Q Our 8-year-old dog, Shea, has never liked getting wet, but has tolerated being bathed and getting wet to “do her business” in the rain. However, when my son tried to bring Shea upstairs to give her a bath the other day (she is 48 pounds), she started growling and snarling and hiding behind the couch. I’ve never been afraid she would bite before, but this time she sounded so vicious I wasn’t sure what she would do if we tried to get her into the bathroom. Last night, my daughter thought Shea was going to vomit, so she tried to get her into the bathroom on the tile. Shea growled at her and started barking and backing away from her. I’m not sure why she is suddenly so fearful of the bathroom. It has been a while since her last bath and nothing out of the ordinary occurred at that time. Is there something we can do to alleviate her fear? Will we be able to give her a bath again?
A Bathtubs can be scary places for dogs. Think of something you are terrified to do and then imagine having to do it regularly. You are right to not force her. There is no need to stress her — or you — out this much.
It’s hard to know why she is suddenly so fearful. She may simply have reached her threshold for baths, or she may have developed a health problem, like arthritis, that is making bath time more stressful and uncomfortable.
While you can use desensitization and counter-conditioning training techniques to help her work past her fears, these techniques can take weeks or months to see results. They involve not bathing her in the tub for a while and creating a positive experience in the bathroom — like dropping a trail of treats from the hallway into the bathroom, so she associates the space with a more positive experience. But that’s no guarantee she won’t freak when you try to pick her up again for a bath.
The good news is, you can skip the traditional bath and opt for one of the less conventional cleaning methods: bath pet wipes to clean her fur, or a dry dog (waterless) shampoo that doesn’t have to be washed off with water.
If you think she might react to the sound of the spray, apply the dry shampoo to your hands and then spread over her fur. Towel dry her afterward, and give her treats for being a good dog. I think she will enjoy the contact and these options can get her just as clean.
If she absolutely needs a traditional bath, try it outside when the weather is warmer using a gentle nozzle on the hose. But if she is as afraid of water as you say, skip the hose and exchange it for a bucket of source water (so there is no running water around her), a little shampoo, and a cup of water to dip into the bucket to rinse her off. If this turns out to be too much for Shea, stick with pet wipes and dry shampoos. Bath time should be a pleasant experience for both of you.
Q Our 7-year-old cat started licking his front paws. He has always been afraid of everything, but it has progressively gotten worse. He jumps at the slightest noise — a loud bang sends him running and hiding. We’ve always treated him with love and cuddling. Our other 16-year-old cat died a couple of months ago. The two of them were never close, but they got along. We thought he might be lonely because he has been lethargic lately. What do you think?
South Elgin, IL
A Most cats run and hide when they hear a “loud bang,” so I wouldn’t worry about that behavior. But some of the anxiousness, excessive licking, and lethargy you describe may be him grieving for his friend. Even if cats in the same household don’t appear close, they can still be comforted by each other’s presence in the home. The surviving cat may be feeling vulnerable without his friend.
Because of his age, make sure the lethargy is not related to any health problems. If his health is fine, then plug in a few feline pheromones around the house and turn on a white noise machine to reduce his jumpiness. Cats do grieve, so give him time to adjust to his new normal.