Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Cats need to scratch objects. Scratching is normal for cats, and even declawed cats engage in this instinctive behavior. You can’t train your cat not to scratch, and it wouldn’t be humane to try. But there are ways to direct your cat’s scratching so she’ll scratch more where you want her to and less where you don’t.
Why Cats Scratch
Understanding why cats scratch helps us figure out how to convince them to use a scratching post and not the sofa.
Cats have a physical need to scratch. Scratching grooms the nails, flexes the claw-retracting apparatus, and stretches the muscles.
Scratching is also a communication method for cats. Cats are territorial, and scratching is one way they mark their territory. When cats scratch, they leave visual signs (scratch marks) and scents (from glands in their paws) as signals for other animals.
Anxiety—for example, from conflict with other pets—can increase a cat’s marking behaviors. If your cat is clawing the furniture more than usual, stress is a possible reason. Punishing a cat for scratching could certainly increase his anxiety level.
Giving Cats Things to Scratch
Cats have individual preferences for scratching surfaces. The right type of scratching post is whatever type your cat likes best. You might need to try several before finding your cat’s favorite. Here are some general tips:
To encourage your cat to use the scratching post, try these ideas:
Keeping Cats From Scratching Other Things
Living With a Clawed Cat (American Association of Feline Practitioners): https://catfriendly.com/cat-care-at-home/living-clawed-cat/
Scratching (The Ohio State University Indoor Pet Initiative): https://indoorpet.osu.edu/cats/basicneeds/scratching
Photo by Jonas Vincent
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Revolting as it seems to us, some dogs like to eat feces. If you’ve been the not-so-proud owner of a poop-eating dog, you’ve probably wondered why dogs have such a nasty habit and what you can do to stop it. Unfortunately, the short answers are (1) because they’re dogs and (2) not much.
Mother dogs ingest their puppies’ feces during cleaning, but that’s not the only time dogs eat stool. The scientific word for eating feces is coprophagy, and some dogs seem particularly enthusiastic about it.
Coprophagy in dogs hasn’t been extensively studied, but researchers from the University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine recently published the results of a new investigation of canine coprophagy. They focused only on dogs that eat dog feces (not the feces of other species, like cats or horses). The investigators conducted 2 online surveys of dog owners and received over 3000 responses.
According to their results, 16% to 23% of dogs engage in coprophagy (depending on how strictly coprophagy is defined—that is, how many times a dog has to eat poop to be classified as a poop eater). Most coprophagic dogs in the study preferred fresh stool no more than 2 days old. Age, sex, neuter/spay status, and diet were not associated with coprophagy. Dogs that were hard to housetrain (and therefore might not mind being in close contact with feces) were no more likely to eat feces than were dogs easy to housetrain. Compulsive or anxious behavior was also not related to stool eating. These results may not be definitive, though; in a study published in 2010, anxiety disorders and neutering (in male dogs) were both associated with coprophagy.
The researchers did turn up a few other factors linked to poop eating. Coprophagic dogs were more likely than noncoprophagic dogs to be described as “greedy eaters.” Terriers and hounds were more likely than other breed groups to be stool eaters (although in the 2010 study, sporting dogs had this dubious honor). The data did not allow for extensive analysis of specific breeds, but among the breeds that could be studied, the percentage of stool eaters was highest in Shetland sheepdogs and lowest in toy, miniature, and standard poodles. Not surprisingly, dogs in multiple-dog households (with access to more stool sources) and dogs reported to eat cat poop or dirt were more likely than others to eat dog feces.
The investigators asked survey participants about methods they used to (try to) control their dogs’ coprophagy. Reported methods ranged from behavior modification/management techniques (the most common of which was chasing the dog away from the poop) to various food additives. The success rates of all of these methods were abysmal. The highest success rate, only 4%, was with a reward-based “leave it alone” command. Everything else had success rates ranging from 0% to 2%. The authors were careful to point out that their data came from self-reported dog owner surveys. Clinical trials, if someone were to conduct them, might yield different results.
