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


Dr Jess Beer, BVSc, Qualified Veterinary Behaviourist Ask a behaviourist

Help! My cat keeps urinating on my son’s schoolbag! Is he mad at my son?

Inappropriate urination is most commonly a sign of stress and anxiety. I promise, it’s not your cat being mad or vindictive!

It’s important to remember that behaviour and health issues are very closely linked in cats. It’s possible that the inappropriate urination can also be as a result of a medical issue such as a urinary tract infection, so you should always consult with your veterinarian first.

Once this has been ruled out, you should start looking at your environment and what is causing stress for the cat. Has your son recently moved back home, or is there another new person in the house? Have you recently adopted another pet? Or is there a neighbourhood cat coming onto your property that might be making your cat anxious? Once you have determined this, if it’s possible you should remove or reduce the cat’s interaction with the source of stress.

The key to resolving the inappropriate urination is by removing the scent of urine. You should use a cat urine-specific cleaner rather than your normal household cleaning products. If necessary, follow that up with Feliway spray in your son’s room or any other affected areas.

We recently adopted a rescue puppy, Jack, earlier this year. Now he’s six months old Jack has started digging up my veggie garden while I’m at work! How do I get him to stop?

Congratulations on the recent addition to your family! It sounds like Jack might be a bit bored and digging is a way to keep busy during the day. Puppies are a lot of fun, but they also need a lot of exercise and mental stimulation to ensure they are happy and healthy.

Make sure you’re providing an appropriate outlet for Jack’s energy. Give him interactive toys to play with, or food-dispensing toys such as a kong or food puzzle toy, and ensure he’s getting enough exercise by going for walks every day. You could also consider doggy daycare, a friend or family member or a dog walker while you’re at work. Training is also a requirement at this age, so when adolescence is kicking in, be sure to enrol in a basic (or advanced) obedience class with a qualified positive trainer who can give you the tools to guide Jack through this time.

Dogs can also be destructive when they are anxious. In cases like this I recommend families video their dog while they are out of the home. With the help of a qualified veterinary behaviourist, you can determine if the digging is out of boredom or a more serious issue such as separation anxiety.

Regardless of the reason for the digging, the very best way to protect your veggie garden is to restrict him from the area! Put up a fence or block access to the garden, and only let Jack back in once you’re confident he won’t be destructive.

I recently adopted a rabbit for my kids, and she keeps scratching them. I was told she would be a good pet for children, and now I’m not so sure.

Rabbits are wonderful animals, and they can make great pets for families. But they are intelligent and social, and need more exercise, interaction and stimulation than most people realise. Rabbits also appreciate the companionship of another rabbit, so often a bonded pair is the best way to ensure your rabbit is happier and less likely to become frustrated with life in general.

It sounds like you’re already doing the right thing by interacting with her and encouraging your children to take part in her care. But you must remember that rabbits are prey species who can be fearful of many things. Kicking and scratching when being held is often a sign of her trying to escape when she feels unhappy, panicked or scared. Especially with small children whose hands may simply not be big enough to keep her comforted!

The first thing to do is to help her feel safe and secure. Teach your children how to handle her correctly while sitting on the ground. Rewarding her for coming over to be hand-fed treats and veggies, and sitting in their laps, perhaps with a towel to protect from her claws, keeps everyone happy and safe. By supervising their interactions you’ll minimise any scratching to your children, and also help prevent your rabbit getting accidentally hurt.

For more detailed tips on how to correctly handle your pet, check out the rabbit care information at

My dog Sullivan keeps jumping up on me when I get home. How do I get him to stop?

This is a really common problem, and one I hear all the time. Often this behaviour begins with dogs are just puppies, and it is inadvertently rewarded. But what’s cute as a puppy can lead to people getting accidentally hurt once the dog is a fully grown adult.

The good news is that dogs can always learn. As long as you’re consistent with your behaviour, he’ll be consistent with his.

The key to stopping Sullivan is to replace the jumping with a more appropriate behaviour.

When he starts to jump up on you, turn, ignore him and give Sullivan another action such as ‘sit’, and immediately reward that. It’s important that you are consistent with this though. Don’t confuse Sullivan by allowing the jumping up some days, and telling him off on others. 

Always remember – train puppies and dogs as you mean to go on, and be sure to reward all behaviours you want. 


Will you make an ordinary day extraordinary?


Angel's story begins when Tracy, an animal lover just like you, had an ordinary day that turned extraordinary. She found Angel in her backyard, shivering and afraid, with broken teeth and a seriously injured jaw.

But Angel wasn't thinking about herself. This brave, strong, dedicated mama had only one thought. Making sure her babies were safe too.

For seven hours, Angel carried her kittens to safety. Can you imagine how painful it would have been for Angel to carry this weight in her mouth, with such a serious jaw injury?

Tracey knew the safest place for Angel and her babies was the SPCA, so our Inspectors brought the family into the care of our vets.

By generously donating, you give animals like Angel a warm snuggly bed, a scratch behind their ears, and help them live without pain.

Like Angel, Willow's story also begins when an animal lover's ordinary day turned extraordinary. A couple were driving down an isolated country road when they saw Willow.

She was pacing, distressed and circling around a wooden calf pen. Shut inside was a taped up cardboard box with Willows five, tiny, defenseless puppies.

Willow's puppies were just three weeks old. When a litter of animals this young comes into the SPCA it's all hands on deck to ensure they survive.

