Help! My Cat Attacks Me Without Warning

cat being held

It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so serious. Look for answers on why your cat bites or scratches you and you’ll find people telling you it’s all about a competition for dominance.

As any genuine cat lover knows, our cats always dominate us. Most of us have enough humility to love them for it. 

It’s stopping them biting and scratching that we’re after. That’s a whole other story with a wholly different explanation. One where aggression is just a symptom of a problem in the cat-human relationship.

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Designing A Cat Friendly Australian Garden

cat in plants

More and more Australians are building an outdoor enclosure, or catio for their cat. Some make it themselves, others pay specialist companies to do it. Either way, there are two things that often get overlooked.

The first, assuming you plan on using them, is choosing plants that are safe for cats. I’ll cover that later with an Australian perspective. The second is designing the space from a cat’s point of view. Let’s do that first.

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Which Cat Scratcher Do Cats Use Most?

cat on scratcher

We all know that cats like to ‘sharpen their claws’, but it’s amazing how little we actually know about it. Yet scratching in cats is extremely important.

It’s:

  • a genuine need of cats
  • a significant source of concern for cat owners
  • a leading cause of surrender to shelters
  • the excuse used for surgical declawing of cats

What you see here is typical of veterinary science. Pick a rare disease like arterial thromboembolism and you’ll find lots of good science. Pick a common, everyday, practical problem and it just doesn’t get the same attention.

Finally, I have something to tell you. For the first time, two recent studies have looked at scratcher preferences in kittens and adult cats. They offered cats choices and measured which ones they chose to use more often.

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Adopting an Older Ex Breeder or Shelter Dog

older dog adoption

Not long ago I saw two adult dogs in a row that had just been adopted from their breeder. The first one wasn’t perfectly normal, but he’ll be OK. However, the second one, Jethro was in real trouble. That’s him in the picture.

Right now, he’s frightened of many things in an unpredictable way. He’s frequently frozen and unwilling to move, difficult to walk, wary of strangers and not interested in food. At night he wanders the house unsettled. But he’s also showing signs of the lovely dog within.

Recently I told you that the best age to get a puppy is 7 to 8 weeks old. But there are plenty of dogs and puppies over 16 weeks old needing homes. Here are some examples:

So what happens if you get them? The answer is that they still make great pets, but not all of them and not always in the same way.

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A Puppy Checklist For The Social Distancing Age

puppy socialisation coronavirus

UPDATE 13 May: Limited puppy preschool places are now available at our clinic on Thursday nights. To comply with current regulations, we request that:

  • only one person comes with each puppy
  • class members wait outside until the start time

For puppies elsewhere in the world, I’m afraid that the puppies of the next few months won’t grow up the same. I fear that this virus will change how they enjoy the rest of their lives. But I also think you can do something about it.

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How To Stop Your Dog Eating Poo

dog-sniffing-grass

Try looking for answers when your dog eats their own stool and you’ll quickly see the problem. All the advice is the same.

Some top sites have literally cut and pasted the content from others, and those that haven’t appear to be just rewriting what everyone else says. The reason is simple: because no-one has all the answers.

A recent study (and the only good one) found that success rates with the sort of methods they discuss are only 1-4%. And it’s even worse if you try one of the many products being sold: 0-2%!

This fits exactly with my experience over 25 years. But it’s not hopeless! I’m going to use what I’ve learnt plus the evidence to give you practical, realistic advice. There’ll be a lot less promises, but also a lot less wasted effort.

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How To Find A Good Dog Training Class

Everyone has an opinion about what makes a great obedience class. I’ve got a lot to say on the subject, but I’ll start here: obedience has nothing to do with it!

The evidence is clear and consistent. When measured by results, reward-based training outperforms more ‘traditional’ methods. It’s also much less likely to cause pain or anxiety.

That’s why this article is going to help you tell the difference. By the end, you should be able to choose the right class for your dog. I will go through some clues you can use, and then use an example of two very real classes.

