, says Fear Free certified practitioner Robin Downing, DVM, an expert in pain management and hospital director at Windsor Veterinary Clinic and The Downing Center for Animal Pain Management in Windsor, Colorado. She speaks from experience: her cat Olivia lost her vision to advanced glaucoma when she was three years old. Now Olivia relies on her sense of smell more than Dr. Downing’s other household cats, tipping her head to sniff the air when deciding where in the house to go next.

“She has no problem finding me in the kitchen when I start to cook a meal!” Dr. Downing says.

Riley’s veterinarian warned the Anstis family not to rearrange the furniture; Riley needed to remember where things were to help navigate the house. For about six months, the dog was cautious, but then grew comfortable walking up and down the stairs and even jumping up on beds. He loved playdates with his Pug pal, Raisin, and making mischief in the pantry.

“He knew exactly where he was,” Anstis says. “He seemed like he had acclimated to his condition and to the new barriers around him. We thought there would be a bigger learning curve for the dog and for us, but I think we all did really, really well with it.”

Safety Tips

Dr. Downing has treated many pets who can’t see. She has been impressed by the adaptability and resilience of both those born without vision and those who lost their sight later in life.

Her advice to someone whose pet has gone blind – or who is considering adopting a blind pet – is not to panic. Instead, be a patient “helicopter parent” initially:

  • Don’t rearrange furniture.
  • Prevent unattended access to stairs.
  • Put bells on other pets in the household.
  • Microchip for the “just in case” scenario of a pet getting lost.
  • Pay attention to routines and try not to change them.

For dogs in particular, Dr. Downing recommends the following:

  • Keep them leashed whenever they are outside a fenced area.
  • Work hard at voice training—particularly with cues such as “down” or “drop”—so the dog will stop and lie down. “This provides a safety net for a time that the dog may be unattached to the owner, and to prevent the dog from wandering into a dangerous situation, like into the street.”

In the case of cats who can’t see, Dr. Downing makes these suggestions:

  • Never allow them outside except on a harness and leash, or inside an outdoor enclosure attached to the house via a window.
  • Provide them with steps up to beds, sofas, and chairs with things like an ottoman or other low stool.

“Pet owners should not be intimidated to bring a blind pet into their household,” Dr. Downing says. “In reality, most dogs and cats can adapt very well and very quickly, so they just need a little help from their friends.”

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

Choice: What It Means for Cats

Our cats rarely get to choose for themselves when it comes to the really important stuff. We decide what the cats will eat, where, and when. We pick the litter box and determine where to put it and what litter to use. We select all the cat furniture, from the scratching posts and pads to the trees and perches and decide where to place them. We buy the toys, dictate the play times, and keep the cat off some pieces of furniture or out of some rooms. We control it all.

Imagine what your life would be like if you couldn’t control anything for yourself. Think about how you feel when your boss micromanages your work; then imagine your boss micromanaging your entire life.

Behaviorists know that choice is a primary reinforcer. Primary reinforcers are things we desire without having to learn anything about them. Safety, food, water, sleep, being warm when we’re cold and cool when we’re hot, and having something to do are examples of primary reinforcers. We don’t have to learn that those things are good; we’re born knowing it. Money, the latest sneakers, and a promotion at work are examples of things we have to learn about before we begin to want them—they’re called conditioned or secondary reinforcers.

Our cats don’t care about money, sneakers, or job titles. But they do care about safety, food, being comfortable, and being able to make choices. Choice can mean picking what food or litter you like, but it can also mean feeling that through your own actions, you can get positive outcomes or avoid negative ones; you can choose how events will unfold.

What happens when animals don’t have choices? Many studies, looking at species as varied as mice, dogs, apes, cats, and humans, found that not being able to control outcomes raises stress levels. The sense that you have some control over how your life is arranged and what happens to you lowers stress and provides a host of other benefits. These include promoting cardiovascular health, reducing inflammation, improving learning ability, boosting immune function, and reducing the incidence of obesity.

Choices for Cats

How can we give our cats choices? We can pay careful attention to what they choose to do on their own and notice how it might be different from what we’re offering them. Let’s start with the essentials I mentioned.

Watch your cat in the litter box. Is he always sticking halfway out or bumping his head or running out of there as soon as possible? Those are signs he doesn’t like the box. Try something bigger and more open. Test his litter preferences with a litter box cafeteria. If he always bypasses the box and consistently picks a different spot, set up a litter box in that spot.

What about food? Of course you want to feed your cat a healthy diet, but that leaves a lot of leeway. Offer a variety of flavors and textures to see which ones your cat prefers (it might be more than one!). Treats present even more possibilities. Work with your veterinarian to narrow the choices to foods and treats that are appropriate for your cat, and then set up some taste tests. If he’s always hungry at a certain time, make that one of his meal times.

What Cats Want

If your cat has a flat scratching pad but he still scratches the side of the sofa, he’s telling you he wants a wide, sturdy, vertical surface to scratch—something that’s in the same vicinity as the sofa. If he has a great post but still scratches the rug, he wants something horizontal as well. If his perch is in the living room but he’s always on top of the refrigerator, he wants a perch in the kitchen too.

