I have an eight-year-old indoor male cat that shares the house with a cat (sister) of the same age. The male cat, Zack, has a bad habit of spraying furniture, walls, and doors on occasion, and I don’t know why. We have three litter boxes between the two cats and clean them frequently. The two cats are very social with each other, including us. There haven’t been any changes to the household either. Also, during annual vet visits we have had Zack tested for any underlying medical issues and nothing has been identified. Any idea what can be causing this bad habit?
-Joe, Coventry, Connecticut
Often cats spray as they sexually mature to mark their territories, so he likely developed the habit because he was neutered at an older age. But both sexes can spray as well because of stress, physical ailments, or unmaintained litterboxes. While there is no definitive way to know if Zack’s spraying is from a developed habit or for a current reason, there are three things you can try to dissuade the behavior.
First, if Zack is using the litter box for his solid waste, add a litter box attractant to lure him back to the box. Second, sift the box twice daily. Some cats are extremely fastidious and want super clean locations to relieve themselves. Finally, put a feline pheromone collar on Zack. Pheromones have been used successfully to manage behavior issues, and it might help in this instance.
None of these are guaranteed to work but trying one or a combination of things may help reduce or eliminate Zack’s spraying.
We recently adopted a rescue lab mix. He is very shy when he first meets people with his tail between his legs. Lately, when someone comes to the house, he gets a little aggressive by barking at whoever comes over. I’ve tried to stop him and had people offer him treats. Any other suggestions?
–Mark, Seaford, New York
If your dog is naturally timid, but is a bit aggressive with barking when people come over, it can be a form of fear aggression. Reducing your dog’s fear and letting him know good things happen when people come over are good places to start.
You mention asking visitors to give your dog treats. This is a good idea, but two things: First, make sure you are not rewarding bad behavior by giving him the treats after he barks. Second, make sure the visitors don’t approach him when he is barking like this as it will only make him more fearful.
Instead, when friends come over, meet them out front with your dog on a leash. Give them a handful of treats and ask them to stand about 10 feet away. From there, they can toss treats towards your dog as you all chat. Make sure your dog does not pull in front of you as he will feel the need to protect you from others. Instead, hold the leash to make sure he stays beside you or behind. Whether inside or out, keep your dog leashed during these sessions.
Over time, he should accept your friends moving closer and closer to you both, and by the second or third visit, he might look forward to your friends arriving and tossing treats his way. If he doesn’t approach your friends for attention, then your friends should not be trying to engage him. Just like people, some dogs need time to get to know people.
Another approach is to place him inside a wire kennel when guests arrive. This allows him to express excitement (barking) without any physical interaction between him and your guests. If you and your friends ignore him, he should settle down more quickly and eventually even take a nap. Leave him in the kennel for the rest of this first visit. Repeat this step the next time the same person comes over, but on this second visit, let him out to meet your guest after he has remained settled for at least 15 minutes. If he resumes the behavior, put him back in the kennel. This not a punishment. Sometimes, fearful dogs just feel safer in their kennels. A kennel is his safe space where he is left alone and doesn’t have to engage your guests.
Finally, get a canine pheromone collar for him to wear. It doesn’t help with aggression, but it can reduce his overall anxiety, which may help with some of his fears.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)
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