Q: Our dog was attacked in our own driveway by another dog, and now she’s afraid to set foot in the driveway to take a walk. She’s excited to see the leash, but won’t go out the front door. As a result, she’s gaining weight. What should I do? – M.S., Shorewood, Ill.
A: Who can blame your dog? I assume she was traumatized by the encounter you describe, but is at least physically OK. Chicago dog trainer Laura Monaco Torelli has a great idea which should work if you can get your dog into the car.
“Drive to a nearby park, or simply drive several blocks from home and stop. Then take your walk,” she suggests.
Monaco Torelli, a Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior Faculty member, adds simply, “Walk home from there.” Once you get near the dreaded driveway, take out a toy or offer treats to distract your dog. You can even make a run for the house, speeding right past the driveway. Use a tennis ball, squeaky toy, cheese, or piece of hot dog to motivate your dog.
Q: My 18-year-old cat will be traveling on a two-day car trip. How can I keep her from panicking in the car? I’ve tried increasing the bedding in her carrier, and giving her alparzolam (Xanax). I’m very concerned about this. – I.G., Appleton, Wis.
A: The best answer is to leave your cat at home; hire a professional pet sitter, friend or neighbor the cat has previously met to feed the cat, play with her and scoop the litter box. However, if this isn’t possible and the cat must accompany you on this trip, I don’t have a perfect answer.
It is possible to desensitize and condition most cats so they learn to accept a carrier and ultimately car rides. The process really works, but requires months of careful training. Older cats can learn, but honestly, I’m not certain this is the most practical option given your cat’s age.
Realistically, the alternative for an 18-year-old cat may be to spray Feliway into the carrier in conjunction with use of a psycho-pharmaceutical drug (or two). Never “knock out” a stressed cat with acepromazine, however; you’ll have a doped up but still terrified pet. An anti-anxiety drug, such as Xanax, is a far better option. Since you’ve tried Xanax before, perhaps your veterinarian could adjust the dosage, add another drug to use in conjunction with Xanax, or try a different drug all together. The experts in this area are veterinary behaviorists. Your veterinarian can offer a referral, or visit www.dacvb.org.
Q: My cat was diagnosed with asthma, which I didn’t even know cats could get. Is this caused by environmental factors, as I’ve read asthma can be in people? Could I really train my cat to use an inhaler? If you’d ever meet my cat, you’d understand why I’m skeptical about this. – S.C., Chicago
A: While more is being learned about what triggers human asthma attacks, the three most common causes are a protein found on cats, dust mites and cockroach feces, according to veterinary pulmonologist Dr. Philip Padrid.
“We don’t know for certain what triggers asthma in cats,” he notes. “We know pollution or secondhand smoke are not primary factors, though.” It could be that some cats have a genetic predisposition.
In any case, the current best treatment (which Padrid helped develop) is, indeed, a kitty inhaler, which contains a steroid. Previously, steroids were given to cats via injection, and over time, adverse side effects could occur.
“This is a much safer option,” Padrid says.
With positive reinforcement training, most cats can be conditioned to tolerate the mask which the delivers the steroid. In fact, Padrid, of Corrales, N.M., says that in one study 85 percent of cats readily took to the inhaler.
If your veterinarian (or a technician at the veterinary clinic) isn’t able to offer advice about how to acclimate your cat to an inhaler, ask your veterinary for a referral to a feline specialist. A superb reference, which includes videos, is at www.fritzthebrave.com.