Chances are that your dog is one of your most faithful companions. But, from time to time, he/she may present you with unique challenges that could lead to frustration for both you and your four-legged friend. The information below will help you handle the responsibilities and potential difficulties that accompany the joy of sharing your life with a dog. If you are seeking information about dog behavior, review our behavior issues section for answers and advice. A few helpful web sites include Denver Dumb Friends League and DogWise.com
Caring for Your Dog: The Top Ten Essentials
Your dog gives you a lifetime of unconditional love, loyalty, and friendship. In return, she counts on you to provide her with food, water, safe shelter, regular veterinary care, exercise, companionship, and more. Take care of these ten essentials, and you'll be guaranteed to develop a rewarding relationship with your canine companion.
Outfit your dog with a collar and ID tag that includes your name, address, and telephone number. No matter how careful you are, there's a chance your companion may become lost—an ID tag greatly increases the chance that your pet will be returned home safely.
Follow local laws for licensing your dog and vaccinating him for rabies. Check with your local shelter or humane society for information regarding legal requirements, where to obtain tags, and where to have your pet vaccinated.
Follow this simple rule—off property, on leash. Even a dog with a valid license, rabies tag, and ID tag should not be allowed to roam outside of your home or fenced yard. It is best for you, your community, and your dog to keep your pet under control at all times.
Give your dog proper shelter. A fenced yard with a doghouse is a bonus, especially for large and active dogs; however, dogs should never be left outside alone or for extended periods of time. Dogs need and crave companionship and should spend most of their time inside with their family.
Take your dog to the veterinarian for regular check-ups. If you do not have a veterinarian, ask your local animal shelter or a pet-owning friend for a referral.
Spay or neuter your dog. Dogs who have this routine surgery tend to live longer, be healthier, and have fewer behavior problems (e.g., biting, running away). By spaying or neutering your dog, you are also doing your part to reduce the problem of pet overpopulation.
Give your pooch a nutritionally balanced diet, including constant access to fresh water. Ask your veterinarian for advice on what and how often to feed your pet.
Enroll your dog in a training class. Positive training will allow you to control your companion's behavior safely and humanely, and the experience offers a terrific opportunity to enhance the bond you share with your dog.
Give your dog enough exercise to keep him physically fit (but not exhausted). Most dog owners find that playing with their canine companion, along with walking him twice a day, provides sufficient exercise. If you have questions about the level of exercise appropriate for your dog, consult your veterinarian.
Be loyal to and patient with your faithful companion. Make sure the expectations you have of your dog are reasonable and remember that the vast majority of behavior problems can be solved. If you are struggling with your pet's behavior, contact your veterinarian or PAWS for advice.
Stay Dog Bite Free!
Looking for information on preventing and avoiding dog bites? You've come to the right place.
Millions of Americans share their homes with dogs. The vast majority of interactions between people and dogs are happy and benign. But for millions of Americans, the interactions are less positive; every year, an estimated 4.7 million people are bitten by dogs, ranging from minor nips to major attacks. Read the Q&As below to prevent dog bites.
Q: Is there any way I can "bite-proof" my dog?
A: There is no way to guarantee that your dog will never bite someone. But you can significantly reduce the risk.
Spay or neuter your dog. This important and routine procedure will reduce your dog's desire to roam and fight with other dogs, making safe confinement an easier task. Spayed or neutered dogs are much less likely to bite.
Socialize your dog. Introduce your dog to many different types of people and situations so that he or she is not nervous or frightened under normal social circumstances.
Train your dog. Accompanying your dog to a training class is an excellent way to socialize him and to learn proper training techniques. Training your dog is a family matter. Every member of your household should learn the training techniques and participate in your dog's education. Never send your dog away to be trained; only you can teach your dog how to behave in your home. Note that training classes are a great investment even for experienced dog caregivers.
Teach your dog appropriate behavior. Don't teach your dog to chase after or attack others, even in fun. Your dog can't always understand the difference between play and real-life situations. Set appropriate limits for your dog's behavior. Don't wait for an accident. The first time he exhibits dangerous behavior toward any person, seek professional help from your veterinarian, an animal behaviorist, or a qualified dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services. Dangerous behavior toward other animals may eventually lead to dangerous behavior toward people, and is also a reason to seek professional help.
Be a responsible dog owner. License your dog as required by law, and provide regular veterinary care, including rabies vaccinations. For everyone's safety, don't allow your dog to roam alone. Make your dog a member of your family: Dogs who spend a great deal of time alone in the backyard or tied on a chain often become dangerous. Dogs who are well-socialized and supervised are much less likely to bite.
Err on the safe side. If you don't know how your dog will react to a new situation, be cautious. If your dog may panic in crowds, leave him at home. If your dog overreacts to visitors or delivery or service personnel, keep him in another room. Work with professionals to help your dog become accustomed to these and other situations. Until you are confident of his behavior, however, avoid stressful settings.
