Category Archives: Pet Behaviour

Loose the Leash!


We get dogs as companions; as pets.  Our pets rely on us to live – they trust us with their lives, trust us to take care of them. We love our pets, and we take pride in training them and teaching them things. We like to show off the fun tricks we have taught our new puppy or even our older dog! But we often neglect to keep up with, or even do, basic training – we all toilet train, and at least attempt sit, stay, and recall.

Teaching your dog not to pull on the lead is often not done, and not kept on top of. This training not only to make things easier on us, especially with larger breeds, but is good for your dog’s health. I go nuts when I see people yanking their dog back on the lead – especially an extender/ retractable lead, because they are designed for your pet to roam – don’t want him to roam, don’t use the extension or use a normal lead! Unfortunately this seems to happen more with small breeds, because we are strong enough to lift them of their feet via their neck… doesn’t mean we ought to.

Harness

If you do this, you may seriously damage your pet’s neck – and surely that’s not why you got a companion animal, to cause harm?! If the dog is pulled up sharply to a hard stop, just one jerk can cause lasting damage – permanent damage that will stay with your pet for the rest of his life.

Extender/ retractable leads are more likely to cause this reaction from us – they are harder to get your dog back with, without jerking the lead. Teach your dog simple commands, to walk to heel and come back when called.

If you still have issues with your dog pulling on a lead, then for both your benefit and your dog’s, try a gentle leader or a harness – not a “check” or “choke” chain.

Gentle Leader
Gentle Leader

Take into account the breed of dog you have – for instance, a harness will cause a dog breed such as a Husky to pull more, as their instinct to “mush” and pull will kick in. If you choose to use a lead and collar, as I do personally, ensure that you train your dog to come back when called and walk to heel on command to avoid any (accidental) jerking of the lead – remember that just one jerk can cause permanent damage to your furry friend.

Collar & Lead
Collar & Lead

“Did You Know?” Cats


How well do you know your cat?! Here are some interesting facts about cats you may not have known…


  • Cats hear at a higher frequency – higher than dogs or cats
  • The sense of smell of a cat is less sensitive than that of a dog
  • The sensitivity of cats ears are 3x better than a humans
  • Cats can smell odours 1000x lower than a human can detect
  • Whiskers are also known as vibrissae
  • Vibrissae help to detect the proximity of objects
  • Whiskers are used to help detect prey
  • Mother cats may chew the whiskers short or off their kittens, so that they cannot wander off too far (they will grow back)
  • Proper vibrissae do not develop until a cat is 5-6 months old
  • A female cat can be known as a Queen or a Molly – the term Queen is more common for a mother/ nursing cat
  • Males are called Tomcats, and occupy a larger territory than females
  • Cats have scent glands on their face, between their toes, their rump, their shoulders and neck
  • Cats can tell age, gender, and health from smelling the spray of another cat – as well as how long ago the cat made the scent spray
  • This is used to mark territory – and can be done by both genders, neutered or not
  • A cat may spray due to anxiety and stress – even in the home

  • Cats are an altricial species – born blind, deaf, and fur-less (require nourishment and more development after birth before they can move around much on their own)
  • Kittens can get food preferences from their mother whilst in the womb and when suckling
  • Cats are nocturnal or crepuscular hunters – so don’t be surprised if they wander off during the night or dawn/ dusk
  • They have spectacular night vision
  • When you see a cats eyes “shine” in the darkness, this is due to the tapetum behind the the eye which reflects the light
  • If humans had eyes the same size as a cats in comparison to their size, our eyes would be 20cm in diameter!
  • Cats sleep around 15 hours per day – that’s two thirds of their lives!
  • Cats switch between dozing and deep sleeping – sleeping deeply for approximately 5 minutes in between 15-30 minutes of dozing
  • Dozing cats are ready to jump into action if necessary with minimal warning
Zzz
Zzz

 

Animal Alzheimer’s


Brain ageing happens to our pets as well as us. Dementia is a blanket name for the degenerative brain diseases that affect humans. The degenerative disease that affects animals is called Cognitive Dysfunction Syndrome (CDS).

Animals age in 3 ways:

  1. Successfully – show normal signs of ageing, normal signs of getting older; such as stiffer joints, sleeping more, greying hair…
  2. Loss of ability – deafness, blindness/ cataracts, loss of sense of smell, arthritis, etc.
  3. Neurological impairment – CDS
Older Dog
Older Dog – greying around the muzzle

Signs of CDS can be seen behaviourally; as CDS is only diagnosed by a brain scan, looking out for behavioural signs is the best way to catch it early on – you know your pet and their behaviour best, but seeing a behaviourist (such as myself) can help ease any worries, and help you to know how to help your pet.

