Dr Jess Beer, BVSc, Qualified Veterinary Behaviourist
My cat Oscar is very sensitive and gets very upset when one of the other cats in the house goes to the vet without him. He will hiss and spit at them when they return home, and sometimes it takes several days for him to settle down. How can I stop this from happening?
It’s likely that Oscar is getting upset because his feline siblings are returning from the vet smelling differently. This situation needs to be managed carefully as in extreme cases cats can fall out and their relationship can be damaged forever. One option is to take Oscar with you every time another
cat goes to the vet. This will prevent him getting upset about the different smell. It’ll also help Oscar if he’s particularly nervous about going to the vet. If you’d rather not take two cats to the vet, there are a couple of things you can do to make the reintroduction more positive. Firstly, take a flannel and rub it on Oscar, and then on the cat returning from the vet. That way the cat will smell like Oscar, not the vet. Feliway spray in the carry cage might also help to alleviate some of the stress. Spray the Feliway on a towel in the carry cage 10 minutes before the cat goes in, and again when you reintroduce the returning cat. I also suggest that you leave the returning cat in a separate room to de-stress for an hour before reintroducing them to any other cats. Another thing to consider is that the presence of the cat carry cage in the house could be upsetting Oscar. Try leaving the carry cage out in a common area for a few extra days to desensitise him to the cage being around. If you’re still having problems, talk to your veterinarian about Oscar’s behaviour. Good luck!
My dog Cody kicks up his feet after toileting when we’re out on a walk and it drives me crazy! He’s always flicking dirt everywhere and I desperately would like him to stop – how can I do this?
You may be interested in the reason why Cody is kicking his feet after toileting. One theory is that he’s trying to cover and bury it. Another is he’s marking and trying to spread the smell. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but this is an example of a normal, instinctive dog behaviour that we can’t change. Like picking up dog poop or walks when it’s cold and raining, we just have to accept it as one of the joys of being a dog owner!
I read that it is safest to keep cats inside at night, and I’d like to keep my kitten Moby in. But every time I try he gets really upset and keeps us up all night scratching and yowling at the door. Do you have any tips for me?
You’re right – I encourage you to keep your cat indoors at night for their safety. There’s less chance of Moby fighting or roaming far distances, and keeps him safe from the road. The good news is that you’re starting this routine with Moby while he’s young. It can be much harder to change the habits of a senior cat who is used to going outside whenever he likes. The first thing to do is ensure you have an appropriate cat door that you can lock at night – one that allows you to adjust the locks so Moby can come in, but not go out again, is best. The next step is to increase his activity pattern and give him a small meal at night to reward Moby for being inside. I suggest keeping him active during the day, so he sleeps at night. You could do this by playing with him and giving him enrichment activities in the morning and then again as soon as you get home from work. Most importantly, don’t respond to Moby’s scratching or yowling. If you reward this behaviour by letting him outside, it will be even harder to keep him inside. You could keep Moby on another side of the house with puzzle feeders to keep him occupied. Or try a timed feeder that opens and releases food when Moby is usually active during the night (or very early morning).
My pet budgie Pip vomits on his mirror in his cage. Why does he do this?
Firstly, it’s wise to take Pip to the vet to rule out any health issues that might be related to the vomiting. But if this is simply a behaviour issue, it’s likely to be ‘mate feeding behaviour’. Pip sees his reflection in the mirror and thinks it is a friend. He regurgitates to feed them. Some birds will show this same behaviour to their owners. Understanding normal bird behaviour is the key to knowing when to recognise signs of ill health or depression, so if you plan to get a bird, it’s best to spend some time studying up on that particular species. Not many people realise just how social birds are, and that it’s unfair that we keep them alone. My advice is that you get an appropriate friend for Pip – he will be so much happier. Too many cages sold in the pet industry are too small to allow enough exercise and playing, so be sure to get the largest you can – the bigger the better. Happy birds need a varied and healthy diet, not just bird seed. They also need a range of toys, puzzles and novel foods rotated every few days, and exposure to enrichment like radio, TV or even fresh air. Providing fresh tree branches or bird-safe trees is great entertainment for them. If you can allow free flying around the house, this will also provide appropriate exercise and entertainment for Pip.
The presence of a new strain of the rabbit calicivirus (Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus 2 or RHDV2) in New Zealand has been confirmed by MPI. There has, at this stage, been just one confirmed case in a single wild rabbit found on a Marlborough farm. However, the virus can spread rapidly and it is not known how widely the virus has already spread; it may already be widespread within New Zealand.
The Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus affects rabbits and the European hare. There is no danger to human health or other species of animals but companion rabbits are at risk.
RHDV2 is a different virus strain to RHDV1-K5. RHDV1-K5 is the RHDV virus strain that was intentionally released in March and April. It is not known how RHDV2 infected the rabbit population here in New Zealand. Although RHDV2 is widespread in Europe and Australia, MPI has said that “the strain was not brought in from Australia because it is sufficiently different from the RHDV2 strain prevalent there. They have also said that they “can also rule out that the new strain came in with the RHDV1-K5 strain which was released nationwide in a planned rollout through March and April because of extensive testing at the time."
There is currently no vaccine in New Zealand that provides protection against RHDV2 but MPI has stated that they are working to import a vaccine that can be used to protect companion rabbits. Rabbit owners should keep in touch with their veterinarian to find out when the vaccine is available and, when possible, have their rabbits vaccinated.
This means that there are now 3 different strains of RHDV present in NZ that we know of: the original RHDV1 v351, RHDV1-K5, and RHDV2.
The vaccine currently available in NZ (Cylap) is effective against RHDV1 v351 and research with small numbers of rabbits indicates that this vaccine will also provide protection against RHDV1-K5. Maintaining up to date vaccinations with Cylap, along with measures to reduce the potential exposure of rabbits to the virus, are currently the recommended steps to try and keep pet rabbits safe from RHDV1 v351 and RHDV1-K5. So our recommendation is still that all rabbits should be vaccinated with Cylap and kept up to date with this vaccination.
There is a vaccination for RHDV2 available in Europe but we do not have it here in New Zealand yet. MPI has said that they are working to import the latest vaccine for the RHDV2 strain from France. They expect the first 1,000 doses to be in the country next week and are working with importers to secure a long-term supply. So our recommendation is that rabbit owners keep in close contact with their veterinarian and get their rabbits vaccinated with the RHDV2 vaccination as soon as it is available.
For now, the advice for rabbit owners to help protect their rabbits against Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus is to:
- Contact your veterinarian for up-to-date advice about the best way to protect your rabbit from the virus.
- Prevent indirect and direct contact between domestic and wild rabbits.
- Avoid cutting grass and feeding it to rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits. Also be careful of fresh vegetables as some may be grown in areas contaminated with RHDV.
- If you are in contact with rabbits other than your own, wash your hands with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
- Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risk of exposure to the virus. Insect control could include insect-proofing your rabbit’s enclosure or keeping your rabbit indoors.
- Often the best way to prevent contact between domestic and wild rabbits, and avoid exposure of domestic rabbits to insects carrying RHDV, is to keep domestic rabbits indoors.
- Clean anything that rabbits come into contact with by using an agent such as 10% bleach, 10% sodium hydroxide, or Virkon (which is available from your local veterinarian).