But the lives of Willow and her puppies were saved because someone like you cared. They could have suffocated, succumbed to the elements, or starved to death. It could have been so much worse.

To save a life it costs thousands of dollars, and every dollar of that comes from animal lovers like you.

Today both Angel and Willow are getting the love and care they deserve. These mamas did an amazing job of saving their babies.

Angel was adopted by Tracy, the kind person who discovered her injured in her garden. Willow found a home with a lovely person who cherishes the unconditional love she so willingly gives.

An extraordinary day doesn't necessarily mean finding and saving an animal. You too, can make an ordinary day extraordinary simply by making a donation to the SPCA.

Will you donate today and make an ordinary day extraordinary?

willow and angel

Advice for animal owners during severe weather


Advice on caring for your pet during severe weather:

 If you need to evacuate:

If you have animals contained near water ways that have the potential to flood, move animals to higher ground if it is safe to do so. If you are required to evacuate, take your pets with you.

If you come in contact with an animal that has been in flood waters, ensure you change out of contaminated clothing and wash your hands thoroughly.

Caring for your pet(s) and/or livestock:

Your local veterinarian is on standby to assess your animals. Contact your veterinarian if you have any concerns relating to your animal’s health.

If you need assistance with animal welfare contact your local SPCA for further information.

Stray animals:

If you find an animal that you do not own and it needs immediate medical attention please take small animals to your local veterinarian or contact your local SPCA. For large animals contact MPI on 0800 00 83 33.

Lost and found animals

If you have lost or found a pet, you can advertise at or read through our tips here.

Additional information for Rural / lifestyle block owners/horse owners:

Flood Water

It is important to get animals off contaminated or inundated pasture so that they can be fed, watered and contained, and to ensure that adequate feed supplies are available until animals can be returned to pasture.

When animals are left in flood waters for an extended period several issues can occur.  Due to contact with contaminated water, skin can be prone to bacterial infections and chemical burns causing skin to sluff off. To reduce to risk of such injuries remove animals out of flood water as soon as it is safe to do so.  Additionally, decontamination of the skin/coat can be achieved by hosing the animal with non-contaminated water.

Other injuries

Animals will run in various directions to escape from raising water.  They will run or swim through fences or other obstacles in their way.  Do a visual assessment of your animals looking for penetrating wounds which may just look like a small hole or tear. Contact your local veterinarian if you have any concerns about injuries to your animals.

Containment and Identification

As fences may have been washed away, stock containment could be an issue along with identifying animals through ear tags (as they may have torn off).  If you find a large animal and are unsure about the ownership please contact MPI 0800 number, animal control or the SPCA for advice. If you need assistance to reinstate fencing for stock containment farmers please contact Rural Support Trust 0800 787 254.

Feed and Water

Pasture and stored feed may be soiled.  You may therefore need to purchase supplemental feed for your stock.   

Do not allow animals to drink flood waters as it can be contaminated with biological waste and chemicals.  If stock water is compromised a contingency plan for stock water access will need to be developed.


Your pet survival kit should include:

  • Pet carrier or crate for each animal with your name and mobile number on it
  • Pet collar, lead and/or harness for each dog
  • Muzzle for each dog, even if they are friendly (emergency workers may need to handle your animal)
  • Towels and blankets
  • A spare set of pet identification documents - a collar and tag with your contact details (if your pet is not microchipped)
  • Vaccination, veterinary records and photos of your pet
  • Enough food, treats and bottled water for three days
  • Medication (if needed) for three days
  • Food/water bowls
  • Familiar toys
  • A tin opener
  • Emergency contact list for your local authorities and vet
  • Litter tray and cat litter
  • Plastic bags/doggie bags
  • Newspaper
  • Cleaning solution
  • Container to carry everything
  • A first-aid kit for animals 


SPCA Dog Training Survey


Attention all dog owners! patch small

The SPCA and the New Zealand Companion Animal Council are launching a survey for all dog owners in New Zealand to investigate how Kiwi dogs are being trained.

There are currently no published studies on what dog training methods are being commonly used in New Zealand. We want to find out whether dogs are receiving formal training, and what kind of training methods are being used by their owners and trainers.

Please fill out the anonymous survey at and share with your friends and family who have dogs at home.

Keeping your dog out of your car during warm weather


While it is still warm, it is incredibly important NOT to leave your dog in your car.

Avoiding the risk of giving your canine heat stress can be as simple as preparation and awareness.

At the height of summer, make sure you're planning trips so you're not going to be in a situation where your dog has to stay in the hot car while you're running an errand.

It can take only 6 minutes for a dog to die in a hot car so don't risk it! Pets can dangerously overheat even when the windows are down or the car is in the shade.

The car can heat up to dangerously high temperatures very quickly, rapidly reaching more than double the outside temperature even on mild days. Please NEVER leave your dog in the car and risk him/her overheating and dying.

If you find a dog in distress from a hot car they should be taken to a vet straight away! Emergency treatment while you are getting to the vet should aim to bring the dog's body temperature down at a steady but not rapid rate. You can spray cool water onto the dog’s body and direct moving air from a fan onto them. Please do not se ice or ice-cold water, as this can cool the dog too rapidly and cause more problems.

The early symptoms of heat stress include panting, drooling and restlessness. As the situation worsens the animal becomes weak and they may stagger and vomit and have diarrhoea or seizures.