We asked two of the best behavioral veterinarians in Northern Virginia some common questions pet owners have about what to watch for in their furry friends.
How can I help my pet avoid separation anxiety?
Dr. Amy Pike: Getting your pet used to spending time alone starts by spending time away from you engaged in something else like relaxing on a dog bed and eating a frozen stuffed Kong. Once they are comfortable doing that while you are home, but in another room, you can start working on leaving the pet for short durations (starting at five minutes or less). As your pet is comfortable, you can slowly start increasing the duration of these departures. You need to monitor your pet via video in order to watch for signs of anxiety (pacing, panting, whining, drooling, crying, destruction, urinating, or defecating) because you never want to proceed with longer departures if any of those signs are seen.
Dr. Leslie Sinn: By encouraging healthy independence in your pet. Quiet words of praise, “good job!” when your pet chooses to rest by him or herself or play quietly by themselves instead of needing you to entertain them. Make sure you spend at least a part of every day away from your pet — take a walk around the block, pick up the mail, run some errands, take out the garbage — they do not need to be with you every minute of every day!
Why does my dog eat grass? How can I get them to stop?
Pike: Dogs will eat grass for a number of different reasons. Some dogs do it to make themselves throw up. This is commonly done when your dog has a very empty stomach and they need to get rid of the excess acid that is causing them discomfort. Sometimes dogs just eat grass because it tastes good! Unless you are using harmful chemicals to treat your lawn, allowing your dog to eat grass is not harmful.
Sinn: Grass eating is very common. Many dogs will eat grass especially in the spring when there is lush, tender new growth. However, if your dog is eating large quantities frequently and continuously, especially if associated with any signs of gastrointestinal discomfort such as loose stool, vomiting, or flatulence it may be a sign of GI distress. Please take your dog to your veterinarian to check for internal parasites or other causes of stomach discomfort. It can be hard to stop all grass eating and it is not even necessary but the best bet is to distract your dog by calling your pup to you then redirecting it to something more fun like a walk or a game of fetch.
Why is my pet licking their paws?
Pike: Pets lick their paws most commonly when they are experiencing allergies (environmental or food). See your vet to determine if there might be something else going on (pain in their paws or behavioral concerns) or for the best treatment plan if it’s allergies.
Sinn: Occasional paw licking may just be simply your pup cleaning off her paws. Although many people think that licking is anxiety related, in actual fact, the most common cause of frequent paw licking is almost always allergy related. Please consult with your regular veterinarian about appropriate allergy treatment.
How can I get my cat to stop scratching the furniture?
Pike: Providing your cat with plenty of appropriate and desirable options to scratch on instead of your furniture is the first step. Cats often scratch on the furniture to mark their territory, so placing the scratching posts in prominent locations (not hidden away in a corner) is best. Cats have preferred styles and types of scratchers that they will use so offer your cat a “cafeteria” so they can choose their favorites. This includes both vertical and horizontal options, carpet, sisal rope, and cardboard.
Sinn: Scratching is normal behavior for cats so stopping scratching is not the goal. Instead, we want to teach our cats what is OK to scratch. Research indicates that different cats prefer different surfaces so some trial and error may be needed to find what your particular feline prefers but most seem to enjoy sisal covered upright posts. Praise your kitty for showing any interest in her post. Apply Feli-scratch (CEVA) a cat pheromone that attracts cats to the scratchable item. Cover treasured furniture with a plastic dropcloth while training is taking place to prevent accidents. Above all, do not punish your cat during this process or carry your cat to the new post as this will make her less likely to scratch where wanted.
This story originally ran in our July issue. For more stories like this, subscribe to our monthly magazine.