My Pet World: A fearful dog, panicking parakeets and careless cats

My Pet

By Cathy M. Rosenthal
Tribune Content Agency

Dear Cathy,

I have two six-year-old parakeets, male and female. For the last three years, the female has laid eggs but doesn’t sit on them. That’s not the problem. The problem is the cuttlebone that I put in their cage. I’ve had parakeets in the past where it took them about a month before they finished it. The parakeets that I have now finish it in one day. During the pandemic, it was so hard to find cuttlebone, and it is still hard. I can’t keep replacing it every day. Is there anything that can replace a cuttlebone, or is it okay for them not to have it all the time?

— Lisa, Flushing, New York

Dear Lisa,

It’s okay for them not to have a cuddle bone all the time, but only if their diet provides for all their nutritional needs.

Cuttlebones are calcium supplements, so their behavior could indicate a calcium deficiency. Dr. Robert Groskin, the executive director for the Association of Avian Veterinarians, also says there could be parasites in their beaks or the female could be craving calcium because she is about to lay eggs. An avian veterinarian should review your birds’ diet to determine deficiencies and make dietary recommendations that will meet all their nutritional needs. Another thing to consider is that bored birds can become obsessive about certain things. If it turns out to be behavioral, you will need to provide additional stimulation. Place their cage near a window (but not in the sun), so they can look outside. Rotate their toys. Give them opportunities to forage for food. There are forage toys out there, but you can just put their daily food in tiny, separate bowls, so they have to go to every bowl to get their daily meal. You also can cover the bowls with small piece of paper, so they have to remove them to eat.

Training also can reduce boredom. Training a para-keet is like training any other pet — repetition, marking the desired behavior (with a clicker), and rewarding the correct behavior. You can train your birds to sit on your finger, talk, and do some simple tricks.

Dear Cathy,

Patrick is a 90-pound, three-year-old, lab mix rescue. He was born without hip sockets and had two surgeries to remove the ball on top of his femur so that he could live a normal life. The surgeries were done four months apart, beginning when he was about a year old. He had physical therapy for several months after each surgery and is doing well. He is a very sweet and loving dog that lives with us and two other lab mixes — eight and 11 years old. All three dogs get along fine.

When Patrick was a puppy, before his surgeries, we took him for walks, and nothing bothered him. Now every unusual sound he hears while outside scares him, and he runs for the door to get inside.

We have a fenced yard, and all three have the run of the yard when out there. I think something must have scared him while he was recovering after surgery at the vet’s office; maybe a table with metal instruments or bowls fell while he was in recovery. We feel bad for him. We  tried a Thundershirt(R), but it did not help. I hope you can provide some ideas.

— Ken, Granby, Connecticut

Dear Ken,

While there’s no way to know how he developed this fear, I have seen dogs develop fears and phobias after surgeries and unexpected illnesses or injuries. As a result, they can be a little more hesitant and reactive to their surroundings. You can help your dog in two ways: provide reassurance and build his confidence.

Reassurance includes using a Thundershirts(R) or Anxiety Wrap(R), an over-the-counter anxiety chew, or a pheromone collar to reduce his anxiety. Confidence is built through accomplishments. Increase his training beyond basic obedience and consider something like rally obedience, so he learns it’s okay to have new experiences. Rally obedience involves walking your dog through a course with signs that give instructions on the next skill to be performed. You can check out rally obedience skills online and create your own backyard course.

Finally, every dog should be trained to relax. When you see him in a relaxed pose or when he stays relaxed after hearing a new sound, say his unique marker word (i.e., bingo) to mark the desired behavior and give him a treat. (Each dog should have their own training word.) You usually have to combine several strategies over time before seeing results.

Dear Cathy,

We adopted two male cats. As we already had a female cat, we fed them the same food – Blue Buffalo indoor cat, salmon flavor. It’s a high-quality food, and the boys love it. I read about male cats having issues with crystals in the bladder, though, and spoke to my vet, who recommended a urinary tract cat food by a different pet food company.

I have been feeding it to them, but they really don’t like it. I feel like I’m wasting my money by giving them food they don’t want to eat. Should I just forget it and give them the high-quality food they love? Is there a liquid I can give them in place of the wet cat food they don’t like?

— Corinne, Centereach New York

Dear Corinne,

Usually, I would say follow your vet’s advice. But you’re treating a problem that isn’t present in your cats and may never be. Yes, male cats are prone to crystals in the bladder. I had a cat more than 20 years ago who had this problem. But my current male cat of seven years eats a regular diet and hasn’t ever shown any signs of developing this problem.

Once cats have grown accustomed to a particular food, they can resist switching to another. So, if your cats don’t have urinary problems, stick with the food they love. You can always change it again if one of them develops this health problem. However, if your vet really wants your cats to be on a urinary tract diet, there are many other urinary cat foods on the market that might appeal more to their picky palettes, including one by Blue Buffalo that’s available in wet and dry food. Why not give that a try?

Dear Cathy,

Our cat loves her scratch box and will sometimes sleep in it. On occasion, she pees in it. Her litter box is cleaned daily. How do we stop this behavior?

— Patricia, Smithtown, New York

Dear Patricia,

Sometimes, cats may not like a closed litter box, the location of the box, or the type of litter being used. Pay attention to see if she looks nervous when in the box or if she smells the litter and then walks away.

If she seems nervous, consider removing the lid (temporarily) and/or moving the entire box to a different low-traffic location where she might feel safer. If she smells the litter and walks away, she may not like the scent of the litter. Try using an unscented litter. You also can purchase a litter box attractant, available at the pet store or online, that you can sprinkle in the litter box to help lure her back. Let me know if these things don’t work.

Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to [email protected]. Please include your name, city, and state.  You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.com.