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Chronic Pain in Pets

photo of large golden laying down looking sad | Dr. Charles Whitworth

If you notice that your sweet, affectionate animal that loves to snuggle suddenly wants to be left alone and not touched this could be a sign they are having chronic pain.

Unfortunately, your pet cannot always let you know that it is suffering from chronic pain. In fact, quite often your pet’s pain goes unnoticed until it becomes chronic. In the meantime, the animal has probably suffered immensely.

As humans, it is our responsibility to look for pain symptoms in your pet. Being able to be aware and to recognize certain symptoms will drastically reduce pet suffering. The need for pain relief is apparent when it comes to post-surgical pain or trauma pain. However, chronic pain is a whole different complex issue.

Recognizing the Problem

One of the most important factors in pet care is being able to recognize that your pet is suffering from chronic pain. Quite frankly, this is not always an easy task. Many animals do not show obvious signs such as trembling, whining, hobbling or limping. However, there are certain unusual behaviors you can look for:

  • Unusual weight loss or gain
  • Uncommon movements or postures
  • Your normally energetic dog is very docile or lethargic
  • Your well trained dog relieves himself in inappropriate places
  • Emotional or cognitive changes such as depression or confusion
  • Your passionate animal that loves to snuggle suddenly wants to be left alone and not touched

Treatment

Chronic pain is a symptom of several issues. The most typical cause of chronic pain in dogs is osteoarthritis. Luckily, there are several types of treatment that even improve the principal disease progression. For example, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) medications are often used for arthritis treatment. NSAID is said to reduce inflammation. Although, many drugs have side effects, NSAIDs are generally well tolerated.

Other medications may also be used, depending on the problem and level of pain. Common chronic pain medications include opiates and corticosteroids. However, these medications can have serious side effects and should only be taken for a short period of time. In addition, antidepressants and nutriceuticals may be useful. In fact, nutriceuticals are a leading remedy for treating arthritic disease process. Sources of nutriceuticals include omega-3 fatty acids and glucosamine/chondroitin. Please note; never administer medications (aspirin, Tylenol, etc.) without first talking with your vet.

Dr. Charles Whitworth at Whitworth Animal Clinic

If you suspect that your pet is suffering from chronic pain, contact Whitworth Animal Clinic or your local vet immediately. Never wait or put it off. In regards to treatment, you are the only forerunner for your pet’s chronic pain. Although treating your dog’s chronic pain may be a challenge, pairing up with your vet will make it a lot easier.

As well, never hesitate to report any changes in mood, behavior or bodily functions. Plus, teaming up with your vet will make the challenge a whole lot easier.

Whitworth Animal Clinic is one of the best pet clinics in Madison and also serves the surrounding areas. In fact, Dr. Charles Whitworth is a renowned veterinarian who has been assisting cats and dogs since 1981. In addition, at Whitworth Animal Clinic you can feel rest assured that your pet will have the best care possible.

Heartworm Prevention

photo of Jack Russell Terrior in grass | Dr. WhitworthDid you know that mosquitoes can be deadly insects to people and animals alike? Mosquitos are known to carry many diseases all throughout the country and when bitten, people and animals can be affected. With the warm summer nights just ahead it is important to think about the precautions you should take, not only for yourself, but your furry pal as well. One of the most common diseases that your animal can contract is heartworms.

What Is Heartworm Disease?

Heartworm disease is a blood borne parasite known as Dirofilaria Immitis. This parasite lurks inside mosquitos and can be transmitted to your pet from a simple mosquito bite causing your furry friend to contract a disease known as worms. These worms are round in shape, grow to be twelve inches in length and make their home in your pet’s lungs, heart and blood vessels. When infected with the worms, your pet can develop heart failure, lung disease and damage to various other organs in their body.

Is Every Animal Considered A Victim to the Mosquito Carrying the Infection?

Heartworm disease is most common to be found in dogs, cats and ferrets, but there have been some cases found to be present in other animals as well. Animals that spend a lot of time outdoors or live in warmer climates have a greater chance of contracting heartworms if not treated for prevention annually.

