Improving Cat Care

Portholes allow shelter cats to separate their eating/sleeping areas from their little box which lowers stress.

Animal shelters are stressful for any pet but especially for cats.  While every effort is made to keep temporary resident cats as happy as possible while they wait for their forever home, cats in a shelter are frightened in a strange environment, experience new sounds and smells, and are surrounded by unfamiliar people.  All of these conditions cause stress which results in them being more susceptible to illnesses, most commonly, upper respiratory infections.  Sick cats don’t get adopted and they stay in the shelter longer until they are healed.  It’s a never ending cycle.

We do everything we can to lessen stress factors for cats.  Warm beds, nourishing food, and even open housing for some cats are not enough.  The most common cat housing in shelters is cold stainless steel cages, a single box with about four feet of floor space to accommodate food, water, litter boxes, and any space for exercise or enrichment.  Cats in cages in an animal shelter are simply a recipe for unhealthy living, compounding stress, and leads to illness and longer stays for cats in shelters.

Pet Alliance staff are retrofitting cat cages at both shelters.

Research conducted by the Maddie’s Shelter Medicine Program and the Association of Shelter Veterinarians has taught us that more space for cats in a shelter is better and that separate compartments for sleep and food and litter-boxing at least lessens stress in cats.  Until we can build an entirely new campus concept for homeless animals in Central Florida to provide the most modern facilities for pets in our care, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando recently began retrofitting its traditional cat cages to include portholes, converting single cage compartments to more-roomy double compartments. Adding small connector openings make a significant impact on a cat’s mental and physical health by offering them a little more room to stretch their legs and explore while also allowing the cat to separate their bedroom/dining area from their bathroom.  The Association of Shelter Veterinarians recently stated that “poor cat housing is one of the greatest shortcomings observed in shelters and has a substantially negative impact on both health and well-being.” Studies show that by placing cats in a two compartment cage their stress level significantly decreases within 48 hours compared to more than a week in a single compartment. Lower stress levels directly impact physical health by lowering the rate of upper respiratory infections and feline herpesvirus infection.

Pet Alliance staff is currently hard at work with the ultimate goal of retrofitting all of our cat cages at both our Orlando and Sanford locations. If you would like to help, please donate now!


Happy Holiday with Pets and Guests

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

It’s the holiday season. A stressful time for most of us as we try to cram as much “Fa La La La La” into our lives as we possibly can. But what about the needs of our pets? Are they still being met? Many people may answer ‘No.’ Our pets tend to take a back seat to all the festivities which can lead to unwanted, not to mention embarrassing, behavior problems. (Nobody wants Fido dragging around your dirty laundry in the middle of your big Christmas Eve party!)

Luckily such issues can be prevented by simply including your pets in the holidays, as well as making sure that guests know how to properly interact with them. I give you, my 12 holiday tips:

  1. Even though the holidays bring a change in schedule and extra busy schedules, try to keep your pets’ schedule the same. (Feeding time, potty time, play time, and walks should be kept on schedule as much as possible.)
  2. Dogs cannot have turkey skin, grapes, chocolate, raisins, onions, ham, garlic, or macadamia nuts. Dogs can have pumpkin, ground turkey meat, sweet potatoes. Consider making a plate especially for them or at the very least inform guests of the do’s and don’ts of table scraps.
  3. Pumpkin dog cookies. Make these for your pets so they have something of their very own to enjoy. Click here for the recipe.
  4. Make sure guests know the dog/cat rules of the house. For example, you wouldn’t want your indoor cat being let out or your dog with food allergies given a treat he shouldn’t have.
  5. Make sure guests have the proper space to store things like medications out of your pets reach. Dogs and cats both are naturally inquisitive in regards to new things and new smells. Better to prevent any potential mischief in the first place.
  6. Keep cats away from Hanukah candles. As we know, cats can jump and leap with ease onto most surfaces. Keeping your cat away from flames not only protects them, but your home as well.
  7. Pets can feel your stress, make time for them daily. Take 5-10 minutes every day and just sit with your dog or cat. It will help ease their stress AND yours.
  8. Beware of cats and Christmas trees. Many cat owners no longer even try having them in the house, but if you do, be aware that to your cat it may just look like a kitty playground.
  9. Never allow your pet to drink the tree water, it is harmful to their health.
  10. Ornaments lights and tinsel may prove to be too irresistible for your pet and can have serious health effects. Keep a close eye on them especially if this is their first holiday season with you.
  11. Poinsettias and holly are harmful to pets as well as mistletoe. Consider keeping them out of reach or choosing other plants instead.
  12. New Years brings loud noises. Make sure your pet is properly secured and/or desensitized. For a desensitization protocol, contact me!