One way to look for degenerative behavioural signs is D.I.S.H.

D – disorientation

Pets getting confused as to where they are, despite living many years in the same place; missing doorways, continuing to walk despite being against a wall, bumping into furniture that hasn’t been moved around in years, appearing lost in familiar surroundings, failure to recognise familiar people/ animals/ routine, decreased alertness…

I – interacting less

Not greeting you as enthusiastically, or as often; a playful pet not wanting to play, pets retreating into themselves and becoming reclusive, withdrawing often from social situations (either with people or other animals), disinterested in being petted/ fussed, no longer asks for attention…

S – sleeping pattern disturbed

Sleeping more during the day (do not go by this alone, as we all sleep more and earlier as we get older!), sleeping less during the night, lying in more (when usually early riser), rising early (when usually lies in), pointless vocalisation during the night, aimless wandering during the night…

H – house training lost

This is seen more in house pets, as you are more familiar with the toilet habits of your house pet than those that live outside or indoors in an enclosure; not asking to go outside to the toilet, frequently has “accidents” in the house, general loss of bowel and bladder control – unable to control when/ where they go…

Aggression, fear, vocalisation, and over-(self-)grooming are also signs that may occur.


To keep your pets brain active, alter their daily routine – take different routes when walking your pet, teach them new tricks (yes, older animal scan still learn!), mix things up now and then to keep them guessing and get them thinking and using their brain!


A combination of these behaviours as well as being an older animals could indicate CDS – these behaviours can be behavioural problems and not necessarily neurological – always consult your vet for diagnosis.

Bunny Basics!


With the warmer weather (supposedly) on its way, now that spring has arrived & Easter is on its way, it got me thinking rabbits! Partly because of the Easter bunny, partly because all the little, wild baby bunnies (kits) will start to appear soon with their parents, to begin life above ground! So here is my bunny post… Bunny Basics.

Some Basic Terminology

  • An adult female is called a  Doe
  • An adult male is called a Buck

(like many deer species)

  • Baby rabbits are called a kitten or kit (for short)
  • Bunny is an affectionate term for rabbits as a species, sometimes mistakenly thought to be the term for baby rabbits
  • A mother rabbit will have a litter of kits
  • A group of rabbits is known as a colony, warren or nest in the wild
  • A group of domestic rabbits is called a herd
  • Caecotrophs are feacal-like pellets, that are very soft. It is full of undigested nutrients that the rabbit will re-eat to gain the nutrients it missed the first time round the digestive tract
  • The process of caecotrophy, or more accurately coprophagy, is when the rabbit eats the caecotrophs (do not be alarmed by, or discourage your rabbit from, eating its’ waste)
  • For many years, rabbits were wrongly classified as Rodents – they are not. Rabbits are classified as Lagomorphs.
1.5 week old kit
1.5 week old kit

Classification of Rabbits

The domestic rabbit, a.k.a. the common rabbit, a.k.a. the Old World rabbit, a.k.a. the European rabbit, is classified as follows:

Kingdom – Animalia – it is an animal
Phylum – Chordata – it has a back bone with nerves, that does or at some point did extend past the anal opening (Sub-Phylum – Vertebrata – it has a back bone, a stiff rod of uniform composition)
Class – Mammalia – it is a mammal; produces milk from mammary glands for its young
Order – Lagomorpha – meaning “hare-shaped”; it is a small to medium sized, terrestrial herbivore – hares, pikas, and rabbits
Family Leporidae – hares and rabbits
Genus – Oryctolagus – native to Europe and North West Africa, however has been introduced world-wide
Species – Oryctolagus cuniculus – common rabbit

Today, they exist in the wild on every continent except Asia and Antarctica, and exist domestically world-wide. With the vast population of rabbits, humans introduced a disease to attempt to control the wild population – myxomatosis. This is a nasty, air-borne virus that affects both wild and domestic rabbits – it will result in death, whether via the progression of the disease, or via euthanasia. Domestic rabbits can be vaccinated against this  – so make sure you get your rabbit(s) to the vet and keep up with this inoculation regularly, especially if you and your rabbit(s) live in close proximity to a wild rabbit colony.

Be careful, especially in warmer weather about parasites too! Keep you rabbit up to date with anti-parasite precautions, such as worming tablets and flea/ mite spot-ons. One of the worst things your bunny can get in warm weather, and poor hygiene, is fly strike! Fly strike is where the smell of a dirty bunny or a dirty hutch/ cage attracts flies, and the flies lay their eggs on the rabbit (usually around their tail and rump). The maggots hatch and begin to eat… the live rabbit. This, obviously, can be fatal. If caught in time, and gotten to the vet in time, they can survive. This is a painful experience and very unpleasant (as you can well imagine). Keep your bunny and his house clean and smelling as nice as a rabbit and his house can! Especially in summer!