Q: What should I do if my dog bites someone?
A: If your dog bites someone, act responsibly by taking these steps:
Confine your dog immediately and check on the victim's condition. If necessary, seek medical help.
Provide the victim with important information, such as the date of your dog's last rabies vaccination.
Cooperate with the animal control official responsible for acquiring information about your dog. If your dog must be quarantined for any length of time, ask whether he may be confined within your home or at your veterinarian's hospital. Strictly follow quarantine requirements for your dog.
Seek professional help to prevent your dog from biting again. Consult with your veterinarian, who may refer you to an animal behaviorist or a dog trainer. Your community animal care and control agency or humane society may also offer helpful services.
If your dog's dangerous behavior cannot be controlled, do not give him to someone else without carefully evaluating that person's ability to protect him and prevent him from biting. Because you know your dog is dangerous, you may be held liable for any damage he does even when he is given to someone else.
Don't give your dog to someone who wants a dangerous dog. "Mean" dogs are often forced to live miserable, isolated lives, and become even more likely to attack someone in the future. If you must give up your dog due to dangerous behavior, consult with your veterinarian and with your local animal care and control agency or humane society about your options.
Do You Chain Your Dog?
Do you ever keep your dog tied up outside? If so, you're not alone.
There are a variety of reasons why people chain their dogs outside. Many people believe that dogs should live outside, and they keep the dog tied up because he or she escapes the yard or digs in the garden. Or maybe the dog has grown too large to be inside, or has developed a behavior problem that the owner is unable to deal with, so the dog stays in the yard. Or perhaps the dog is kept outside to protect the home.
Whatever the reasons, fewer dog owners seem to be keeping their dogs tied up outside. And many communities have passed laws against long-term chaining of dogs. Why? There are two major reasons. First, more people are learning that continuous tethering is bad for dogs. As pack animals, dogs have been bred for thousands of years to form a strong attachment to a human family. An otherwise friendly and happy dog, when kept continually chained and isolated, often becomes neurotic, unhappy, anxious, and aggressive. In fact, studies show that chained dogs are much more likely to bite than unchained dogs.
In addition, chained dogs may unintentionally hang themselves if they are tethered too close to a fence and attempt to jump it. Chained dogs are also subject to attacks by other animals and cruel humans.
Getting Your Dog Off the Chain
The second reason for the tougher stance on chaining is that many dog owners have learned to solve the problems that caused them to tie their dogs outside in the first place. If you would like to provide your dog with an alternative to a rope or chain, consider these suggestions:
Install a fence if your property does not already have one. Or consider installing a large chain-link dog run. If you install a dog run, make sure it meets these minimum space requirements. Be sure to allow extra space for a doghouse.
Note: Depending on where you live, your city or county may require that you provide more space than these guidelines suggest.
If you have a fence and your dog can jump over it, install a 45-degree inward extension to the top of your existing fence. Many home improvement stores sell these extensions.
If your dog digs under the fence to escape your yard, bury chicken wire to a depth of one foot below where the fence meets the ground (be sure to bend in the sharp edges). Or place large rocks at the base of the fence.
If the two previous options don't work for your "escape artist," consider using a cable runner or electronic fencing. These options are not perfect, but they will give your dog more freedom. Be sure to use these options only if you also have a fence that protects your dog from people and other animals.
If your dog digs where you don't want him to (such as in a garden or flower bed), consider putting plastic garden fencing or a similar barrier around the area. Or provide your dog with his own sandbox. Bury toys in the sandbox and use positive reinforcement to teach your dog that it is okay to dig there.
Enroll your dog in an obedience class—especially if his behavior is the main reason you keep your dog outside.
Spay or neuter your dog if you haven't already done so. A neutered dog is less likely to roam and more content to stay at home. These are safe procedures that have many health and behavioral benefits. Ask your veterinarian for more information.
Remember that behavior problems such as barking, chewing, and digging are often the result of a lack of stimulation. By providing your dog with proper toys, exercise, "people time," and positive reinforcement, you may alter undesirable behaviors and teach acceptable house manners. In addition, a dog who is inside the house is much more likely to deter an intruder than a dog chained in the yard.
Giving Your Dog Proper Shelter
In addition to safe confinement, dogs need adequate shelter from the elements. Dogs kept outside may be unintentionally exposed to bitter cold temperatures in the winter and scorching heat in the summer. To protect your dog from harsh weather, provide a well-constructed doghouse. However, keep in mind that some breeds with very long or short coats cannot tolerate extreme outside temperatures even when provided with proper shelter. Also remember that if you have more than one dog, you need to provide a doghouse for each one.
To provide your dog with a comfortable doghouse, consider these suggestions:
The house should be large enough to allow the dog to stand up and turn around comfortably, but small enough to enable the dog to retain body heat.
The house should have a slanted, waterproof roof to allow rainwater to run off.
If the doghouse is made of wood, it should be raised off the ground at least two inches to prevent the floor from rotting.
