Compulsive Behaviors in Cats

Your cat probably has their grooming routine down pat. Each morning, your kitty probably begins licking her coat right after breakfast; and she continues all day long. Although cats regularly groom themselves, its not normal if your kitty’s fur coat is showing some bare spots. Unfortunately, it can progress to the point where daily playtime and brushing/belly rub sessions are given up for this single-minded pursuit.

Feline Compulsive Behaviors

Feline compulsive behavior can take several forms. An affected cat might display obsessive grooming habits, even though her fur appears neat and tidy. She could repeatedly pace back and forth, with her treks increasing in frequency. Continued meowing and yowling can also signal a compulsive behavior. Strangest of all, you might see her suck, chew, or even eat a piece of fabric. If she chooses this route, she could become fixated on one texture, such as plush fleece blankets.

What’s Behind the Behavior

Male and female cats — from kittens to senior citizens — can become victims of compulsive behavior. Although the root cause varies, stress seems to be a common factor; and indoor cats are most affected. In addition, the cat’s owner (you) influences how the behavior develops. Owners could unknowingly reinforce their actions by providing your cat with more food or attention if she seems distressed.

Your Vet’s Diagnosis

When your vet addresses an apparent behavioral issue, he first wants to rule out a medical problem. Your cat will get a complete physical exam. We’ll ask detailed questions about the onset of her symptoms.

Next, we’ll obtain a complete blood profile and a urinalysis. If necessary, the vet will conduct specialized tests related to specific symptoms. In some cases, we might opt for skin scrapings and/or a skin biopsy, or tissue sample.

Tailored Treatment Program

If your vet determines a compulsive behavior is to blame, he’ll develop a targeted treatment program. Follow instructions regarding medication (if necessary); and change the way you respond to kitty’s  antics. Finally, reduce disruptions to their home environment. Give your cat a regular schedule; providing her with food, exercise, and playtime at the same time each day.

During follow-up visits, your veterinarian will tweak your pet’s treatment plan based on the initial results. If your cat might display compulsive behavior symptoms, contact us at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital for expert advice.


Dog Fights

(The following information is borrowed from the ASPCA’s Virtual Behaviorist webpage.)

dog fight

Although dogfights look and sound frightening, most of them end with no damage to either party. Because dogs are capable of seriously injuring each other, much of their aggression is ritualized. Arguing dogs might growl fiercely, bark, snap and show their teeth—or even bite each other’s faces or loose neck skin. However, most dogfights, especially those between well-socialized dogs, don’t result in injury. A dogfight is usually the equivalent of a brief, heated argument with a friend or family member. There may be a lot of spit and noise, but actual damage, aside from the odd scratch or scrape, is relatively rare.

Avoid Competition over Food and Valued Objects

If you have multiple dogs in your home, it’s a good policy to feed them in separate rooms or crates. There is no reason to add extra stress around feeding time. Let your dogs eat in peace. It’s also wise to keep track of toys, chewies and other valuable resources. If you suspect that your dogs might fight over something, pick it up when you’re not able to supervise.

Breaking up a Dog Fight

Sometimes, despite your best efforts to monitor their interactions, dogs get into fights. Luckily, most fights last less than a few seconds, and you can often interrupt them by simply shouting at the dogs. If the fight continues, however, you should be prepared to physically separate them.

Breaking up a dogfight can be dangerous. To reduce the likelihood of injury to all parties, follow the guidelines below.

General Advice

  • Have a plan. Decide in advance exactly what you’ll do if a fight happens. If you live with multiple dogs and other people, make sure everyone living in your home knows about the plan.
  • Don’t panic. Remember that most dogfights are noisy but harmless. If you stay calm, you’ll be able to separate two fighting dogs more safely and efficiently.
  • DO NOT grab your dog by the collar if she starts to fight with another dog. It seems like the natural thing to do, but it’s a bad idea. Your dog might whip around to bite you. This kind of bite, called redirected aggression, is like a reflex. The dog simply reacts to the feeling of being grabbed and bites without thinking. Many pet parents get bitten this way—even when their dogs haven’t shown any signs of aggression in the past. Another reason to avoid grabbing your dog’s collar is that it puts your hands way too close to the action! You might be on the receiving end of a bite that was intended for your dog.

Plan A: Startle the Dogs or Use a Barrier

Before you physically separate two fighting dogs, try these methods:

  • A sudden, loud sound will often interrupt a fight. Clap, yell and stomp your feet. If you have two metal bowls, bang them together near the dogs’ heads. You can also purchase a small air horn and keep that handy. Put it in your back pocket before taking your dog somewhere to play with other dogs. If you have multiple dogs that get into scuffles, keep your air horn in an easily accessible place. If a startling noise works to stop a fight, the noise is effective almost immediately. If your noise=making doesn’t stop the fight within about three seconds, try another method.
  • If there’s a hose or water bowl handy, you can try spraying the dogs with water or dumping the bowl of water on their heads.
  • Try putting something between the fighting dogs. A large, flat, opaque object, like a piece of plywood, is ideal because it both separates the dogs and blocks their view of each other. If such an object isn’t available, you can make do with a baby gate, a trash can or folded lawn chair.  Throwing a large blanket over both dogs is another option. The covered dogs may stop fighting if they can no longer see each other.