Wishing you and yours, two and four-legged alike (and maybe even three) a very happy and safe holiday season.

Become a Kennel Coach

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By Volunteer Coordinator Nicolle Taylor

Did you know that keeping your dog or cat’s mind active ultimately makes them happier and healthier? At the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, we have volunteers that are devoted to keeping our pets’ minds active each day. Our Kennel Coaches, as we call them, donate their time to complete enrichment projects and spend one-on-one time with our animals. And don’t think we’re talking just about dogs; our cats get plenty of engaging activities as well!

On this delightful morning, we had the experience of Kitty Kennel Coaching at its finest: the smell of tuna meatballs (not a pleasant smell for vegetarians!) filled the Volunteer Den, freshly cut wheat grass flooded the cat room, and one very lucky cat, Onyx, was given a puzzle toy (to share with the rest of the cats in the Free Roam Room, of course).

Diane, our Animal Behaviorist, has pinpointed enrichment activities for the cats that not only stimulate their mind, but also simulate prey play, including clicker training the cats to come when called, and introducing yummy items that make their belly smile, like fish tacos. So if you’ve adopted a cat from us, try taking out a clicker and a can of wet food or tuna and ask them to come to you by clicking the clicker and rewarding with the food. Some of our Kitty Kennel Coaches have even been successful getting cats to sit and give paw!

We were also lucky enough to have two regularly devoted Dog Kennel Coaches helping our pooches out today. Though the dog food enrichment snacks aren’t as smelly, the dogs enjoyed frozen cupcakes made with peanut butter, banana, and cheerios.

dog with kongThe Kennel Coaches were able to work wonders with one of our recently-adopted residents, Kane, who loves the hose, a little too much! He focuses all of his attention on it whether it’s on or off. Kennel Coaches worked diligently with him to teach him “leave it” and “watch me” getting his focus off of the hose and on to them and a treat or toy. Wonder Boy Kane, has been doing much better with the one-on-one attention and I can assure you, his adopters are benefiting from the hard work of our Kennel Coaches.

To become a Kennel Coach with us, you don’t need any prior behavior experience (we’ll teach you everything you need to know), but you do have to go through Bark Buddy or Kitty Cuddler training prior joining our astute team of Kennel Coach volunteers. Learn more about our volunteer opportunities.

Interested in seeing how your pet would like our enrichment snacks? Check out the recipes below:

Frozen Cupcake Recipe
You need: muffin tin, paper liners, sweet potato or pumpkin, dash of honey (peanut butter and cheerios can also be mixed in for a tastier treat)
Fill each liner with a mixture of the sweet potato, pumpkin, honey, and peanut butter/cheerios (optional). Place in the freezer for about an hour, and voila!

Tuna Meatball Recipe
You need: 1 can of tuna (drained), 1 can of chicken, 1 cup of dry cat food (crushed)
Mix all ingredients together. Roll into small “meatballs”. Freeze in baggies for use later, or refrigerate for a treat in about an hour. For added excitement, sprinkle cat nip on top of each meatball!

