Medical Help for the Anxious Abbys
and Wigged Out Westies
Dr. Karen Sueda
Questions or comments? Email Dr. Cruz at: email@example.com.
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[Announcer]: Please welcome your pet doctor host, veterinary media consultant and veterinarian, Dr. Bernadine Cruz.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: You're listening to Dr. Bernadine Cruz with Pet Life Radio and the Pet Doctor.
Everyone who's ever thought "oh, your dog or cat is just being bad", there's really no such thing as a bad dog or cat. There's only misunderstood pets with behaviors that don't fit our definition of what is good.
A trainer may be able to get your pet to come, sit, stay, but the dog that has panic attacks and the cat with territory issues – a veterinary behaviorist is just what the doctor ordered.
We're going to be chatting today with Dr. Karen Sueda. She received her degree in veterinary medicine at the University of California at Davis. She later completed a three-year residency in clinical animal behavior at UC-Davis.
She has recently become board certified in animal behavior and is the only practicing veterinary behaviorist in Los Angeles. Big area, and a big job for her. Dr. Sueda's special interests include feline behavior (so I'll have to ask her lots of questions about my cats), canine anxiety disorders and the human animal bond. She was born and raised in Hawaii where her family continues to reside.
We'll be right back with Dr. Sueda.
[Announcer]: Please have a seat in the waiting room. The doctor will be with you shortly, right after these messages.
[Announcer]: Let's talk Pets on PetLifeRadio.com
[Announcer]: welcome back to the Pet Doctor on Pet Life Radio with Dr. Bernadine Cruz. The doctor is in and will see you now.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Dr. Karen, thank you so much, I promise not to take up all our time talking about my cats and their little issues that they have.
Dr. Karen Sueda: thank you so much for having me on
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: I think a lot of people are confused: why do I need a veterinary behaviorist? Why can't I just call a trainer?
Dr. Karen Sueda: That's a really great question. There's actually a big difference between veterinary behaviorist and trainers.
When we talk about trainers a lot of times, we're specifically referring to dog trainers, and correct me if I am wrong, but I haven't heard about too many cat trainers out there.
Usually when pets have behavior problems, they kind of have a choice of either seeking out the help of dog trainers, or a behaviorist who aren't necessarily veterinarians. More recently with the advent of veterinary behavior being a specialty, there are more and more veterinary behaviorists out there.
I kind of think of dog trainers or trainers in general as foreign language teachers. In your introduction you actually made a great point of "what trainers really are out there for is to actually teach you and your pet a common language to speak". When you, say, asked your dog to "sit", you mean "I want you to put your butt on the ground".
Those are great for teaching basic commands, but may not be as useful for addressing behavior problems. I've actually seen a lot of dogs who are wonderful obedience trained dogs, but are still really aggressive or still have a lot of other behavior issues.
I really do think that behaviorists, whether they are non veterinarians or veterinarians, are kind of the equivalent of human psychotherapists. Instead of just teaching a dog or a cat to perform specific behaviors like sitting or lying down, we're actually addressing the underlying reason why the pet exhibits the behavior that the owner finds problematic.
So really my job during the consultation is to determine why the dog or cat or other animal is showing the behavior that the owner doesn't like and really address the underlying emotional reason why they are showing it. Once we can do that, a lot of the good behavior follows just naturally from that.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: I love the way you say that a trainer is really just teaching a foreign language. That is just a fantastic way to think about it. Yeah, OK, that makes sense to us. So many people have seen the dog whisperer, and how he can get such immediate fantastic results. Is this reality for the majority of pets that are out there?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Unfortunately not. A lot of times, too, when you see those miraculous things on TV, a lot of owners think…
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: …that it happened in 30 minutes.
Dr. Karen Sueda: Exactly! I wish I could treat all my patients that way! There's a lot of TV magic that I'm sure goes on behind the scenes, and a lot of very selective cases.
One of my clients made a great point of saying I'm sure it would be great if you could select all of the cases that you want to see and treat, I'm sure you would have a 100 percent compliance and a 100 percent success rate, and unfortunately what we're seeing on TV is not the reality and a lot of times too a lot of what you see on TV may be very easy in the hands of a trainer who has been doing it for years and years and years, but may be very difficult for the average owner to perform at home.
For me and my pet I know that I would never time-wise be able to take my dogs for a run for four or five hours a day even if it was on a treadmill. Even as good as trainers as you see on tv, the average owner isn't a trainer. They don’t have the years of experience behind them, so one of the things I try to emphasize is "what can I teach you that you can put into practical management at home right away?
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What are some of the most common reasons why pets are brought to you? What's their neurosis what's their problems?