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Causes Of Sneezing In Dogs

Does your dog do this? When mine gets excited or playful he starts sneezing.

Sneezing during play isn’t well understood, but it’s clearly one of the least serious causes of sneezing in dogs.

I’ll take you through the other common reasons, from minor to major. As nearly every one is associated with a runny nose, I’ll also describe the nasal discharge that goes with it.

By the time you make it to the end, you’ll be an expert!

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Causes Of Shaking & Trembling in Dogs

dog shivering shaking

One night my own dog started shaking and shivering uncontrollably. Several frantic minutes went by. Was it a poison, was he unwell? The reasons why dogs tremble and shake go from simple to serious.

A minute later he squatted, passed a huge puddle of urine on the floor and the shaking stopped. He was busting to go to the toilet, and no-one realised. We all felt a bit silly, but that’s how hard it is.

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Puppy Preschool: The Evidence

puppy class walkerville

This lovely photo by Julie Wilson shows Jack, one of our Puppy Preschool graduates. It’s the way we like to see them: making the most out of life.

Did his puppy classes help him become the dog he is now? To answer that we need to know not what puppy classes promise, but what they actually do.

You have a right to be shown the evidence behind any veterinary recommendation. Here’s what we know.

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Thunderstorm & Firework Anxiety In Dogs

thunder phobia dog

After every thunderstorm or firework night I wait for the calls:

  • Dogs wandering the streets far from home
  • Dogs that have gone through windows
  • Dogs with lacerations from escape attempts

What we don’t see nearly enough are the dogs that just suffer in silence, panting, trembling or hiding at home. Noise phobias are common in dogs, and there’s a lot your vet can do to help.

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Preventing Stress, Fear & Scares At The Vet

french bulldog vet

Yesterday: a dog who panics whenever someone touches her feet. The day before: a dog with anxiety about her ears being touched. These dogs are everywhere, but what happened to them?

The answer is something I’ve held back a long time from writing about. It contains criticism of my own profession as well as others. God knows, I’m no saint, and like most vets, I’ve made all these mistakes too. But we’re going to keep making them, so you need to know how to stop them.

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We Need To Talk: Anxiety Medications In Dogs

stressed dog cat

No one wants to drug their pets. I get that. But we need to talk about mental health.

cat anxiety treatment

Let’s start by throwing out all the weasel words that stop us seeing it for what it is. It isn’t a ‘behaviour problem’ except to us. All these concerns like destruction, whining, howling, barking, biting or escaping. They’re only symptoms of a much greater problem.

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Help! My Dog Is Peeing Inside

dog bed wetting

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What To Do

If A Dog Urinates In The House

  1. Urinating in the bed is almost never a behavioural issue
  2. Most cases are an easily treatable form of incontinence
  3. A loss of toilet training in an older dog is often caused by urinary infection, excessive thirst and mobility or cognition problems

Now dive deeper…

Let’s set the record straight: a lot of people have got dogs peeing inside all wrong. To me, never more spectacularly wrong than in the above example. Blaming dogs for something they can’t control? In reality, absolutely nothing could be further from the truth.

The easiest way to illustrate this is to talk about puppies and crates. Crate training is basically a ‘puppy toilet training hack’ built entirely around the knowledge that the last place a dog will choose to pee is in their own bed. Literally the very last place on Earth.

If you have a dog that urinates inside, it’s important to work out whether it’s by choice or accident.

  1. Dogs that used to be toilet trained but now wet their bed, leak drops of urine or leave puddles where they lie down usually have a problem. This page is to help those dogs and their owners.
  2. Dogs that choose to urinate inside when it’s easy to get out usually have problems with their toilet training. If that’s your dog, read our three steps to toilet training but you also need to know it’s very hard to stop some undesexed males.

Bedwetting is usually the most obvious difference between these two groups.

Why Dogs Pee In Their Bed

So if wetting the bed isn’t behavioural, what causes it?

