All posts by Dr. Marty Becker

How to build a DIY scratching post your cat will love

A reader has the DIY bug and a cat. Here are some tips for building a great scratching post!

Q: I want to build a scratching post for my cat. Do you have any tips?

A: That’s a great idea. Building it yourself ensures that it suits your cat’s scratching style and size. Here’s what to think about.

For cats, a good stretch is an essential part of a great scratching experience. They should be able to extend their bodies full length when they scratch. A 1-foot post offers enough scratching room for a kitten, but an adult cat will prefer a post that’s at least 3 feet high.

Cats may not understand why it’s OK to scratch a post covered in carpet but not OK to scratch the carpet on the floor. Help them out by covering the post in a different material, such as rope or sisal.

Materials you’ll need to build a basic post are a 16-by-16-by-1/2-inch piece of plywood for the base; a post that’s at least 36 inches high and 3 to 4 inches in diameter; 100 to 150 feet of 3/8-inch sisal or rope; one small box of 1/2- to 3/4-inch-long U-shaped brads; two 1 1/2-inch wood screws; and a drill, drill bits and hammer.

Using a U-brad, attach one end of the rope as close to the post’s upper edge as possible. Wrap the rope tightly, attaching a U-brad at every quarter turn during the first wrap. Continue wrapping, pushing rows close together to avoid gaps and loose rope. Add a U-brad occasionally to keep the rope from slipping. On the final wind, tack the rope onto the post using two or three U-brads. Hammer U-brads into the post so your cat can’t pull them out. Using the drill and wood screws, attach the post firmly to the plywood base, making sure the post is centered.

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

Fluffy Cat Plays With A Toy.

Your cat needs more playtime than you think

A reader wanted to know just how much playtime her cat really needs. I’m glad she asked this question, because most cats I see as a veterinarian aren’t even coming close to the minimum, let alone the optimal, amount of play that they need to be happy and healthy! Here’s what I told her.

Q: How much playtime do cats need daily?

A: More than you might think! Most of us think of cats as layabouts, happy to sleep all day; in reality, they are hunters who benefit from the opportunity to practice their inborn skills, even if they never catch a mouse in their life.

A good baseline is five minutes of playtime or interactive exercise twice a day. Kittens might need more, and senior cats might be happy with a little less. Toys and games your cat will enjoy include flashlight beams they can chase — be sure to end by pointing the light at something they can pounce on so they’ll feel as if they accomplished something — fishing pole-type toys with a dangly, preylike object at the end or small balls that your cat can chase down the hall, zigging and zagging as the ball bounces off walls or other objects.

Another way to keep your cat fit and occupied is to teach him to work for his meals. Not by catching mice — although plenty of cats make a living doing that — but with a puzzle toy that he must push or play with to get it to dispense food. I tell people that instead of leaving out a big bowl of kibble for their cat to snack from during the day, they should put a meal’s worth of food inside a treat ball and let him figure out how to get it out. Leave a couple of those balls around the house, and your cat will “hunt” when he’s hungry and get the amount of food he needs, not the amount he eats because he’s bored. This is also a good way to help overweight cats drop a pound or so.

You can find more about feline play at

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

Very old black cat resting on hammock

Is your upholstery a health danger to your cat?

If your cat has hyperthyroidism, the cause may be flame retardants in the environment.

Feline hyperthyroidism, first diagnosed in 1979, is the most common endocrine disease in older cats. In the 40 years since that first case was diagnosed, the prevalence of the disease has risen dramatically. Scientists suspected a link to household flame retardants, introduced in the mid-1970s.

In a report published in American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology, researchers used silicone pet tags to measure the exposure of housecats to various flame retardants. (Silicone picks up volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds, and wristbands made of the material have been used in previous studies to monitor human exposure to environmental chemicals.)

Researchers recruited 78 housecats 7 years and older, half with hyperthyroidism and half without, and gave owners silicone tags to put on their pets. After the cats had worn the tags for seven days, researchers analyzed the silicone and found higher levels of flame-retardant chemicals from the cats with hyperthyroidism.

Higher exposures were associated with air freshener use, houses built since 2005, and cats who prefer to nap on upholstered furniture.

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

young beagle with laptop

Giving Dr. Google a veterinary checkup

When you think something’s wrong with your dog or cat, the first thing you do is Google the symptoms. Are we right? We bet we are. Studies show that 3 out of 4 people go to the internet before calling their veterinarians or taking their pets to the clinic.

We understand. If you’re worried about your pet, you want to have an idea right away of what might be wrong. But “Dr. Google” isn’t always the best source of information for what’s going on with your pet or how to treat it. We’re not just saying that because we think you should take your furry friend to the veterinarian if he’s sick (although we do). The internet is an amazing source of all kinds of knowledge, but it’s also full of unreliable, out-of-date and just plain wrong advice. The fact is, some information is more equal than other information.

Find out out to judge the reliability of what you’re reading here.

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

American Bulldog puppy staring with concerned sad look

Is your dog’s itching making both of you miserable?

If your dog’s itching is driving both of you crazy, here’s some information that can help!

If you’ve ever had poison oak or ivy, you know how infuriating, stressful, and even painful itching can be. Your dog’s itch isn’t because of those plants, however. The top tip I have, based on my 40 years as a veterinarian, is don’t underestimate the possibility that fleas are triggering your dog’s itch. I can’t count the number of clients who assure me their dog doesn’t have fleas, only to see all signs of itching go away when flea preventives are used. Ask your veterinarian which is the best choice for your pet’s lifestyle

While in my experience food allergies are rare, they can certainly be behind allergic skin conditions in our dogs.  Talk to your veterinarian about an allergy elimination diet to see if food is contributing to your pet’s itching. Other triggers include what’s known as atopic dermatitis, a lifelong inflammatory skin disease that can result in real suffering for our pets.

I’d also like to put in a plug (yet again!) for frequent bathing for allergic dogs. No, if you use the right shampoo you won’t dry out her skin even with daily baths. What you will do is wash away possible allergens she picks up outdoors while helping restore the skin’s natural protective barrier. Don’t use just any shampoo; use a product specifically designed for dogs with skin diseases. Your veterinarian or a veterinary dermatologist can advise you on which is right for your dog.

I guess you’ve noticed a trend here, but I really do believe no matter what the cause, your veterinarian is an itchy dog’s best friend. She can do a full spectrum of allergy testing, design a desensitization program, help with parasite control, diagnose and treat secondary bacterial infections (important because dogs can be allergic to bacterial waste!), and refer you to a veterinary dermatologist if the condition persists.

If your dog is struggling with this condition, I’d like to invite you to attend a Facebook Live about Fear Free dermatology and how it can help the itchy dog. It features the incredible Dr. Debra Horwitz, a board certified veterinary behaviorist and renowned editor of Decoding Your Dog: Explaining Common Dog Behaviors and How to Prevent or Change Unwanted Ones. She’s joined by boarded veterinary dermatologist Dr. Dana Liska of Zoetis Petcare, who is sponsoring this Facebook Live.

There’s no registration needed. Just come to my Facebook page on Monday, July 22, at 8 PM Eastern/5 PM Pacific Time, for Your Itchy Dog: How Dermatology and Fear Free Can Help!