Fear and loathing of the 4th of July

4th of July fireworks can sound like the end of the world to non-humans. If you have a fraidy-cat or jittery dog, it can be a long and trying holiday for you, too.

It’s predictably busy at animal shelters. In fact, Bonnie Hays Animal Shelter in Hillsboro, OR, stays open July 4th to reunite terrified animals with their people. Animal Services Manager Deborah Wood says the hordes of jittery pets “don’t know if it’s Baghdad or Beaverton.” Busy and scary as it is, she says it’s also an “instant-gratification” kind of day, seeing animals safely tucked in a protective shelter environment until they’re happily reunited with their relieved family.

While panicked pets will get expert care at area shelters, of course they’re much happier and safer at home. When the skies light up and the windows start to rattle, they’ll do best if they can stay with you, “preferably NOT at the fireworks display, or at crazy Uncle Albert’s who has the biggest display west of the Mississippi,” adds Wood.

If you know you have a severely phobic dog or cat, talk to your veterinarian well ahead of time. Sometimes an anti-anxiety medication is your best option. There are excellent and affordable helpers you can try at home, too.

  • Julliard-trained pianist Lisa Spector’s iCalm music recordings take a scientific approach to soothing dogs and cats. You can also try a quiet classical music CD in your home stereo.
  • Pet supply stores have remedies that Wood says “might help/can’t hurt.” These range from herbal and homeopathic medicines to Thunder Shirts — stretchy, form-hugging garments designed to calm. Results can range from Godsend to nil, though, so if you’re trying one for the first time on the 4th, have a backup plan.

In my household, where my rescue Pit Bull Roxy would charge her muscled, bow-legged mass into doors or windows at the sound or fireworks, we’ve found three fixes that keep all of us safe and sane:

  • The Homedics sound machine fills our house with cricket chirps or a babbling brook. See my girls quietly playing while an excavator digs up our backyard in the video here.
  • Thanks to a tip from our trainer Lola, we use the hot-air popcorn popper for white noise and treats in one. I turn this into a game, tossing popcorn around the house to keep them busy.
  • “Cookie game” works for dogs or cats. Toss little treats for them to “fetch” inside the house, or hide treats around the room and turn them loose to search.

Whatever your coping strategy, if the worst happens and you’re missing a dog or cat, visit your nearest shelter right away. Also, if you see stray dogs or cats around the holiday, Wood cautions against assuming they’ve been dumped. They’re most likely to find their way home if you take them to the nearest shelter.


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Pet Appreciation Week | June 4 - 10, 2017

It's Pet Appreciation Week!  PAW is a time when our love for animals really shines.  Having pets helps people in many ways, from service animals assisting someone in any variety of ways, to just being a constant companion that brightens our days! 

Let's celebrate the endless, unconditional joy!  Here are some ways to show appreciation for your pets.