What Are the Signs That a Pet Has Contracted the Heartworm Disease?

Symptoms may vary from animal to animal. Dogs and cats may react differently, however, the most common symptoms found in both species may be a cough, an appetite reduction followed by weight loss. The disease can become fatal if not properly cared for, but can be prevented from ever happening with proper care and routine treatments.

What is the Routine Prevention and Treatment of the Disease?

The vet will check your pet for heartworm disease during his annual exam. Just like routine vaccinations, a preventative medication can be prescribed to protect your pet against the threat of this potentially fatal disease. In most cases, when an animal is tested positive for heartworms, he can be successfully treated with medication.

If you are like most people, your pet is a part of your family and you want to do everything you can to keep him safe and healthy. Remember that it is important to keep your furry friend current on all his vaccinations and treatments for potential diseases. If you have any questions, the friendly and helpful staff at Whitworth Animal Clinic would be happy to assist you. If you live in Madison or surrounding areas in north Alabama, and you would like to schedule an appointment, contact Whitworth Animal Clinic for all your veterinarian needs.

Pets with Allergies: Itching and Licking

Pets can have allergies just like humans, it may require testing and some detective work but your vet can help your pet feel better.

Pets can have allergies just like humans, Dr. Whitworth can find the underlying issues and help your pet feel better.

Humans sneeze and sniffle; pets itch and lick. Although the symptoms are different, the cause is allergies, and it can make both pets and their humans feel miserable. Pollens, dust mites, fleas, and foods can all trigger allergies, and your pet’s veterinarian can help you identify the cause and the treatment to help your pet feel more comfortable. Pet allergies tend to affect the skin, so when your pet is itching, chewing on his or her feet, or showing signs of hair loss, it’s important to make an appointment with your pet’s veterinarian at Whitworth Animal Clinic right away.

Allergy Triggers

Pet allergies – also referred to as atopy – can be genetically inherited, and particular breeds of dogs tend to be susceptible to developing allergy symptoms. Breeds such as West Highland White Terriers, English Bulldogs and Golden Retrievers are often affected by seasonal allergies with symptoms including itchy ears, irritated feet and hair loss. Chronic allergies can lead to ear infections, and itchy skin can develop yeast or bacterial infections leading to serious dermatologic issues that can require more extensive treatment.

Allergy Diagnosis

Although identifying the specific allergens can require some detective work, your pet’s veterinarian will start by examining your pet, identifying key symptoms and ruling out other potential causes. A potential diagnosis can be confirmed with blood or skin testing for allergies which may require a referral to a board-certified veterinary dermatologist for treatment. However, in many cases, pet allergies can be treated by your pet’s primary veterinarian, especially if your pet’s symptoms are mild.

Allergy Treatment

Allergy treatment is typically necessary for the rest of your pet’s life, and it can include avoiding the allergens, medicated shampoos, antihistamines, corticosteroids, essential fatty acids or antibiotics. Dietary changes and regular flea treatments may also be recommended for your pet’s ongoing comfort and care. The treatment is different for every pet based on the severity of the symptoms, the response to treatment and the type of allergen to which your pet is sensitive. Just like with people, treatment of pet allergies can be very successful, and your pet can enjoy a normal life with your assistance and care.

Whitworth Animal Clinic

Whitworth Animal Clinic is located in Madison, Alabama, and we are accepting new veterinary patients for allergy treatment and other types of primary and preventative veterinary care. We are located in northern Alabama, and we serve the communities of Madison, Huntsville and Decatur. Please contact us today with your questions about our veterinary services or to schedule an appointment for your dog or cat.

Pet Poisoning Awareness

photo of cat and dog sleeping together | Whitworth Animal Clinic

Taking simple precautions around the house and garage can keep your pets happy and healthy.

Like children, pets are curious and often cannot resist smelling, tasting or ingesting something that captures their interest. Unfortunately, there are many items and products that can be very harmful. However, taking simple precautions and steps can help prevent pet poisoning.