The door should be just large enough for your dog to enter easily.
During the winter months, to protect your dog from cold wind, the door should be covered by a flexible plastic flap—such as a floor runner that doesn't have spikes on one side. A piece of carpet can work in a pinch, but it can get wet and freeze.
Clean, dry bedding such as hay, straw, or cedar shavings should be provided. The bedding should be changed weekly to prevent mold and to keep the doghouse sanitary.
In warmer months, the dog should also be provided with shade such as a tree or tarp. A doghouse in direct sun becomes an oven and will not keep a dog cool.
Finally, anytime your dog is kept outside, be sure to provide fresh water in a tip-proof bowl or large bucket. Make sure the water doesn't freeze during colder months.
House Breaking and Crate Training:
There are several ways to housebreak your new puppy, but the method that seems to work the fastest is crate training. In crate training your puppy is placed in his crate any time he cannot be watched when you are away, when you are sleeping, when you are cooking and eating, or whenever your attention is otherwise occupied. Because most puppies and dogs do not like to soil the area where they sleep, your pup learns to hold it while he’s in the crate, and to wait for you to come to take him out before he eliminates.
Crate training method works best because you are teaching your dog an absolute rule: you NEVER go in the house; you ALWAYS go outside. With paper or puppy pad training you’re teaching your dog this rule: you can go inside on this paper, but not there on that paper, and only when we’re gone because when we’re here you’re supposed to hold it and let us know that you need to go outside. Got it? I didn’t think so! Because with crate training your dog learns to hold it and the absolute rule, he will have less confusion, learn faster, and have fewer accidents as he gets older.
Some people think that crates are cruel, and resist the idea of putting their puppy in a cage. But dogs are den animals and they like to cuddle up in confined spaces under beds, behind couches, in closets or boxes. If introduced and used properly, a crate becomes a puppy’s den or personal room. He can sleep in his crate and feel comforted by its walls. He can retreat to his crate when he’s feeling overwhelmed or tired from too much play, and his den can go with him when you travel.
A crate is a good investment as well because even after your puppy is housebroken he will probably not be ready to have free run of the house when you are gone. Puppies and even adult dogs can be destructive when they are unsupervised. They can also get into things that might injure them or make them sick. Also, puppies and dogs need much more sleep than humans do. If they are getting the proper amount of exercise, they will usually sleep most of the time you are away. If your puppy is crate trained, he can snooze safely, and you can rest assured he isn’t ingesting cleaning supplies, or chewing your shoes!
Like any training tool, however, a crate can be used improperly. A crate should not be used excessively. Your puppy should have plenty of time outside of his crate, playing with you and other family members, stretching his legs, exploring and exercising. You can use the crate to give yourself a time out when you’ve had enough of your puppy’s antics and are irritated or frustrated with your puppy (bringing home a new puppy can be stressful!) but you shouldn’t use the crate in an angry fashion or as a punishment. This may cause your puppy to associate the crate with something negative, and you and your puppy will not enjoy the full benefits of the using the crate.
Selecting a Crate
Crates come in two styles: a wire crate and a plastic airline crate. The wire crates are cooler and most will fold flat when disassembled, making transport or storage easier. Plastic crates are cheaper, easier to clean, and can be used for traveling. Remember the interior of an airline crate will be warmer than the surrounding room, so be careful to place them in areas where there is adequate ventilation and temperature control. Which style you choose will depend upon your preference, your puppy’s preference (if he’s already used to one style) and availability. The size of your crate is very important. The crate should be large enough so that your puppy can stand up, turn around and lay down comfortably, but not so large that he can eliminate in one end and lay down at the other.
*Extra tip: A rubber-backed bathrug is the perfect crate floor lining. They are inexpensive, soft, machine-washable, can be cut to fit any size crate, and the rubber back keeps them from bunching up or sliding around on the crate floor.
Introducing Your Puppy to the Crate
Bring your crate with you when you come to pick up your puppy. It is always best to keep your puppy in his crate when you are in the car. When you arrive home, put the crate in a high traffic area of your home so that when your puppy is in the crate he will still be a part of your daily family life. Take your puppy out of the crate and immediately take him outside to potty. Praise him enthusiastically when he goes. Then take him inside and introduce him to his new surroundings. Keep a watchful eye on your puppy so that you can interrupt him and rush him outside if he circles, squats or shows other signs that he needs to go.
While he is exploring or playing with you, stop the play every few minutes and put your puppy into the crate. You can use a treat to lure him in if he is reluctant. Close the door for just a few seconds, then let him out to play again; gradually work up to the point where he is spending longer periods of time in the crate. Most puppies adapt to the crate very quickly. Your puppy should be in the crate whenever you cannot keep your eyes on him because, although accidents are inevitable (nobody’s perfect!), every time he has the opportunity to eliminate in the house, you’ve taken a small step backwards in housebreaking.
