Potty Training Pets

cat on a potty trayGetting a new puppy, kitten, or older cat or dog is an exciting experience, but having pets comes with certain responsibilities, including potty training. It may be a time-consuming process to potty train your pet, but Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, said it is necessary to develop a long-lasting, positive relationship with your pet.

“Inappropriate eliminations are one of the biggest reasons pets are surrendered,” Stickney said. “Developing good bathroom habits early is key to having a pet you will enjoy for a long time.”

Potty training should begin as soon as you bring your pet home. If you’re training an adult dog or a puppy, be sure to give them plenty of time to use the bathroom and stay with them until they go. Then, reward the animal with a treat or positive praise so they understand that eliminating outside is good behavior.

If you’re training a kitten or cat, Stickney said finding a litter box that your pet is comfortable getting in and out of is key. Additionally, if your kitten was using a litter box before it came to live with you, it could be helpful to start potty training your pet with that specific litter.

“Cats can be texture-and odor-specific with their litter,” Stickney said. “So if you start with that litter you can gradually transition them to another litter later, if you prefer.”

Because using a litter box is instinctive for cats, the potty-training process could be quicker than with dogs. However, if your pup is having a hard time learning where it is appropriate to eliminate, don’t give up. There are other strategies pet owners can use to potty train their canine, such as crate training.

“Crate training takes advantage of a dog’s natural inclination to rest in a den,” Stickney explained. “Dogs will not urinate and defecate in their den (crate) because they prefer to eliminate outside.”

If you’re going to crate train your dog or puppy, Stickney said the crate should be large enough for the animal to stand up, stretch out, and turn around, but not any larger.

Additionally, maintain a consistent schedule for allowing your pet to go outside.

“A good rule of thumb is the puppy needs to go outside every hour per month of age,” Stickney said. “So a three-month-old puppy needs to go outside to eliminate every three hours. A puppy that begins to whine and become anxious should be taken outside immediately.”

Though crate training can be effective, Stickney said it’s important to remember that puppies and even adult dogs still will have accidents occasionally. In this case, Stickney said instead of punishing your pup, ignore that the accident even happened.

“Once an accident happens in the house, the puppy has already forgotten what it did,” Stickney said. “Clean up the mess and remove the smell so the puppy does not revisit that spot.”

In addition, Stickney said if your adult dog or cat is already potty trained and suddenly starts having reoccurring accidents, this could be a sign of health problem. In this case, your pet should see a veterinarian for a check-up.

No one should pass up an opportunity for pet companionship to keep their home clean and fresh-smelling. If you’re consistent in your potty training plan, both you and your new pet will be happy.

But remember, if you’re planning on getting a furry friend, patience and positive reinforcement are key throughout the process of potty training.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Allergy Sufferers Can Have Pets Too

lady and a catAllergies are among the most chronic conditions worldwide, according to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology. Though many of us love companion animals, some pets, especially cats and dogs, can cause allergic reactions in people.

Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained why some people are allergic to cats and dogs.

“People are typically allergic to the dander and saliva of dogs and cats,” Stickney said. “Cats groom themselves more than dogs, so more people are allergic to cats and have more severe symptoms than those allergic to dogs.”

Though hypoallergenic pets have become more popular, Stickney said recent evidence has shown that there is no such thing as a hypoallergenic dog or cat. However, there are several breeds of dogs and cats that are purported to cause less severe allergic reactions.

“A few examples of dogs that may cause less allergic reactions include labradoodles, bichon fries, poodles, and Portuguese water dogs,” Stickney said. “Some examples of cats include Devon rex, Siamese, and Sphynx.”

If being around cats and dogs is a must, Stickney said there are some ways to alleviate pet allergies. Some options include bathing your pet weekly, getting a HEPA filter for your home, designating a “pet-free” room or area of your house, washing pet beds frequently, dusting and vacuuming your house regularly, and washing your hands after handling a pet. Seeing a physician about allergy treatment options also may help.

Additionally, Stickney said some allergy sufferers can consider pets that are not known to cause allergies, such as lizards, ferrets, rats, and birds. However, Stickney reminds pet owners to do their research before getting a new pet.

