Tour Rocks, Helping Pets with Behavior Issues

By Steve Dale

The L.O.V.E. (Leaning On Veterinary Expertise) Tour kicks off at the San Diego Zoo on Thursday, Aug. 2, during the Conference of the American Veterinary Medical Association. The big bus — once used by the John McCain presidential campaign — will also stop in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Kansas City, New York and Los Angeles, where veterinarians will answer questions about pet behavior problems.

The tour is endorsed by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. Though she won’t be driving the bus, veterinary behaviorist Dr. Debra Horwitz, of St. Louis, MO, will appear in many cities. “The message is that veterinarians are a wonderful resource to help with (pet) behavior problems,” says Horwitz. “The first place to go anytime a pet begins to act differently is a veterinarian; the problem may be medical, or at least in part medical.”

There’s no hard data on the number of pets given up to shelters due to behavior issues, or — especially in the case of cats because potentially it’s so easy to simply boot them out the door left to fend for themselves. The figure is significant. “The bottom line is that most of the time the problems could be prevented or fixed, so that giving up the pet never crosses the owner’s mind,” Horwitz notes.

Unfortunately, when a pet misbehaves, we’re human, so we tend to think like people, and go about solving the problem thinking like a person instead of a dog or a cat. This can make things worse.

“We communicate how we feel verbally,” says Horwitz. “Pets do correspond verbally, but that’s secondary to olfactory communication, including use of pheromones.” Pheromones are chemicals which communicate species-specific signals, a secret code dogs and cats are hard-wired to know. Scientists have cracked some of the code, which has resulted in tools pet owners can use to solve behavior issues. And unlike drugs, there can be no adverse reaction.

For example, when a cat sprays, Feliway can be helpful. Feliway is a synthetic copy of the feline facial pheromone cats use to mark their territory as safe and secure. By mimicking this comfort pheromone, Feliway can reduce anxiety. Horwitz says one study shows that just using Feliway alone may produce a 75 percent reduction in spraying.

You can spritz Feliway inside a cat’s carrier before visiting the veterinarian. Feliway also comes in a diffuser to help relax a new cat being introduced into a home, and to calm the existing cats.

Adaptil contains a calming pheromone for dogs. Adaptil mimics the properties of the natural pheromones of a lactating female dog. It can help with a long list of anxiety-related behaviors, from moving into a new home to separation anxiety.

Cathy Fairchild, of Lake Summit, MO, said that living with the family’s Weimaraner, Truman, was sometimes a challenge. “He was so highly emotional, and he had some separation issues, like the hyperactive children I’ve taught,” she says..

After Truman began wearing an Adaptil collar (like Feliway, available at pet stores, online and at veterinary offices), he calmed down, and his separation issues improved. (Significantly, Fairchild says her schedule had changed, allowing her to be home more often.) “Truman used to decide he wanted something, and began to whine and get in your face. He couldn’t wait. Now he’s more patient. Truman’s personality hasn’t changed a bit, but he’s sure easier to live with,” Fairchild adds.

Using such products may be only one step toward solving a behavior issue, Horwitz notes. “It depends on the depth of the problem, but Adaptil and Feliway are not going to magically solve serious anxiety issues by themselves; they’re one tool (among many) which a veterinarian may implement,” True separation anxiety is one problem which may require an anti-anxiety drug as well as behavior modification. Adaptil is one tool among several.

While free advice is good, and will be available throughout the L.O.V.E. Tour, it doesn’t replace a veterinary visit. Tour stops will be pet friendly, including fun events for pets and their owners, as well as the opportunity to lend a paw to help local shelter pets. For full access, a complete schedule and other tour details.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services

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