Urethral Sphincter Mechanism Incompetence

USMI is when the bladder’s closing pressure gets low enough that urine begins to force its way out. This especially happens during sleep when there’s no longer any conscious part of urine control.

If a mature female dog is leaking puddles or wetness where she sleeps, USMI is usually the reason. We used to call this disease Hormone Responsive Incontinence. Although USMI occurs in all dogs, read here how the risk of incontinence increases with desexing.

Treatment is usually easy and successful using the following drugs either alone or in combination:

  • Synthetic oestrogens
  • Phenylpropanolamine, a smooth muscle stimulant
  • Deslorelin implant (not licensed for this application and less effective)

To diagnose USMI we must first rule out the other causes…

Urinary Tract Infection

In my view, the biggest mistake vets can make is assuming an older female dog has USMI just because she’s leaking urine. It just so happens that a UTI is also common in female dogs and the angry, reactive bladder can mimic the signs. That’s why all incontinent dogs should have urine testing before a diagnosis.

Recurrent or repeated signs of urinary problems can be caused by a bladder stone, or a structural problem with the bladder like ectopic ureter. These are easily recognised via an ultrasound examination.

Overflow Incontinence

Just the other day I was nearly fooled when an older female dog who started wetting her bed turned out to have overflow incontinence. That’s when dogs drink more than they used to and the extra urine causes them to start having trouble getting out in time. I discovered the problem by noticing that the urine was excessively dilute and ordered a blood test. If you suspect your dog is drinking more, read our guide on how much a dog should drink and why dogs drink too much.

Read here how Millie’s wetting in the house was linked to a toxic jerky treat.

Mobility Problems

It’s obvious but easily overlooked. When dogs have arthritis, they are slow to get out of bed and therefore urine leakage is more likely. If we suspect painful joints, a short antiinflammatory trial is a great way to answer the question.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Very old dogs (usually over 15) can start to forget their toilet training or get confused or lost in the house. The best solution is to start taking them out to the toilet, just like you might for an elderly relative. However, just because a dog is old doesn’t mean they are going senile and the other causes of incontinence still need to be ruled out first.

Read more about cognitive dysfunction syndrome here.

Neurological Diseases

Although a rarer cause, anything that interrupts the nerve supply to the urinary tract can cause incontinence.  All the diseases listed on our disk or spinal problems page can possibly cause loss of control. Most of these diseases should show other signs as well.

Excitement Incontinence

Several readers suggested adding dogs who leak urine when excited. In puppies, this is very common and often confused with toilet training problems. There’s not much that can be done except to hope they grow out of it. If they don’t, all you can do is not get them too excited (if it bothers you) and accept that they can’t control it.

In summary, you can see that incontinence isn’t so simple. To a vet, it’s not too complicated either. By the time your dog has had a physical, blood and urine test, the diagnosis and treatment are usually clear. The common causes of wetting the bed are easily treated, and even if they aren’t, isn’t it so much better to know it’s not your dog’s fault?

Have something to add? Comments are welcome below and will appear within 24 hours.
By Andrew Spanner BVSc(Hons) MVetStud, a vet in Adelaide, Australia. These help topics are from a series regularly posted on email and Twitter. Subscribe via email here to never miss a story! The information provided here is not intended to be used as a substitute for going to the vet. If your pet is unwell, please seek veterinary attention.

Help! My Dog Is Terrible To Walk On Leash

leash reactive dog

‘At A Glance (Much More Below)’ What To Do

How To Reduce Leash Reactivity

A good start is to accept it for what it is: common and no cause for shame

  • Get help: it’s going to be much easier with expert guidance
  • Discover tricks to keep your dog focused or distracted
  • Avoid interactions with other dogs when on leash or near fences

Now dive deeper…

Do you have a dog who is hard to walk on a lead, but almost never a problem when off it? If so, you’re not alone. I’ve come to realise from my daily conversations with dog owners that we may actually be in the majority. It’s time we stopped feeling embarrassed and started to look into why our dogs behave the way they do on a leash and what we can do about it.

