Pool Safety & Your Pets

On a blistering hot day, owning a pool definitely has its advantages as a refuge from the heat. As summer approaches, the risk of children and pets drowning in backyard swimming pools, and other water hazards, is on the rise.

Pool safety is important! Some dogs, especially young, elderly, or otherwise debilitated dogs, cannot swim. Even dogs that once were excellent swimmers can lose their ability with weakness. Others may become disoriented should they accidentally fall in while drinking. Recognize the danger and exercise caution: pool fences and alarms are very useful. Hidden electronic fencing may be of use to restrict the entire pool area.

Did you know…?  An estimated 5,000 family pets drown in backyard swimming pools annually.

Pool safety issues for pets are almost synonymous with those for children, and they go far beyond just careful supervision. With pets (and kids), you can never assume that you can watch them all the time. It only takes a few minutes of distraction for either one to fly out the door and into the pool.

With that said, pools can be great fun for your pet. Here are just a few of the issues you should consider:

  • Although many dogs love the water, don’t assume they can swim naturally. Never throw a dog into the pool; he may panic and not be able to climb the slick sides to get out of the pool.

  • Even excellent swimmers will gradually lose their ability as they age and become weaker. In addition, senior dogs are more prone to slipping and falling into a pool.

  • Heat and sunlight are more intense around a pool. Your dog cannot keep as cool as you, so watch for signs of overheating. Don’t let your dog drink from the pool; the chlorine will make him sick.

  • In the same vein, you should be aware that chlorinated water may irritate your dog’s eyes. When the two of you are finished playing in the pool, hose your dog down with fresh water to get the chlorine out.

We wish you all a safe and happy summer!

Source: petplace.com & esafetyalert.com

Help! My dog is terrified of thunderstorms or fireworks!

Many pets in our community suffer from thunderstorm fear.  Unfortunately, we have a long season of each summer when the monsoons come on suddenly and strong!  If your pet has a fear or storms (or you know of a pet that does), you certainly understand how their crippling fear and anxiety during and after a storm is so difficult to cope with.  We want to help these pets live happy, relaxed lives — even in this rainy time of year.

Simliarly, pets can  also suffer from firework anxiety.

The following are ways to help your pet cope in the short-term future…

Drugs: These may be useful in some cases but should only be given under veterinary supervision. Remember they should be given so they take effect BEFORE any noise starts or panic sets in. This is usually at least an hour prior to the event. Sedatives may help the pet sleep through the event or be less aware of the stimuli but do not reduce anxiety. Anti-anxiety drugs may reduce anxiety and panic but may not calm the dog sufficiently. There are also drugs such as some of the antidepressants that can be used on an ongoing basis to try and prevent or reduce the effect of the stimulus should it arise. Then, short term drugs on the day of the fireworks (or storm) may be added to some of these drugs if needed.  The dog appeasing pheromone (DAP®) and natural products such as melatonin might also be considered concurrently with other drugs.

Punishment: Don’t punish your dog when he is scared, it only confirms to him that there is something to be afraid of and will make him worse. In addition, if you are upset or anxious about your pet’s behavior, this will also make your dog more anxious.

Reassurance:  Don’t fuss, pet or try to reassure your dog when he is scared since he may regard this as a reward for the behavior he is engaging in at that time, so that with each future exposure the behavior may become increasingly intense.  Although it may be difficult, try to ignore any fearful behavior that occurs.

Training devices and commands:  Practice training your dog to settle and focus on commands for favored treats and toys. Try and associate this training with a favored location in the house (one where the noise of the fireworks and storm might be less obvious – see below), and use some training cues (e.g. a favored CD, a favored blanket) each time you do the training (so that the command, location and cues help to immediately calm the dog). A head halter can also be used to help control, distract and calm the dog during training. Then at the time of the storm, use your commands, location, cues and head halter to try and calm the dog, while avoiding punishment or reassurance of the fearful response (see above).

Environment: Make sure that the environment is safe and secure at all times. Even the most placid dog can behave unpredictably when frightened by noise and, should he bolt and escape, he could get injured or lost.

Provide plenty of familiar toys and games that might help to distract the pet.

Try to arrange company for your dog so that he is not abandoned in the room.

Make sure that all the windows and doors are shut so the sound is deadened as much as possible. Try taking your pet to a room or area of the house where the stimuli will be at their mildest and the dog can be most easily distracted.  Sometimes nested cardboard boxes or a blanket placed over the cage can greatly mute the sound.  Be certain however that there is enough air circulation so that the pet does not overheat.

Try to provide background sounds from the radio or television. Rap or similar music with a lot of constant drum beats does help. It does not necessarily have to be loud as long as there is a constant distracting beat to the music that will prevent him from concentrating on the noises outside. Other background noises and such as a fan running or even “white” noise devices can help to block outdoor noises.

Ignore the noises yourself and try to involve your pet in some form of active game.

Some products and exercises might be useful to further secure or calm the dog. Anxiety wraps, such as the Thundershirt, may help to calm the dog further.

