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Assertive pet can become too loving... show this cat who’s boss
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have recently adopted my very first cat, a two year old neutered male, who seems to like me very much. The problem is, I think he likes me too much! When I'm lying in bed reading, he likes to join me, lying on my chest, kneading his paws against me as I stroke his back... and then "OUCH!" He bit me!! And then he starts moving his hips. What am I supposed to do? This supposedly fixed cat keeps trying to mate with me!?! HELP!! Sincerely, J.S., Wilmington
Dear J.S., "Fixing" or neutering male animals, though generally helpful in decreasing the incidence of sexual behavior, often does not eliminate it entirely (as you have experienced first hand). And while it may be true that he likes you very much, this is probably not the only reason he is pursuing you repeatedly. Cats by nature are territorial creatures. Some cats can be very strongly territorial, while others may exhibit few or no signs of it; most cats will fall somewhere in the range between the two extremes. You have probably adopted a very self-assured and highly territorial cat who, like a male lion taking over a pride, is actively asserting himself to get what he wants in his new environment. After all, sex is a very pleasurable behavior for all animals. To prevent repeated episodes: The next time he jumps up on you, stop reading and pay attention to what he's doing. You probably do not want to discourage him from jumping on you or sitting in your lap, as these are generally desirable behaviors for cats. However, the biting and pelvic thrusting are going too far. Kneading is often a sign of affection, comfort and security in cats going back to its origin in nursing kittens. Some cats will do this just prior to settling down and getting comfortable. If this is something your cat does with regularity prior to the more ritualized sexual behaviors of biting and thrusting, stop petting him when he starts kneading and he will probably settle down. Your petting (positive reinforcement) only encourages him to continue the behaviors he is moving towards. If he should bite you again, you want to scare him with a loud, sharp, startling noise with the desired result being him running out of the room. You can also, very simply, remember to keep a blanket between you and the cat, in which case it will be very easy to move the blanket rapidly to send the cat off you and the bed in an instant.
Dr. Spiegel, My daughter and her family have a seven year old shepherd-husky mix that is terrified of thunder and lightning. She starts pacing and panting and won't calm down. If she is home alone when a storm hits, she destroys things. She has chewed and scratched holes in doors and has broken out of a crate. Her veterinarian has put her on tranquilizers, but she just lies there panting and whimpering. They're at their wit's end, and I don't know how they're going to handle the approaching spring and summer storm season. Sincerely, T.M., Newark
Dear T.M., Your concerns are quite justified. Thunderstorm Phobias are a particular type of noise phobia that are fairly common in dogs. Affected dogs typically react to the sound of the thunder, but their fears can generalize to the sounds of wind and rain and the associated shifts in barometric pressure. These dogs often panic and try to escape from areas where they are experiencing this intense fear. In their attempts to chew and scratch their way out of a crate or a room, they can do damage to their mouth and paws. Thunderstorm phobias usually become worse as dogs get older. Because these storms are concentrated over a period of about four months out of the year and then are absent the rest of the year, dogs do not get a chance to habituate (become accustomed) to the fear-provoking sounds of thunder. Instead, with each successive storm season, their fears increase. Imagine if the reports of murders on the news were absent for eight months out of the year, and then hit the press in a flurry. It would be much more shocking. As it is now with daily reports, we become desensitized and accustomed to the reports of these events. Treatment of Thunderstorm Phobias involves the behavior modification procedures of desensitization and counter-conditioning. Owners are first shown how to get their dogs to relax. These dogs are then exposed to recordings of thunderstorms (such as those produced by Environmental Sounds) played at very low volumes. The volumes are gradually increased to the point where these dogs are still relaxed when exposed to very loud simulated storms. The use of certain anti-anxiety medications can also be greatly beneficial in treating these problems. Such treatment should, however, be undertaken with the assistance of an experienced professional.