Don’t Chew on That!
Most puppies and kittens have a strong, natural desire to investigate. But this curiosity can lead to problems when your pet tears up a favorite houseplant or destroys your new shoes. Many owners rely solely on punishment to correct problem behavior, but you'll find that reinforcing good behavior works better and keeps your pet happier. You can do this easily by giving your puppy or kitten a place where he can explore and investigate and by giving him safe, interesting chew toys.
Do not leave your puppy or kitten loose in the house or yard unsupervised. This will inevitably lead to destructive behavior. Crate training is recommended for all dogs and is not a bad idea for cats either (but you need to provide enough room for a litter box). A dog crate or exercise pen should be used until you can trust that the pet knows the house rules.
· Begin with a variety of toys and determine which types your pet prefers.
· Rotate different toys to keep them novel and interesting. Reward your pet when it chews its toys.
· Never give items to the pet to chew that are similar to household items you don't want destroyed. (e.g., your puppy may not distinguish between old shoes and new shoes.)
· Use commercial anti-chew sprays (Bitter Apple Spray), citronella oil, or a small amount of cayenne pepper mixed with water on items you don’t want chewed as deterrents.
Punishment for chewing is not a good solution since it can cause your puppy or kitten to fear you. At best, it may only teach him not to chew the items when you are watching. At worst, you will cause the animal to ‘fight back’ with clawing or biting.
Keep your puppy on a leash (~ 6 feet long) when you are home and interrupt the chewing behavior by calling him to you and rewarding him, or redirecting the chewing the appropriate toy. Or better yet, teach your dog to bring you the toy and reward them with a treat. This is the most effective way to discourage chewing. Instead of learning to run away with the item to chew it up, the pup will learn to bring you any item it finds so it will get a reward.
With kittens, keep them in the same room with you until you are sure they will not chew on things they shouldn’t. Teach them to come when called and reward that behavior. You can also redirect them with an appropriate toy or treat. Shooing cats away and startling them to get them to leave something alone or get off a surface usually only teaches the cat to avoid the object or area when you are present. They have no problem going right back to it once you aren’t paying attention. They also learn that you aren’t trustworthy and become more difficult to catch.
Chewing and Anxiety
Destructive behavior is often a direct response to anxiety. It is not your pet’s attempt to get even with you. Extreme anxiety and destructiveness during your absence may require an in-depth behavior consultation. If you have a problem, please call us.
Don’t Swallow That!
Some pets develop a habit called Pica, where they not only chew things they shouldn’t, but they eat them as well. This can be very dangerous for your pet.
What is Pica?
Pica is the act of eating non-food items. In less serious cases, pets may chew or suck on objects, but not actually swallow them. Common targets include yarn or string, fabric, wool, phone or electric cords, and plants. Any object may be a potential target, however.
Why is Pica Dangerous?
Other than its destructive potential, pica can be extremely hazardous to your pet's health if non-food items are consumed. Ingested fabric, string, or other materials can lodge in your pet's stomach or intestine. The blockage prevents the passage of food and may cut off the blood supply to these organs. Both are life-threatening conditions. Pet's that chew on power cords may be electrocuted. Additionally, many common houseplants are toxic to animals; chewing or eating these plants can cause a wide range of symptoms from drooling to death. If your pet has a history of ingesting non-food items and becomes lethargic, vomits, or displays other concerning behavior, call for an appointment immediately.
Why Does My Pet Eat/Chew on Non-food Items?
No one knows exactly why some animals exhibit pica behavior. Because pica has been associated with a variety of diseases including feline leukemia and feline immunodeficiency virus in cats, a veterinarian should examine any animal with pica. A genetic component is also suspected since wool or fabric sucking/chewing is more commonly found in Oriental breeds such as Siamese cats. Although it is normal for cats and dogs to eat small amounts of grass, consumption of large amounts of plant material may be an indication of a dietary deficiency or illness. Once medical causes are ruled out, behavioral reasons for pica can include boredom, attention-seeking, attractive odors, hunger, and learned behavior.
To rule out medical causes, Dr. Marshall should examine all pets displaying pica. Once your pet has a clean bill of health, we will discuss what steps you can take to modify your pet's behavior. These may include the following:
1. Remove targeted items - Placing clothing, blankets, houseplants and electric cords out of the reach of your pet is often the easiest solution. Storage containers, electric cord guards, and other useful items are available at most home supply stores.
2. Provide alternative items to chew or eat - Food-dispensing toys, durable toys, or pieces of rawhide can be used to redirect your pet's chewing behavior to more appropriate and safe items. For pets attracted to houseplants, small flowerpots of grass or catnip can be planted and kept indoors. Birdfeed can be used as a safe source of plant seed.
3. Provide lots of structured play - Many pets chew on household items out of boredom. Provide interactive toys and set aside time each day to play with your pet.
4. Make targeted items aversive - Occasionally, applying aversive substances (e.g. hot sauce, Bitter Apple®, Bandguard®) to an item may deter a pet from chewing it. If this is not possible, spraying strong smelling substances (e.g. citrus air freshener, potpourri) or using physical deterrents (e.g. upside down carpet runner, Ssscat®, Snappy Trainers®) around an object may prevent pets from approaching.
Most chewing behavior in pets is natural, especially in puppies and kittens. We have to teach our young pets what is appropriate to chew on and what is not. They learn just like human children, through trial and error. If inappropriate chewing behavior continues into adulthood, it can cause unnecessary strife in the household. Please call us if you need help with your pet’s destructive chewing.