* Important: be sure to remove your puppy’s collar if you are leaving him the crate while you are gone. A collar can get caught or snagged on a part of the crate and cause strangulation.
How often should I take my puppy outside during the day?
As a general rule, puppies can hold it one hour for every month of age. At night they can hold it two hours for every month of age. But puppies need to be taught the concept of holding it and that’s where the crate comes in. In the beginning, take your puppy out A LOT, every twenty to thirty minutes is ideal. The more chances she has to get it right the better. Your puppy should be taken from her crate and directly outside after each nap and after each meal. Feed her on a schedule (three times a day for puppies younger than 16 weeks; twice a day thereafter) so that she will eliminate on a schedule. Do not, however, restrict her access to water.
It’s really hard, but you shouldn’t play with your puppy until she goes to the bathroom. Put her on a leash if she seems too distracted or uncontrollable. Take her to an area where she has gone potty before (so that she can smell it there) and circle her around the area. Use a command like get busy! or hurry up! in a happy encouraging tone. You may feel silly at first but eventually this command will make your life much easier! When she goes, praise her for being such a good, smart dog (Good Girl!! Get busy!! Get Busy!!!) and then give her some free play time, indoors or out. You can use treats as well, giving her something yummy every time she goes. If she doesn’t go in 10 or 15 minutes, return her to her crate for another 15 minutes and then try again.
What about at night?
When it’s bedtime, take her outside one more time before you go to bed. Both you and your puppy will sleep better if you can keep the crate next to your bed, at least for the first few weeks. Dogs are pack animals, and they are comforted by the nighttime sounds of their sleeping pack members (you!). Because her system slows down at night, your dog will not need to go as often at night as she does during the day, but if your puppy is younger than 14 or 16 weeks, she may need to be taken outside once during the middle of the night. You can go about this one of two ways. You can wait for her to wake you up as she squirms, becomes restless or whines to let you know that she has to go. Or you can set your alarm to go off four or five hours after you go to bed. With the alarm system, you can gradually set your alarm later and later until she is sleeping through the night. After a couple of weeks, she will learn to hold it until she hears the alarm.
What if he has an accident in the crate?
Do not punish your puppy for having an accident in the crate. He didn’t do anything wrong. It simply means that he needs to be taken out more frequently. Shorten the intervals between his potty breaks. You can use diluted bleach and a garden hose to clean the crate itself. Be sure to rinse it well and dry it before you use it again.
What if he has an accident in the house?
One absolute rule for YOU as a dog owner is that you should never punish your dog for things that have already happened. Do not smack him with a newspaper, or rub his nose in it. Even if his accident happened only moments before, your puppy will not connect your anger and his punishment to the fact that he wet the carpet. He will simply come to mistrust you. The best way to handle accidents in the house is to prevent them from happening. A young puppy needs constant supervision. If you cannot watch him, he should be in his crate. If you are watching him and he begins to circle, squat or otherwise show that he’s about to go, scoop him up and run him outside. If you catch him in the act, you can interrupt him with a loud noise (clapping your hands and saying No! for example) and then immediately take him outside to finish. Be sure to praise him when he goes outside.
To clean up accidents, use a paper towel to soak up or pick up. Then take the paper towel outside and place it in the area of the yard where you’d like for him to go potty so that he will be able to smell it there the next time you take him outside. Then clean the carpet with an enzymatic cleaner like Nature’s Miracle (available at most pet stores) or Oxy Clean. Ordinary carpet cleaners will get the stains and smell out to your satisfaction, but your dog’s nose is much more sensitive than yours and he will be able to pick up the scent of his own urine and return to that spot again.
How much time can my puppy spend in the crate?
In the beginning, the crate should be used primarily at night and for short sessions during the day (when you are distracted and cannot watch him, or when you are gone). Remember a puppy can hold it one hour for every month of age. He should not be kept in the crate longer than he is physically capable of holding it, otherwise he will be forced to eliminate in his crate and on himself. Over time, this can seriously and permanently deter housebreaking efforts, a puppy that cannot keep himself clean will give up trying to keeping himself clean, making housebreaking nearly impossible. Once he is more mature physically and is capable of holding it for several hours, you can leave him in the crate for up to four hours per day. When he’s in his crate, always make sure he has access to water. Safe toys hard rubber toys without squeakers, Nylabones, or a stuffed Kong B can be placed into the crate to keep him happy and occupied.
What if I will be gone longer than four hours?
You can ask a neighbor to visit to give your puppy potty time and play time. If that’s not possible, you can set up a safe area in your home a small, puppy-proof bathroom or laundry room, or use a babygate to section off a small area in another room. Be sure it’s a relatively small area and not a large open space; this will help to reinforce the idea of holding it. He should not have many choices about where to eliminate. Place his crate in the room with the door open. Be sure to leave him water and some safe toys to play with. Place newspapers at the back end of the room away from his crate, his water and the doorway. If you are consistently gone for long periods of time during the day, housebreaking a puppy will take much longer than if you are home a great deal. Young puppies need lots of attention and direction from their owners. The more often you are there to give that attention and direction, the faster and more successful you will be with regard to housebreaking and with other training endeavors.
