'Is My Pet Normal?'
Should you be worried about your quirky pet? Rachael asks a veterinarian to take your questions and decipher dogs who dance and cats who love water. (Share photos of your pet here!)
A Dog Who Spins to Music
When there's upbeat music playing or my dog Andy wants some attention, he sits on his butt and spins around and around in circles. Is this normal? Patty, Atlanta, GA.
"He's kind of close to getting to spin out of control," says Dr. Ernie Ward. "He's showing some tendencies here toward maybe some compulsive behavior, sort of like OCD in people." Dr. Ernie says while the behavior may seem cute at first, it brings a danger. "We reward them," he says, "We praise them and then they get ingrained with this behavior and it becomes one of 'this is how I get attention, this is how I get your affection' and that's negative because these dogs can kind of teeter. I've had cases of bull terriers that will do this 8 to 10 hours a day."
Dr. Ernie says while this is a common problem, it should not continue. "You really want to redirect that negative behavior because eventually that could come back and haunt us," he explains. "Replace it with praise for the things we like. Ignore that behavior; that's really the first step."
Cats That Love Water
My cat Munchie does the strangest thing -- whenever the water is running in the sink or the shower he is always in it. I've never seen another cat do this. Is it normal? Heather, Memphis, TN
"A lot of this is really ritualistic," Dr. Ernie says, explaining that a cat may seek attention while their owner is getting ready for their day. "This is their time to be with you."
But, the doc says it could be a sign of an illness. "You want to make sure though that your cat, if it's displaying this behavior, doesn't have a kidney problem or diabetes and they're trying to get more water," Dr. Ernie says. "General rule of thumb, if a cat's drinking more than 6 or 8 ounces a day, there may be a problem there, but in your case this is normal behavior. Your cat's not whacked out, it's just looking for some love and that just happens to be the place where it's getting it from you, and I love the fresh water aspect."
Dogs That Love TV
My dog Willy loves to watch TV. He watches different shows with the family, by himself, and he particularly likes shows with animals -- he'll run around and bark. Sometimes he looks like he's trying to jump into the TV to play with the animals. Lisa, Bloomington, IN
"It's normal and I think there's a couple of myths I'd like to dispel right off the bat," Dr. Ernie says. "People say 'dogs are color blind.' Well, that's just not true." He says that dogs see in color and recognize two-dimensional objects, including animals on the TV screen. "It's their buddies, they recognize the sound for sure." His dog will even chase after a bird if he sees it fly off the TV screen. "Sandy runs into the other room to try and catch that -- that's a normal behavior."
Dogs Who Hate Men
My dog Gwenny absolutely hates men. Whenever a guy comes in the room she'll start growling and freaking out and she'll run behind me and scratch my legs. I didn't even know dogs could tell the difference between men and women. I was wondering if you knew why she did this and if you have any advice for us? Kate, West Islip, NY
Rachael jokes that this dog is perfect for a concerned parent. "Any mother who's trying to keep boys away from their teenage daughters, they're going to go out and get themselves a Gwenny!"
"They detect our pheromones," Dr. Ernie explains. "So they can tell a man from a woman by the smell."
He says Gwenny's response to men could stem from the dog's life as a puppy. "What we find is a lot of dogs from shelters and pet stores and so forth, maybe they either were not exposed to men when they were very young in that sensitive period, or they had a bad, negative experience with a man and they're imprinted for life and so that fear-aggression carries over," Dr. Ernie says.
Not only can such behavior impact an owner's dating life, but the behaviors can escalate. "What I've found is they sort of cross-over -- suddenly it's when your mother and grandmother come over to your house," Dr. Ernie says. "These kinds of cases we see very commonly, but I want you to do something now before it gets too serious."
To change the habit, he suggests desensitization methods to slowly introduce men into the dog's life such as having a trusted male friend walk past the house when the dog is in the yard. "And he throws a favorite toy or he throws treats and he leaves. And you do that repetitiously -- and we call this a stimulus gradient -- we gradually increase how close he comes," Dr. Ernie suggests. "But start outside the house because you're going to be dealing with some territoriality."
Cats Who Love Stuffed Animals
My cat, Princess, stole a pink flamingo from our daughter and decided she's her baby. She takes it with her everywhere, she's always cleaning it, and drops it at my feet and meows. Can you tell me why she does this? Mike, New York, NY
"While it's certainly cute there's a lot of sort of abnormal psychology that may be going on," Dr. Ernie says. "Number one, you may be dealing with some territoriality because this cat is staking a claim on something that is valued by your daughter, so it's possessing it. Also, I see some attention seeking."
Mike says he works at home and periodically during the day the cat will bring the flamingo to him and meow. "She's begging for love," Dr. Ernie explains. "Pets are social creatures. They need that interaction, they need a socially-enriched environment with things to do and people to play with. Just take five minutes out twice a day and give that cat a little more love and you may find that that flamingo is going to be replaced by your lap pretty soon."
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