Barking: What it Means and How to Control it

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

Barking is a dog’s natural reaction to changes in their environment.  Please allow your dog to indulge as long as the barking is reasonable.  So what is reasonable?  Barking briefly at strangers passing by, other animals, loud noises etc.

What is not reasonable?  That’s simple. When it annoys your neighbors.

A dog’s bark can be many things. It can be cute, funny, helpful, scary, and sometimes annoying. How do we tell why our dog is barking and more importantly, how can we control it when we need to?

dog open mouthDogs bark for many different reasons; boredom, frustration, external stimuli, fear, and play are just a few. Some dogs may be more vocal in general than other dogs and certain breeds are more predisposed to vocalize than others. Beagle and Husky parents will know what I am talking about.

Did you know that barking relieves tension in dogs?  It also drives strangers away and is a way of communication for dogs.  Most dog owners want their dog to bark if they hear someone at the window or see someone entering the yard.  Dogs are natural warning devices.  However dogs should stop barking when asked to do so.

When people come to me with a “barking problem” and ask me to help them teach their dog not to bark, I politely tell them no. Barking is a natural canine behavior and should not be eliminated entirely. It is a way in which dogs express themselves. But what I will do is help them to control it.

The first thing to diagnose when controlling an excessively barking dog is to figure out why the dog is barking in the first place. If external stimuli is the culprit, it may be as easy as moving the dog to an area of the house where they cannot see out the window while you are out. Every now and then managing trumps modification. If your dog seems to bark at everything they see or hear sensory isolation may be the cure.

pet_bone-iconPut your dog in a kitchen, laundry room, or bathroom with a crate or bed away from windows, common walls, and hallways.  Try turning on some classical music before leaving the house to help muffle outside sounds.  Note: Always confine your dog in a room using a baby gate or a crate and not a closed door so that your dog does not feel trapped and panic.

If your dog barks excessively at anything that arouses it, the best thing to do is to teach your dog to bark on command. Yes, you heard me right. By naming the behavior we gain control over it. Also, when teaching SPEAK, we teach HUSH at the same time. See where I’m going here?

So what IS excessive barking? We should encourage and allow dogs to give a few ‘alert barks.’ For example, if someone knocks on your door, three to five alert barks should suffice.

dog with bone on faceTo train your dog you will need to first elicit your desired response from them: barking. Most dogs will bark if you knock on the door yourself or even a table. (If not, enlist some help and have someone stand outside and knock.)

Allow your dog a few barks while saying “Speak” now take out a treat and allow your dog to smell the treat. Your dog will immediately cease barking because it is physically impossible for them to sniff and bark at the same time. Once they quiet, say “Hush” and give them the treat. Repeat until they can bark and hush on command. (Remember to wean them off the ‘trigger’ when they start catching on.)

What NOT to do: even though it can be frustrating at times, try not to raise your voice, get excited, or yell at the dog for barking. This will only add to the dogs already aroused energy and make the problem worse.

Back to School Routine: Don’t Forget Your Pet

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

If you have children or work for the school system, you know what the month of August means: back to school. Not only does this event change your daily routine significantly, but it can also cause behavior issues in your pet.

Pets, both dogs and cats thrive on routine. Have you ever slept in past your pets’ breakfast time or tried to skip a daily walk? They have amazing internal clocks and are resistant to change. Try your best to keep important activities (bed time, feeding time, exercise, potty and play time) on or close to the same schedule they’ve been on over the summer.

Make time for your pet. With all the running around that comes with a new school year, your pet may begin to feel neglected. Set some time aside for them every day. Include your pet in as many activities as possible. Can your dog ride with you to pick up the kids from school or attend their soccer practice?

If behavior problems do arise in your pets you can follow these steps to set everything right.

cat laying on hamockFor cats, make them a safe room. Cats do not like change, so make this safe room a place that looks and smells the same every day. Place their bed, food, water and litter in the room. Visit them, but do not let them out for up to two weeks, or as needed for their behavior to return to normal. When they are ready, let them decide when to leave the room, by leaving the door cracked for them. Gradually move their ‘belongings’ back into the house.