How long should I use the crate?
How long you use the crate will depend upon your dog. Remember a crate is used to protect your puppy as well as to housetrain him. Before he is allowed free roam of the house while you are away, he should be completely housebroken and trustworthy (not destructive) while alone, which depending upon the dog, may take anywhere from 9 months to a lifetime. You can start out by leaving your dog alone and uncrated for short periods of time and gradually leaving for longer periods at a stretch. Or during the transition period you can confine your dog to one room or section one area off with a babygate, giving the dog access to more areas as he proves himself trustworthy. Still, many dogs love their crates and even after they are well past the housebreaking and the destructive puppy stage, they return to their crates for naps and at bedtime.
What about crate training an adult dog?
If you are adopting an older dog it is important not to let her have too much freedom in her new surroundings. After all, she doesn’t know the layout of the house, where the door to the outside is, where she can go potty, what she can chew and can’t chew, or what you expect of her. It isn’t fair to put her in a position where she is certain to do something wrong that will displease you. When you bring your new dog home, treat her as you would a new puppy. Assume that she isn’t housebroken and confine her to a crate or to a small area using a babygate whenever you cannot keep your eyes directly upon her. Take her out frequently, and praise her when she goes.
Remember that crate training is not just for housebreaking. There will be many situations where your dog might need to be in a crate for airline travel, for surgery recovery, for hurricane evacuation so it’s always good to get your dog comfortable with being crated.
Be consistent and be patient with yourself and with your puppy or dog. Housebreaking is a lot of work, but your efforts will be richly rewarded with a well-trained new family member.
If you have any further questions about housebreaking, consider buying a book on the subject. B. Dalton Booksellers and Books-a-Million both offer several books on the subject. There are also many Internet resources available to help you through this process. Of course, you are always encouraged to call PAWS at 243-1525 with any questions or concerns you might have.
Feeding and Nutrition:
Wet food or dry food?
Dry food is a better choice. It’s better for their teeth and gums; it is easier to store and to feed, and it’s more economical too.
How do I select a food?
Look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be meat usually beef, chicken, lamb, or a meat meal. Avoid foods that list corn as the first ingredient. Corn is not easily digested. Your dog would to eat more of these foods to satisfy nutritional requirements, and therefore, you could expect larger, more frequent stools. Although high quality foods are more expensive per bag, because of their higher nutritional content you feed your dog less food, so they are actually more economical than foods high in corn fillers.
How much should I feed my dog?
To determine how much food your dog needs, read the back of the dog food bag. Feeding recommendations vary by brand. If your dog is overweight or underweight, ask your vet to suggest a specialized food or adjust the amount of food he eats. Remember to count treats as part of your dog’s food intake.
How often should I feed my puppy or dog?
It is best to feed your puppy or dog on a schedule. Free feeding (leaving the food bowl down all day) can potentially lead to obesity and behavior problems like food bowl guarding or food aggression. Free feeding also makes housebreaking more difficult a dog or puppy that eats on a schedule will generally eliminate on a schedule, which makes it easier for you to predict when he will need to be taken outside. Puppies younger than four months should be fed three times a day. Divide his daily food into thirds. Puppies and dogs older than four months should be fed twice a day once in the morning and once at night. It’s better for their digestive system not to give them one large meal. Leave the food bowl down for fifteen minutes or so and then pick up any leftover food.
Gulping: If your dog eats her meal too quickly, try spreading her food out on a cookie sheet so that she has to take her time. Or place a tennis ball into the food bowl. That will also slow her down.
Finicky Eaters: If your dog or puppy will not eat dry food, you can moisten it with a spoonful or two of wet food. Usually, that will do the trick. If not, leave the food bowl down for fifteen minutes and then pick it up. Try again at his next feeding time. Don’t pressure your dog or make feeding an anxious event. Eventually, he will eat.
Food Bowl Guarding or Food Bowl Aggression: The first step to eliminating this behavior is to avoid free feeding. Knowing that food is coming at a regular time can ease your dog’s anxiety about food. Punishing your dog for this behavior will only make her anxiety about food increase. Meal times should be stress free. With puppies, you can prevent this behavior by feeding your puppy in a high-traffic family area instead of isolating him when he eats. Pet your puppy when he eats, and frequently add treats to his bowl while he is eating.
You can work on this using a trading exercise:Prepare three bowls of food. Place one food bowl down. When she begins to eat, place the next food bowl down a short distance away B this bowl should have a small piece of cheese or hot dog (or some other VERY desirable food item) on top. When she moves to that bowl, pick up the first one. Repeat this with the third bowl. Alternately, while she is eating, drop or throw treats into her bowl while she eats. The idea is to get her to realize that good things happen when you are near her food bowl. If at any time during this exercise the dog becomes clearly distressed or upset, stop immediately. You may need to consult a trainer for further help. Children should not participate in this type of exercise.
