Introducing Kittens To Dogs

It is important to socialize kittens with dogs at an early age.  Here are my recommendations for the process:

1)  Establish a safe room for the kitten(s).  Give them plenty of time to acclimate to their new environment before introducing them to a dog.  During the adjustment phase, spend extra time with the dog working on their obedience skills of sit, stay, down, come, relax and leave it.  Use a head collar to provide extra control.
2)  Allow the dog and kitten to experience each other’s scent through towels and rugs.  After one days use, place the kitten’s towel in the dog’s bed and vice versa.  In my experience, the dog will spend much more time sniffing the towel and rolling on it than the kitten. 
3)  Feed the kitten on one side of the door while the dog has treats on the other side.  The idea is to teach the dog to associate the kitten with good things. 
4)  Allow the kitten to explore the house without the dog around and vice versa.  When both animals are comfortable with all of the above, it is time for a face to face introduction.
5)  Before the initial meeting, tire the dog and the kitten out with vigorous exercise.  For the first meeting, I let both animals view each other from a distance.  Place a head collar on the dog and place them on a down stay with a handler.  On the other side of the room, have another person hold the kitten in their lap.  Allow the animals to look at each other.  If both are calm and curious, move them closer together.  Stop immediately if either displays signs of stress. 
6)  When both are comfortable with visual contact, allow them to interact.  I usually place the dog on a down stay and let the kitten approach.  Keep firm control of the dog via the head collar and leash.  Reward the dog for calm behavior.  When the dog is bored with the whole process, it is time for the last step.
7)  Give the dog and kitten supervised access to each other.  Start out with short periods of time and stay close to prevent injuries.  Keep a blanket close at hand just in case you need to break-up a fight.  Do not allow the kitten to play rough with the dog.  Reward each for good behavior.  Gradually increase the time they are together.  Always make sure the kitten has an escape route if something goes wrong. 
8)  Some kittens will unmercifully pester their canine companions.  Be sure to give the dog breaks by returning the kitten to their safe room.  It is unfair to the dog to expect it to put up with a youngster who is constantly chewing on its ears or biting its legs.  

Although I have had great success using the above steps, their are some dogs and cats who will never live peacefully with each other.  So be careful when adding a new member to the family.  Remember, a dog that is great with cats might not tolerate a kitten because of their immature behavior.  Below I have included a video of my dog Buddy and the foster kittens.  As you will see, he finds four of them curious but a bit overwhelming.  Enjoy! 

Video of Medium Haired Black Kitten

       The Cuddler

This is the adorable black medium hair kitten.  He is one of two black cats in the litter.  He is a handsome boy but a bit timid.  Losing his mom seemed to affect him more than the others.  In the early days, he hid while the others played.  With patience and a lot of nurturing, he has become a gem of a little guy.  When he wants attention, he crawls into my lap, looks into my eyes and purrs.  He is a charming gentleman.  I am thrilled to report that he is now just as outgoing as his brothers.  He and his brothers will be ready for adoption next week.  If you live in Arizona, please write if you are interested in providing a home for one of these orphans.

Below is a clip of him nursing.  He loves to cuddle in the towel after each meal.  He is a real lover!

Kitten Video

Finally the video I promised!  This was taken about a week ago when the kittens were just learning to eat gruel.  As you will see, it was mayhem on the set.  They are precious despite being messy!  Note how the tabby likes to get his whole body up into the food dish and makes full use of his paws to smear the food around. 

Foster kittens eating 0809

Eleven Days With The Kittens

It is hard to believe that eleven days ago these precious bundles of fur were found in a parking lot, dehydrated and hypoglycemic.  They are now healthy playful kittens that try to climb anything in sight.  My ankles are covered with scratches.  I have been trying unsuccessfully to add a video clip of the kittens to the blog.  Hopefully, I will get the software problem fixed soon.  Over the next week, I will introduce you to each of the kittens individually.  Until then, please enjoy the pictures of the cute kittens at play!



Susie’s Birthday

Today is a special day in the Nelson household.  Fifteen years ago, our beloved Golden Retriever was born.  Susie was a supercharged girl.  Her zest for life never ended.  She lived every minute to the fullest.  Whether she was chasing tennis balls, searching the bird room for bits of food or letting a cat named Tigre clean her face, Susie enjoyed it all.  Her presence brightened every room she entered.

Unfortunately, Susie is not here to enjoy her special day with a swim in the pool.  On April 29, 2009, my husband and I were forced to make the decision that all pet owners dread.  Susie’s health deteriorated rapidly over the last year.  Besides allergies, hypothyroidism, cataracts, corneal problems, separation anxiety, osteoarthritis and occasional dementia, she started to seizure.  The last day of her life, she suffered a grand mal seizure.  Susie had not experienced seizures before other than mild tremors in her face.  Watching her and helping her through this episode made the decision for us.  Her death leaves a huge hole in our family.      