Bunny Care

Pellets or muesli-type rabbit food can be bought, and fed according to the guidelines on the packaging. Do your research into good food brands – cheap price usually means poor nutrition. In my personal opinion Excel are brilliant at rabbit and guinea pig food (but not dog or cat food), and the pellet type I have used with my rabbits in the past. Russell Rabbit food is a good muesli-type, and very popular too. There are a lot more brands out there so do some research, and also see what your rabbit prefers.

Some rabbits will pick out the bits they like from muesli-type food, and leave the rest (as mine used to). Rabbit that do this are better suited to the pellet diet so that they get all the nutrients provided in the food, and do not miss out on any because they’re being picky! Now if you keep rabbits and guinea pigs together, know that guinea pigs do not make vitamin C in their body like rabbits do – guinea pig food is safe to feed both rabbits and guinea pigs on, however guinea pigs will get a vitamin C deficiency if they are fed on rabbit food.

Fresh fruit and veg can be given to rabbits, but be careful what you give them! Grapes, onion and garlic are toxic to bunnies – as with dogs. Tomato leaves are also toxic to bunnies. Do not feed you rabbit anything with a high water content such as lettuce (particularly iceberg) and cucumber; foodstuffs too high in water content can cause bloat, which can be painful, smelly, and on occasion – fatal. Do not feed grass cutting from your lawn-mower; this is not good for your rabbits’ digestive system.

Dark green veggies are great – cabbage, broccoli, sprouts, pea shoots, green beans… Not forgetting the classic bunny food – carrots! These can be fed in their entirety – leaves, roots and all! When thinking what to feed your bunny abide by the “if in doubt, leave it out!” rule.

If you let your rabbit in the garden, make sure there is nothing toxic growing out there that could be the end of your rabbit! Daffodils, foxgloves, ivy, poppies, hemlock, snow drops, tulips, and many more common garden plants are toxic to rabbits – take a look around your garden and check up on the plants before letting your rabbit run free – alternatively, get a run for him!

Roughage is approximately 70% of your rabbits diet. This is a very necessary foodstuff that your rabbits requires. Roughage means dried grass, mainly hay but there are other types out there – although not straw. Rabbits do not eat straw, however it can be used as bedding. Fresh hay ought to be provided daily, and any soiled hay removed.

Bedding needs to be soft, warm and absorbent – wood shavings are commonly used as they are highly absorbent. Ensure wood shavings are dust free as much as possible, so your rabbits is not coughing or sneezing due to the dust. Straw can be provided for extra warmth, however a lot of rabbits will make a bed out of the amply supply of hay – breakfast and bed! 😉

 If you are new to rabbit ownership, I would advise you to get a book about rabbit care, with a good reputation.
These will contain basic care information and food do’s and don’ts.

If you have any questions, comments, or would like more information; leave a comment below or contact me via Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or LinkedIn.

Guinea Pig Care


Guinea pigs are small, sociable, ‘chatty’ rodents and like living in pairs. They have a lifespan of around 5 years of age, and come in a variety of breeds, colours, and sizes. Once fully grown, guinea pigs average an adult size of  20-25 cm in length, and weigh approximately 1 kg.

Guinea pigs are a mammal, belonging to the species of rodent, and the family “cavy” (pronounced “kay-vee”). They are precocial species – meaning that they are born fully furred, with eyes and ears open, and walking within 30-60 minutes after birth. By 3 days old, baby guinea pigs (pups) are able to eat solid food, however still suckle from their mother.

General Care

The cage/ hutch should be cleaned out thoroughly at least once a week; if guinea pigs are left in an unclean environment for too long they can get foot problems, like bumble-foot. Ensure your guinea pigs have constant access to safe hiding places where they can escape if they feel afraid, tunnels and hides can be placed in cages/ hutches for your guinea pigs.

Guinea Pigs

Provide your guinea pigs with safe toys to play with and chew, this helps keep their minds stimulated and their teeth from overgrowing – check your guinea pigs teeth and nails weekly, as they are constantly growing, and may need to be clipped if they become overgrown – to prevent health problems (see my post on nail clipping).

Guinea pigs should have at least one hour interaction and handling, daily where possible, as this gets them more used to and more comfortable with their owners. Be quiet and gentle around your guinea pigs; never shout, they are very unlikely to understand and can become more nervous or scared. 