  1. Bake special treats - together!  Find a great recipe and let the drool begin!
  2. Cook a pet-friendly feast!
  3. Delight in your pet.  Your pet has the power to lift your mood, lower your blood pressure, and benefit your kids’ immune systems.  The least you can do is give him a lifetime of love.  
  4. Enjoy a Puppachino from Starbucks!
  5. Food:  Be sure your pet is eating the right food.  If you are unsure, consult your vet, a food consultant or your local neighborhood pet supply.
  6. Get goofy!  Roll around on the floor with your pet and let the silliness begin.
  7. Get your pet a sibling.  Is your pet lonely?  Is work demanding a lot of your time?  Maybe your pet would benefit from a sibling - check out your local animal rescue!
  8. Go to the beach!  Or if the mountains are more their thing - go there!
  9. Health Insurance.  Get your pet a health insurance policy. Your pet is family, and they deserve the same care you’d want for your human family members. 
  10. Hugs and kisses.  No explanation needed!
  11. ID please!  Make sure your pet has a proper identification tag and microchip information is correct.
  12. Learn Pet First Aid.  Knowing basic skills you can use before the vet can save your pet's life.
  13. Make your pet a part of your emergency plan.  Attach window clings notifying emergency personnel that there are pets in your home. 
  14. Massage!  Contact an animal masseuse or take a class and learn how to give pet massages.  Your pet will be in heaven!
  15. Photo shoot!  Take photos of your pet that you have always wanted to capture.  Hire a professional to get a treasured lasting memory.
  16. Playgroup: Call up your pet's besties and schedule a time to hangout at their favorite place.
  17. Remind your pet who's a good boy or girl.
  18. Schedule extra cuddle time.  Your best friend can never have enough cuddles.
  19. Spa day!  Mimosas and a new do!  Okay…skip the mimosa but getting a bath or a groom can be just as fun!
  20. Sit together.  Just that.  Relish the togetherness.
  21. Surprise your pet with their favorite treat or toy - pure happiness!
  22. Take a staycation together.  Plan to use any vacation/personal time and spend a day with your pet.
  23. Take an extra long walk.  Does your dog love the outdoors?  Stay outside longer!
  24. Take them to the local dog park - maybe they'll make a new friend!
  25. Take your pet to pick out a new toy.  There's nothing more exciting than new toys!  Take your pet to a local pet store and let them pick the item!
  26. Vaccines.  Nothing is more important than your pet’s health, so make an appointment and keep them updated on their vaccines!
  27. Volunteer!  If you don't have a pet, consider spending time with animals who don't have a family.  The socialization is great for them and chances are you'll enjoy it even more.
  28. Will:  Add your pet to your will.  Thinking about this step may seem hard but it's the best thing you can do for your pets.

Last but most important, show your pet love every single day.  They might be only part of your life but for them, you are their whole world.

Do you have anything to add to this list?  How will you appreciate your pet this week (and all year long!)? Leave us a note our Facebook page!

Even in mild temps, cars can become ovens

Here in the Northwest, when nature finally turns off the downspout and shows us some clear blue, it goes to our heads. Shorts, sandals and sunglasses on, we grab the keys and head out with our best buddies. But if your buddies are dogs, and they wait in the car while you dash into the store for “just a minute,” the wait can be deadly.

On a 75-degree day, the temperature inside your car will rise 29 degrees in 20 minutes. That’s 104 degrees, even with the windows cracked for air.

Stop to chat with a friend or get stuck in a slow checkout line, and the car is 109 degrees in 30 minutes. More time equals more heat, and in an hour the inside of the car is 118 degrees.

These statistics from the American Veterinary Medical Association are part of a longstanding effort to prevent the hundreds of pet deaths that happen every year in hot cars. More recently, advocacy groups have worked to change laws in eight states so citizens can legally break a car window to save an animal or child. So far that doesn’t include any Northwest states. In Oregon and Washington, only law enforcement or humane officers have legal authority to break into a hot car, but nearly identical bills pending in both states could change that. If passed, the bills would protect citizens from civil or criminal penalties if they call 911, break a window, and stay with the child or animal until help arrives.

Until then, your legal option is to call 911 if you see animals in dangerously-heated cars. And, of course, you can help spread the word, with friendly reminders or printable flyers like this one from the AVMA. https://www.avma.org/public/PetCare/Documents/petincar_heat_poster_high.pdf.


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

Ready for baby?

It’s a boy! It’s a girl!

It’s a happy, bouncing bundle of smoochable round baby belly, preciously tiny paws, sleepy and hungry grunts that melt your heart, and, of course, new-parent kryptonite: baby smell! You know the baby smell — that pheromone-fueled fragrance that brings a thumpity-thumpity heart and butterfly-tummy feeling when you bury your nose into that perfectly round, achingly adorable head and breathe it in.

It alters your brain, all that baby love.

And you don’t mind one bit, of course. We humans are hardwired to fall head-over-hairball at first contact with tiny, vulnerable, wide-eyed infants, including animals. And that instinct is magical stuff, carrying parents through choppy tides of sleep deprivation, relentless demands, stained carpets, and lots and lots and lots of poop.

