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House-sitter would help cat who gets lonely while family is away

Dogs often bark excitedly when they anticipate a

Dogs often bark excitedly when they anticipate a fun activity, like a walk. Credit: istock

Q Nani is our 15-year-old cat. We lost her brother four years ago. She was depressed for two years, but then improved. When the family is all gone at once, I have someone come in every day to check on Nani, change the litter and feed her.

In December, we were gone for 13 days. Around day nine, she stopped eating and using her litter box. My friend couldn’t find her and thought she had died. Turns out, she was just hiding. Our vet says she was stressed, presumably by being alone. He said it was a good thing we got back when we did. There was also some inappropriate urination discovered later. What can we do to make it easier for her when we are gone the next time? Would pheromones help?

Barb, Massapequa

A It can be difficult for any pet to be left alone for a few weeks, even with a pet sitter stopping by daily. Our pets often get sad when we’re away for any length of time. I once went on a two-week vacation and left my three cats with a pet sitter who stopped by twice daily to visit. While they had each other and about an hour of human companionship daily, my pet sitter noticed they seemed depressed after the first week. Since then, I have never left any of my pets at a kennel or in the home with a pet sitter for longer than a week.

Shorter vacations are not always possible, so I would recommend feline pheromones plugged in throughout the home to reduce her stress. But the real issue here is loneliness, and the only solution for that is companionship. You might consider adopting another cat or better yet, asking someone to house sit for you when you all are gone. Nani will do much better if someone is at home for part of the day.

Q My 8-year-old dog Zoe is part cattle dog and border collie. When we go for walks, she is very excited, grabbing on the leash and growling and barking. She is fine once we are about half a block in and doesn’t make any noise the rest of the walk. I have tried bringing treats to distract her and looking angry at her. She was born deaf and maybe she doesn’t realize how loud her barking is. Our walk is early, and I don’t want to disturb the neighbors. If I don’t pick up the leash and let her walk beside me, she doesn’t make a sound.

In the afternoon I take her to the park to catch a Frisbee. Again, she is excited, but now her sounds are high-pitched and crazy sounding. I call it the “park bark.” Do you have any suggestions to calm her down?

— Randy, Las Vegas

A Deaf dogs don’t know how loud they are barking and even if they did, like most dogs, they probably wouldn’t care. They aren’t thinking about the neighbors. But it’s nice you’re thinking about the neighbors and trying to find a way to calm your little yelper.

Zoe barks when she is anticipating a fun activity or when she wants you to do something, like drop the leash. Once she is into the activity, her mind settles down and she focuses on the fun. Let’s introduce some training. Pick up her leash for her walk. If she starts barking, put it down and walk away. When she stops barking, give her a treat, then pick up the leash again. Repeat these steps until she stops barking and you can attach the leash.

Next, pick up your end of the leash and head for the door. If she barks, drop the leash and walk away. If she doesn’t stop barking, remove the leash and start over. Repeat these steps until she walks to the door without barking. Use these same techniques for walking from the front door to the street. It will probably take about a week or so, but she will learn what you are communicating.

Once she understands, train her with the disc inside the house and at the dog park using the same steps above. At the dog park, simply put the disc down or hide it in a bag until she stops barking. She will remember her leash training and will know to stop barking if she wants to see the disc again.

This training requires patience, but most dogs are eager to please their owners.

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