Dog wearing a bandana
Has your veterinarian ever recommended that you do something for your pet that seemed silly, frivolous or just plain weird? I’m here to tell you that there’s a method to our madness. When we make these suggestions, it’s because we’ve found that they are often the easiest or most effective ways to alleviate or prevent problems. Let me share with you a few seemingly silly solutions that work — and why.

Playing Dress-Up

The suggestion to put clothes on pets often raises eyebrows, but it makes sense for several reasons. Clothing can help protect hairless or light-colored pets from damaging sunburn. Full-body clothing can reduce an itchy pet’s ability to injure himself by chewing and scratching at his skin or help protect wounds that are healing. And there’s another benefit to humans: Clothing may trap dander and loose hair so it doesn’t spread as widely throughout the home. That may help reduce reactions to pet dander — as long as a non-allergic person removes and launders the clothing.

Certain articles of clothing can have other uses as well. Think bandanas are just a cute way to give your pet a little fashion flair? They can also have real purpose. I like to have owners spray bandanas with calming pheromones to help pets feel comfortable in stressful situations, including visits to the veterinarian, being boarded or when strangers are in the home.

Socks or booties may look a little odd on pets — after all, they already have protective paw pads — but they are useful in certain situations. Anti-skid socks can help older pets keep their footing on slick floors so they are less likely to fall and hurt themselves. Booties help protect paws in extreme weather conditions, whether your pet is facing snow, ice and road salts or super-hot asphalt or concrete.

If thunderstorms, fireworks or other loud noises turn your pet to quivering jelly, a compression garment such as a Thundershirt can give him a comforting hug that helps to relieve his anxiety. A study conducted by veterinary behaviorist Gary Landsberg found that the gentle, constant pressure reduced heart rates and serum cortisol levels (a measure of stress) and made pets less likely to hide in fear.

Walking the Dog

Your dog already has a collar — does he really also need a head halter or walking harness? The answer is yes. In some cases, it can help you get a better handle, so to speak, on his behavior.

A head halter allows you to gently guide your dog’s head in the direction you want to go without having to jerk him along. A front-clip harness can discourage pulling. And a harness can be especially beneficial for dogs with short noses for whom head halters aren’t appropriate or for toy breeds prone to tracheal collapse, preventing them from gagging, choking or coughing from tracheal compression when they pull against a collar.

If your dog’s rear is weak because of an orthopedic problem, an injury, recent surgery, amputation or old age, a lifting device can help you comfortably and easily get him upright, up and down stairs and out and about. The feeling of security it gives will help him be more willing to move around and have less fear of falling. That improves quality of life for both of you!

More Than Just Toys

You know I’m a big proponent of food-dispensing devices and puzzle toys for pets. That’s because they feed the mind as well as the body. Putting a day’s worth of food inside a puzzle toy allows your dog or cat to “hunt” for his food throughout the day and helps keep him from getting bored. Stuffing a Kong toy with goodies occupies his brain and may help to reduce anxiety when no one is home.

Catnip toys encourage most cats to play. (Did you know that 20 to 30 percent of cats don’t have a response to catnip?) Other toys that can increase a cat’s activity levels and stimulate his brain are small balls that will ricochet off walls as he chases them, fishing-pole toys with dangling “prey” on the end of a string and the aforementioned food-dispensing toys. Just be sure balls are large enough that your cat can’t swallow them and don’t leave fishing-pole toys out when you’re not around to supervise, or he may swallow the string.

Your vet may also recommend that you invest in some cat-specific furniture. He’s not thinking about your décor — it’s all about the cat. I like to make sure cats have a tall scratching post (at least 3-feet high) or a cat tree. Climbing is good exercise, and a tall cat tree allows a cat to escape from pestering dogs and simply be up high so he can survey his domain. That’s important for a cat’s self-esteem, you know.

Litter Lore

I’m not trying to support litter and litterbox sales with these next two recommendations, but I honestly believe — and experience shows — that these ideas can improve your cat’s happiness (and yours, by extension) as well as reduce the risk that he’ll start urinating outside the box.

We know that cats are private, territorial and insistent on cleanliness. That means that if you have more than one cat — and even if you have only one cat — you need more than one litterbox. A cat may choose to use one litterbox for pee and one for poop, or he may just prefer to go in the one that is clean and hasn’t been sullied by another cat. The rule of paw is one litterbox per cat, plus one more. Place them in different areas that are both convenient and private.

I also like to recommend that you offer your cat a choice of different types of litter to find out which one he likes the best or is most likely to use. Even if he chooses one that’s more expensive than you might like, it will pay off in the end because if he likes it, he’ll use it.

Running Water

Seriously? A pet fountain? You bet! Cats in particular are attracted by the splash and burble of fountains. That may be because they have difficulty seeing still water, according to my cat-tastic colleague Dr. Deb Greco.

The reason this is important is because cats often don’t drink enough water to stay fully hydrated, or they may suffer from kidney disease, which can compromise their hydration level, and that’s bad for their health. Anything we can do to get them to take in more water is a bonus. If you don’t want to spring for a fountain, try leaving a faucet on at a trickle so your cat can drink from it and dabble in it to his heart’s content.

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