One of the best ways to avoid pet poisoning is to remove or secure anything that can be toxic to your pet. You can easily scan each room in your home to ensure that all toxic substances are out your pets reach.

Living Room

Plants – many household plants are highly toxic to cats and dogs. Even bulbs are predominantly poisonous. Plants to avoid are tulips, daffodils, azaleas, oleanders and lilies. Quite frankly, just one or two petals from a lily plant (Lilium and Hemerocallis spp.) can be fatal, especially for cats. Other poisonous plants are geraniums, daisies, cyclamen, sago palm, poppies, lilacs, holly and amaryllis.

Home fragrance – many fragrance products can cause chemical reactions if ingested or inhaled. Avoid heavily scented sprays, artificial scented candles or simmering pots of potpourri.

Nicotine – All products that contain nicotine items should be removed from the reach of pets such as cigarettes, ashtrays, E-cigarettes, patches and nicotine chewing gum. Even cigarette butts can cause nicotine poisoning.

Your purse – Always keep your purse out of your pets reach. It can contain many harmful products like sugar-free gum with xylitol, cigarettes, medication and batteries. In fact, batteries or items that contain a battery such as your phone can cause serious chemical burns if ingested.

Kitchen

Human food – There are many human foods that are poisonous or toxic to your pets. Human foods to avoid include grapes, raisins, currents, chocolate, garlic, onions, macadamia nuts, Xylitol, alcohol and caffeine.

Garbage – always keep your garbage in a safe proof area such as behind a closed door. Most garbage’s contain pet toxins such as moldy foods, bones, and cigarette butts, empty containers of cleaning products or other items.

Bathroom

Medications – all medications, dietary supplements and inhalers can be detrimental to your pet. Even ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) are very poisonous to your pets. Always keep medications out of reach and never leave them on the bathroom counter.

Cleaning products – make sure that cleaning products are stored behind a secure door. In addition, always keep the toilet lid closed, especially if you use chemical bowl cleaners that are placed inside the tank.

Utility Room

Laundry supplies – bleaches, fabric softener sheets and detergent can be toxic to your pets causing respiratory and digestive issues. Make sure to properly store items and throw away unused portions.

Storage – utility rooms are often used for storing miscellaneous items. Make sure that all poisonous products are secured such as insecticides, rat poison, all types of glue, turpentine, paint and other toxic substances.

Garage

Automotive products – properly store automotive products like antifreeze, brake fluid and windshield cleaner fluid. For a safer alternative, select propylene glycol-based antifreeze. Whenever antifreeze is spilled, clean it up immediately. Antifreeze is very toxic to pets. Unfortunately, pets love the sweet taste and will often find it appealing.

Whitworth Animal Clinic

If you live in the Madison, Alabama area and suspect your pet has ingested something poisonous, call Whitworth Animal Clinic immediately at 256-830-1503. In addition, take a picture of the product or plant for identification purposes. For your convenience, Whitworth Animal Clinic services pets from Huntsville, Madison and the surrounding Madison County areas. You can also call the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at 1-888-426-4435. The Center will put you in contact with an emergency veterinary clinic that is closest to your home or location.

Animal Dermatology – Treating Pet Skin

photo of a dog with demodectic mange | Whitworth Animal Clinic

No matter what the cause it is always hard to see our pets suffering from health conditions including skin problems. Dr. Whitworth can diagnose and treat all problems including demodectic mange as seen in the above photo.

Lovely to look at and essential to well being; healthy skin is happy skin. For pets and humans alike, this largest organ in the body serves an indispensable protective role. A better understanding of skin’s functioning makes it clear why pets need dermatologists too.

The many functions of skin

Skin is a unique organ made of several tissue layers that can contain specialized glands and hair follicles. The hair follicles found on mammals help to retain body heat while giving them a distinctive appearance. Glands provide oils that protect the fur and outer layers of skin. They can also produce the scents that many pets rely on for communication with allies and enemies.

