Tips for Creating a Cat Friendly Environment

Variety is the spice of life! This applies to dogs and cats as well as humans. People love to try new restaurants or go to exotic locations for vacation. Dogs walk around their neighborhood, ride in the car and sometimes, have play dates at the local dog park. What about cats? How do we give them the same opportunities to exercise their minds as well as their bodies all while keeping them safe?

Most cats live in homes that are set-up for human comfort.  This can make them pretty boring for cats. Scratching posts and toys are located in the corner of a room, water and food bowels are in the laundry and the litterbox is hidden out of sight.  Once the cat ‘furniture’ is arranged, it is rarely changed. This stagnant environment leads to stress and sometimes, behavioral problems.  The common complaints I hear are 1) failure to use the litterbox, 2) urine spraying, 3) fighting with other cats, 4) pulling out clumps of fur and 5) attacking other family members – dogs as well as humans. Unfortunately, many people fail to understand the reason for these behaviors and bring the poor cats to shelters.

Cats need an environment that accommodates their normal behaviors.  According to Veterinary Behaviorist, Dr. Lisa Radosta, a typical 24 hours feline schedule involves 9.5 hours of sleeping, 5.3 hours of resting (I am so jealous), 3.6 hours for hunting, 3.5 hours for grooming, 0.6 hours for traveling, 0.55 hours for eating and another 0.33 hours for miscellaneous activities – think litterbox. To make a cat happy, its environment needs to provide areas for all of these activities. Let’s examine each one in greater detail.

Sleeping: For a cat to sleep soundly, they need a place that is comfortable and makes them feel safe. A basket lined with a towel or a box with a blanket placed in a quiet area works well. Based on all the hair I see on luggage, I think closets are the number one resting spot. The small dark room filled with their human’s scent gives them a safe place for an undisturbed nap. There are also plenty of places to hide behind hanging clothes.  In the morning, my cats love to nap behind the curtain next to the sliding glass door  when the sun is strong. When the shade moves in, they migrate to chairs and beds.

Resting: Most cats like to rest where they can watch what is happening in their environment. My cats like the back of the sofa, a window seat or tables by windows. Think of high spots with good vision of the room. Kitty condos work well for resting spots as well as perches attached to windows. Remember, older cats often suffer from osteoarthritis which makes jumping painful. To reach high perches, set up a series of steps to allow access.

Hunting: Since most cats are kept indoors, it is vital to a cat’s well being to give them an outlet for this natural behavior. Play becomes the substitute for hunting. My cats love to chase feathers attached to a wand. I run around the house making them follow me until they are breathing heavily. I am not a big fan of lasers for two reasons. First, I worry about eye damage if the cat looks directly into the beam. Second, since the cat cannot catch and kill the dot, it can lead to a condition called ‘Frenzied Play Syndrome’. To avoid this, I recommend finishing a game of laser play by placing the dot on a real toy for the cat to attack. Here are a few ideas for cat toys 1) Feathers on a wand. My cats go crazy when I whip it in a circle overhead.  The feathers make it sound like a real bird. 2) Fake fur or feathers attached to a string. I drag the string around chairs and tables mimicking how a mouse would behave. 3) Ping pong balls -these work the best is small spaces like showers 4) Treat balls – there are several brands of toys that can be filled with food. When the cat moves them, the food falls out. 5) Boxes-cats love boxes of all shapes and sizes. Treats can be placed inside for added fun. 6) Toilet paper and paper towel rolls – stuff the inside with paper that has been treated with Feliway, cat nip or cinnamon to really excite your cat. Remember, to change out the toys every 2-3 days to keep the cat interested.

Grooming: Most cats follow a routine that is fairly consistent. After waking, they hunt around their environment in search of a meal. Once they have eaten, they groom then settle down for quiet time of resting or sleeping. Most cats go to a comfortable place to groom where they can stretch out to reach all the areas of their body. Therefore, a special grooming place is not necessary. I do recommend a hygienic shave on long-haired cats to make their job a little easier. Using a clipper, shave the area around their anus to prevent feces from sticking.

Eating/Drinking: Place food and water bowls in a safe place that allows the cat to eat and drink undisturbed. Cats like to drink out of large flat bowls not the small ones sold at most pet stores. My cats use a large soup bowl or my German shepherd’s water bowl.

Litter boxes: The rule is at least one large litter box per cat. Most cats like litter that feels like sand the best. Keep the box located in an open area that prevents a bully cat from surprising a more submissive cat in the box.


Radosta, Lisa, “Environmental Enrichment for Cats”, Clinician’s Brief, Sept 2014, pp 13-15.