Dr. Karen Sueda: probably the most common behavior problem that I see is aggression, that's the one that's really going to impact an owner and a pets' daily life. An owner that can't take their dog out on a walk because he's growling, acting aggressive to every person they see, or the owners' worried about taking them on a walk because their dog is aggressive to other dogs and they're worried about the liability concerns.
So that's probably the most common reason I see, but owners do have to keep in the back of their mind that aggression is, there's a large number of reasons for aggression. Probably the most common one is actually fear aggression, so a lot of my patients that I see their dogs are acting aggressive because they are actually panicked and fearful inside.
They are not necessarily always protective of the owners, they are actually more aggressive when the owners are around, because the dog actually feels like they have the pack behind them, the owners are there to actually protect them. So they feel a lot more comfortable showing aggression when the owners are there.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: do you think this came about dr. sueda because they were improperly socialized when they were puppies or kittens, or are there are other reasons why you see such a commonality in this aggression problem?
Dr. Karen Sueda: I think that is a big reason why dogs and cats may be aggressive is lack of socialization, or just not enough or inadequate socialization.
We've done the research; dogs go through a primary socialization period from about four to fourteen weeks or four to sixteen weeks of age and that's really the time in their life when they are most adaptable, that's the time in their life when we really want to do our best to try to introduce them to all the different types of people and situations and other animals that they may encounter in the future. It's also an age though where we as veterinarians have somewhat done a little bit of a poor job in the past because there's a lot of veterinarians may still tell their owners, pet owners, not to take their puppy out until they're fully vaccinated, but once they've received that final vaccine at 14 or 16 weeks of age, their primary socialization period has come and gone so that window of opportunity is slowly closing at that point.
What the new thought process is behind associating keeping the dogs and pets safe in terms of not exposing to infectious disease but still being able to socialize during that time, is actually make sure your dogs and cats have their first set of vaccines and then take them to safe areas or safe situations to socialize them.
I really try to encourage owners to take their dogs and cats to puppy or kitten classes so they can meet other adult people, strangers, other animals, and learn good social skills. Another really good one is to have little puppy introduction parties where you invite friends over and definitely try to make sure you're including children, adults, elderly people, people in uniform, invite a variety of people to your home and introduce them to the puppy in a really fun friendly manner.
Or, take your puppy or cats to friends home where have adult animals that are healthy, fully vaccinated, no signs of illnesses so your puppy can socialize there too and that's a really good, safe way to start the socialization process off on the right foot. We can really overcome a lot of those fear behaviors we see later in life with just really good solid exposure in a fun way earlier in life.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Having "fun days" for your puppy or kitten – I like it!
Dr. Karen Sueda: Exactly! It's the neat L.A. thing!
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Only the crazy Californians would be having play dates for their dogs and cats! You're talking about socializing these animals and it sounds like – yes, when they're young, that critical time when they need to have that exposure to all the different thing they’re going to run into later on in life, should you be getting your puppy or kitten from the breeder or the pet store when it's six weeks of age, what's the optimal time?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Usually we like it right around six to eight weeks, 'cause that really depends on what kind of environment the puppy or kitten is being exposed to at the breeders' house verses when what kind of environment they're bringing them into at home. For those really great breeders out there that really do try to do a lot of social exposure, they can be a really great benefit because they may be actually the ones that are more able to have the puppy and kitten exposed to other animals, people coming, going, seeing the other puppies and kittens in the litter, so they may actually be able to do a better job of exposing the dog or cat to a variety of new situations if you happen to be really busy during that time in your life. However, if it's a breeder or a person who has the puppy or kittens who may be living in an environment that's really different from your own, it may be worthwhile bring the puppy or kitten home a little bit sooner, at six to eight weeks rather than eight to ten weeks. I remember when I was working at UC Davis, a lot of times we'd actually have owners from the San Francisco bay area who'd get their pets from breeders that lived in very, very rural environments, so these new dogs or cats may have never heard traffic, much less the type of cars or urban types of stimuli at their breeders' home that they're finally exposed to in the San Francisco bay area.
I still see a lot of that here in L.A. too where I'm still getting used to the L.A. traffic and it's been over a year now and I definitely have a lot of clients who've purchased dogs even over the Internet and had them shipped over from Arkansas, or south Carolina, and those dogs have never seen cars or trucks or the noise of traffic of the big city, so, really depends on what kind of environment they're coming from, and what kind of environment they're going to.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Besides aggression that you're seeing in dogs commonly, what are some of the other reasons why people are bringing their dogs to you?