Acting as a physical barrier between the inner organs and the outside world, intact and healthy skin helps to keep moisture in and infection out. When the barrier is breached, immune cells embedded in the layers of the skin act as a ready line of defense against infection. Damage to either the skin barrier or immune function can create skin discomfort and increase the risk of infections.

Conditions treated by pet dermatologists

Designed to attack threats to health, the immune system can malfunction and attack otherwise harmless substances. These substances, known as allergens, can be as various as house dust, fabrics, food additives or a pet’s own dander. No matter the cause, allergies tend to include a similar set of symptoms such as itching, sneezing, flaking, loss of fur and redness of the skin. Pets with allergies can also appear lethargic or unwilling to be handled. Untreated allergies can make pets downright miserable while placing them at risk for skin infections.

A veterinarian, such as Dr. Whitworth, who treats pet dermatology, can help identify and treat skin conditions, and will see pets with allergy symptoms. Allergy treatments can include a change in diet, soothing soaps or medications. Such small steps can make a world of difference for a pet suffering from allergies. Owners of furry animals can expect their pets to regain their softness and sheen after alleviating allergy symptoms. When properly treated, pets with allergies can lead healthy, normal lives.

Whether due to untreated allergy or the result of trauma, damage to the skin can lead to infection. A specialist in animal dermatology can provide the best diagnostic and therapeutic aide for skin infections. Distinguishing the lumps of infection from the bumps of tumors is another important part of animal dermatology and one of the many services provided by the Whitworth Animal Clinic.

The neighborhood animal dermatology center

Located in Madison and serving the greater Huntsville metropolitan area, Whitworth Animal Clinic is Northern Alabama’s first choice for pet dermatology care. Contact our team of animal care experts to learn more about your favorite four-legged friend’s skin care options.

Tips for Capturing Candid Photos of Your Pets

Pet Photography Tips | Whitworth Animal ClinicNothing can quite capture the dynamics and energy of your pet like a candid photo. However, capturing the perfect shot of your pet may seem daunting. In truth, animals are much harder to shoot than people because they rarely sit still. But you really do not need to be a professional in order to capture a few remarkable pictures of your pets. In addition, a high-tech camera with elaborate settings is not a requirement for great pet photography. In fact, a point-and-shoot camera is really all that you need.

Consider Personality

One of the best photography tips is to capture an animal’s personality. Before you begin taking photos, consider what makes your pet different than other animals. Try to capture your pet’s distinct personality on camera. For instance, if you dog is overactive, the best shots will probably be in the park while fetching a stick or rollicking in the river. If your pet is rather lazy, the best shots might be when they first wake up or at their favorite hang-outs after a meal.

Background and Props

Great photography tips include backgrounds that are natural and uncluttered. Always avoid anything busy or distracting such as patterned wallpaper or flower bushes in full bloom.

Props are also important. Good props include treats and toys. Using a dangling or squeaky toy can capture your pet’s attention and can get them playing. Oftentimes the best pictures are during play time. In addition, an animal that loves to beg can be charmed with treats. You will undoubtedly capture the longing and begging eyes of your pet.

Getting up Close

When taking pictures you will want to get up close. Rather than being at a distance, close up pictures allow you to capture different your pets distinct features, the eyes or other facial characteristics. You can also seize finer details like a cats whiskers if your camera has a zoom lens.

Get on Your Knees or on the Ground

Being at an animals level enables you to capture much better pictures. Avoid taking shots from above. Taking photos from an angle looking down will often distort an image. Make sure you and your pet are looking eye to eye. For when you are at your pet’s level, you will have optimal prospects for the ideal shot.

Maintaining Health and Well-being

Capturing the dynamics and spirit of your pet is a shot that can be treasured forever. Photos are lasting memories of you and your family’s experiences, including your pets. And when it comes to getting the best shot, a happy and healthy pet is the most photogenic.

At Whitworth Animal Clinic, we offer a full service animal clinic complete with other professional amenities such as grooming, boarding and dog training. And so your pet stays relaxed, our clinic keeps a very calm environment. Whitworth Animal Clinic is located in Madison and also serves the surrounding areas in north Alabama.

