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Ask a behaviourist - Dr Jess Beer answers your pet behaviour questions


Jess beer smallDr Jess Beer, BVSc, Qualified Veterinary Behaviourist

My cat Oscar is very sensitive and gets very upset when one of the other cats in the house goes to the vet without him. He will hiss and spit at them when they return home, and sometimes it takes several days for him to settle down. How can I stop this from happening?

It’s likely that Oscar is getting upset because his feline siblings are returning from the vet smelling differently. This situation needs to be managed carefully as in extreme cases cats can fall out and their relationship can be damaged forever. One option is to take Oscar with you every time another
cat goes to the vet. This will prevent him getting upset about the different smell. It’ll also help Oscar if he’s particularly nervous about going to the vet. If you’d rather not take two cats to the vet, there are a couple of things you can do to make the reintroduction more positive. Firstly, take a flannel and rub it on Oscar, and then on the cat returning from the vet. That way the cat will smell like Oscar, not the vet. Feliway spray in the carry cage might also help to alleviate some of the stress. Spray the Feliway on a towel in the carry cage 10 minutes before the cat goes in, and again when you reintroduce the returning cat. I also suggest that you leave the returning cat in a separate room to de-stress for an hour before reintroducing them to any other cats. Another thing to consider is that the presence of the cat carry cage in the house could be upsetting Oscar. Try leaving the carry cage out in a common area for a few extra days to desensitise him to the cage being around. If you’re still having problems, talk to your veterinarian about Oscar’s behaviour. Good luck!

My dog Cody kicks up his feet after toileting when we’re out on a walk and it drives me crazy! He’s always flicking dirt everywhere and I desperately would like him to stop – how can I do this?

You may be interested in the reason why Cody is kicking his feet after toileting. One theory is that he’s trying to cover and bury it. Another is he’s marking and trying to spread the smell. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is an example of a normal, instinctive dog behaviour that we can’t change. Like picking up dog poop or walks when it’s cold and raining, we just have to accept it as one of the joys of being a dog owner!

I read that it is safest to keep cats inside at night, and I’d like to keep my kitten Moby in. But every time I try he gets really upset and keeps us up all night scratching and yowling at the door. Do you have any tips for me?

You’re right – I encourage you to keep your cat indoors at night for their safety. There’s less chance of Moby fighting or roaming far distances, and keeps him safe from the road. The good news is that you’re starting this routine with Moby while he’s young. It can be much harder to change the habits of a senior cat who is used to going outside whenever he likes. The first thing to do is ensure you have an appropriate cat door that you can lock at night – one that allows you to adjust the locks so Moby can come in, but not go out again, is best. The next step is to increase his activity pattern and give him a small meal at night to reward Moby for being inside. I suggest keeping him active during the day, so he sleeps at night. You could do this by playing with him and giving him enrichment activities in the morning and then again as soon as you get home from work. Most importantly, don’t respond to Moby’s scratching or yowling. If you reward this behaviour by letting him outside, it will be even harder to keep him inside. You could keep Moby on another side of the house with puzzle feeders to keep him occupied. Or try a timed feeder that opens and releases food when Moby is usually active during the night (or very early morning).

My pet budgie Pip vomits on his mirror in his cage. Why does he do this?

Firstly, it’s wise to take Pip to the vet to rule out any health issues that might be related to the vomiting. But if this is simply a behaviour issue, it’s likely to be ‘mate feeding behaviour’. Pip sees his reflection in the mirror and thinks it is a friend. He regurgitates to feed them. Some birds will show this same behaviour to their owners. Understanding normal bird behaviour is the key to knowing when to recognise signs of ill health or depression, so if you plan to get a bird, it’s best to spend some time studying up on that particular species. Not many people realise just how social birds are, and that it’s unfair that we keep them alone. My advice is that you get an appropriate friend for Pip – he will be so much happier. Too many cages sold in the pet industry are too small to allow enough exercise and playing, so be sure to get the largest you can – the bigger the better. Happy birds need a varied and healthy diet, not just bird seed. They also need a range of toys, puzzles and novel foods rotated every few days, and exposure to enrichment like radio, TV or even fresh air. Providing fresh tree branches or bird-safe trees is great entertainment for them. If you can allow free flying around the house, this will also provide appropriate exercise and entertainment for Pip.