As for toys, spend time playing with your cat with different kinds of toys to see what he likes. Is it feathers, fuzzies, or furries? Does he like them pulled along the floor or flying through the air? If he has a certain kind of toy that always ends up under the bed or gets ripped to shreds, that’s what he loves best! Keep replacing that toy. And play with your cat when he asks, at times of the day when he is more active. He will adjust somewhat to your schedule but try to also adjust a bit to his.

Another easy way to give him control is to let him decide when, where, and how he’s going to interact with humans (I’ve written about this before).

While it may sound counterintuitive, training is one of the easiest ways to give your cat a sense of control. Remember, control is the perception that you can affect outcomes. When you train your cat in a positive, force-free way, he has the option to offer the behavior you’re asking for and get a treat or decline and get no treat. The choice is always his. Plus, if he wants a treat, he has a way to get it. I’ve heard people say training is controlling, and they’re right; but it’s the cat who’s in control!

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

Games to Play with Your Senior Dog

Not so long ago, your dog was barely beyond puppyhood, and you could throw his ball so far you could barely see it and wait for him to race to it, fetch it, and return it. You could toss a flying disc, and he’d leap to catch it. You could throw a stick in the pond for him to retrieve, encourage him to run alongside your bike for miles, hike for hours, even climb a mountain with your dog leading the way.

Dogs grow wiser as they grow older, but happily they don’t lose their zest for fun–or at least they don’t have to. Playing games with your senior dog is an idea he will appreciate, as long as you play it smart.

Now that he’s old, and you love him more than ever, how do you play with him without causing aches and pains and sprains? How do you give him the fun he deserves without causing harm? Here are some ways to put life in his playtime.

Fetch Games

Does your dog love to play catch? Great! He still can, even if he’s not quite as agile as he was in his younger years.

For catch with older dogs, I am a big fan of rubber ducks. You can get them inexpensively on the internet by the bagful. Choose a size large enough that the duck won’t become a choking hazard. Rubber ducks are easy on the teeth, small and squishy enough to fit in your pocket, and best of all, they squeak. I also like to use stuffed animals for a game of catch. Again, they are soft enough not to damage old teeth, they also squeak, and most dogs never get too dignified to play with a cute stuffed animal.  (Nor do some people.)

When you toss a toy to your older dog, throw it in a gentle arc, never straight at his mouth. For extra credit, try to teach your dog to squeak the toy as many times as you do. So far, I have been unable to get my dog to reliably squeak the duck the same number of times I do, but we are still working on that and it makes for a lot of laughs.

Low and Slow

If your dog is a flying disc fiend, you probably still want to give him a chance to play the game he loves. Simply adjust it for his physical condition: no jumping off your back or shoulders and no breaking the record for the high jump. Aim for a medium run where you throw the disc low enough so your dog can snatch it out of the air without leaping.

If you bounce a ball, angle it toward your dog so that when it reaches him, he won’t have to jump to get it. He will know by the angle of your hand what kind of throw is coming: a bouncing throw or an arcing throw for him to catch. In every case, he will love the game without having to leap in the air, which might cause pain.

Play in Bed

If you share your bed with your dog, you can play endless games with almost zero chance of your dog getting hurt. The bed is soft, and even the biggest bed doesn’t allow for a 50-yard dash.  Stuffed animals are great for this. You can toss one. You can hide one under a pillow or under the fold of a blanket or even on the far side of your body and ask your dog to find it. If your dog is still able to jump on and off the bed, you can play with a ball, dropping your hand over the side of the bed and rolling the ball so it comes out on the other side.

Learning Games

Education can and should be lifelong, both for dogs and their human buddies. Hunting for a toy, figuring out the arc of a toss, using scent to find a hidden object, all these things will engage your dog’s mind. You can also name the objects you use in each game as well as the activities, using familiar vocabulary and adding new words. Some dogs will be able to differentiate the names of their toys so they can Find the Duck or Find the Monkey or Find the Ball. Others enjoy fine points of grammar and get the difference between Find, Get, Bring, Catch, and Squeak. Well, as I said, we are still working on Squeak. To heighten excitement, you might play a familiar game in an unfamiliar setting.  You could, for example, play most of these games while out for a walk, while visiting family or friends, or any place where your dog might not expect it.

Playing games with your dog means it’s time for an intense connection, for bonding, and for enjoying each other. Game time, after all, is “we” time. And while your dog will enjoy some applause or a cheerful “Yay!” for a good catch or a difficult find, the game itself is so powerfully positive, you can actually use games as reinforcement when training a younger dog.

Old dogs still love to learn new things and have the sense of accomplishment of figuring something out. They love the chance to be active, to be silly, to make you laugh. It doesn’t take a lot of time to satisfy the yen for play when the player is a sweet old guy with a little gray in his muzzle and a long history of mutual affection. If his eyes have gotten dim, you can play a scent game, asking him to find some stinky cheese instead of a ball or a stuffed animal. If his legs are a little arthritic, roll the ball to him and see if you can get him to roll it back. Whatever you end up doing, you’ll add gold to your old friend’s golden years. So keep it small and low and soft and easy, but most of all do it daily and keep it fun.