Kittens — who mostly arrive in one giant seasonal baby boom in late spring and early summer — are at the top of their adorable infant game right about now, commanding every waking moment of happily bleary humans. In the bustling lobby of the Salem Friends of Felines adoption center, Saturday-morning crowds peruse the adoptable adult cats, but all eyes are drawn to the crate of fluffball kittens. Wobbly heads gaze up from the towel-lined carrier, their curious eyes that distinctive shade of baby blue. Volunteers in colorful smocks kneel ‘round, lifting babies one at a time, recording health data, checking a list of names and markings. “This is the gray Tabby boy, and someone is interested in him. Ooh! And you get to name him!” They hand him off to his foster mom, who is also taking several siblings until they’re ready for forever homes.

An experienced foster mom has plenty of wisdom, “I’ve fostered about 90, I think, at last count. Yeah, about 90,” she says, breathlessly. But she can’t slow down right now. “It’s not a good time,” she smiles at her left hand, clutching the handle of a mewling cat carrier. She has kittens to care for. And she’s out the door, her husband trailing, loaded with baby supplies.

While puppies don’t all make their wiggly debuts in one seasonal rush like kittens, many do arrive this time of the year.

“I couldn’t imagine doing this in the winter,” says Jennifer Beveridge, who watches Oscar, her 12-week-old Boxer puppy, play a raucous game of tug with Duke, a nine-year-old French Bulldog. Shug, a seven-year-old Frenchie, watches sleepily from the couch. “I get up around 3 am and take Oscar out to potty. Then he’ll let us all sleep for a few more hours,” Jenn explains. Before she learned this trick, he was waking the entire household at 5 am, wiggly and noisy and ready to start the day.

Beveridge and her husband Alan lost their two elderly Labradors earlier this year. “We’re big dog people,” she says. “Actually, we just love all dogs. But we were ready for a big dog again.” Meanwhile, the French Bulldogs wear expressions suggesting they’re maybe not so ready. Mostly good-natured about the intrusion of their hyperkinetic new brother, they’re clearly still adjusting.

Oscar is nearly the size of his older siblings, but not for long. He’s sired by a 100-plus-pound Boxer. The Beveridge household will soon have a 70- or 80-pound toddler, and they’re ready. “He’s really good at letting us redirect him,” Jenn beams. “If he’s chewing something he’s not supposed to, I give him a chew toy. If he’s annoying the other dogs, I give him something else to do. He likes positive reinforcement.”

Kittens have their own toddler phase. Call it the razor-tooth ninja trickster phase: climbing curtains, overturning plants, bounding from hiding spots to tackle passing humans.

Whatever the species, the best prepared caregivers maintain their sanity with baby-proofed play spaces, plenty of toys and activities, and careful socialization. For puppies, there’s expert help in the form of structured puppy classes. Groups like Willamette Humane Society in Salem, OR, offer experiences tailored to puppies not yet through their full round of vaccines: they’re carried from the car to a carefully-cleaned training room, and have designated potty spaces other dogs can’t access.

L-R: Shug, Oliver, Duke

L-R: Shug, Oliver, Duke

At 12 weeks, Oscar has just one puppy vaccine to go, so the Beveridges followed their veterinarian’s advice for his first walk to the neighborhood park. It was a dry day, eliminating the risk of disease-breeding puddles, and they kept a sharp eye for signs of any animal feces. They also carried him when noisy car traffic scared him.

Oscar’s first park adventure left him exhausted. He sprawled on the sofa, all twitching paws and contented sighs. But 20 minutes later, he was hopping around nine-year-old Duke, who had been quietly chewing a toy. Then Oscar ran from human to human, placing his paws on their laps for attention. He heard the click of a camera and cocked his head. His brow wrinkled in an expression half innocent puppy and half wise old man. The humans basked in the warm rush of endorphins. “Awwww,” the entire room exclaimed. “He’s a pain in the butt,” Jenn laughed, “but we love him to bits.”


Michelle Blake is a Salem, OR-based massage therapist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in national publications. Her husband wants you to know that she's a REALLY crazy dog lady too.

The ABCs of Socializing

When it comes to socialization, the clock is ticking! 