Make sure your guinea pigs have opportunities to exercise every day to stay fit and healthy – this can be running indoors (supervised!), ensuring they cannot escape anywhere or do themselves harm, or access electrical wires – or this can be free roaming outdoors (supervised from escape and local predatory pets) or safe in an enclosed run. Ensure there is shelter in outside runs, from both bad and sunny weather.

In warm weather you should check the fur and skin around your guinea pigs rear end daily, as urine staining or droppings that are stuck will attract flies, and can cause ‘fly strike’ (flies lay eggs in the dirty fur, the maggots hatch and eat away at your guinea pig), which is often fatal.

Provide fresh clean drinking water at all times. Check the water supply regularly, more so on hot days and during the summer; make sure the water does not freeze in winter – bottle covers help with this.

Hay should make up the most of your guinea pigs’ diet, and should be available at all times. A fresh portion of guinea pig pellets be available daily. Guinea pigs are grazers – they like to eat little and often – so food should be available as much as possible. Feeding your guinea pig the correct diet will help prevent a lot of common disease. One day a week off from feeding fruit and vegetables should be given as too much can make your guinea pig ill, although fresh grass, fruit and vegetables should be given on a regular basis.

Guinea Piggies

 Safe Foods to Feed

  • Oranges
  • Peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Bananas
  • Kale
  •  Spinach
  • Carrots
  • Apple (pips and core removed)
  • Broccoli
  • Brussel sprouts
  • Cauliflower
  • Dandelion leaves and flower
  • Asparagus
  • Tomatoes (NOT leaves and stalks)
  • Apricot
  • Celery (including leaves)
  • Corn on the cob
  • Mango
  • Pear (pips and core removed)
  • Watercress

Foodstuffs to Avoid

  • Lettuce (can cause a swollen tummy and the runs)
  • Lawnmower clippings (these can upset a guinea pigs tummy and make them ill)
  • Avocado
  • Beans
  • Chiles
  • Coconut
  • Daffodils
  • Lemons
  • Ivy
  • Garlic
  • Buttercup
  • Watermelon
  • Foxgloves (flowers)
  • Nuts
  • Olives
  • Grapes/ raisins
  • Privet (plant/ bush)
  • Rhubarb (including leaves)
  • Anything with artificial additives in it
  • Anything cooked
  • Anything sugary (including honey)
  • Anything stale, wilting, mouldy or otherwise ‘off’ vegetables or fruit

 

“Catty” Cats (and Aggression)


I was lying in bed last night listening to some resident cats somewhere on my road have a “catty” show-down! This is a fairly regular occurrence, more so when a new cat moves in close by. This time, it did not escalate into a fight (fortunately) – the aggressive displays were enough to solve whatever this dispute was between these cats.

This got me thinking about the different types of aggression shown by animals, and why they do it. So here are my brief thoughts on animal aggression…

Firstly, there are two types of aggression:

  • Inter-species aggression – aggression between two or more individuals of the same species (i.e. cat on cat)
  • Re-directed aggression – aggression caused by one factor, being ‘taken out’ on a neutral thing (such as your brand new shoes, your lovely curtains, or your expensive dining room chairs!)

Secondly there are 3 reasons for the aggression

  • Fear – being aggressive due to feeling threatened or scared
  • Status-related – for dominance over another individual
  • Territorial – defending their area

I figured that what I was listening to last night could be one, or all, of those reasons!

Fear Aggression is the most common, and the most likely to occur – and it can also be the most dangerous to a person. A fearful animal will often panic and attack as they are unsure what else to do, and instincts kick in, in the form of the “fight or flight” reflex – stay and fight or run away. If the latter is not an option (e.g. an animal backed into a corner) then the first is the only option the animal can perceive.

Dominant or status-related aggression, which is what most people think of when thinking of aggression, is displaying aggressive behaviour to intimidate and make whoever the display is being done at, back off or put up a fight. This can occur in multi-pet households (to establish a hierarchy), not just with adult animals but even between litter-mates  growing up. Dominant aggressive behaviour is to state “I am the boss, and will accept a fight with any who challenge me!”

Territorial aggression is often seen by guard dogs displaying this behaviour in defence of their territory. It is also common when cats cross-over into someone else’s territory at the wrong time…
The display is a warning to say “if you come into my territory, I will be aggressive, so keep out!”, however the likelihood of attack from this is minimal if the distance is kept!

It is quite likely this “cat-fight” going on outside my bedroom window was territorial – however, whichever way aggression is displayed, it is not a nice behaviour; one to be avoided if and when possible! It was safe to be in bed whilst this “catty” dispute was taking place for me, I only hope the cats involved got away unscathed too!