Don’t just ignore the problem because it only happens intermittently or for a few days each year.   Instigate a desensitization program once the season is over so that you ensure your dog loses fear of the situation.  Call Rita Ranch Pet Hospital for a referral to a local animal behaviorist who can meet with your pet and your family to help develop a personalized training and desensitization plan.

Again, we are always happy to speak with you and answer any questions you may have.  Don’t hesitate to call RRPH if you have concerns.

We wish you all a safe and happy summer!

Behavior Problems of Senior Pets

Is your dog or cat seven-years-old or better?  If so, they are classified as a geriatric or “senior” pet.  Just like in humans, many things change with age.  Certain aspects of their health may start to deteriorate — you can help them stay healthy by increasing your awareness of their normal habits and quirks.


It is not unusual for behavior problems to develop in older pets and often there may be multiple concurrent problems. It is also important to note that some of the changes associated with aging may not seem significant, but even a minor change in behavior might be indicative of underlying medical problems or a decline in cognitive function. Since early diagnosis and treatment can control or slow the progress of many disease conditions, be certain to advise your veterinarian if there is any change in your pet’s behavior.


What are some of the causes of behavior changes in senior pets?
Many of the problems have similar causes to those in younger pets. Changes in the household, changes in the environment and new stresses can lead to problems regardless of age. For instance moving, a change in work schedule, a family member leaving the home, or new additions to the family such as a spouse or baby, can have a dramatic impact on the pet’s behavior. In addition, it is likely most older pets will be more resistant or less able to adapt to change.


Older pets are also likely to develop an increasing number of medical and degenerative problems as they age. Any of the organ systems can be affected and play a role in the development of a wide variety of behavior problems. For example, diseases of the urinary system and kidneys can lead to house-soiling. Diseases of the endocrine organs such as the thyroid gland and pituitary gland can lead to a variety of behavioral and personality changes. A decline in the senses (hearing and sight), painful conditions, and those that affect mobility may cause the pet to be more irritable or more fearful of approach and handling

As with other organs, the brain is susceptible to age related degenerative processes that can affect the pet’s behavior, personality, memory, and learning ability. When these changes occur, the pet may show varying degrees of cognitive decline and in pets that are more severely affected, this might be referred to as cognitive dysfunction or senility. Many of these changes are similar to what occurs in aging humans.
My pet is quite old. Is there any point in doing any testing?  What can be done?
Unfortunately many pet owners do not even discuss behavior changes with their veterinarians since they feel that the changes are a normal part of aging and perhaps nothing can be done for their dog or cat. This is far from the truth. Many problems have an underlying medical cause that can be treated or controlled with drugs, diet or perhaps surgery. Hormonal changes associated with an under-active or overactive thyroid gland, diabetes, diseases of the pituitary gland, and testicular tumors can all lead to dramatic changes in the pet’s behavior and many of these problems can be treated or controlled. Degenerative organ systems can often be aided with nutritional supplementation or dietary changes. High blood pressure, cardiac disease and respiratory disease may be treatable with medication, which may dramatically improve the quality and even length of the pet’s life. Drugs and dietary therapy are also available that are useful in the treatment of age related cognitive dysfunction.


What are some things to look out for?
Changes in behavior (see cognitive dysfunction below), an increase or decrease in appetite or drinking, an increased frequency or amount of urination, loss of urine control (dribbling urine, bed-wetting), changes in stool consistency or frequency, skin and hair coat changes, lumps and bumps, mouth odor or bleeding gums, stiffness or soreness, excessive panting, coughing, changes in weight (increase or decrease), and tremors or shaking are some of the more common signs that should be reported, should they develop in your pet.


If you notice any behavior changes in your pet, please call us at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital.  We are always happy to answer any questions you may have.  If you are concerned, please call and schedule an appointment with the doctor so that your pet can be evaluated.  Your veterinarian will discuss their findings with you and develop a treatment plan that will help your pet feel as comfortable as possible.

Keeping Your Indoor Cat Happy

Recently with the warmer weather, we are finding there are lots of LOST and FOUND cats in our area.  We encourage all of our clients to keep their cats indoors.  Indoor cats live FAR LONGER than outdoor cats — what with hazards like cars, cactus, rattlesnakes, coyotes, other cats, and neighboring dogs; the outside is a very dangerous place for a feline.  Many people worry that keeping their cat indoors is “cruel,” however if indoor cats provided with adequate stimulation and play indoor cats lead long, happy, and healthy lives.  

A cute kitty lounging in the sun in her outdoor enclosure.

I want to get a cat but I live on a very busy main road so I am thinking of keeping it indoors. Is that cruel?

There are many circumstances in which keeping a cat indoors may be safer for the cat and therefore, arguably, better for the cat. Indoor cats are at lower risk for injuries associated with the outdoor environment and are at far less risk of contracting parasites and infectious diseases such as feline leukemia, feline infectious peritonitis and feline immunodeficiency virus. Studies have consistently shown that urban cats that go outdoors have far shorter life spans (averaging 2 years or less), while most indoor cats will live over 15 years. Keeping cats indoors also prevents killing of wildlife, fouling of neighborhood yards, and fighting with other cats. Depending on your cat’s personality, it may be safer for other cats and wildlife in the neighborhood if you keep your cat indoors.

