I have a four-year-old beagle, Buddy, that I adopted two years ago from South Carolina. I believe he was a hunting dog. We have a fenced-in yard and a doggy door, so when we are home, we let Buddy go in and out as he wishes.
Recently, some rabbits started venturing into our yard. If Buddy gets their scent, he yelps and goes crazy trying to find them. Since our fence is chain link, I guess the bunnies somehow get through or under it. Buddy has never caught one, but I am worried that if he did, would he hurt them?
I am afraid to let him out in the yard if I'm not out there to keep a careful watch, but I can't be out there as much as Buddy likes to be outside. Can you tell me if he would hurt a bunny if he caught one?
— Carol, Wading River, New York
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Sadly, even domesticated pets, both dogs and cats, have a strong instinctive desire to chase, bite and kill prey animals. He might injure a rabbit while trying to catch it by inflicting a single puncture wound, or he might get the animal in his mouth and instinctively shake it, which dogs do to kill their prey. (We often see an example of this when a dog plays with a stuffed animal.)
This doesn't make your dog a vicious killer, but if this instinct is strong in your dog, you need to be more vigilant when Buddy is around small animals.
Here are four things you can do to keep small animals safer in your yard:
First, during certain times of the year (mainly spring and summer), you may be unable to give Buddy free rein of the yard. Step outside first, clap your hands, stomp your feet, shake a can of coins, or ring a bell to let any creatures in your yard know they need to skedaddle. Then let your dog out. I know this requires more effort, but it's worth it to not be worrying about whether your dog will harm a small creature.
Second, if you have plants or a garden that attracts small animals, consider transplanting them into pots, so they can't reach them. The goal is to discourage them from coming into your yard.
Third, check the yard regularly for rabbit nests and block your dog from these areas until the babies leave on their own. Rabbits build shallow nests of grass and fur in the ground, which may be under bushes and trees or out in the open.
Finally, train your dog to "leave it" or "drop it,” so if he goes after an animal, you can tell him to stop from several yards away.
We have been fostering a kitten that was tossed from a car. He has had two vet visits and is slowly gaining weight. He started his shots and tested negative for heartworm and leukemia.
The problem is, I have four older cats of my own, and we could not teach him to use the litter box. Trust me, we tried everything. I found him a home, but he will be an inside cat. Do you have any suggestions to assist? His new home is lovely, and the new owners adore him.
— Anne, Saint Helena Island, South Carolina
Thank you for rescuing this kitten. This kitten will likely do better when he is not competing with four other cats. Tell the new adopters the situation, and recommend they put the kitten in a bathroom or bedroom for a day or two with an uncovered litter box. (Cats should be introduced to their new spaces very slowly, so they don’t get overwhelmed, which can cause stress and eventual litter box problems.)
Tell the adopters to mix a litter box attractant (available at pet stores and online) into the litter. When they finally let the kitten out of the bathroom or bedroom, advise them to keep one litter box in that location (at least until the kitten gets used to his surroundings) and place a second litter box in another low-traffic area in the house.
Have them place empty baskets and boxes around the house, so he has safe places to hide and time to build his confidence. They also can get a pheromone collar for him for 30 to 90 days, especially since he's a kitten and may have been taken from his mother way too early.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)