As vets we often see dogs with injuries caused by another dog in the household. We can patch up the results of the fight. But owners don’t think to ask how to stop dogs fighting at home in the first place. Often we treat the injury and then have to send the animal home into the same high-risk environment. Which isn’t good for the dog or you. At Pet Medical we aim to address the underlying cause of these disagreements so that they are not repeated.
Pets and children don’t always mix, and as a society we spend a lot of time discussing the safety of children around pets. But what about poor pet? Children can be pretty ‘pet-unfriendly’, from leaving the gate open to shoving items where they should not go. There is no doubt that children can pose a danger to pets. They lack a sense of boundaries and the consequences of their actions. They have a fascination with putting objects on (and in) things, especially body parts and they can’t to seem put ANYTHING away or back the way they found it.
Inter-dog aggression is fighting and aggressive behaviour directed from one dog to another dog. The most common cause of inter-dog aggression is food related, but it can be triggered by household changes, and can happen when dogs are fearful or over-excited. It is important to learn to understand dog body language to help predict fights. When these fights occur, always remember, SAFETY FIRST. Never come between two dogs that are fighting as they can injure people very badly without meaning to. Use loud noises, water (like the spray from a hose) or throw a blanket over them and use a broom to separate them. Once they have separated, take the dogs away from each other to prevent another fight breaking out.
Obviously, nipping and biting behaviour from your pet is less than ideal, and for a number of reasons it’s important to limit it. Realistically, they’re natural behaviours for dogs and cats. In fact, they’re natural behaviours for kids too! What's the first thing an infant does when it grasps something new? Chances are, it goes in the mouth, and if it's fun or feels good it happens again! It’s exactly the same for cats and dogs. That said, when it comes to your cats and dogs, you need to draw a line to make sure you have a happy, well-socialised pet who doesn’t terrorise the family or the neighbourhood.
If your cat or dog is not doing the things it usually does as routine then most likely there is something wrong with them. But how do you decipher the problems and fix them before they become an issue? Most pet owners get a good idea of what their cat or dog’s regular routines are. Some cats love jumping up on a particular chair or table. Some are particularly active—others, not so much. Sometimes we all wish our furry family members could talk so they could tell us what’s wrong, so while we wait for a feline translating device to be made (ahem! Google?), you should be reading your pet’s body language and taking them for regular vet check-ups. Dogs don’t whinge, complain or tell you they don’t feel well. Whingeing is a human thing. You whinge because your partner cares about what you have to say. Dogs don't whinge because no-one likes it. It doesn't get them anything, so they’ve learned not to do it. They suffer in silence, so we don't realise they're unwell. We don't realise they're unwell unless they stop eating, or they're vomiting, or drinking 10 litres of water. We often miss the subtle signs of ageing. So, what are those subtle signs?
Dogs can be such gorgeous companions—lovely to come home to, fun to play with and a good reason to take a walk every day. As long as they are well-adjusted, relaxed and well-behaved, dogs are an absolute joy to have around. We might focus our attention on good dog behaviour, but it is the behaviour of their owners that is the real key. Training dogs is absolutely not just a matter of rewarding good behaviour with treats. That could just as easily result in dog behaviour that is quite obnoxious—like the one that leapt onto my desk and devastated my keyboard recently. This dog could do flips, but he could not behave himself in a way that made him good to have around. He hadn’t been trained, he had been taught to do tricks.
When someone tries to describe an impossible task, they often say, “It’s like training cats”. But it is possible to train cats. Proof of that is a cat I know called Hartley. Hartley the cat is so well trained he recently went with his owner to a dog show. And was absolutely fine with it. You may expect a dog show to create some pretty antisocial cat behaviour. But Hartley came to ‘A Bark in the Park’ dog show with 300 dogs and sat in a carrier bag with a harness on; totally unfazed, because Hartley goes everywhere with his mum.
Cat behaviour is one of the great conundrums of pet ownership. How often have you heard of cat owners buying a lovely bed for their cat to sleep in, only to find that the cat will sleep on a bit of paper beside the bed. Cats like options. They like somewhere to hide, somewhere to go up high, and they like a choice of places to go to the toilet as well. A lot of people are guilty of not providing enough options with litter trays and food areas, especially with multi-cat households. One cat will actually block another cat from getting to food and you won't even see it. All they do is sit there with a blank expression, but what they're doing is saying, "Don't even think about coming past me." This is classic cat behaviour.
A trip to the vet with your beloved cat or dog doesn’t have to be traumatic (for either of you). By employing low-stress handling techniques your moggy or pup can be absolutely at ease for his or her next check-up. My team are all specifically trained in these techniques and the results make for a relaxed and happy pet, as well as a relaxed and happy pet parent! Low-stress handling comes down to reading your pet’s body language. They may not be able to speak, but your animals will absolutely tell you how they’re feeling. You can see how a dog or cat is feeling by understanding their body language, and learning to read it. Vets become experts at it. It’s really like learning any other language.
When I graduated 24 years ago, and started working as a vet, it was very much a given that animals hated going to the vet. It was all about their physical health—nobody was ever looking to see what the animal was dealing with psychologically. No-one stopped to think, ‘let’s make this a cat-friendly vet’ or a ‘dog-friendly vet’. We used to get them through the door, plonk them on the table, then examine them. If they were a placid sort of animal, they’d be fine. But most of them would just freeze in fear. Some of them would try and bite. Around 15 years ago, I set some goals for what I wanted to achieve as a vet. One of them was to create a surgery that animals would love coming to. I got really tired of seeing people dragging their cats and dogs through the door and thought, well surely there’s a better way than this.
Clients so often walk into a consult with myself or any one of our other vets and will say “Fido isn’t eating”, or “Bella just isn’t right!”. What you’re really letting us know is that your pet’s behaviour has changed. Others will let me know that Rover paces and howls and tries to dig out of the yard when fireworks go off, or that Kitty has begun urinating outside her litter tray ever since the new kitten came home. Veterinary behavioural medicine is about recognizing an animals’ emotional state, understanding how this affects their physical health and how these two things join together into the behavioural response we can see.