So in honor of Susie, I ask each of you to spend extra time today with the animals in your life.  Whether it’s a vigorous game of fetch or fifteen minutes of lap time, celebrate the gifts and joy they bring.  Laugh at their endearing quirks.  Revel in their unconditional love.  Treasure your time together.  And the next time life throws your a curve ball, draw strength from the bond with your pet.  As my friend Dr. Michelle May always says, “Live vibrantly!”  That is how Susie lived.  Oh how I miss her.     


Litterbox Training Has Begun

Since the kittens arrived, my life has revolved around their feeding schedule.  I am happy to report that they are doing well.  They are gaining weight and having daily bowel movements.  The round the clock care has helped them flourish.  When they hear my voice, they crawl to the door of their carrier and meow.  When I touch them, they purr.  Even the little black short-haired kitten is eating gruel.

On Wednesday, I saw the buff kitten posture and urinate on his own so I decided it was time to introduce a litter box.  I lined a shoe box cover with tin foil and added a small amount of litter.  The unfamiliar texture bothered the buff and tabby kittens.  They shook their paws and made a beeline for a towel.  The black long haired boy watched their reactions intently.  When the box was clear, he cautiously approached.  After sniffing around the perimeter, he clambered in.  He walked to a corner and froze.  Ten seconds later, a wet spot appeared behind him.  I was so proud!

After watching his brother, the buff kitten decided he should give the box another try.  He put his front feet in the box, postured and urinated.  Unfortunately, he left his back feet outside the box.  Oh well, at least he tried.  I applaud his effort.  (This picture of the buff and long haired black kitten was taken a day later.)  


On Friday morning, the kittens went 4 for 4 in the box.  It is absolutely amazing how much they have matured since Monday.  Watching them grow and prosper is so rewarding.  It more than makes up for the lack of sleep.  I would like to encourage everyone to consider becoming a foster parent for animals.  It is a rewarding experience that will change your life!  

The First Night With The Kittens

It was a long night!  I am exhausted but the kittens are doing well.  With each feeding, they gain strength and confidence.  I set the kittens up in a bathroom.  They sleep in a large carrier lined with towels.  Under one end, I placed a heating pad.  This allows the kittens to choose how warm they want to be.  I keep them locked in the carrier between feedings to promote a sense of safety.  

The buff kitten is an outgoing boy.  He boldly goes where the other kittens won’t.  The tabby kitten watches him to see if he should follow.  I think of him as a cautious explorer.  I am concerned about the black kittens.  After a meal, they crawl back into the carrier and hide.  They are smaller in size than their brothers and emotionally less mature.  They seem to be taking the loss of their mom hard.  I will spend extra time with them to help build their confidence.


At the 5am feeding, I decided to introduce real food.  I made a gruel out of canned canned kitten food and kitten milk replacer .  The buff kitten dove right in.  He buried his face in the bowl with gusto.  Since he seemed happy, the tabby kitten decided to give the new food a try.  He took a small taste and loved it.  Everything went well until he put one of his front paws into the bowl.  When the gruel oozed through his toes he shrieked and headed back into the carrier.  

When the bigger boys were finished, I introduced the black kittens.  The short haired one wanted no part of the gruel.  The long haired one thought it was great.  He formed a perfect ‘O’ with his mouth and slurped up the gruel.  The consistency did not bother him.  He stood in the middle of the bowl and vacuumed the bottom.  When he finished, gruel coated his hair.  He did not appreciate the post-meal bath.                                                                      

Overall, I am thrilled with their progress.  My only concern is that no one has had a bowel movement yet.  I will keep you posted. 

Fostering Orphan Kittens

When my phone rings before 7am, it usually means one thing. . . an animal emergency.  On Monday, the manager of the General Store called about some kittens.  A customer noticed four small kittens behind the store and was afraid for their safety in the busy parking lot.  Thank goodness, the staff of the General Store rounded them up before any injuries occurred. 

The kittens belong to a feral cat that lives in the commercial complex on the corner of Pinnacle Peak and Pima Roads.  Over the years, this queen has had several litters of kittens.  In fact, I think my cat Kalani is one of hers.  Last summer, one of her kittens got stuck in a roof drain.  I found a home for him with another veterinarian.  On Friday, the mother cat was finally caught and spayed.  Unfortunately, she was not returned to the area.  These poor kittens had been without food for three days.  I drove to the store with a heavy heart, fearing the worst.

In the back room of the store, the manager showed me the little orphans.  Two black kittens cuddled together in a corner.  They were terrified.  A brown tabby tried to climb out when he saw us.  On the other side of the box, a large buff colored kitten lay motionless.  When the manager offered the kittens milk, he refused it.  She was most concerned about him.   

Dehydration and hypoglycemia are common problems in babies of any species.  To counteract them, I fed each kitten three cc’s of water mixed with honey.  As you can see from the picture, these are young kittens, probably around four weeks old.  I estimated their age from their teeth.  Deciduous incisors and canine teeth erupt between three and four weeks of age followed by the pre-molars at five to six weeks.  The incisors and canine teeth were partially erupted in all of these kittens.