Click below for more dog resources:
If you share your life with a cat, you know how wonderfully playful, intelligent, independent, and affectionate felines can be. However, you may have some questions about how to care for your cat, keep her happy and safe indoors, or identify potential health problems. The information below will address these and other issues that face those who enjoy the companionship of a cat. Another helpful source on cat care and behavior is Cats International.
Caring for Your Cat: The Top Ten Essentials
Although your cat may act independent and be litter-trained, he still counts on you to provide him with food, water, safe shelter, regular veterinary care, companionship, and more. Take care of these ten essentials, and you'll be guaranteed to develop a rewarding relationship with your feline companion.
Outfit your cat with a collar and ID tag that includes your name, address, and telephone number. No matter how careful you are, there's a chance your companion may slip out the door—an ID tag greatly increases the chance that your cat will be returned home safely.
Follow local cat registration laws. Licensing, a registration and identification system administered by some local governments, protects both cats and people in the community.
Keep your cat indoors. Keeping your cat safely confined at all times is best for you, your pet, and your community.
Take your cat to the veterinarian for regular check-ups. If you do not have a veterinarian, ask your local animal shelter or a pet-owning friend for a referral.
Spay or neuter your pet. This will keep her healthier and will reduce the problem of cat overpopulation.
Give your cat a nutritionally balanced diet, including constant access to fresh water. Ask your veterinarian for advice on what and how often to feed your pet.
Train your cat to refrain from undesirable behaviors such as scratching furniture and jumping on countertops. Contrary to popular belief, cats can be trained with a bit of patience, effort, and understanding on your part.
Groom your cat often to keep her coat healthy, soft, and shiny. Although it is especially important to brush long-haired cats to prevent their hair from matting, even short-haired felines need to be groomed to remove as much loose hair as possible. When cats groom themselves, they ingest a great deal of hair, which often leads to hairballs.
Set aside time to play with your cat. While cats do not need the same level of exercise that dogs do, enjoying regular play sessions with your pet will provide him with the physical exercise and mental stimulation he needs, as well as strengthen the bond you share.
Be loyal to and patient with your cat. Make sure the expectations you have of your companion are reasonable and remember that the vast majority of behavior problems can be solved. If you are struggling with your pet's behavior, contact your veterinarian or PAWS for advice.
Why Do Cats Scratch?
Although some people think a cat's scratching behavior is a reflection of his distaste for a couch's upholstery, a not-so-subtle hint to open the drapes, or a poorly conceived Zorro impersonation, the fact is that cats scratch objects in their environment for many perfectly normal reasons.
For instance, cats scratch:
To remove the dead outer layer of their claws.
To mark their territory by leaving both a visual mark and a scent—they have scent glands on their paws.
To stretch their bodies and flex their feet and claws.
To work off energy.
Because scratching is a normal behavior, and one that cats are highly motivated to display, it's unrealistic to try to prevent them from scratching. Instead, the goal in resolving scratching problems is to redirect the scratching onto acceptable objects.
Training Your Cat to Scratch Acceptable Objects
You must provide objects for scratching that are appealing, attractive, and convenient from your cat's point of view. Start by observing the physical features of the objects your cat is scratching. The answers to the following questions will help you understand your cat's scratching preferences:
Where are they located? Prominent objects, objects close to sleeping areas, and objects near the entrance to a room are often chosen.
What texture do they have—are they soft or coarse?
What shape do they have—are they horizontal or vertical?
How tall are they? At what height does your cat scratch?
Now, considering your cat's demonstrated preferences, substitute similar objects for her to scratch (rope-wrapped posts, corrugated cardboard, or even a log). Place the acceptable object(s) near the inappropriate object(s) that she's already using. Make sure the objects are stable and won't fall over or move around when she uses them.
Cover the inappropriate objects with something your cat will find unappealing, such as double-sided sticky tape, aluminum foil, sheets of sandpaper, or a plastic carpet runner with the pointy side up. Or you may give the objects an aversive odor by attaching cotton balls containing perfume, a muscle rub, or other safe yet unpleasant substance. Be careful with odors, though, because you don't want the nearby acceptable objects to also smell unpleasant. When your cat is consistently using the appropriate object, it can be moved very gradually (no more than three inches each day) to a location more suitable to you. It's best, however, to keep the appropriate scratching objects as close to your cat's preferred scratching locations as possible. Don't remove the unappealing coverings or odors from the inappropriate objects until your cat is consistently using the appropriate objects in their permanent locations for several weeks, or even a month. They should then be removed gradually, not all at once.
Should I Punish My Cat for Scratching?