Carting for Dogs

Last winter, I witnessed a sport called carting. Dogs representing many different breeds, pulled carts through an obstacle course designed to test their skills. With signals from their handlers, they wove around cones and through a gate. They walked and trotted on command then finished with a group test. All the dogs were lined up, placed in a down position and then ordered to stay while their handlers walked away. It was a great obedience test with one extra variable, the cart. Cart dogs must learn to accept the poles which confine their movement and the cart itself which ‘chases’ them.

Carting Greta Henning 2015Greta

Training begins with acclimating a dog to a harness then pulling something attached to their harness with ropes. They learn to pull on command. When I practiced in Minnesota, I took care of several dogs who pulled their owners on skis’ in the winter and rollerblades in the summer. As a kid, I hooked our German Shepherd to my sled and flew down the road. Duchess was great as long as she was going in a straight line. She never learned to slow down for turns, wiping out my sled every time! When snow isn’t available, cardboard boxes can be substituted for this first step.

Once they are comfortable with pulling on soft lines, they are hooked up to the cart. They learn to ignore the noisy thing behind them in addition to a new obedience command, back up. Carts come in a variety of materials, sizes and weights making this sport popular with many breeds. According to carting enthusiast , Dawn Clark, “Any dog can do it!” Please click on “Carting with Greta” to see this girl in action. She is handled by Mark Henning with narration by Dawn.

Carting with Greta

For information on carting in Arizona, please contact the Grand Canyon State Rottweiler Club through their website at: or their parent organization the American Rottweiler Club at:

For additional information on training your dog for carting, Gale Werth has written a terrific article called “Carting with Bernese Mountain Dogs – Training Article” that can be found at the following link:


Tips for Bringing a New Puppy Home

Bringing a new puppy home is wonderful. Family members shower the little one with love, wanting to spend every possible minute with the new bundle of joy. But please remember, this is a very stressful and overwhelming time for the puppy. Leaving their canine family, mother and littermates, for a new human family all on their own is a big adjustment. Here are my suggestions for helping young puppies transition to their new home:

1) Crate train the puppy– Crates serve many important functions.   First, they keep the puppy safe when a human isn’t around to supervise. When puppies explore their environments, they get into all kinds of trouble – biting electrical cords, falling into pools, eating all kinds of things, rolling down stairs, interacting with dangerous animals, etc. Confining them to a crate keeps them out of harms way. Alternatively, an exercise pen or confining the pup to a small room with a baby gate may also work well.

Second, crates provide a secure resting place. For most puppies, going to their new home is the first time they are alone and separated from their littermates. Giving them a crate filled with blankets, toys and a hot water bottle makes them feel less lonely. I recommend placing the crate in the bedroom right next to your bed. If it has a top that opens, the new pet parent may let their arm dangle into the crate from the bed to provide extra reassurance. Alternatively, the crate may be placed on the bed. I know a couple who placed their pup’s crate between them to prevent night time howling. They left it there for a week and then slowly transitioned the youngster off the bed. Remember, the crate doesn’t need to stay in the bedroom forever. Once the pup adjusts to their new life, it can be moved to the desired location.

Third, crate training helps with housebreaking. One of the first things a puppy has to learn is where to urinate and defecate. It takes awhile to learn the difference between indoors and outdoors. I advise clients to purchase a crate that will accommodate the pup when fully grown then block it into a smaller space. Since most pups will not urinate or defecate in their bed, it teaches them to hold it. If your pup is urinating and defecating in their crate, it is probably too big or they are not being taken out frequently enough.

Molly Baca Puppy 06202015

2) Feed small frequent meals– Puppies are prone to hypoglycemia which means low blood sugar. Clinical signs of hypoglycemia include lethargy, stumbling, seizures and/or coma. To prevent hypoglycemia, I recommend feeding puppies several meals spaced throughout the day. As the pup grows, the length of time between meals may be increased until the desired twice a day feeding schedule is achieved. How often a puppy eats depends upon their age and breed. In general,   8 week old large or giant breed puppies do well on three meals a day while toy breeds need 4 to 5 small meals. If your puppy becomes lethargic or acts drunken, give them honey right away. Put it in their mouth and seek veterinary care immediately.

3) Safe toys-Provide toys that are appropriate for the pup. Too often, people choose toys based on their own preferences rather than the pup’s. Watch out for soft toys with squeakers. I have seen dog’s chew out the squeaker, swallow it and then require surgery to remove it.  I recommend a variety of toys with different textures and shapes to stimulate the pup’s senses. I also like the ones that can be filled with food or treats for the pup to find. During teething, toys may be chilled in the fridge to provide comfort to inflamed gums. Please do not place the toys in the freezer as they pup’s tongue may stick to the toy.

