All posts by Dr. Marty Becker

Cute little tabby kitten sitting in a travel crate on a blue blanket

Crate-train cats? Yes, you can

When a reader asked if it was possible to crate-train a cat the way you would train a dog, I immediately turned to my usual source of all things training, my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker. And of course, she had the answer!

Q: Can cats be crate-trained the way dogs can?

A: Cats don’t need to be crate-trained for housetraining purposes, but they can absolutely learn to go into a carrier or crate and stay in it comfortably.

Crate-training has a lot of important applications throughout a cat’s life. Of course, it’s useful for taking the cat to the veterinarian, but also for road trips — if you’re moving to a new home, for instance — or if you have to evacuate because of a natural disaster. Having a cat who will quickly and willingly enter a carrier or crate can be a time-saver, stress-saver and lifesaver!

Pheromones, treats and time are all part of the secret to teaching cats to love their carriers. Treat the carrier with sprays or wipes that mimic the calming pheromones cats produce when they feel comfortable or safe. Hide treats in it or lay a trail of treats that leads inside the carrier to encourage a cat to explore it. Place meals inside the carrier. Leave the carrier out in an area the cat enjoys or where the family likes to gather. Any time you see the cat go in the carrier on her own, praise and reward her. All of these are ways to help the cat develop a positive association with the carrier.

Once the cat is comfortable hanging out in the carrier, practice closing it for brief periods, gradually extending the amount of time the cat spends in it. When you transport the cat in it, hold it in both arms so it’s not swinging at your side. At the vet or any new place, set it down gently and let the cat come out on her own instead of pulling her out. Bring treats or a toy to reward her when she exits.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

A small kitty near the clock

How to prevent early-morning feline food demands

It’s a cat’s world, and we just live in it. At no time is this more true than in the middle of the night when your feline family member decides it’s breakfast time. After all, you may have to go to work but your cat can catch a few ZZZs any time. Here’s my advice to a sleep-deprived reader.

Q: We took in a neighborhood cat. We love him, but he wakes us up at 3 a.m. every day wanting to be fed. Help! We need our sleep.

A: Cats are wonderful, but they have some innate body clock differences that can sometimes make them a challenge as housemates.

Cats are what we call crepuscular, a fancy way of saying that they’re most likely to be active at dawn and dusk. It sounds like your cat doesn’t even wait until dawn to do his hunting — i.e., demand that you feed him. And you’re not alone; this is a common problem for many cat lovers.

The good news is that pet experts and manufacturers are making great efforts to provide cats with toys and other ways to get food that don’t involve waking up their people at the crack of dawn, let alone earlier.

A cat’s normal hunting behavior involves multiple forays for prey daily, not all of which are successful. Simply setting down a bowl of food twice a day doesn’t present a cat with any challenge to brain or body. But puzzle feeders allow you to mimic a cat’s natural feeding behavior, from the hunt to the satisfaction of eating.

Whether you feed canned or dry food, you can find a puzzle toy that works with it. Experts at FearFreeHappyHomes.com recommend buying or making an assortment of food puzzles so you can continually challenge your cat’s hunting skills. Fill them with your cat’s normal amount of food for the day, and hide them around the house so your cat can use his nose and other senses to find food without gobbling it all up at once and then demanding more from you at 0-dark-30.

For more information about food puzzles, both homemade and commercial, check out foodpuzzlesforcats.com.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Happy Mother’s Day to the world’s best pet mom!

I still remember when my high school graduation speaker told the audience there were “10 Secrets of Success.” Secret number 10 was to both send your mother a card on Mother’s Day and tell her how much you love her, in person or on a call. Both. Always.

Well, dogs and cats most often don’t know who their real mother is, can’t drive to Hallmark to buy a card, don’t have pointy fingers to dial, and don’t have mobile phones. But they do know who their human mommas are and would love to give them extra attention and love on their special day. (And not even expect extra love or treats!)

