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Pets Q&A: Breaking up a daily cat fight

Q: One of our cats suffered with separation anxiety, leaving puddles on our shoes whenever we left the house. This problem was solved with the arrival of our little tomcat. The two now cuddle and groom one another, but early in the morning they fight; this happens an hour or two before we get up (or want to get up). I’m gone 11-12 hours a day, and have limited time to play with the cats.

I’ve tried spraying water at the cats when they fight and hollering, “No!” to little effect. They fight all over the place, but especially in the bedroom, so we’ve tried closing the door. This only prompts them to scream and scratch at the other side. I’m sure a part of the problem is that they sleep all day. Any suggestions? – E.B., Hugo, Minn.

A: “You are so right, these cats are probably sleeping all day, so let’s find a way to keep them busy,” says feline veterinarian Dr. Susan Little of Ottawa, Ont., editor and co-author of “The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management” (Elsevier/Saunders Publishing, Philadelphia, Pa., 2011; $180).

“Get yourself a pair of timed feeders. It could be the cats are anticipating food in the morning, hence their focus on waking you up. Set the feeders to deliver food in the morning, and their focus will hopefully turn to the feeders.” Also, set the feeders to deliver a meal during the day when you’re not home.

You could also teach your cats to roll around treat-dispensing balls and use food puzzles. Eventually, you could hide the puzzles with about 10 percent of your cats’ daily food allotment in various places around the house so they must “hunt” to find their reward – providing another activity when you’re away.

Your cats also need more opportunities to play during the day, so think toys. Just remember, having lots of toys isn’t as important as rotating toys. Playthings can be simple, from wine corks to milk carton tops, ping pong balls in the bathtub to catnip in an empty box.

“Feeding a meal before bedtime might also help,” adds Little. “The essence is that these cats need more to do.”

Sometimes even negative attention, such as a spritz of water (which could be interpreted as a game) or hollering only reinforces a cat’s behavior. In any case, those strategies aren’t helping.

Try to carve out more time spend with your pets. Cats should never be ignored. Surely you can find 10 minutes a day to play with them. The best bet would be two play sessions per day, each five minutes long using an interactive toy, such as a fishing pole-type toy.

For more info on enriching your cat’s environment, check out The Indoor Pet Initiative:


Q: Our 5-pound Yorkie licks everything. Our veterinarian says this is a nervous habit. She licks herself, her bedding, the floor, the furniture and her toys. We don’t like the option of anti-anxiety medications. Any advice? – J.B., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Kate Knutson of Bloomington, Minn., says the first thing she’d do is take a look in your pup’s mouth.

“Periodontal disease is painful, and the dogs lick. Soon, it also becomes a habit. I see this in all dogs, but most commonly in small dogs,” she notes.

Knutson, president of the American Animal Hospital Association, says another common cause of persistent licking is nausea. She suggests full-mouth x-rays, blood work and a thorough physical exam.

Meanwhile, enrich your dog’s environment. Create activities your Yorkie can enjoy when you’re away. Leave food or treats in puzzles, available at pet stores and online. Also, make sure your dog gets plenty of exercise.

Only when all possible medical explanations are ruled out does a compulsive behavior, or “nervous habit,” become a real possibility that might benefit from anti-anxiety medication. Still, there’s no magic pill. A referral to a veterinary behaviorist makes sense with this diagnosis.

Learn more about compulsive behaviors in dogs in the new book “Decoding Your Dog,” co-edited by myself, Dr. Debra Horwitz and Dr. John Ciribassi, authored by members the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, NY, 2014; $27).