4) Regular trips outside to urinate and defecate-Puppies need to go outside more frequently than adults because their kidneys are immature. They simply can’t concentrate their urine like an adult can. For most 8 week old pups, I recommend taking them out every 2 hours to urinate and right after eating to defecate. As they grow, the time can be increased.

5) Give the puppy plenty of rest-With the excitement of a new puppy, it is easy to forget these little ones are babies  that need rest. I know one golden retriever puppy who suffered from severe anxiety that all started on her first day in her new home. On the way home from the breeder, the family stopped at a pet store for supplies then ate lunch at the local café.  She had 2 hours to get to know her new home before the family took her to a surprise birthday party. She was passed from person to person to person. Finally, when the exhausted pup wouldn’t play anymore, she was placed in a crate while the party continued. The next morning, more visitors arrived and the puppy was passed between more people. This puppy had been one of the most outgoing, gregarious members of her litter. She became a very fearful dog who needed tranquilizers to leave her home as an adult. Remember, go slow with puppies!

6)  Additional tips-I mentioned giving pups a hot water bottle in their crate to imitate the feeling of sleeping next to another puppy. I would never use a heating pad for fear that the pup may bite the cord. If there is another dog in the house who accepts the pup, they could sleep with them as well. Be sure to give the adult dog breaks from the pup as we all know how stressful babysitting can be. When the pup is alone, leave the radio or television on for company.

Bull Terrier Snip

Adopting a puppy is wonderful. Following the tips listed above, will help your dog become a loving addition to your family!

Remember, bring the puppy in for a veterinary examination right away.


Fairness To Pet Owners Bill Is Not As It Appears

Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut is at it again. He introduced the “Fairness To Pet Owner” bill, S-1200, again even though it has been defeated before – not once but twice. This bill is supposed to “promote competition and help consumers save money by giving them the freedom to choose where they buy prescription pet medications and for other purposes.” This bill requires veterinarians to write prescriptions for every medication a pet needs, even if the client wants to fill it at the veterinarian’s clinic. If this bill passes, this is how it would work. A Veterinarian gives their client a prescription.  Then the client will have to take the script to a pharmacy as in human medicine or present it back to the veterinarian to have the prescription filled. The backers of this bill believe veterinarians charge unfair prices for medications. By mandating a prescription, they believe pet owners will be able to shop the medication around and get a better price. They also state that a law is needed to force veterinarians to write prescriptions because they will refuse otherwise. Let’s examine if any of these statements are true.

1) Prescriptions: Like all clinical veterinarian’s, I write prescriptions for my client’s pets all the time.  As is customary, I do not charge for this service. Whenever asked, I write it as long as I have a valid doctor-patient relationship.  All of the veterinarians I know do the same thing. Our code of ethics require that we write prescriptions whenever a client requests one. Therefore, the author of this bill is mistaken in that veterinarians cannot refuse to give out prescriptions.  Nor have I ever known one to do so.

2) Cost of Drugs: Drugs are not always cheaper at Walmart or other pharmacies. I recently had a client request a prescription for carprofen, a medication used for osteoarthritis in dogs. After learning our cost, she felt she could get a better deal at the Walmart up the road. She returned a few hours later because the drug was cheaper at my clinic! I have another patient who suffers from a rare form of epilepsy and is treated with a drug called Keppra. Since I do not carry this drug at my clinic, I called in a prescription to a pharmacy as the client requested. I received an angry call when she picked up the medication because it was $250 for a 30 day supply. The next month, she checked all the major pharmacies and the price was about the same – still around $200.  So I decided to check the specialty veterinary clinic where the dog was first diagnosed and they had the best price.  There a 30 day supply cost only $52.00.

3) Cost of Compliance: It costs money to comply with regulations. If this bill passes, veterinarians will be forced to potentially add staff to handle the extra paperwork or see fewer patients to give the current staff time to process and store the extra prescriptions. In the end, this unnecessary charge will be passed through to pet owners in higher service fees.  So pet owners will end up paying more to fix a problem that never existed.  As is so often the case with government solutions, this is a solution in search of a problem.

I would like to know what is motivating Senator Blumenthal and the cosponsors of this bill, Mike Lee of Utah and Charles Schumer of New York, to keep introducing this bill. Do they really understand how veterinary clinics operate or are they simply pushing through a bill to help some financial backer?

With the fiscal train wreck our nation’s finance represent this is the kind of nonsense these ostensibly august senators are spending their time on.  I ask pet owners to contact their senators and tell them to vote no on S-1200.  While you’re at it, if you live in these senator’s states, I also invite you to vote them out of office – our country has too many pressing issues to have senators waste time on a bill that has already failed twice and for good reason.


Morgan, Ashley. “Back at it again:  Congress Introduce Sweeping Prescription Mandate for Veterinarians”, Arizona Veterinary News, May 2015.