Here is a typical story. I was walking my Loki to school the other day and met another dog walker going the same way. Her dog immediately started barking and yelping in response. Before too long the behaviour turned to lunging and snapping.

She said (a little embarrassed) “he’s not aggressive”. My kids said (in disbelief) “he’s out-Loki’d Loki”. And it was true. The pipsqueak who has made leash reactivity his signature move was completely overwhelmed and confused.

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Help! My Puppy Keeps Peeing In The House

puppy peeing on floor

25 years ago, in my very first week as a vet, a lovely bouncy Cocker Spaniel puppy taught me a hard lesson. Innocently enough, I asked his owner “so, how’s everything going?”

Right in front of me, without another word, his owner burst into tears. Back then I really didn’t know what was going on. I sure do now.

Toilet training, house training or potty training. Call it what you will, but it’s the greatest challenge most puppy owners will face. As vets, we might consider ourselves masters of keeping puppies healthy, but we often look on helplessly at training problems.

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Why I Hate Tennis Balls (And Dogs Love Them)

Tennis ball dog

For many dogs, the highlight of their day is a game of fetch with the ball. Who can resist? You’d have to have a heart like a stone to say no. Or, like me, to know too much.

Stay with me while I show you five ways that tennis balls were made in the devil’s workshop. Afterwards, I’ll tell you how your dog can still have that fun without the risk.

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Help! My Cat Is Peeing Inside

Cat urinating in house

‘At A Glance (Details Below)’ What To Do

Why Cats Urinate In The House

  1. The cause is usually anxiety, territorial stress, urinary tract disease or litter box problems
  2. It’s not bad behaviour; most cats will stop peeing inside if you treat the cause and don’t punish
  3. Clean up areas with cat urine using enzymatic cleaners to reduce odour and prevent recurrence

Now dive deeper.

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Good And Bad Puppy Training

dog jumping

True or false: early social exposure in a puppy reduces aggression to other dogs later in life. Easy, right?

After all, that’s why vets (like us) push early finish vaccination programs and puppy preschool classes. Get that puppy out socialising in the ‘sensitive period’ before 16 weeks and they’ll get to enjoy the company of other dogs FOR LIFE.

Well not so fast. A recent Australian study has shown the exact opposite. I’m not even that surprised; I’ve been warning puppy owners about this for years.

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20 Good Family Dog Breeds For Kids

Dogs for children

When I wrote an article about reducing the risk of dogs biting children I avoided discussing the elephant in the room. It’s time to face facts.

The truth is that all dog breeds are not the same around kids. You know it, I know it, but it’s hard to talk about without offending dog owners. However, if I don’t create a list of good dogs with kids, where will responsible parents in Adelaide find that information?

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Dog Debarking Surgery

barking fenced dogs

Here’s a rare public comment on a dog breeder forum about what I think is one of South Australia’s dirty little secrets.

debarking SA laws
“You need a stat dec signed by a JP stating the dogs barking is a nuisance etc and all the other methods of redicign the dogs barking have already bent tried and failed. Then you can get your dog debarked. I live on the SA/NSW border and thats how ppl here get thier dogs debarked. a letter froma JP and they hop over the border and get the Op done by a SA vet”
dog after debarking
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Kids and Dogs

child cuddling dog

Most of the time it’s just assumed that modern pets in families will know what to do, have good manners and to be perfect angels.

When it goes bad, it’s usually the children that suffer. Dogs are more likely to bite kids in the head or neck (63% of bites compared with only 13.3% of older people) and kids are more likely to need surgery and to stay in hospital (Ting et al, 2016). You’ve only got to look at the picture of my young son (above) to see why.

Usually the dog gets the blame, sometimes with tragic consequences, even though the causes are a lot more complicated. Usually it could have all been prevented with better understanding.

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