Winter Protection for Your Pets

photo of girl with her dog in the snow | Whitworth Animal ClinicUnless you live in a temperate warmer zone, you have regularly felt the cold chill of winter. Some regard winter as a fun filled playground of skiing or snowboarding, yet others experience winter as bone chilling and hard to tolerate. What is certain, winter can be difficult for people as well as most animals. In truth, your pets rely on you for their wellbeing. So keeping them safe and warm in the winter months is important to their health.

Inside or Outside

If your pet generally spends most of their time outdoors then you may want to take extra precautions during the coldest months of winter. If you reside in mild to cold zones, a small heater in the barn or where your pet sleeps will ensure that they stay warm. However, if you live in bitterly cold areas, it is recommended that you keep your pet indoors during freezing months.

Fresh Water and Food

If you have outdoors pets, they need to keep hydrated and well nourished, especially in the winter. In cold months, animals require more food to stay warm. This is because it takes more energy to stay warm when it is cold outside. Oftentimes food and water will freeze overnight. Just make sure that your animals have plenty of fresh water and food.

Diet for Indoor Animals

An indoor animal has different dietary needs than an outdoor animal. Oftentimes they are overfed and they will gain too much weight during cold months of the year. Plus a pet that is overweight is susceptible to health issues.

And like people, cats and dogs tend to get less exercise when it is cold outside. As well, indoor pets try to sustain their energy by sleeping more in the winter. Adjusting your pets’ diet accordingly, is the best preventative for gaining too much weight.

Avoiding Frostbite

Like people, animals can also get frostbite. For that reason, it is very important that you keep your pet warm, especially if they are an indoor animal. Pay particular attention to your pet’s ears, paws and the tips of the tail. Early warning signs of frostbite include waxy, firm skin and blisters. Moreover, some animals may require special booties, hats and coats for when their outdoor walks.

Special Care at Whitworth Animal Clinic

If you are not sure what type of diet your pets needs for the winter months or suspect frostbite, contact a specialist as soon as possible. And if you live in Madison or the surrounding areas of north Alabama, Whitworth Animal Clinic is highly recommended by many animal lovers. In fact, Dr. Charles Whitworth is a licensed veterinarian who has been treating cats and dogs since 1981. And at Whitworth Animal Clinic you can feel confident that your pet will receive the best of care possible.

Dog Breath – What Causes It?

dog toothbrushingWhen you think about causes of bad breath among humans you may envision garlic bread, black coffee, onions, smoking, tuna fish sandwiches, illness and poor oral hygiene. But why do dogs get, well, dog breath? When your dog wants to show you love with a few big, slurpy kisses on the nose, and the stinky dog breath makes your toes curl, something is going on. Whitworth Animal Clinic shares some factors that contribute to offensive breath, so you can be aware and take steps help keep your dog’s breath fresh.

When Plaque Attacks

Plaque develops from bacteria that grow on teeth when food particles are not removed from between the teeth. The buildup of tartar and dental calculus, followed by gingivitis and tooth infections, yields odor-producing bacteria that can trigger some futrid fumes. A combination of foul breath and dark colored teeth, particularly at the gum line, suggest that plaque is most possibly the cause. Daily brushing with a vet approved doggie toothpaste and toothbrush, a fingertip brush, or even gauze wrapped around a finger can help keep decay away.

Wet Food Can Contribute to Decay

You might think you are feeding your dog only the best when you serve wet food, but unless your dog has a particular condition that Dr. Whitworth has prescribed wet food for, dry crunchy food is preferable. Why? Soft foods are more likely to stick between teeth and provide a breeding ground for a buildup of bacteria. If your dog doesn’t have a medical condition that necessitates wet food, substitute a dry, crunchy food. It actually helps keep teeth clean!