Dr. Karen Sueda: As far as dogs are concerned probably the next biggest one is just anxiety disorders, and a big one really nowadays is separation anxiety. A lot of these dogs are doing things like being destructive in the house when the owners are not there or barking, which the neighbors are complaining about, even doing things like urinating and defecating in the home unfortunately, and a lot of owners don't realize that their dogs are actually having panic attacks when they are gone.
A lot of owners still attribute the dog urinating in the house when they're gone, or ripping up the carpeting to spite or revenge – my dog was mad at me because I got this new job and I can't stay at home with him anymore, so when they come home they are horrified that their dog is behaving this way, and actually resort to punishment. But really, in that dog's mind, they are just so attached to their owners that they are literally having an anxiety attack when they are separated from them.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Anxiety! You'd never think that would happen to a dog or cat. We've been talking to Dr. Karen Sueda, she's a board certified veterinary behaviorist practicing here in Los Angeles. We'll be right back to hear what we can do with that dog that has panic attacks right after this short message.
[Announcer]: Please have a seat in the waiting room, the doctor will be with you shortly, right after this messages.
[Announcer]: Welcome back to the Pet Doctor on Pet Life Radio with Dr. Bernadine Cruz. The doctor is in, and will see you now.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Dr. Karen, you'd mentioned panic attacks in dogs, and it sounds like they're not really trying to get back at us, they're not doing it for spite, besides quitting your job and staying home with your pet, what can a pet owner do?
Dr. Karen Sueda: That would be nice if we could all make money by staying home and getting all the love and giving all the love back to our pets, I would love that job, but what we can really do, there's a lot of new things out there, and it's really important that owners realize that there are things we can do about dogs with separation anxiety or dogs or cats with behavioral problems.
For separation anxiety, once your dog has it, the first thing really is to identify that they actually are having a panic attack when you're gone. One thing I often tell owners or recommend that owners do that help me in my diagnosis, is actually if they have access to a video camera, is set that camera on record, set it up where they can see their pet, where if their dog is chewing at the door frame, set the video camera where they can get a good view of that and actually leave.
Leave for five or ten minutes and then come back and look at the tape. What we're looking for is that the dog is actually showing physical signs of anxiety and those can be things like barking, vocalizing, panting, salivating, doing a lot of pacing behaviors. Owners are very good at knowing when their pets are upset and you can clearly see that on the video tape. That really helps….
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: These problems happen in five to ten minutes, does it happen that fast?
Dr. Karen Sueda: It does happen that fast, unfortunately. A lot of times for separation anxiety, the worst behaviors occur usually in the first half an hour and it's almost immediate. Even some of these dogs will start showing signs even before their owners have left the house. Dogs are really smart and they often pick up on cues that their owners are about to leave; owners picking up their purse or their keys, or putting on their shoes or their jackets. A lot of pets realize that those are very good indicators that their owners are going to leave the house and they start showing signs even that early.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: I know I had a black lab and on weekends all of a sudden I'd go to my closet and I would put on tennis shoes, not really thinking about it, I was going to go for a walk and the dog—OH, TENNIS SHOES! – knew exactly what that meant.
Dr. Karen Sueda: mm hmmm….
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: How come I put on tennis shoes during the week and he didn't seem to know, but, yes they know this. Is there something can be done for these poor dogs?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Yeah, what we usually do for separation anxiety, definitely first of all take your pet to their veterinarian; we want to make sure we're ruling out any other underlying medical problems, 'cause I've seen cases where dogs may have separation anxiety but it's actually exacerbated by a medical issue as well so first and foremost take your pets to the vet to be sure there aren't any physical problems.
After that, talk to your veterinarian about separation anxiety. We usually address separation anxiety in two ways. One is definitely through behavior modification training, and that really involves teaching your pet to remain calm when you leave the house.
The other part of it is that there are medications out there that can help reduce the dogs' anxiety, because again like you said earlier, [laughing] it would be great if we can stay home with our pets all the time, but most of us including myself work at least five days a week and separation anxiety can be really difficult to treat because we can't avoid leaving our pets home alone sometimes. So medication can really help in that aspect. It goes two help reduce anxiety so the training process also goes faster and smoother. But also there are medications out there that you can use that will help provide pretty immediate fast acting anti-anxiety relief for their pets because again I really like using the analogy that your pet is having a panic attack when you are gone and for those people out there that have had panic attacks it's a hard, a very difficult emotional and physically draining experience.
