Q: My 12-year-old spayed dog used to piddle like the female she is. Then, about a year ago, she began to piddle far more often on walks, sometime lifting her leg like a male dog. She used to urinate maybe three or four times on walks, but now she lifts her leg maybe 10 times or more.
The vet checked her out and she’s fine. He has no idea what’s going on. Does she want a sex-change operation? – S.R., St. Paul, Minn.
A: “Hormones are a strange thing,” says Madison, Wis.-based certified applied animal behaviorist Patricia McConnell, author of “For the Love of a Dog: Understanding Emotion In You and Your Best Friend” (Ballantine Books, $24.95). “It’s not uncommon for a female dog to lift a leg here and there, but to do so regularly, well, that is more unusual.”
McConnell wonders if your dog is perhaps undergoing a sort of personal “change of life,” a switch in her hormone balance. Having said that, McConnell has never heard of dogs being so severely impacted by a sudden hormone change and/or watching Maury Povich that the animal would actually want sex-change surgery!
More likely, an external stimulus triggered this behavior. McConnell wonders, “Is there a new dog on the block which your dog has an issue with, and feels she has to author a daily chemical newspaper column? Maybe she’s become overly insecure due to another change in her life. I wonder if she marks (as a male dog would) when you take her on walks in other neighborhoods.”
In any case, if you want to speed your walks along (instead of letting your dog stop at every tree or hydrant), use positive reinforcement to encourage her to mark less and walk more. In other words, take some kibble along in your pocket and offer it yo your dog as she’s walking to discourage those frequent stops.
Q: My friend and her husband have done very well for themselves financially. When it comes to material things, they lack nothing. Last year, I made a donation to the local shelter, which they also support, and they appreciated the gesture. I know you’re involved with a charity devoted to research on feline heart problems. My friends had a cat who died from a heart problem. What is the name of that charity? – C.N., Charlotte, N.C.
A: I created the Ricky Fund (named after my cat) so scientists could learn more about the most common kind of heart disease in cats, feline hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). In part, due to this funding, a gene defect associated with HCM has been identified in Maine Coon and Ragdoll cats. This knowledge is valuable to breeders. More dollars are needed to expand this important work and help more cats.
The Ricky Fund is managed by the Winn Feline Foundation (which supports feline health research). Learn more at www.winnfelinehealth.org/rickyfund.html, or call (888) 963-6946, Ext. 700.
Q: Can I train my cat to walk outdoors on a leash and harness? – P.T., Orlando, Fla.
A: You sure can. First, get your cat acclimated to the harness by putting it on him indoors for brief periods, while distracting him with treats. Let him get used to walking around your home wearing the gear before daring to try a walk on the wild side outdoors. Keep the training sessions brief and fun.
Don’t expect your cat to walk in a perfect heel (like a dog), and never correct him by yanking on the leash. Also, be sure the harness is secure, so if your pet spots a butterfly, he can’t break free. It’s your responsibility to keep your cat safe from dogs who might not be so impressed by a city kitty on-leash.
Interestingly, many cats who’ve lived indoors their entire lives freak out at the strange textures outdoors (grass, concrete, dirt), not to mention the novel smells and sounds. Some do enjoy the experience and quickly acclimate, but others are terrified. If your cat falls in the second category, scrap the idea.
While all indoor cats should be protected against heartworm and fleas, definitely a cat walking on grass must be protected.