A: If the behavior is new, and not typical of your cat's personality, first see a veterinarian to rule out a medical explanation.
Another idea is to carry little mouse toys or plastic balls in your pocket. If you see that your cat is poised to attack, toss the toys in the opposite direction.
Enriching your cat's environment is important, including rotating toys. Try feeding the your cat from various puzzle feeders (if you're providing dry food), such as the Eggsercizer or SlimCat. You place kibble inside these toys, then teach your cat to roll them around so the food tumbles out. Leave several feeders around the house for your cat to "hunt." If you use moist food, place servings in plastic dishes at two or three locations, so your cat has to search for them.
Q: My 3-year-old Schnoodle will not go down our tile stairs. We've tried to coax her with treats, or carrying her down a few steps, but she freezes every time. It's not that she won't go down any stairs, as she goes down our cement stairs. Any advice? -- N.B., via cyperspace
A: "A veterinary evaluation is necessary, although your cat can apparently navigate other stars, which are easier," says Dr. John Ciribassi, a Chicago veterinary behaviorist and co-editor (with Dr. Debra Horwitz and myself) of "Decoding Your Dog: The Ultimate Experts Explain Common Dog Behaviors and Reveal How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)."Still, a medical explanation such as a luxating patella (knee problem), needs to be ruled out."
Assuming your dog checks out medically, Ciribassi suggests that she apparently doesn't feel sure of her footing on tile stairs. Increase the traction by adding a carpet runner. Many stores sell carpet remnants that would fit the bill. Also, try coaxing your dog to use the stairs by rewarding her with bits pieces of turkey or low salt cold cuts. Since she's already associated the top of the stairs with a scary event, try coaxing her starting at the bottom.
Q: Exactly when should I start giving our Schnauzer-mix a heartworm preventive? I ask because it's still pretty cold where I live. -- C.G., St. Paul, MN
A: "You should be giving your dog a heartworm preventive year-round," says past American Animal Hospital President Dr. Mark Russak, of Starkville, MS. Russak points out that the non-profit American Heartworm Association also supports year-round protection. "Mosquitoes (which spread heartworm) can get indoors, and some species survive rather well indoors year-round."
Playing weather roulette never works. Right now, it may be unseasonably cool where you are, but what happens if we have a spate of unseasonably warm weather -- so common this time of year?
"Here's the thing: Why would you take a chance?" says Russak. "Heartworm can be deadly and the preventatives work."
Q: Out of the blue, my two male cats have started urinating all over the house. One cat is 18 years old, and the other is 3. How can I stop this? Is there a product I could use? -- P.T., Chicago, IL
A: "I suggest that either the issue began as a result of your older cat having a health issue or the younger cat reaching social maturity," says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Vint Virga, Greenwich, RI-based author of "The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human" (Crown Publishing, New York, NY, 2013; $25).
"One cat urinates, then the other cat responds in kind. I'm especially concerned about the older cat. The first step is to have the older cat checked out by your veterinarian," Virga says.
If physical health is not an issue, it's important to determine if the cats are spraying (directing their urine on walls or furniture, twitching their tails as they aim, and the urine runs down the surface vertically), or instead, are voiding on flat surfaces with a fair volume of urine. Either way, there's some interesting communication going on between the two pets. At least they might call it interesting, though you might choose another word.
Use an odor neutralizer/enzymatic cleaner in the affected areas. A calming Feliway plug-in (analog of a feline pheromone) could help if you feel there may be a relationship issue between your two cats, or if one or both are spraying on vertical surfaces.
Interactive play is a great stress buster, and could help. Best of all, enriching your cats' environment so they have an overabundance of resources -- from toys to hiding places -- could help stop the urine battle.
If these changes don't help, you may need to call in a veterinary behaviorist (http://www.dacvb.org), a veterinarian with a special interest in behavior (http://www.avsabonline.org), or a cat behavior consultant (http://www.iaabc.org) for further guidance.
(Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can't answer all of them individually, he'll answer those of general interest in his column Send e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)
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