If you decide to keep your cat as an indoor pet, you will need to be very aware of the extra responsibility that an indoor cat brings. You must take the time and trouble to ensure that the indoor environment offers the cat the opportunity to express as many of its natural behaviors as possible.

What do I need to do to make my indoor cat happy?

The most important thing for you to consider when you decide to keep a cat indoors is how you are going to provide for its behavioral needs. Obviously you will have thought about the need for food, water, elimination, and warmth, but have you considered your cat’s need to hunt, play, and explore?  Providing a consistent daily routine that provides for all of the behavioral needs of your cat is not difficult but it does require some time, some thought and some commitment.

Why does my cat need to hunt when I feed it so well?

The feline desire to hunt is not connected to the sensation of hunger and no matter how well you feed your cat it will still react to the sight and sound of prey with an instinctive stalk. Obviously indoor cats are unlikely to come across natural prey, but anything that moves rapidly or squeaks in a high pitch can trigger the same behavioral response.  Both social play and object play toys are therefore essential for an indoor cat.  Toys that squeak and those that can be moved rapidly and unpredictably are irresistible to some cats while of no interest to others. You can also select toys that mimic real prey in terms of size, texture and color. Small toys are usually more successful but caution must be exercised to be sure they cannot be accidentally ingested and cause intestinal blockage.   Play sessions for indoor cats need to be frequent and regular and if your cat is interested and willing you should aim to give at least three play sessions every day. Recent studies seem to indicate that while the cat may tire of a chase toy in just a few minutes, the desire to chase new and different toys may remain and even be heightened.  Therefore, try and offer two or three chase sessions in a row with different toys to ensure that your cat is truly finished rather than just bored with a particular toy.  Stuffing or coating the toy with food or catnip may also help to maintain and prolong its interest.  You can have hours of fun playing with your cat, but remember that it is the chase and hunting action that is generally more important than the social contact so be certain to provide a variety of toys that your cat can chase and attack.  It is also vital that you do not allow your cat to use the human body as “prey” since this can eventually lead to injurious consequences.  Therefore, hands and feet under the covers and running fingers across the back of the sofa are not advisable.

How do I ensure that my cat has enough to occupy its time?

One of the most important considerations for an indoor cat is how you are going to occupy it 24 hours a day. Of course cats are famous for their desire to sleep and it is certainly true that most cats will be happy to wile away many an hour sleeping in a warm or sunny spot.   However, indoor cats do need access to activity that will stimulate both their mind and their body and provide the exercise that they would naturally engage in if they were out and about. “Cat Trees” offer climbing, hiding and playing opportunities and can be ideal for indoor cats.   Scratching posts are also essential, since there is no opportunity for your cat to condition its claws on the shed roof or the fence post. You need to make sure that the post is tall enough to allow your cat to get a good position on the scratching surface.

Does my cat need to climb?

The picture of a cat stuck in a tree or stranded on a roof top is a familiar one but the fact is that cats need to climb. Getting up high is an important way to relieve stress in the feline world and when your cat is feeling under pressure its instinct will be to move upwards this may be especially necessary in homes with multiple cats. It is therefore very important to have accessible high up resting places.  Tops of fridge freezers, bookcases and stereo hi-fi cabinets are all popular resting places for cats, but if all of the furniture in your house is built-in you will need to make special provision for your cat in the form of shelves and radiator cradles. High vantage points allow your cat to observe the world from a place of safety and escape if it feels the need to do so.

If my cat hides on top of the furniture or spends its time behind the sofa should I be concerned?

Hiding is an important coping strategy for cats and when a cat is spending considerable amounts of time hiding it is important to examine why. In a cat that has recently moved into a home hiding may be a perfectly normal response to the overwhelming amount of new information. In a cat that has been resident in the house for some time hiding is likely to be a sign that all is not well either emotionally or perhaps physically.  If hiding persists and is accompanied by lack of appetite you should consult your veterinarian for advice.  Feliway spray or diffusers can be useful in some of these cases for reducing anxiety.

I would like to give my cat some fresh air but I am not sure if it will walk on a lead is there any alternative?

Some cats may need to be kept permanently indoors and this can work as long as owners are aware of the responsibility that it brings. For others access to outdoors needs to be restricted, but owners would like to offer some contact with the world outside and in these cases there are a number of alternatives. The harness and lead approach is certainly one, but you are right to mention the fact that not all cats will learn to walk in this way. Introducing harnesses as early as possible will help and making a kitten accustomed to the lead will minimize resistance to its use as an adult.

  This client information sheet is based on material written by Debra Horwitz, DVM, Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB

© Copyright 2005 Lifelearn Inc. Used with permission under license. June 5, 2013