Socializing puppies is vital to helping them grow up to be wonderful companions. And because most people have high expectations for their dog’s ability to be quite social these days — like riding nicely in the car, behaving around people and other dogs, and spending time at the park — socializing puppies early is among the most valuable building blocks for a long, happy life.

Most development happens in the first 2 two years

One of the best investments — of time and money — a new pet parent can make is enrolling their puppy in a class or classes combining the best elements of veterinary behavior and dog training.  Such programs typically follow these developmental guidelines:

8- 18 weeks are typically the most crucial for socialization. This is when puppies should approach and be exposed to novel objects and situations.

8-19 weeks are sometimes called “fear periods,” when dogs may begin to approach novel situations fearfully.

6mos – 1 yr is when some say a secondary fear period may occur.

Dr. Valli Parthasarathy of Synergy Behavior Solutions (SBS) supports the statement on puppy socialization from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. It reads, in part: “Because the first three months are … when sociability outweighs fear, this is the window of opportunity for puppies to adapt to new people, animals and experiences.” 

This is a great time to consider a rewards-based puppy preschool that emphasizes experiential socialization and dog-dog socialization (as opposed to manners/obedience class). “If your puppy is sick or injured during this critical socialization period, then private work should to be done to ensure the opportunity is not missed,” Parthasarathy says.  

Counseling pet parents on the fear period is routine for certified animal trainers Scott Raymond and Sara McLoudrey, also of SBS. “During this time puppies are more likely to have a fear response to novel situations, people or other animals. It is especially important to avoid frightening events during this time of their lives as it may have a lasting impact,” says Raymond. “This is best done by making the experiences they do have with novel situations very positive and not too intense.”

When is it safe to play with others?

Your veterinarian will provide guidelines for when your puppy can safely start socialization classes. S/he must have had at least one series of vaccines at least seven days prior to the first class. Perhaps surprisingly, it is now believed that puppies can start socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Remember that the most crucial socialization period starts at 8 weeks.

“There is no evidence that a puppy with his or her first round of vaccines is at risk in a structured, well-rounded puppy class,” says Parthasarathy. “Many animals are euthanized because of behavior issues, so we think of socialization as a behavioral vaccine.”  

“But that doesn’t mean taking them to the dog park either,” adds McLoudrey. “There are lots of places you can socialize your puppy without interacting with strange dogs.”

Your best bet?  Get puppy to puppy class — the sooner, the better!

“Puppy classes should include structured time with other puppies, which helps set up the dog for positive interactions,” says Raymond. “Classes should also include experiential socialization — things like walking over unusual surfaces, exposure to a running vacuum, and mini agility equipment.”

Early socialization classes that teach a balance of both self-confidence and self-control are very important, says Casey Newton of Wonder Puppy. “Over the years, I have discovered that there are five stages of play that are very important to be aware of. We teach this in Wonder Puppy's Social Puppy class. Each stage shows pet parents their puppy's specific level of comfort in social situations. That way you know how to help them best so they can become a confident and well-behaved adult.”

Dr. Parthasarathy notes that while anxiety is typically associated with older dogs, it can affect puppies too, and that medications can be helpful. “If behavioral medications can reduce anxiety from the onset, then the puppy can have better experiences.”   

Quick n Easy Tips for socializing your puppy

Let the baby explore new environments at his or her own pace. This also means happy visits with the groomer and your veterinarian. Happy visits should be “pop ins” when you’re not there for nail trims or vaccinations. The visits should include treats — on the way, when in the lobby, and even in the parking lot. Visit your favorite technician or customer service representative as they’ll be happy to see you and your new addition (please extend the common courtesy of calling ahead for the okay to stop by).