For me, number 10 is set in stone and on Mother’s Day, I always remember multiple mothers. My beloved wife, Teresa. My late mother, Virginia. My mother-inlLaw, Valdie (still kicking at 94 years old). My daughter, Mikkel, mother of our granddaughter, Reagan. Cards are written and mailed (Mikkel) or ready to be handed out over Mother’s Day brunch (Teresa and Valdie). I’ll call Mikkel and talk with Teresa and Valdie, telling them how much we all love them. Emphasis on the all.

These amazing ladies are also caring, doting, loving mothers to the animals who share our lives. In the case of our three mothers: dogs, cats, horses, birds and fish, not to mention the wildlife we feed and care for. We give our dogs, cats, and horses sweet treats, sweet whispers of love, and massage (Teresa is a certified animal massage therapist). The birds get cuttle bones, fresh dandelion greens, toys, rotating branches, etc. The fish, well, not too much to talk about there beyond always having a really clean tank and sweet talk from Teresa that I’m not sure they can hear through the glass and filter noise.

But when I write my cards and sign them, I always include all of the pet’s names. And when I tell them we love, appreciate, and adore them on Mother’s Day, the message is not from “me” but from “we.”

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms (including pet moms) out there!

Why dogs vomit – and when it’s an emergency

Dogs vomit for all kinds of reasons, some serious, some not. When is it just something to watch, and when is it an emergency? Here’s what I told a reader who had questions.

Q: I took my dog out to potty, and a few minutes later he started hacking and vomiting up clear liquid. I don’t know if it was caused by something he ate outdoors, the half a pear core he had eaten a few hours earlier (and eventually vomited back up) or the antibiotic he started taking last night.

He seems fine now, but how do I know when vomiting is an emergency?

A: Dogs can throw up easily and for any number of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they get into the garbage or eat something they’re not used to (that pear core, maybe). They may down something disastrous, like rat poison or some other toxin. Internal parasites, certain diseases, stress and, yes, certain antibiotics can all cause your dog to upchuck.

Oftentimes, a dog’s stomach upset is the result of dietary indiscretion, but I never like to assume that. Foreign-body obstruction, ingestion of a rodenticide and bloat are all emergencies that can have fatal (or at best, expensive) results if you wait too long to treat them.

Call your veterinarian and describe what’s happening. The history of the problem gives your veterinarian clues as to whether the problem is urgent.

How do you know if a case of vomiting warrants a visit to the veterinarian? Puppies (and kittens), toy dogs and older animals are more prone to dehydration and may benefit from subcutaneous fluids, so it’s best to take them in sooner rather than later.

Other causes for concern are an increase in the volume or frequency of vomiting or diarrhea; the presence of blood in the vomit or vomit that smells like feces; and persistent retching without bringing anything up, which could suggest bloat. Take your dog in right away if he shows any of these signs.

Read more in Pet Connection, the weekly nationally syndicated pet feature I co-write with Kim Campbell Thornton and my daughter, trainer Mikkel Becker.

Happy Paws contest promo picture

National Pet Month Contest: Show Us Your Happy Paws!

At Fear Free, we launched Happy Paws magazine last month to help you and your pets live happy, healthy, full lives. Now that National Pet Month is here, we’re having a contest, with one $100 and two $50 Amazon gift cards as prizes!

The contest is open to Fear Free Happy Homes members 18 years or older who reside in the U.S. or Canada. If you’re not already a member (joining is free), sign up here!

Entries will be accepted from 12:01 a.m. Eastern Time May 1, 2019, through 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on May 31, 2019.

Here’s how to enter:

  • To enter, submit a photo of Happy Paws magazine on store shelves, in your home, on your computer or mobile screen, or our favorite: with your pets! Happy Paws is available on newsstands or by mail all over the U.S., as well as online. You don’t have to purchase the magazine, just take a photo!)
  • You can submit as many entries as you’d like, but each photo must be significantly different in the sole judgment of Fear Free LLC. No duplicate photos will be accepted.

Submit your photo entry in one of these ways:

We’ll announce the winners on or before June 14, 2019.

Important: Before entering, please read the complete rules here.

Now have a great National Pet Month and show us your Happy Paws!