Plan B: Physically Separate the Dogs

If other methods don’t work or aren’t possible, it’s time for Plan B. If you’re wearing pants and boots or shoes, use your lower body instead of your hands to break up the fight. If they’re covered, your legs and your feet are much more protected than your hands, and your legs are the strongest part of your body.

If you feel that it’s necessary to grab the dogs, use this method:

1. You and a helper or the other dog’s pet parent should approach the dogs together. Try to separate them at the same time.

2. Take hold of your dog’s back legs at the very top, just under her hips, right where her legs connect to her body. (Avoid grabbing her lower legs. If grab a dog’s legs at the knees, her ankles or her paws, you can cause serious injury.)

3. Like you’d lift a wheelbarrow; lift your dog’s back end so that her back legs come off of the ground. Then move backwards, away from the other dog. As soon as you’re a few steps away, do a 180-degree turn, spinning your dog around so that she’s facing the opposite direction and can no longer see other dog.

The Aftermath

After the fight stops, immediately separate the dogs. Don’t give them another chance to fight. It’s important to make sure that they can’t see each other. If necessary, take one or both dogs into another room or area. If the dogs are friends and you’ve interrupted a minor squabble, keep them apart until they calm down.

If you have specific concerns regarding your pet’s behavior or are experiencing repeated dog fights in your home, it may be time to seek professional help.  Rita Ranch Pet Hospital recommends Dr. Vanya Moreno of Animal Magnetism.  She is a PhD level behaviorist who can come into your home to observe your pets and assist you in creating a more peaceful environment.  Her phone number is (520) 440-5040 and you can learn more about her practice at her website,


Healthy Snacks for Your Cat

Searching for a healthy snack for your cat? Fortunately, you don’t have to look much further than your own pantry for some cat-safe foods to feed your pet.  Many cats are picky, but for those that would prefer to eat from our plate, there are a few safe options.

  • Salmon (cooked)
  • Spinach — as long as your cat doesn’t have a history of calcium oxalate stones
  • Fish oil supplements
  • Eggs (cooked)
  • Chicken or Turkey (no seasoning, please)
  • Cantaloupe
  • Bananas
  • Oatmeal
  • Pumpkin
  • Cheese — try hard cheeses like swiss or gouda
  • Bread
  • Blueberries
  • Peas
  • Apples  — no seeds!

Raisins, grapes, onions, alcohol, salt, tea — we may love them, but these and other common foods can be toxic to cats. If you’re not sure a treat is safe, talk your veterinarian at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital before giving it to your kitty.

Like people, cats can develop a taste for treats, and they may decide to avoid their own food in favor of the goodies they love. For this reason, keep cat treats novel by offering them no more than two or three times a week.

If you find something your cat really loves, use it when something unpleasant happens, such as nail trimming, brushing, eat cleaning, etc.  That will help put your cat in a good mood and help them associate the tasty snack with the not-so-fun procedure.

Healthy Snacks for Your Dog

It can be fun to treat your pup from time to time to a little “table food,” but we have to be cautious as well.  Dogs cannot eat everything humans can eat, and their bodies process many foods differently than ours.  However, as long as your check with your veterinarian at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital to make sure it safe, treat away :)

A few guidelines…

  1. Never feed your pup something YOU wouldn’t eat.  This means no old leftovers or rotten foods… If you wouldn’t eat it, neither should they!
  2. Never feed your pup seeds or pits.
  3. If your dog ate something their shouldn’t have, be sure to call your veterinarian immediately.

Now to the fun part!  Let your pooch try these tasty treats! :)

  • Apples — without the seeds
  • Strawberries
  • Carrots — cooked or raw
  • Green beans
  • Bananas
  • Blueberries
  • Lettuce
  • Spinach
  • Watermelon (seedless)
  • Nut butters — make sure they do NOT contain the toxic ingredient XYLITOL

This next list of foods are great when cooked… :)

  • Squash
  • Popcorn — no butter or salt, please
  • Sweet potatoes
  • Chicken — or other cooked, lean meat (feed sparingly)


  • Avocado
  • Tomatoes
  • Garlic
  • Onions
  • Mushrooms
  • Pitted fruits
  • Nuts, especially macadamia nuts
  • Raisins or Grapes
  • Chocolate or Cocoa

Always remember your pet’s stomach is TINY compared to yours.  Even a small piece of something can contain a lot of calories for a dog.  If you notice any gastrointestinal upset, be sure to stop feeding your pet and call your veterinarian at Rita Ranch Pet Hospital.