  • If your puppy is showing fear-based response behaviors at 6-8 weeks, seek out a trainer for one-on-one work with. The session with the trainer will likely mimic many elements of puppy class but the trainer may arrange safe play with just one well-mannered dog, and lessons will be conducted and paced according to puppy’s individual needs. 
  • If you cannot leave the house, explore scary things/places in the house — crinkled paper, rippled flooring, a running vacuum
  • Take puppy along for car rides
  • Take him or her to Dairy Queen for a tiny cone or to Starbucks for a Puppacino (positive experiences)
  • Exposure to family pets is not enough. Puppies should be exposed to (vaccinated) dogs of varied age and appearance
  • Every experience should be positive! If you think your puppy needs help with desensitization therapy, seek out veterinary behavior consultations and private socialization 

Resources

Puppy Start Right: Foundation Training for the Companion Dog, Kenneth Martin

Perfect Puppy in 7 Days: How to Start Your Puppy Off Right, Dr. Sophia Yinn

synergybehavior.com

wonder-puppy.com

oregonhumane.org


Christy Caballero writes from the heart about all things pet-related, from a couple deer trails off the beaten path, typically juggling a cat (or two) on her lap as black kitty AsTar teeters on her shoulder and Mojo the retired Greyhound quietly calls for reinforcements!!

Baby’s first steps . . . boosters

Puppies and kittens are all tumbling exuberance, innocent naptimes, and the magic elixir of baby breath. It can be hard to remember the practical side of health care — like shots.

Wikipedia states “Solid-fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) are large solid propellant motors used to provide thrust in spacecraft launches from initial launch through the first ascent stage.”

Boosters play a similar role for our furry little rockets.

Mama starts the protection with passive immunity passed through her milk colostrum within the first 24 hours. From there, booster shots continue to stimulate active immunity.

A licensed veterinarian is your lifetime partner and primary source for your baby’s plan of care from the beginning. Many clinics offer tailored wellness packages, providing everything you need and keeping you on track with boosters and more.

“The series of vaccines your new little addition receives as a puppy (or kitten) will be the same as later yearly vaccines,” explains Jessica Forde, Good Neighbor Vet Brand Manager. “It’s important to maintain yearly inoculations to further build your pet’s immunity.”

For puppies, basic vaccines include DAPP, Bordetella, and Rabies. These are considered core vaccines for canines.

“For puppies, additional innoculations like Leptospirosis, Lyme, and Flu are known as lifestyle vaccines,” Forde adds, “and should be considered based upon the pet’s lifestyle.” Lifestyle vaccines may be indicated for puppies who will spend time at the dog park or day care, hiking, or camping.

For kittens, FeLV/Fiv testing is important as both viruses weaken the immune system drastically and are highly contagious. The blood test is quick, and results indicate whether special care is needed.

“Kittens receive a series of boosters of the feline HCP which covers what is better known as feline distemper,” Forde explains, “and the Leukemia vaccine prevents diseases associated with FeLV.”

Most puppy/kitten shots begin around eight weeks of age. Boosters are typically given every 3-4 weeks until 16 weeks of age to antibody production within a healthy immune system, and “boost” immunity until the pet’s immune system begins creating its own long-term protection. It is recommended to wait a couple of weeks after the last vaccination in the series before exposing a puppy or kitten to other pets, giving their immune system time to build.

“It’s during this time you want to be careful taking your pet around other animals that may not be vaccinated, or in areas where wildlife may leave excrement,” says Forde. “Both unvaccinated puppies and kittens and those currently in their vaccines series are at risk of zoonotic diseases and even fatal diseases such as parvo. A puppy or kitten is much safer on a short leash, inside the home, or even better, cuddled in one’s arms.”

Early trips to the vet for shots are also an opportunity for little ones to learn that vet trips are a good thing, so heap on the praise. “Pawwwwsitive reinforcement!” says Forde. “Treats before the vet visit, during the visit, and after.”

It’s also important to protect both puppies and kittens against parasites – worms, fleas, ticks and mites seek warm fluffy bodies as hosts. Babies can acquire internal parasites like round worms and hook worms at birth. And while parasites can cause discomfort and serious disease, thankfully they’re easily prevented or treated. Trust your veterinary team for the safest, most effective products available for all of these concerns.

Shots can make anyone feel punk, including fur-kids. But if s/he doesn’t bounce back within 24-72 hours, contact your vet. Typical side effects include low-grade fever, lethargy, injection site soreness/tenderness, and loss of appetite. If a more sensitized reaction appears, like suddenly scratching the head or neck, difficulty breathing, facial swelling or hives, call your vet.