“None of these animals should be ‘impulse buys’,” he said. “They all have unique husbandry and health care requirements.”

While allergies may affect our choice in pets, everyone can find a pet fit for them, even allergy sufferers.


Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu .

Spaying and Neutering Pets May be Best Decision for Pet Health

two pets staringAlthough the idea of your pet having surgery can be scary, spaying and neutering is a common practice performed by veterinarians that can be beneficial to both you and your pet. In fact, the decision to spay or neuter your pet may be the best decision for your pet’s overall health.

Dr. Mark Stickney, clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explained the benefits of spaying and neutering.

“Spaying is the removal of reproductive organs in female dogs and cats,” Stickney said. “Spaying has a few general benefits, such as owners not having to tend to heat cycles or surprise litters of puppies or kittens. Benefits to neutering male pets—or removing the testicles—include decreased urine marking and aggression toward other males. In addition, neutered male pets are less likely to roam, a behavior that typically occurs when females of the same species are in heat. Roaming also puts your male pet at risk for getting lost, hurt, or injured by a car. Spaying and neutering also helps combat pet overpopulation.”

Stickney added that one female dog that is not spayed can produce about 500 puppies in seven years. Although playing with 500 cute puppies may sound like fun, Stickney said about 7.6 million animals will enter an animal shelter this year alone because of issues such as pet overpopulation.

Additionally, one of the most common reasons pets are given to animal shelters is because they are not given the attention they need, which could lead to aggression.

“Many pets are given up to a shelter for behavioral problems, especially aggression,” Stickney said. “It is important to train and socialize new puppies and kittens.”

Furthermore, Stickney said there are more than just general benefits of spaying and neutering pets; there are also specific health benefits.

“In female pets, spaying eliminates pyometra—an infection of the uterus of older dogs that can be life-threatening,” Stickney said. “Pyometra also requires emergency surgery in many cases. Spaying also reduces the risk of breast cancer, the most common cancer of female dogs, especially when performed before the first heat cycle. In males, neutering eliminates BPH—benign prostatic hyperplasia—which can cause difficulty urinating and defecating later in life. Neutering also eliminates the risk of testicular cancer.”

Spaying or neutering your pet also can cut down on veterinary expenses. Caring for puppies, kittens, females with pyometra or breast cancer, and males that are aggressive or injured as a result of roaming can be expensive compared to the cost of spaying or neutering. In fact, there are health risks associated with pets that are not spayed or neutered. The cost of caring for a pet with reproductive system cancer or pyometra can easily surpass the expense of spaying or neutering your pet.

“Female pets can develop mammary cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer, and pyometra if they are not spayed,” Stickney said. “Dystocia during whelping—or trouble giving birth—is another potential risk spaying can decrease or eliminate. Male dogs can develop testicular cancer, a condition called testicular torsion in which the testicle twists on itself, and benign prostatic hyperplasia—or an enlarged prostate—if they are left intact.”

While there are many reasons pet owners should consider spaying and neutering their pet, there also are reasons to leave the pet intact. The pet may be purebred, have desirable traits that the owner wishes to pass on to the offspring, and have no genetic defects.

Additionally, some pet owners may choose not to spay or neuter their pet because they fear the pet will gain weight or have stunted growth. Stickney said pet owners should have nothing to fear.

“Spaying and neutering does reduce the metabolic rate by about 25 percent, so if your pet is an adult and no longer growing, you should reduce the amount you feed the pet by a fourth to maintain a healthy body weight,” he said.

Before making the decision to spay or neuter their pet, pet owners are encouraged to visit their veterinarian to discuss which option is the right choice for their pet’s overall health.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the web at vetmed.tamu.edu/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu

Take Your Dog To Work Day

It has been said time and time again that the presence of animals helps to alleviate stress and benefit your overall mood. This can also be true in the workplace. As demonstrated by multiple studies, having a pet in the workplace not only lowers stress levels and encourages a productive work environment, but also helps to boost morale. In honor of Take Your Dog to Work Day on June 20th, here are some basic guidelines to keep this a fun and safe day at the office.

“There is a huge body of evidence that shows having pets around is a natural relaxant,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “There is definitely a benefit to having a less stressful work environment.”