About fifteen minutes later, it was time for a real meal.  One by one, I wrapped each kitten in a towel and fed it kitten milk replacer out of a small syringe.  Although they did not like the feeling of the hard plastic, they suckled with vigor.  Milk spilled from the corners of their mouths and ran down their chins.  When they finished, I washed their faces in warm water.  Lastly, I stimulated them to urinate by rubbing their perineal areas with a wet cotton ball.  With all of their needs fulfilled, I tucked them in for a long, well deserved nap.


This story  highlights a problem faced by trap-neuter-release groups across the world.  When should you spay a feral cat to prevent a situation like this?  Ideally, I would try to catch feral queens outside of kitten season or before they have a litter.  Although a queen may have kittens at anytime, the majority give birth between March and August in the US.  It is best to catch them during the breeding season of December, January and February.  What if you catch a cat and only then realize she is nursing kittens?  First, try to find the kittens, hand raise them and place them as pets.  If you can’t find them within a reasonable period of time, consider re-releasing the queen back into the area as soon as possible.  Provide food and water to help her recuperate from surgery.  This will also keep her milk production up during this stressful time.   

So far the kittens are doing well.  I don’t know how they survived three days without their mom in the extreme summer heat of Arizona.  Please remember these little ones in your thoughts and prayers.  I will keep you posted on their progress.


Mountain Goat Behavior

On my trip to Glacier National Park, I spotted this family of mountain goats.  They were perched on the rocks across the river.  I zoomed in on them with the camera to get a better look.  Why are the goats licking the rocks?  What is the medical purpose of this behavior?


Diagnosis:  Salt

Mountain goats are herbivores who normally eat woody shrubs, moss, lichens and a variety of grasses.  This type of diet is low in salt so the goats must find it elsewhere.  At Glacier National Park, many goats congregate at an area appropriately called the ‘goat lick’.  They ingest salt and other minerals from the exposed rock on the side of the cliff.  Other herbivores such as moose, deer and elk eat grass along roadways to fulfill their salt needs.  One example of a useful benefit to the animals from sharing the neighborhood with humans involves meeting this dietary requirement.  Salt used during the winter to melt snow and ice washes into the soil and becomes a ‘salt lick’ of sorts.  The mountain goats stick to the rocks instead of roadways owing to the safety it provides them from predators. 

Barn Fires In Manitoba Claim Thousands Of Animals

On a recent trip to Calgary I read an article in The Globe and Mail.  It was written by Patrick White and drew attention to the thousands of animals who die in barn fires every year in Manitoba.  According to the article, over 31,000 animals died in 2008 which is more than eight times the number that died in 2007!  This year is going to be even worse as over 30,900 animals have already perished.  Why the sudden increase in barn fires?  It seems that building codes have not kept up with current agricultural practices.  Sprinklers, smoke alarms, fire walls and flame-retardant materials are not required in barns.  Once a fire starts in a facility with a concentrated population of animals, the losses are catastrophic.  

The article went on to describe how traumatic these fires are for the firefighters who hear the animal screams.  Screams of pain and agony that unnerve even the most seasoned veterans.  In fact, many rural Manitoba firefighters sought counseling to deal with their experiences.  I sympathize with how these brave men and women feel.  I have walked into a barn and also a kennel after a fire.  They were both awful experiences that I will never forget!

So why hasn’t Manitoba’s building code been updated to address confinement agriculture?  Because farm lobbyists like Ian Wishart are fighting it.  Here’s his opinion on the matter as reported in the paper, “Some of these recommendations would be far too expensive and are not going to work anyway.”  Honestly, I cannot understand this man’s logic.  How can loosing an entire barn full of animals be less expensive than installing sprinklers and other safety measures?  His words remind me of the old lawyer saw:  If you have the law, argue the law.  If you have the facts, argue the facts.  If you don’t have either, just argue, argue, argue.

In contrast to lobbyists like Mr. Wishart who work to defeat and delay meaningful building code updates, I suggest another approach.  The companies who insure these large animal operations should require smoke alarms, sprinklers and other fire prevention measures as a condition of an insurance policy.  Since most of the fires are caused by lack of maintenance, overloading circuits and faulty mechanical systems, I would also recommend a thorough inspection by an insurance representative trained to spot these problems.  Any farm that does not meet the new standards would lose their insurance or have their premiums increased significantly to cover the added risk to the insurance company.  The farmers who have already implemented these life-shaving measures could be rewarded with lower premiums. 

In closing, I want to encourage local governments in Canada, the United States and other countries to review their building codes for animal structures.  Outdated codes should be replaced with new regulations that reflect current agricultural practices.  Long term, it will be a win for everyone; farmers, insurance companies, firefighters and the animals.       

Reference:  White, Patrick, ‘Barn blazes turn up heat on building codes, Scenes of dying animals have become disturbingly common for firefighters in Manitoba, where regulations fail to reflect modern farms’, The Globe and Mail, Friday, July 10, 2009.