“Keep puppies away from other pups and communal areas (parks, shared sidewalks, parking lots) until they are totally done with their distemper/parvo vaccination series,” sums up Amélie Rivaleau, DVM, Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency. “The vaccines are done in a series so that when the maternal antibodies from mom wane, the immunity from the vaccines is high — but they are not fully protected until the series is done. The diseases vaccinated for in those series are expensive to try to treat and even tragic.”

Resources

Good Neighbor Vet * Goodneighborvet.com * 888-234-1350

Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency * tanasbourneveter.com * 503-629-5800


Christy Caballero writes from the heart about all things pet-related, from a couple deer trails off the beaten path, typically juggling a cat (or two) on her lap as black kitty AsTar teeters on her shoulder and Mojo the retired Greyhound quietly calls for reinforcements!!

Prevent Mishaps Large or small

Puppies arrive full of love and trust, looking to you — their new parent! — to teach, love, and protect them.

Start with immunity

Mama Dog begins protecting her pups with maternal antibodies at birth. “Passive immunity is passed through milk colostrum within the first 24 hours, lasting a short time,” explains Katie Brooks of Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency (TVE). As that protection wanes, vaccines are given to stimulate active immunity to protect from disease. Without vaccines a new pup is vulnerable to diseases that can be very costly to treat and even life threatening.  No puppy should suffer from preventable disease; if you notice your puppy isn’t acting normally, see your vet immediately.

Safe spaces

Behavior training is important for puppies’ success in their environment. Mama dogs teach their pups behavior almost from the start, and it’s your job to pick up where she left off. “Training can begin quite early,” explains Amélie Rivaleau DVM, also of TVE.  “The best period for puppies to learn is prior to 16 weeks of age. Most people obtain puppies at 6-8 weeks, which leaves a decent amount of time for training at home. Unfortunately, this coincides with the period when puppies cannot be in public/communal areas, but thankfully, they can learn well from older, vaccinated dogs about appropriate play behavior. Check out sites like Victoria Stillwell's to educate yourself about things you can do at home to nurture a happy, confident, well-mannered dog.”

Fun and learning

When it comes to toys, shop for puppy like you would a baby.  No small parts or pieces that may break off and be swallowed. Long foreign bodies, such as string, can lodge in the intestines. “If you see your pup swallow a string, don't wait on it!” Rivaleau says. “Get to the vet!” Surgeries to remove foreign bodies are one of the most common at TVE. Toys can be a great training tool for a teething or mouthy puppy. Chew toys recommended by Lisa Davis, CVT VTS at VCA North Portland Veterinary Hospital include rubber balls, Nylabones (Gumma bone only), Jolly Pets balls, Greenies, Dentabones, and Kong toys.

Everything goes in their mouths!

Keep anything potentially harmful out of reach, and stay aware. Knowing their whereabouts goes beyond the “it’s too quiet in here — they must be up to something.” The speed with which puppies will eat anything dropped or left within reach is often underestimated by the humans.  Ingestion of drugs and harmful foods frequently land puppies in an emergency hospital.  If your pet ever ingests something you are concerned about, contact your vet immediately, or the Pet Poison resources at the end of this article.

Accidents

Falls are a serious hazard — from windows, decks, and even someone’s arms. L for places a fall could occur and be vigilant in protecting them. Puppies are also often (unintentionally) injured by humans — accidentally getting kicked or stepped on, bumped by moving furniture (even as seemingly innocuous as a kitchen chair), or a closing door. Puppies love to be near their people, so they’re often underfoot. 

While accidents happen, most are preventable. Taking precautions before and after bringing a new little one home can greatly reduce the risks and increase the odds for a happy, injury-free life for your new best friend.

Resources

Tanasbourne Veterinary Emergency * tanasbourneveter.com * 503-629-5800

VCA North Portland Veterinary Hospital * vcahospitals.com/north-portland * 503-285-0462

ASPCA Poison Control Center * Aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control * - Open 24/7, Charges may apply * 888-426-4435

Pet Poison Helpline * Petpoisonhelpline.com * Open 24/7, Charges may apply * 855-764-7661


Christy Caballero writes from the heart about all things pet-related, from a couple deer trails off the beaten path, typically juggling a cat (or two) on her lap as black kitty AsTar teeters on her shoulder and Mojo the retired Greyhound quietly calls for reinforcements!!