Dogs tend to suffer from separation anxiety. During the summer they most likely receive more attention and get accustomed to company during the day. All of a sudden they find themselves alone for hours on end and begin to dread you leaving them. To fix this issue we use simple desensitization.

bored looking dogYour dog begins to experience stress as soon as you start your ‘getting ready routine.’ Doing things like putting on your shoes, grabbing your keys, wallet or purse etc. To help your dog get through this you will want to stage your exit. Go through your routine, then just when you would normally head for the door, set everything back down and have a seat. Repeat this until your dog no longer shows signs of stress.

Next, add stepping out the door for 5 seconds, then come right back in, set your things down and have a seat. Repeat this gradually adding time as your dog shows you he is ready. Your goal is to work up to 20 minutes. If your dog is going to exhibit sings of separation anxiety he will most likely do so in the first 20 minutes. Activities such as baking or chewing relieve stress in the dog and take place directly after you leave. If your dog can make it 20 minutes, odds are he can make it until you return.

For more advice on behavior issues, visit our online behavior library.

The Hazards of Keeping Pets Outdoors

By Animal Behaviorist Diane Anderson

Should your pet live inside the home with you or outside? This is a question that many people face when deciding whether or not to get or keep a pet. Below is information to help with that choice, and options to make life a little easier and more enriched for all members of the family.

Let’s begin with dogs.

Studies in animal psychology show that dogs who are isolated from their families develop behavioral issues that can become dangerous and many times may lead to the euthanasia of the pet. Remember, dogs are pack animals and their family is their pack. They are incredibly social creatures and thrive on companionship.

dog behind fenceDogs have an amazing ability to learn how to co-exist within a human household. Outside dogs are harder to train as they have not developed the bond necessary for proper learning and shaping to take place. Chained dogs are the biggest risk. These dogs often become defensive and when given the chance will act accordingly to how they see fit. They respond to perceived threats by lashing out, biting or even attacking.

Debunking the “The Guard Dog Myth”: Outside dogs do not make good guard dogs. Dogs naturally protect the area in which they live. If a dog is never allowed inside your home, he will have no reason to protect it. Other risks of keeping your dog outdoors include: escaping, theft, poisoning, animal attacks, taunting, neighbor complaints, and heat stroke.

If, however, you must keep your dog outside, you will need to provide proper and adequate shelter. A dog must be able to remove himself from the elements entirely, and have access to fresh food and water at all times. If you are having behavior problems with your pet, please seek the assistance of a qualified trainer. Behaviors can be modified!

So what about cats?

Many may be surprised that it is best to keep your cat indoors as well. There is an immeasurable amount of stray and feral cats on earth, and many of these felines carry diseases or illnesses that can easily be passed on to your cat if they were to come in contact. These include: FeLV, FIV, FIP, feline distemper or URI.

Parasites, while generally not life threatening can also be picked up outdoors. These include: fleas, ticks, ear mites and worms.  Beyond these health reasons we must consider some real and present danger that the outside world presents. Cars, loose dogs, animal cruelty, toxins and poisons, are among the top threats.

Keeping your cat inside is not only good for them but for the environment as well. Did you know that outdoor cats kill millions of birds each year? You can place a bell on your cat’s collar to give birds a warning as your cat approaches.

If you are set on having your cat outdoors, make sure they have a break-away collar so they do not become tangled and asphyxiate. Consider leash training your cat or building an outside enclosed run for them to enjoy. This way they can experience the best of both worlds safely. Also make sure you have a variety of interactive toys for your inside cat along with scratching posts, and be sure to provide perches and hiding places to help your indoor cat feel right at home.

Keep those pets safe at all times this summer, inside and out.

Pet Alliance Shelters & Clinics to Temporarily Closed in Accordance with Florida’s Stay-at-Home OrderLearn More.