Friday 19 July 2019

What to do when pets lose their house training ability

THE successful control of body waste is a key factor in successful pet keeping.

Luckily, dogs, cats and rabbits, the most popular pets in Ireland, can all be house trained. Young dogs rapidly learn to do their business outside, and cats and rabbits are able to use a litter tray, designated specifically for toileting. It's a serious problem when pets lose their house training ability.

As a pet 'agony uncle', I receive many queries from people who are exasperated because their pet is soiling in the family home. There are three main problem areas.

First, many people want to know how to house train young animals. This is a process which often happens naturally: animals, just like humans, have a natural instinct to keep their "den" clean.

The challenge for pet owners is to teach young animals that the entire family home is 'den'. A young puppy will often use a far corner of the kitchen to go to the toilet: in the pup's mind, this area is far enough away from the sleeping area to be the equivalent of 'outside'.

A 'puppy crate' can be an effective way of training a puppy more rapidly. This is a wire mesh cage, big enough to hold the pup's bed, bowl, and a few toys. The crate acts like the pup's 'private bedroom': he is put in here whenever he is on his own. Most pups naturally recognise that the inside of the crate is 'den', and they refuse to go to the toilet inside it.

Owners just need to remember to take the pup straight outside when they are allowed out of the crate. Nearly always, the pup will go to the toilet almost immediately, because they will have been 'holding on' while inside the crate. If they're given praise and rewards while they do their business outside, they soon learn that this is preferable to doing their business indoors.

It's usually much easier to train kittens and young rabbits: they have an instinctive desire to do their business in an area that contains a substance that they can scrape and push around with their feet: cat litter or shredded newspaper is perfect. An owner merely needs to provide a litter tray, place the animal into it, and the rest follows naturally.

The second problem area with toileting happens when adult animals lose their house training skill. This is rare in dogs, and usually only happens when there's a medical problem which means that an animal can no longer 'hold on' (such as a urinary tract infection or gastroenteritis), or when an owner has failed to give an animal the opportunity to go outdoors as usual.

In some cases, after a couple of accidents, toileting indoors can become a habit. An adult dog may learn that it's 'OK' to go indoors, and they may need to go through the house training process again. A dog crate, just as for a puppy, is often the best way of doing this.

Adult cats often also cause problems with house soiling. "Cat bullies" outside are one of the common causes of this. Cats need to feel safe, secure and relaxed to go to the toilet. If there is a strong, dominant cat outside, they may intimidate a pet cat sufficiently to make them feel that they cannot safely do their business in the usual outdoor areas. The pet cat may then retreat indoors, where they know they are safe.

It can be difficult to resolve this type of situation: the use of a few litter trays indoors may be needed to provide a type of escape valve for the harassed animal. It's also useful to have a discussion with someone who understands cat behaviour (such as your local vet) to make sure that there are no other issues that might be causing your cat to change her toileting behaviour.

Adult cats can also suffer from medical problems that can cause them to have accidents indoors: cystitis is common, especially in cats that feel stressed for any reason. In such cases, the cat may pass urine in odd places, and splashes of blood may be seen. A visit to your vet is essential in such cases.

The third and final toileting problem for pets involves the loss of house training ability associated with old age. As with elderly humans, the ability to remain "continent" is gradually lost with diminishing mental ability and increasing physical frailty. The animal equivalent of Alzheimers is common in dogs and cats, with up to 70% of pets over the age of fifteen showing one or more signs of changed behaviour due to age-related changes in the brain.

The loss of house-training instincts is one of the common consequences. This tendency is aggravated by the fact that many diseases of old age - such as liver or kidney deterioration - lead to a need to go to the toilet more frequently.

For many owners, the final months of an old pet's life may include many episodes of getting down on their hands and knees to clean up the mess. It's worth talking to your vet about this problem: the problem can often be helped with various types of treatment.

A clean home is essential for human and animal health and comfort: if your pet is causing problems in this area, remember that help from your vet can make a big difference.

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Enniscorthy Guardian