Life with Kittens is Busy!

Photo by Debbie Brusius

Photo by Debbie Brusius

Be prepared, and set them up for success

So you’re thinking about adopting a kitten. Congratulations! These fluffy little cuties can be such a fun addition to your family. Of course, like all babies, kittens need help from their new families to set them up for a successful, happy life.

Start Your Kitten in a Safe Room

Kittens are curious and active! They will sometimes play so long that they forget about things like how to find the litter box and taking time to eat. When you first get home, start your kitten in a room that is small enough for them to see the essential items — food, water, bedding, toys, and the litter box. This “safe room” is a place for them to get comfortable with you without getting lost or overwhelmed.

You should kitten-proof this room by removing anything your kitten does not need. Knickknacks will get knocked down, and like any toddler, a kitten will put anything in its mouth. Make sure sharp objects and things like hair ties, paperclips, pen caps, ribbons, etc. are removed from the room. It’s best to use a bathroom or a room where no one sleeps as the safe room. Kittens will be up before you, racing around, wanting you to play with them at 4 am.

Make Playtime Fun

Kittens play to have fun, and also to learn. When it comes to toys and activities, add variety so your kitten doesn’t decide that your blinds are more fun! It is also important to not use your hands or feet as toys. While it can be cute for a kitten to pounce and nibble your fingers, it is not a good idea to encourage those behaviors. A bite or scratch from an adult cat isn’t cute at all, and this behavior is a big reason cats are taken or returned to shelters later in life.

Teach Good Eating and Litter Box Habits

Kittens are active and should eat frequent meals to get them through their day. It’s a good idea to offer three small canned food meals, as well as offering dry food in a bowl. Always use cat food — not people food or milk — and measure the portions so you can track how much your kitten eats. Food and water dishes should be in a place that is easy to find and far away from the litter box.

Speaking of litter boxes, kittens need a shallow litter box so they can climb in easily and safely. Unscented litter and uncovered litter boxes often work best. Kittens and cats have sensitive noses, and you don’t want to do anything to make them not want to use the box. The general rule is to have one litter box per cat, plus one. You should also have at least one box on each floor of your house, especially while kittens are young. As your kitten gets bigger, you can graduate them to a regular-size litter box.

Keep the Peace with Other Pets

If you have other furry friends in the household, you will want to do slow introductions. This is your best route to fight-free greetings and lasting friendships.  

Before you try face-to-face introductions, use “scent swapping.” Take a bed from your resident pet and put it in your kitten’s safe room. Then, move a bed your kitten has used to a room with your resident pet. Let them sniff each other’s bedding, lay on it, lick it, whatever they want to do. This gives them a chance to explore the new scent and helps you gauge how the first meeting might go. Another option is to start feeding the pets on opposite sides of the door so they can smell each other under the door at mealtime. This supports bonding by helping the pets associate positive things (like eating) with each other’s scent.

Once your pets seem ready, you can begin meetings. Put your kitten in the carrier and take them into the family room. Let the resident pet approach the carrier and sniff. If this greeting goes well, you can open the carrier and let them meet. If ever you are concerned, return the kitten to the safe room and keep working with scent swapping and door feedings. Don’t rush this process. It often takes time for animals to get used to each other, and they are less likely to get along if the friendship is forced.

Prep for the Vet

Visits to the veterinarian and in-home healthcare will go best if your kitten is used to handling.

  • Play with their paws daily. Softly squish their toes so the claw comes out. This way, when it is time to trim their nails, they won’t mind a bit.
  • Keep the carrier out for your kitten to use as a hiding place and soft bed. If cats are used to the carrier, they’ll be more relaxed in it when going to the vet.
  • Look in your kitten’s ears monthly to make sure they are clean and clear of any debris. This helps you see any concerns and gets your kitten used to this touch should they ever need ear treatment.
  • Gently open your kitten’s mouth and look inside. Again, a monthly check will help you see if something isn’t right, and gets your kitten used it, making it easier if s/he ever needs oral medication.