No! Punishment is effective only if you catch your cat in the act of scratching unacceptable objects and have provided her with acceptable scratching objects. Punishment after the fact won't change the behavior, may cause her to be afraid of you or the environment, and may elicit defensive aggression. Used by itself, punishment won't resolve scratching problems because it doesn't teach your cat where to scratch instead. If you do catch your cat in the act of scratching inappropriate objects, punish her in a way that prevents her from associating the punishment with you. Try making a loud noise (using a whistle, shaking a soda can filled with rocks, or slapping the wall) or using a water-filled squirt bottle. If you use other, more interactive techniques, she'll learn to refrain from scratching in your presence but will continue to scratch when you're not around.
How Do I Trim My Cat's Claws?
To help keep them sharp, cats keep their claws retracted until they're needed. As the claws grow too long and become curved, they can't be retracted completely. You should clip off the sharp tips of your cat's claws on her front feet every two weeks or so. Clipping your cat's claws will also help prevent them from becoming snagged in carpets and fabrics, not to mention your skin! Before trimming your cat's claws, help her get accustomed to having her paws handled and squeezed. You can do this by gently petting her legs and paws while giving her a treat. This will help to make it a more pleasant experience. Gradually increase the pressure so that petting becomes gentle squeezing, as you'll need to do this to extend the claw. Continue with the treats until your cat tolerates this kind of touching and restraint. It may take a little longer if she's not used to having her legs or paws handled.
Apply a small amount of pressure to her paw—with your thumb on top of her paw and your index finger underneath—until a claw is extended. You should be able to see the pink or "quick," which is a small blood vessel. Don't cut into this pink portion, as it will bleed and be painful for your cat. If you cut off just the sharp tip of the claw, the "hook," it will dull the claw and prevent extensive damage to household objects and to your skin. There are several types of claw trimmers designed especially for pets. These are better than your own nail clipper because they won't crush the claw. Until you and your cat have become accustomed to the routine, one claw or foot a day is enough of a challenge. Don't push to do all of them at once, or you'll both have only negative memories of claw clippers!
Should I Declaw My Cat?
Declawing is a procedure whereby a veterinarian amputates the end digit and claw of a cat's paws—similar in scope to cutting off a person's finger at the last joint. The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing when done solely for the convenience of the owner. Scratching is a natural behavior for cats and can be directed to appropriate items.
However, if you feel that you must either declaw your cat or give her up, we would rather see your cat stay in her home and be your lifelong companion. If you do decide to have your cat declawed, we suggest that you have the surgery done at the same time she's spayed (or neutered, if your cat is a male). Never have rear paws declawed, and be sure to always keep your cat indoors; without claws to defend herself or climb to escape, your cat is in much greater danger outdoors—and the great outdoors is a very unsafe place for cats to begin with.
Where Can I Find an Effective Scratching Post?
Several companies manufacture scratching posts and other products that appeal to cats. Some companies and organizations have developed similar plans for do-it-yourselfers.
Feeding Your Cat:
High-quality commercially prepared cat foods have been scientifically developed to give your cat the correct balance of nutrients and calories. Your shelter or veterinarian will be able to recommend the best diet to keep your cat healthy. Buy the highest-quality food you can afford. Lower-quality foods may cost you less today, but they can increase your cat's chances of developing health problems in the future.
Obesity is a serious health problem in cats. Ask your veterinarian to help you determine the ideal body weight for your cat, and adjust your cat's diet to attain and maintain that weight according to your veterinarian's suggestions. A word about food boredom: It's not uncommon for cats to tire of the same old thing day in and day out. Provide variety in the form of different flavors and textures. Always gradually introduce any new brand of food to prevent digestive upset.
Never feed your cat human food such as table scraps, bones, or high-fat meats. Contrary to popular myth, milk is not necessary for cats and may cause digestive upset. Meat, however, is necessary for cats (because it produces essential metabolites); that's why placing your feline on a low-meat or no-meat diet is never recommended.
Supplies That Every Cat Household Needs
Outfitting a house for a new cat isn't nearly as complicated as it may seem. Just a little advance thought will help make the newcomer feel at home and welcome in strange new surroundings.
Every cat household needs the following:
Litter box and litter. The litter box, or pan, should be shallow enough for the cat to jump into easily, but the sides should be high enough to contain scattered litter as the cat scratches in it. Commercially sold plastic litter boxes are excellent. Some have high-domed lids on them to keep flung litter from spreading throughout the house. You probably won't have to worry about training your cat to use the litter box, but you will need to show your cat where to find it. Cats are fastidious and have a keen sense of smell. It is important to clean the pan daily. Never place a litter box close to where the cat is fed, because cats believe these two duties are quite separate, and they will choose to do one or the other elsewhere. Many people put the litter box in the bathroom, away from high-traffic areas.
Cat dishes. Each cat should have his or her own food and water dishes. These must be shallow; cats like to keep their faces and whiskers clean while they eat.