Who Knows Where That Nose has Been …

When a dog investigates something, he doesn’t have the luxury of picking it up and looking at it. The sense of smell and taste are your dog’s analytical tools, which means that fact-finding occurs face first. And dogs don’t really know what is yucky by mere sight. In fact, they often enjoy the smell and taste of things we consider unpleasant, such as dead desiccated frogs, discarded tissues or those special treats in the litter box. Just look at how they greet other dogs….enough said. A result of sticking their tongue and nose in less-than-savory spots can be obnoxious breath. Fortunately this is not a permanent condition, but it may make you consider closing the bathroom door or looking closely at what your dog seems to be enjoying rolling in.

Tooth Decay

The next step beyond plaque and tartar buildup is tooth decay. Or a tooth can crack from chewing on something extremely unyielding, a fall, or an injury. Although most of us don’t pry our dog’s jaws open and perform a dental exam, the cause of the offensive odor could be a broken or rotted tooth. If you can actually see it, it probably is too late to be saved, but having Dr. Whitworth remove the tooth can help prevent associated health issues from the infection.

When Foreign Bodies Make Themselves at Home

Something as innocent looking as a stick your dog was playing with may leave a splinter caught in the roof of your dog’s mouth or between the teeth. Inflammation, infection or abscesses, and then subsequent odor from the bacteria can be the outcome. A thorough oral exam is very important as antibiotics may be required, as well as draining and cleansing the irritation and infection.

Dog Breath May be Indicative of Other Health Problems

In some cases, that odiferous breath can be an indicator of health issues other than dental hygiene. Stinky breath can be a sign of gastrointestinal or esophageal problems or other ailments. Oral tumors and mouth cancers also are a source of halitosis, and the possibility should be investigated when you can’t see the source firsthand. Even food that doesn’t agree with your dog’s digestion, or something unsavory that was ingested can increase gas production, (which can be released from either end).

If the obvious methods of improving your dog’s breath, including brushing, lots of clean fresh water, dental chew bones and crunchy food don’t have much effect, it’s time for a dental exam at Whitworth Animal Clinic, providing veterinary services to pets from Madison, Huntsville, and the surrounding Madison County areas. That dog breath can be your dog’s body telling you something is amiss, unless the overturned garbage can provides a different sort of hint.

 

Cats Do Get Arthritis

What do you think of when someone mentions that their pet has arthritis? Most people will assume they are talking about hip problems usually associated with a number of large breed dogs. And it’s true, many large breed dogs develop very obvious symptoms of hip dysplasia or other joint issues, such as favoring a leg, limping, erratic stride or stiff gait. Yet sometimes even a dog can develop arthritis and not have identifiable symptoms. But cats?

Do Cats Get Arthritis?

And then there are cats. Cats don’t have as great a variation in size as dogs, and their musculature and skeletal structure differs from dogs too, allowing them the commonly associated traits of flexibility and grace. Specific breeds of cats are not commonly linked with a tendency to become lame. It is not often one sees a cat outwardly limping with a stiff rear leg unless injured.

But Dr. Whitworth knows that cats do suffer from arthritis, although it is thought most cats suffer in silence or mask their discomfort. And quite often behaviors and actions that are actually expression of symptoms are misinterpreted as being caused by other conditions, old age or being lazy. Actually, the symptoms of arthritis in cats are much more subtle harder to distinguish, although the condition can negatively impact their quality of life the same as with a dog.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Amount of Time Allocated to Snoozing Increases. Although cats may seem to sleep almost all of the time anyway, if your cat starts to sleep even more, it may not be just because they are lazy, or just due to aging and slowing down. They may be sleeping more because that is their way of dealing with pain and the best way to rest achy joints and discomfort.

Ready, Set, Jump!  If your older cat seems to be considering whether or not they should jump, it could be because they have arthritis. Or, they may try to jump and miss the landing because the joint pain prevents the launch from having power behind it. Younger cats and most adults tend to just leap without thinking about it. If your cat stops jumping altogether schedule a visit to Whitworth Animal Clinic.

Changes in Grooming Habits.  This trait can go either way. Some cats will lick the stiff areas excessively as if to make it feel better, and others may be avoiding contracted positions by significantly reducing their grooming time, or stopping it completely.