And so from even a ethologic sense, or a welfare aspect of it, I really feel that a lot of these pets they’re suffering so badly with anxiety really need something on board to just help them calm down as soon as possible.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: So the pill is not the answer, but the pill is part of the solution, is that correct?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Exactly, exactly. And for people that really don't want to resort to medication, we've definitely treated pets with separation anxiety with training alone, but the vast majority of people from my experience chose to help their pet because they really are suffering, as well as to help themselves, 'cause who wants to come home to a destroyed door, or ripped up carpeting, or having to clean up after your pet after they’ve urinated or defeated in the house. That medication can really be beneficial. But definitely talk to your vet about prescribing it, because only veterinarians can prescribe that medication.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Now I know some of my clients will say: "my dog seems to have separation anxiety, just hates it when I leave. I want to get myself another dog to keep it company; I think that will help". What's your opinion about that?
Dr. Karen Sueda: It can help in some cases, but definitely not all. Best case scenario what I usually recommend to clients if you think that might help your dog, go ahead and see if you have a friend that has a dog that you can borrow, and again: set it up where you have a video camera and see if that actually does help. But I definitely don't advocate going out to a shelter and adopting a pet just to see in the off chance that this might work. Best case scenario yes it might work, worst case scenario you might just come home to two dogs with problems..
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Two neurotic dogs!
Dr. Karen Sueda: …and you've got work to do.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: We've been talking about dogs and their problems, aggression and separation anxiety – what's the number one problem that cats will present for?
Dr. Karen Sueda: The number one problem that cats will present for is not using the litter box, and that by far is…
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: [talking over each other] You know what my cats are doing, yes!
Dr. Karen Sueda: Oh, you're kidding, so you know how you've been dealing with this problem! Usually that can be – we think of that in two different scenarios – either cats aren't using the litter box in terms of finding another toileting area where they want to void their bladder, or we also see cats that are actually urine marking or urine spraying and that's usually depositing a stream of urine on a vertical surface like the side of a couch or against a door or a wall.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: why are these wonderous kitties not using their kitty box?
Dr. Karen Sueda: it's a variety of different reasons, there's never usually one solution. We kind of think of it on terms of there is behavioral problems that can cause it and there's medical problems. Again it's a situation where the number one thing to do is take your cat to their vet. I can't emphasize that enough because we definitely see cats with medical problems, either urinary tract infections, stones in their bladder, other underlying metabolic problems or endocrine problems, they can cause your cat to urinate outside the box, so it may not be a behavioral problem at all but maybe a medical problem.
But when we do think about behavioral problems probably (in at least the cases I see) it's the number one reason that cats don't use the box is that there's something about the litter box they don't like. Whether it's not being cleaned enough, whether it's they would actually prefer an uncovered litter box verses a covered one, or they don't particularly like the type of litter that you're using.
Probably another common reason is that especially in multi-cat households, a really common one that I see is when there's a little bit of tension between the cats in the household. One cat who is a more bullying cat may actually be really subtly guarding the litter box as a resource. So, that cat you see stretched that's just kind of stretched out, out lying in front of the litter box, giving the evil eye to any cat that approaches, that cat may actually be guarding the litter box. And again, cats aren't dumb, they think "oh, well the bully cat is lying there, and if I walk toward him I might get myself into a fight, maybe that couch is looking good right now" so they're going to maybe avoid that litter box and find another good place to use the bathroom
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Now would you agree: I've heard in the past that you should have one cat box - for indoor cats - one cat box per cat, preferably an open box, and using clumping unscented litter, and clean it at least once a day.
Dr. Karen Sueda: Exactly, that's exactly what I recommend to clients. Usually we like having at least one litter box per cat so again that's for a variety of different reasons. One is if you do have any inner cat aggression issues in the household, or cats that may not be getting along all the time, at least you are providing your cat with another choice. If one cats' guarding the litter box they can go to another one. Another one is just - in my household, I have one cat, but I actually have two cat boxes, 'cause it serves as a little bit of a buffer in terms of my own cleanliness habits. When you get a little bit busy, sometimes you forget to scoop the litter box and if you have a very fastidious cat, just leaving the litter unscooped for a day or two 'cause we all get busy especially around the holidays, it just gives the cat another choice of a cleaner box to go to as well.
Scooping the litter box at least once a day I also recommend. If you do have a litter box problem, emptying the litter box, cleaning the litter box with just hot water and a very mild dish detergent at least once a week or once every two weeks, refilling with completely new litter as well can often help. And then unscented clumping litters are the ones that when we've done studies cats really prefer, usually uncovered litter boxes no litter box liner.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Well, I'm doing all of that, I'll continue doing it, but still one of my kitties periodically has issues so… Yes, well work on it. We're trying to hope that my husband never listens to these podcasts 'cause then he'll know the cat is still having issues.
