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Pet Behavior Tips for Happy Animals & Adopters

Dr. Debra Horwitz offers behavior modification advice to pet owners during the Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Behavior Express Tour.
Dr. Debra Horwitz offers behavior modification advice to pet owners during the Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Behavior Express Tour.
by Debra Horwitz, DVM, DACVB, Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Behavior Express Tour

Dr. Horwitz will be at the Ceva booth at Maddie’s Pet Adoption Days on Saturday, June 1, 11:00 a.m.–5:00 p.m., at Petco – 92nd/Broadway, 2475 Broadway (at 92nd Street), and Sunday, June 2, Noon–5:00 p.m., at Petco – Union Square, 860 Broadway (between 17th and 19th Streets), in New York City.

Behaviorial problems are one of several reasons pet owners give up their pets. That’s why the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) has joined with Ceva Animal Health, makers of Feliway® and Adaptil® pheromone products for the Keep the L.O.V.E. Alive Behavior Express Tour 2013 to help resolve behavior problems in dogs and cats.

Here are 10 common behavior problems: 5 in cats and 5 in dogs:

In Cats:

  • Stress
  • Aggression
  • Scratching
  • Urine marking
  • Tension in multi-cat households
In Dogs:

  • Aggression
  • Separation anxiety
  • Fear and phobias
  • Jumping up
  • House soiling
  • Adopting a pet and giving it a loving home is wonderful, but it takes some planning and work to help your pet settle in properly and prevent behavior problems. Remember, your new family member needs compassion, guidance, and patience as they adjust to their new home.

    Here are some behavior tips to help get your newly adopted pet settled in:

    • Provide a loving, calm and reassuring environment.
    • Take your newly adopted pet to your regular veterinarian as soon as possible. Discuss concerns you have with any behavior issues upfront — even before they happen.
    • Ask your veterinarian about how using products like pheromones can help your pet ease the transition from shelter to home. For example, Feliway and Adaptil synthetic pheromones mimic the natural pheromones in dogs and cats that give them a sense of well-being and reassurance. There is solid science behind pheromone treatment to help dogs and cats in anxiety-producing situations. The treatment is very safe and easy to use.
    • When a pet begins to exhibit a new unwanted behavior, consult your veterinarian. There can be an underlying medical condition for the behavior so it is important to make sure your pet is healthy. For example, house soiling could be because of a urinary tract infection or excessive licking may be the result of a gastrointestinal problem.
    • Don’t make the problem worse by punishing pets or inadvertently reinforcing the bad behavior.

    Here are some tips on how to interact with your pet when they show unwanted behaviors:

    • Never punish your pet for misbehaving. Swatting, shaking, thumping, stepping on paws, or any type of physical reprimand will increase your pet’s distress and anxiety. Plus, it can lead to much more serious problems such as aggression.
    • Contrary to what you might think, encouragement, praise or fostering are often not helpful either in stopping certain behavior problems, such as a pet that jumps on people, becomes distressed or anxious around loud noises or gets overly excited. These often don’t help your pet because they do not tell him what to do and could unfortunately increase frustration and anxiety. If these things calm your pet, then great, if not you need to do something different.
    • It’s more productive to teach your pet what the correct behavior looks like and how to do it or seek other options from your veterinarian to properly address the issue.
    • It may be the toughest challenge of all, but don’t panic and show signs of anxiety and anger during episodes of problem behaviors. This only confirms to your pet that there is something wrong, creates fear or anxiety, and will ultimately make matters worse. If you are upset or anxious about your pet’s behavior, it creates more tension for both of you.
    • The best thing you can do is to leave the situation and find help for changing the behavior.

    Failing to address behavior issues early on with your dog or cat, may make the behavior worse and weaken your bond with one another. Instead, consult your veterinarian as soon as you can. They can offer invaluable advice, guidance, treatment options, or referral to a specialist to address the behavior issues and increase the chances of successfully remedying the problems.

    I want to encourage new adoptive pet owners not to give up on their pets. We have pheromones; we have behavior modification techniques; we have other methods of intervention — and your veterinarian can help. The trick is to seek help sooner rather than later…before it’s too late.

    Dr. Debra HorwitzAbout the Author
    Dr. Debra Horwitz is an internationally recognized authority on behavioral issues in pets and is a board certified diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB). She has a referral practice for behavioral problems in companion animals and is a noted instructor, author, and lecturer in the field. She has appeared frequently in the media to address pet behavior issues and is co-editor of the ACVB book, Decoding Your Dog, for pet owners, available early 2014.




    Maddie's Pet Adoption Days - New York City - June 1 & 2, 2013