Reduction in Appetite.  If the cat typically is fed on a raised surface they have to jump to in order to reach their food, the potential pain may outweigh the hunger. In more advanced cases, the discomfort may be reflected in a decreased appetite. In any case, lack of appetite is almost always a warning sign of some condition and merits a visit to Dr. Whitworth.

Accidents in the Vicinity of the Litter Box. We usually don’t even think about it, but some litter box designs have high sides. With arthritis, the intention may be good but the logistics a challenge. Sore limbs may make jumping or raising limbs above the sides prohibitive, or maneuvering in deep heavy clay litter or sand difficult. We know how hard it is to navigate in dense wet sand at the beach. Imagine if each step hurts!

Constipation.  Along similar lines, when joints are arthritic and ache, it may be more difficult for a cat to hold the typical “potty” position for a period of time, so they adapt by waiting as long as possible, and eventually the body may begin to adapt to normal functioning being delayed and constipation results. Which in turn can cause additional discomfort.

Regular Routine is Discarded. If your cat’s regular routine seems to be broken, such as: choosing to sleep elsewhere than the regular spot in the middle of your bed; or they become totally sedentary when frequent play time breaks were the norm; or they used to run to the door, tail lifted, when they heard you fumbling with the key but now they barely glance up from their sleeping spot routine, arthritis should be considered.

Personality Changes. This sign can also go two ways. A cat that normally is social, affectionate and friendly who suddenly is aloof, grumbly when touched or hisses at you or other pets can be telling you something. Or the opposite, if a normally independent cat is suddenly all over you, is vocal when left alone, or even tries to strike up a friendship with arch enemy #1 the dog, something may be amiss, even if it isn’t arthritis.

If you think your cat might be in pain or you have been noticing changes in behavior as discussed above, schedule a full geriatric appointment with Dr. Whitworth. Don’t put it off, because even a very subtle sign of misery can signal arthritis, or another condition. Dr. Whitworth will conduct a thorough physical examination and take x-rays as indicated to make an accurate diagnosis. Many treatment options exist, including weight control, supplements, medication and water therapy. Conveniently located in Madison, AL, Whitworth Animal Clinic serves Madison, Huntsville, Decatur, and the surrounding areas in North Alabama.

Cat Obedience Training 101

Cat clicker Train to SitWhen you hear someone say, “Sit. Stay. Come. Good Girl or That’s a Boy”, do you automatically assume someone is giving commands to a dog? Most people, including cat owners, don’t really consider training a cat to respond to commands the same way that dogs do. You don’t need to house train them and leash train them, but the truth is, cats’ abilities for training are highly underestimated. Think of trained lion and tigers, think of cats walking tight ropes in a circus – well you get the idea. In short, basic training for cats involves obedience training just as it does for dogs. The general opinion of cats and training is that a cat doesn’t listen and doesn’t care to follow a command, but there are ways to teach your cat a few new “tricks”.

Why Should I Train My Cat?

You may question why you would want to train your cat, other than to amaze your friends and family. Here are some examples of why cat training may be for you.

The Shopping Bag Dance. What about the times when you return from shopping with your arms full of bags, kids are darting around you on their way into the house, you’ve got a purse and kiddie bag dangling from your shoulder, and the trick is to manage to get everyone and everything into the house without the cat escaping? Your cat may come to the door to greet you, and out of the door goes the nose as soon as it opens. Not only does the cat become another obstacle in the entry zone to maneuver around, you may have to drop everything to stick the cat behind closed doors in another room or in their carrier while you drag in the load to avoid an escape. What started out as a “hello” now has become a punishment, at least from the cat’s perspective. And that can contribute to the dislike of the carrier on top of it all. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to tell the cat to “sit” or “stay” and have the cat actually stop before entering the danger zone?

Visiting Dr. Whitworth. Have you ever tried to get your cat into a carrier when it is time to visit Whitworth Animal Clinic only to find yourself forced into a frustrating game of hide and seek? Teaching your cat to “come” when called makes situations like this one a lot less stressful for both you and the cat.