So is poop eating really a problem for dogs? It depends. A healthy dog who eats the stool of another healthy dog probably won’t have much trouble, although some types of fecal bacteria are hazardous if ingested. Parasite transmission is likely the biggest risk. Many intestinal parasites (like hookworms and roundworms) are spread through fecal-oral contact. And a couple of case reports have described dogs that developed drug toxicosis from eating the stools of housemate dogs that were taking medications.[3,4] A veterinary examination is always a good idea for a dog who eats stool, especially if the behavior is new or increasing, in case the dog has a medical reason for coprophagy.
If your dog eats stool, the best way to control it is to limit his access to feces. Picking up stool in the yard is just about the only way to keep a dog from eating it. Before you get angry at your dog or try punishment (which doesn’t work anyway), remember that this behavior is normal for dogs. The UC Davis researchers hypothesized that domestic dogs inherited the coprophagy habit from their wolf ancestors—so if nothing else, your poop-eating canine has lots of company.
1. Hart BL, Hart LA, Thigpen AP, Tran A, Bain MJ. The paradox of canine conspecific coprophagy. Vet Med Sci. 2018;4(2):106-114.
2. Boze BGV. Correlates of coprophagy in the domestic dog (Canis familiaris) as assessed by owner reports. J Appl Companion Anim Behav. 2010;4(1):28-37.
3. Hutchins RG, Messenger KM, Vaden SL. Suspected carprofen toxicosis caused by coprophagia in a dog. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2013;243(5):709-711.
4. Shadwick SR, Ridgway MD, Kubier A. Thyrotoxicosis in a dog induced by the consumption of feces from a levothyroxine-supplemented housemate. Can Vet J. 2013;54(10):987-989.
Photo by Noel Lopez on Unsplash
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM
Preventive health care helps pets live longer, happier lives. But some cats are so anxious about travel that bringing them to the clinic—not to mention examining and treating them—is a challenge.
Resistance to carriers and stress at the veterinary hospital are two of the top reasons that some cats receive no preventive health care at all. Here are some things you can do at home to make trips to the clinic easier for your cat.
Choosing a carrier
Choose a carrier that is easy to get your cat into and out of. Lifting a cat out of a top opening is less stressful (to the cat) than pulling or dumping her out of a front opening. A front-loading carrier lets a cat walk in on her own, so consider carriers with both front and top doors. Rigid plastic carriers that come apart in the middle are great for cats who are anxious at the clinic. Taking the top half of the carrier off makes it easy to gently scoop out a cat. Sometimes the cat can stay in the bottom half, where she might feel more secure, for most of the examination.
Getting your cat used to the carrier
Cats need lots of time to adjust to new things. Let your cat get used to the carrier at home before you need to bring her to the clinic.
Once your cat is going into the carrier on her own, shut the door for brief periods. Continue to give positive reinforcement: occasionally drop a treat through the top while the door is shut. Let her out before she shows signs of anxiety (ears pinned back, flattened or frozen posture, vocalization).
Getting your cat used to traveling
After your cat has accepted the carrier as a normal part of life, take her on short car rides that end in something fun. Dogs who love car rides have learned that good things happen after a trip. Cats are often put in the car only to go somewhere they don’t like, so naturally they are less happy about it. Try taking very short trips that end at home, with treats and toys when you get back.
Carrier training and synthetic feline pheromones are just not enough to manage some cats’ fears. (Cats who are aggressive at the clinic are scared cats, not bad cats.) Or you might need to bring your cat to the clinic before you have time to accustom her to the carrier. Antianxiety medication given at home before a clinic visit can make a big difference for some cats. Call the clinic if you’d like to discuss the options. We want the clinic experience to be as stress-free as possible for both you and your cat.
More information from the American Association of Feline Practitioners
Choosing the perfect cat carrier
Cat carrier tips
Getting your cat to the veterinarian
Photo by Paul
Laurie Anne Walden, DVM