Dr. Karen Sueda: [laughter]
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: What are some of the other reasons that kitties are presented to you?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Probably the then second common reason is just inner cat aggression issues in the household so, the typical scenario of you have one cat and want to introduce another one, you hope they're going to be best buddies but sometimes it doesn't always work out that way.
Often I tell owners it's a kind of a hit or miss deal, it's almost like having a college roommate – you're either going to love them and be best friends for life, or you might just mutually tolerate one another, or you're bitter enemies, because you hate they way that they always wake you up in the morning. So really sometimes it's a little bit of a hit or miss tossed us when bringing another cat into the household. And the other reason we often see those problem is 'cause that inner cat aggression issue can often cause other problems like the inappropriate elimination issues and other anxiety issues, like sometimes I've even had cats where another cats been introduced, where the first cat ends up hiding most of the time 'cause they don't want to interact with that other cat.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Are there ways of optimizing the chances? Because it sounds as though you're thinking that cats truly can get together in large numbers or at least in a party of two – cats don't have to be solitary residents of a home, they can have a buddy.
Dr. Karen Sueda: Oh, exactly.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: But does it help to have two males together, a male a female, older or younger, are there ways to optimize when you bring home a new one that it's going to work?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Yeah there's definitely ways to optimize it. There's definitely the myth out there that cats are asocial creatures, but anybody who has multiple cats in their home usually can tell you that cats are very social, even with us, they look at us as other social creatures too.
So, cats can actually form really strong, strong friendships with their preferred pals. Ways to optimize it is if you are thinking about – if you don't have cats and you're thinking about getting cats, you should be getting littermates, or cats that have been together at the shelter and bring two at the same time, you know those cats get along, and you don’t have to go through any other problems, because those cats are already pals. Another really good way to do it is doing a very slow and gradual introduction.
So if you do have a cat that you already have in your household and want to bring a new cat, what I would probably do is actually have the new cat in a room by themselves, litter box, food, all the comforts of home. Over the period of a week or two even, just slowly introduce them to one another so you can have them sniff each other underneath a closed door, I even have owners fashion little toys that the cats can play with – little pawsies underneath the doors with.
Switch the cats out so you bring the new cat out into the rest of the house, put your old resident cat in the room so they have a chance to smell each others' scent around and just do a more gradual introduction rather than plop the carrier down, open the door out, let the two cats see each other and say "OK have at it, guys".
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: It sounds as though it's a great way of saying "no", just slow and sure is a good way of doing it. Dr. Karen Sueda, if people wanted more information about what I can do for my neurotic cat or wigged-out Westie, where can they contact you, or where can they go for more information on veterinary behaviorists?
Dr. Karen Sueda: Sure! To contact me, I' working at VCA West Los Angeles animal hospital in Los Angeles, we're right on Sepulveda and Santa Monica in West LA, they can reach me at (310) 478-5035.
I'm actually working a little bit in a different building than the main west la hospital, just 'cause it's a little quieter and easier on my anxious patients here in a quieter environment. They can also go to our website, and that's www.vcawla.com, and go to the left hand site, there's a section for special services. Click on behavior there, there's a lot of information on that website.
If you're not in the Los Angeles area, you can also definitely talk to your veterinarian, but there are veterinarian behaviorists throughout the country. They can go to a website to find if there is a veterinarian behaviorist in their area and that's www.dacvb.org that stands for the Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists – long term, but again D as in Dog, A as in Apple, C as in cat, V as in Vet, B as in behavior dot org, and they can see if there's any other behaviorists in their area.
There's just a couple of good general websites, if you just want general information on dog or cat behavior, the American Animal Hospital Association website actually has really good behavior advice there and that's www.healthypet.com.
The Denver dumb friends league also has really good resources. Their handouts are actually used in shelters across the country, as behavior handouts and that's www.ddfl.org.
The American Association of Feline Practitioners also has really good resources on their website, that’s www.aafponline.org.
There's a lot of good information on those web sites, that's where I always steer owners just for some general information about behavior.
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: Well, Dr. Karen Sueda, you have given us some marvelous information, I have a feeling I'm going to have to call you back about my kitties little issues, see where we can take it from there.
[talking over each other]
Dr. Karen Sueda: You're more than welcome! [laughter]
Dr. Bernadine Cruz: so if you want to learn a foreign language, a canine or feline foreign language you can get a trainer, but if you need to know what's going on between their ears a Veterinary Behaviorist is just what the doctor ordered!
You've been listening to Dr. Bernadine Cruz on petliferadio.com and the Pet Doctor. Thank you very much for listening.
No matter if it’s a physical problem, a behavioral problem, the best person to ask first is your veterinarian. Thank you so much, have a great day.
[music begins while Dr. Bernadine Cruz is talking]
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