Stay Safe

Most kittens adopted from shelters are microchipped. If not, your veterinarian should offer this service. Even if your kitten has a microchip, a collar and tag with your contact information is smart. A kitten used to a collar and tag will continue to wear it comfortably through adulthood.

If you decide to take your kitten outdoors for a walk, wait until they are fully vaccinated (typically around 4 months of age). At that time, you can try harness and leash training. It is a good idea to take them out through a door that they normally do not see open and close (such as a bedroom sliding glass door or the garage door). You don’t want your kitten thinking it can just leave through an open door at any time. 

Fostering kittens fills your heart - and arms - with love!  Photo by Cassidy Devore

Fostering kittens fills your heart - and arms - with love!  Photo by Cassidy Devore

Fostering Saves Lives!

Not sure if you and your family are ready for a kitten? Fostering helps shelters save more animals by giving them a loving home where they can grow and prepare for adoption outside the shelter.

Foster volunteers help young kittens get the care they need, giving them a great start to life. Fosters often meet the people who want to adopt their foster kittens, and get to tell them all about the kittens. Fostering can take as little as a week or up to two months, depending on the pet. At CAT, the kitten foster program includes training, assistance from a mentor, preventive kitten care, and more. All you need is a spare bathroom or bedroom and the desire to help. Learn more at catadoptionteam.org.


Kristi Brooks is the director of operations at the Cat Adoption Team (CAT) and lead trainer for the Fostering 4 Rock Stars program. She is regularly invited to speak at national animal welfare conferences about successful community collaboration and best practices for kitten fostering. Kristi lives in Tualatin, Oregon with her husband, daughter, and Kate the cat.

Getting Good Behavior

So why is it that dogs tend to be really good at home but not in other locations? The answer is generalization. Dogs are very context specific, so they tie in everything that was happening during training when the behavior was learned. Where they were during the training, what you were you doing — standing, sitting, wearing a hat, etc. Unless you generalize training to other situations and contexts pups will often be slow to respond and confused or unclear about what you want from them.

If you teach your pup to sit while you are in your living room, then s/he will sit really well .. . in your living room. Reward with a cookie while s/he is sitting in front of you, facing you, then that's where s/he thinks s/he should sit, not next to you. Dogs will be best behaved where you have trained the most, and typically this is inside your home.

So how do you get your dog to be really good at home, and really good out in the real world? The answer is generalization. This means changing the location and context you train in slightly and with gradually increasing difficulty. For example, if your dog is really good responding to a sit inside the house, change the context slightly and make it more challenging. Train in another room of the house, open the front door and practice inside the house. It will be slightly more difficult, but still easy enough that your dog will succeed!

Try it!

Step 1 Pick a behavior that is important to you and spend 5 minutes a day working on it.

Step 2 Gradually change the context. Think about all of the situations in which you might need your dog to be able to offer a behavior, write it down if it is helpful, and then rank them from easiest to hardest.

  • Can your dog do the behavior on leash or off leash?
  • Can your dog offer the behavior at your front door? With the door closed? Open? With people standing on the other side of the door?
  • Change the location. Train in your kitchen, living room, bedroom, back yard, front yard, friend’s house, local park. Start in the easiest location and build to the hardest. Take a step back to an easier location if you find a certain place too hard.
  • Change the context. Can your dog do the behavior if you are sitting, standing, lying on the floor, wearing sunglasses, a hat, talking on your phone, etc?

Jennifer Biglan, owner of Training Spot in Eugene, OR, is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner in Eugene, OR. She knew she wanted to work with animals at a young age.  After graduating from the U of O and volunteering at a dog shelter, she found her calling. Jennifer is well known through the community, and by many area veterinarians for her work in solving behavior problems, and she has extensive knowledge and background training dogs. Learn more about Training Spot at trainingspot.us or e-mail info@trainingspot.us.