Grooming tools. Although cats groom themselves, they generally love to be brushed and combed. Long-haired cats must be brushed daily to prevent their hair from matting. Even short-haired cats enjoy the attention and the stimulation of being personally attended to. Use a daily brushing ritual to keep an eye on your cat's overall health and on skin and coat conditions. Some rubber brushes have special teeth that dig down and remove loose dander and dead skin cells. Metal, fine-toothed combs are designed to extract fleas from the coat.
Nail clippers. You also can use human-nail clippers. Read our tips for trimming your cat's claws (see link below) and, if you have trouble convincing your companion to cooperate, ask your veterinarian or groomer for additional advice or a demonstration.
A scratching post. Cats can be easily trained to scratch on a scratching post instead of the sofa arm or mahogany table leg. The scratching post should be untippable and covered in sisal rope or the webbed reverse side of carpet (a fireplace log is also a good alternative). Do not cover the post with the same kind of fabric that you are trying to protect in your home—upholstery or carpeting. That will only confuse your cat.
An inviting bed. Cats will sleep where they want to, which is usually with you. If you do not want your cat in bed with you at night, you must provide a more appealing option, such as a soft pillow or an inviting old comforter. Anything soft and warm, especially if it has your scent on it, can attract your cat. But let your cat discover it; a cat who is forced to lie down on a restricted spot will summarily reject that spot. And consider rethinking your policy against animals in bed. A purring companion at your feet is a better sleeping aid than anything you can find in a drugstore.
Toys. Many common household items make great cat toys. Ping-Pong balls are fun to chase. Or you can make a "mouse house" by cutting a hole in the bottom and the side of a paper bag; flick a wad of paper inside the bag and watch your cat ingeniously fish it out. Avoid string, ribbon, or rolls of yarn. Cats' barbed tongues make it difficult for them to spit anything out once they begin to swallow it. Besides the potential for choking, string can cause serious problems if ingested. When buying commercial cat toys, pick one that you could give to an infant. There should be no parts that can come off and be swallowed. Keep small children's toys away from cats. Contrary to the myth that cats only eat what's good for them, toy soldiers have found their way into cats' digestive tracts.
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Why You Should Spay or Neuter Your Pet:
What do "spay" and "neuter" really mean?
Female dogs and cats are spayed by removing their reproductive organs, and male dogs and cats are neutered by removing their testicles. In both cases the operation is performed while the pet is under anesthesia. Depending on your pet's age, size, and health, he or she will stay at your veterinarian's office for a few hours or a few days. Depending upon the procedure, your pet may need stitches removed after a few days. Your veterinarian can fully explain spay and neuter procedures to you and discuss with you the best age at which to sterilize your pet.
Spaying or Neutering Is Good for Your Pet
Spaying and neutering helps dogs and cats live longer, healthier lives.
Spaying and neutering can eliminate or reduce the incidence of a number of health problems that can be very difficult or expensive to treat.
Spaying eliminates the possibility of uterine or ovarian cancer and greatly reduces the incidence of breast cancer, particularly when your pet is spayed before her first estrous cycle.
Neutering eliminates testicular cancer and decreases the incidence of prostate disease.
Spaying or Neutering Is Good for You
Spaying and neutering makes pets better, more affectionate companions.
Neutering cats makes them less likely to spray and mark territory.
Spaying a dog or cat eliminates her heat cycle. Estrus lasts an average of six to 12 days, often twice a year, in dogs and an average of six to seven days, three or more times a year, in cats. Females in heat can cry incessantly, show nervous behavior, and attract unwanted male animals.
Unsterilized animals often exhibit more behavior and temperament problems than do those who have been spayed or neutered.
Spaying and neutering can make pets less likely to bite.
Neutering makes pets less likely to roam the neighborhood, run away, or get into fights.
Spaying and Neutering Are Good for the Community
Communities spend millions of dollars to control unwanted animals.
Irresponsible breeding contributes to the problem of dog bites and attacks.
Animal shelters are overburdened with surplus animals.
Stray pets and homeless animals get into trash containers, defecate in public areas or on private lawns, and frighten or anger people who have no understanding of their misery or needs.
Some stray animals also scare away or kill birds and wildlife.
Fix That Bunny!
When being conscientious about the pet overpopulation, don’t forget to spay or neuter your pet rabbit. Altering rabbits can reduce hormone-driven behavior such as lunging, mounting, spraying, and boxing. Spaying females can prevent ovarian, mammarian, and uterine cancers, which can be prevalent in mature does. Also, rabbits reproduce faster than dogs or cats and are the third-most surrendered animal to shelters.
Spay or neuter surgery carries a one-time cost that is relatively small when one considers its benefits. It's a small price to pay for the health of your pet and the prevention of more unwanted animals.
Grooming and Doggy Daycare
1811 Lewis Turner Boulevard
Ft. Walton Beach, FL
Shady Lane Grooming
Grooming and Boarding
700 Shady Lane
Ft. Walton Beach, FL
For more information on caring for your pet, visit the United States Humane Society website.