The “Cat-hunt”. It’s also very helpful to have control over the “come” command if your indoor cat escapes during the above “Shopping Bag Dance”, or in any other circumstance of door open for too long, and you need to get the cat to come back home without a major “cat”hunt.

What Are the Benefits of Training My Cat?

Training your cat to perform tricks is going a bit too far, but training your cat to understand and obey a few simple orders will help you in the following ways:

  • It strengthens your relationship and builds a stronger bond between you and your cat – training makes your cat understand who is in charge so in order to get what is wanted, the cat has to do what you want.
  • It keeps your cat’s mind active and stimulated
  • It’s great interactive play, and teaches your cat good social behavioral skills.
  • Anxious and nervous cats are reassured and calmed down by the repetition and routine of training.
  • Keeps your cat safer.

What are the Basics of Cat Obedience Training?

If you are a cat owner you already know that cats usually ignore a command unless they feel like obliging. The big challenge is to make your cat want to do what you want. Although you may not realize it, environmental cue conditioning already exists in your home. For example, your cat probably already associates the sounds of the top of a can of cat food being pulled off, or crunchy nuggets being poured into a dish, or the treat bag shaking with food! Time to show up! These sounds signal food, which in a cat’s mind is a reward (for doing nothing but being themselves…) So, the key to cat training is to reinforce any specific desired behavior with a food reward, preceding the reward with a recognizable sound that your cat will associate with the desired action to be performed.

So how do I train my cat? Since you probably already use sounds unconsciously to distract your cat from doing certain behaviors, such as whistling, clapping your hands or snapping your fingers, obedience training, fortified by the sound made by a small mechanical noise maker (i.e. the “clicker”) is probably the most effective training technique. This approach encourages your cat to obey commands by associating them with a behavior to be performed, then the sound of the clicker and, ultimately, a food reward.

What Do I Do?

The clicker is an especially valuable training tool because it allows you, as the trainer, to pinpoint the exact behavior that’s being rewarded. If you don’t use a clicker, your cat could form associations between a treat and a completely unrelated behavior because it’s difficult to distribute the treat at the exact moment the behavior is performed.

  • Get your cat accustomed to the clicker followed by a treat before you start the training. To develop the connection, offer a foodie treat and then make the clicking sound. To test readiness, try a click, and if the cat comes looking for a treat, the link has been formed.
  • Always use your cat’s name when issuing a command, as well as the same word or phrase for the desired action.
  • Click the clicker at the precise moment your cat performs a desired behavior. For example, for the ‘sit’ command, the click should occur at the very second your cat’s bottom touches the ground.
  • Directly after the click, feed your cat a small tasty treat (tuna or cooked chicken bits) and give praise.
  • With repetition, your cat grows to associate the click with getting a tasty morsel and recognizes his own ability to earn treats by performing the desired action on command.

 

Effective Training Tips

  • Keeping your frustration at bay and practicing patience is key. Each cat is unique so tailor the obedience training to match your cat’s personality. Response to some commands will come easily to your cat, others may be more difficult to learn.
  • Enforce a feeding schedule rather than free-feeding. This has two main benefits: it increases the reward-value of food treats as training devices, and also introduces a semblance of routine into your cat’s life. Most companion animals actually do like the semblance of a routine – even cats!
  • Schedule training sessions just before mealtimes: if your cat is hungry her focus will be sharpened and your cat’s natural desire for food increases her desire to obey you for the food reward.
  • Give your cat undivided attention and choose a location that is free of distractions and noise. No music, TV or cell phone interruptions.
  • Dr. Whitworth recommends that you take training slowly. Building up a solid foundation of the basics is the most important focus – trying to teach your cat to perform multiple tricks at one session may backfire.
  • Keep sessions interesting and short – between 10 to 15 minutes since cats bore easily. Make the training sessions fun for your cat and for you and make them something your cat wants to participate in. You’ll both be so proud!