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Pets Q&A: Teach biting kitten to hunt toys

Q: We adopted a 6-month-old kitten who’d been abandoned at a nearby farm. The lady who found him bottle-fed the kitten. The problem is, he’s a biter. Whenever I walk by, he attacks my ankles. He also bites my hands. I’ve tried to distract him and offer toys, but he seems he prefers me to toys. Any advice? – M.A.F., Palm Harbor, Fla.

A: “To a great extent, this is normal kitten behavior,” says Dr. Brian Holub, Boston-based Chief Medical Officer of VetCorp and board member of the Winn Feline Foundation (a nonprofit that funds cat health studies). “Instead of hunting you, the kitten needs to learn to hunt toys. Keep trying, using interactive toys (fishing pole-type toys with feathers).”

It’s important to do this when you suspect your kitten may be in play mode, such as when you return home from work. As you walk down the hall, be prepared with a stash of cat toys in your pockets (such as little balls or mouse toys). If your kitty looks like he’s about to go for your ankles, toss a toy in the opposite direction. If that doesn’t work, go into the nearest room and close the door. He’ll soon learn that you vanish when he behaves this way.

Be sure all family members agree to never use their fingers or any body part when playing with the kitty.


Q: Why does my 1-year-old male Doberman constantly yelp during leash walks? It’s annoying. I have to wait until late in the morning to walk him so he doesn’t wake up the whole neighborhood. – D.P., Cyberspace

A: Without seeing exactly what’s going on, this problem is tough to pinpoint. I hope your pooch is not in pain, perhaps from a “choke collar” used incorrectly, another piece of equipment, or due to leg or back problems. Far more likely, though, your pup is merely overjoyed about the walk and can’t contain himself.

It’s possible the yelping became a habit when you (or another family member) reinforced the behavior when the dog was small; after all, it was likely cute then. It’s also quite possible that your pet is anxious.

For some dogs, the solution can be teaching the pet to carry a toy or a ball indoors, then doing the same thing outdoors. The hope is that a dog won’t make as much noise with something in its mouth. If that doesn’t work for your dog, feed him as you walk. He likely can’t chew and yelp at the same time. When he’s not yelping, along with the food reward, say “good quiet,” so in time he’s only rewarded for the sounds of silence.

If anxiety is the issue, an Adaptil pheromone collar and a nutritional supplement called Anxitane might help your dog feel more relaxed.

If the problem persists, you might want to seek hands-on help from a dog behavior consultant or trainer who can observe the behavior.


Q: Can you tell me about using brewer’s yeast to get rid of the fleas? – C.P., Charlotte, N.C.

Q: I have the new cure to prevent fleas! I’ve learned that using tea tree oil will solve the problem, and it’s much safer and less expensive than many other products. – V.D., Cyberspace

A: Dr. Michael Dryden, a veterinary parasitologist at Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine-Manhattan, says, “Using brewer’s yeast is totally illogical because brewer’s yeast is used in labs to grow fleas.”

As for tea tree oils, now commonly touted online as flea busters, be very cautious. According to a recent report published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, tea tree oils are toxic to pets. Even if enough fleas are destroyed to prevent infestation (which remains uncertain), the product can make pets very ill.

Dryden notes that fleas do transmit disease, and obviously no one wants the blood suckers in their homes.

“To avoid expensive exterminators, ask your veterinarian about the right product or combination of products to use,” he says.