Q Our loving little Westie turns into a Jekyll/Hyde (a nervous wreck) when it comes to professional grooming and everyday brushing. We give her a mild tranquilizer (5 mg of acepromazine) prescribed by our vet when we need to groom her. Sadly, the wonderful woman who groomed her passed away eight months ago. She had been Katie’s “Westie Whisperer” for 13 years.
We have since tried various groomers, using the same medication, but to no avail. Recently, we took her to a veterinary hospital where she was groomed under anesthesia. Katie was very matted, as she did not tolerate grooming for eight months, and had to be sheared. She has worn sweaters and coats all winter.
Can you give us some advice as to how to calm Katie enough to have her properly groomed once her hair grows back and we can brush her daily?
Elaine, Franklin Square
A Poor Katie. Change can be challenging, and 13 years is a long time to have the same groomer. You may be able to conquer some of her fears of grooming and grooming tools, however, by retraining her as if she was a puppy; a dog is never too old to learn.
Start by showing her the brush and giving her some high-value treats — treats she doesn’t normally get, but absolutely loves. Do this for several days. Then one day, touch her with the brush (no brushing yet) while giving those same treats. Give her lots of verbal encouragement in happy and approving tones.
Eventually, she should become more relaxed when she sees the brush because she knows she will also get those treats. When you get to that point, brush her for a minute or two, several times a day, rather than one long session. By taking these training baby steps, Katie should eventually accept some light brushing in exchange for a few high-value treats. Incorporate some calming scents in the house like lavender or plug-in canine pheromones, which can also help relax her.
Getting her used to a new groomer is much trickier, since you can’t pay a groomer for this incremental training. If you can get her to where you can brush her though, you can then hire a groomer to come to the house where she may feel more comfortable. Be patient though, as this could take many weeks to do.
Q All my adult life I’ve only had male cats. My current babies are about 4 years old. Soon a 1-year-old female cat will be joining us along with her “daddy,” which might provide some comfort for her. Along with that, my daughter is moving out, and so I think they may experience (change) overload. I know change can be traumatic, and I know I will have to isolate the new cats for a while. Everyone is fixed or will be fixed. What should I do?
A If you can, keep the cats separated until everyone is fixed. Set up a room where the two new cats have food, water, toys and a litter box, and will be isolated from the other cats. Spend at least 60 minutes over the course of the day in the room playing with and petting the new cats. This will help calm the new cats and facilitate the transfer of scents between the cats as you go back and forth between them. You also can facilitate a scent swap by taking a blanket or toy in and out of the room or encourage the cats to play “paws” with each other under the door.
A few days later, use carriers to move your two cats into the room and let your new cats out to explore the house (without them meeting). After a week, introduce the female cat, then the other male cat a day or two later. Don’t leave them all alone until you know they are getting along. There may be some hissing, hiding, running, posturing, meowing and guttural noises until everyone re-establishes their new territories in the home. However, if they fight or look like they might fight, separate them and try introductions again the next day.
Scent can play a part in creating a calmer environment, so plug in cat pheromones around the house to reduce everyone’s stress before you begin. If you give your cats time to adjust and don’t rush things, they should learn to live together peacefully.
P.S. Be sure to have one more litter box than you have cats in the home.