However, the increased productivity and decreased stress levels is entirely dependent on the obedience and behavior of your dog. An untrained dog that will wreak havoc on the office is not a suitable choice for this highly anticipated day.

“First of all, make sure you know what your office policy is on bringing your pet to work,” said Stickney. “With that being said, the quickest way to end Take Your Dog to Work Day is to bring in a dog that can’t behave itself and will be a nuisance all day long.”

If you do have an obedient, well-behaved dog that won’t disrupt your work day, there are still some basic guidelines to follow before letting him tag along. For instance, prior to bringing Fido with you to work, it is vital that you doggy proof your office and properly notify your fellow coworkers of his visit.

“Even if Take Your Dog to Work Day is celebrated at your workplace, it is still a good idea to let your immediate supervisor know that you will be bringing your pet that day,” said Stickney. “If you have an office, you will want to leave a note on your door explaining that there is a dog inside to avoid any unpleasantly surprised visitors or escapes through the open door.”

Additionally, make sure that Fido has non-squeaky chew toys to occupy him, plenty of food and water, a leash, and ways to dispose of any accidents he leaves in the office.

“If you have a puppy or avid chewer, you will also need to make sure that all computer wires and other various cords are someplace where your dog can’t get to them,” said Stickney. “You wouldn’t want your pet to be the reason for a system-wide shut down.”

Ensuring that they are up to date on their vaccinations and are completely flea-free is a must. It is also recommended that you bring a copy of the paperwork proving this to work with you that day, should any concern arise.

“Often times, dogs that are well behaved at home will become nervous when placed in an unfamiliar environment,” said Stickney. “It is imperative that they are up to date on their rabies vaccines in the case that they bite someone out of fear.”

Just keep in mind that while you may love your dog’s slobbery kisses and welcoming leaps onto your lap, a fellow co-worker may not be as big of a fan. Be mindful of others’ space and privacy on this day, and always make sure Fido is on a leash to prevent any complaints or accidents.

As long as it is in line with your company’s policy, your dog is well trained and properly socialized, and you follow some of these basic guidelines, Take Your Dog to Work Day can be a fun experience for all involved.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

To Declaw or Not to Declaw

As much as you love Fluffy, his constant need to claw your living room sofa isn’t exactly desirable. After furnishing your home with numerous scratching posts and still no improvement, you may be asking yourself, “what now?” As a very last resort, it may be time to consider declawing surgery. A choice not without controversy, the procedure should only be done after careful consideration with all of the facts.

“When we perform a declaw procedure, we are removing the entire third phalanx of the toe,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “So not only the claw that you can see, but the associated bone that attaches to the next bone in the toe.”

The declawing procedure is controversial in veterinary medicine today, and like any other surgical procedure, there are a number of risks that go along with the purported benefits.

“People have a bad feeling about the procedure because they anthropomorphize to themselves of what it would be like to lose the end of their finger, which would be a big deal for a person, but a cat doesn’t need to type or write like we do,” said Stickney. “They extend those claws when they’re ready to do something destructive or to defend themselves; otherwise, those digits are naturally retracted and unseen.”

However, you should be aware that once the procedure is completed, your cat will no longer have a way to defend itself from other cats or predators that come into its territory. As a result, the cat will need to be an indoor only cat for the remainder of its life following the procedure.

Because we love our pets so dearly, we want to do all in our power not to inflict any unnecessary pain on them. Though the procedure is painful, by using a good multimodal pain control protocol that targets the nervous system at different points in the pain pathway, you can make the procedure as comfortable as possible.

“For the next ten days postoperatively, you need to restrict the cat’s exercise as much as possible, so do not encourage them to run and jump around the house,” said Stickney. “You also need to use either shredded newspaper or paper towel in their litter box as opposed to gravel based litter that could get into the little incisions before they heal.”

The decision of whether or not to declaw Fluffy is not one to be taken lightly. However, if his clawing is standing in the way of your companionship and ability to keep him in your family, surgery may be your only hope. “If it is an indoor cat only, you have exhausted all other methods of controlling the scratching problem, and it’s a decision of whether or not you’re going to have to get rid of your cat,” said Stickney, “then the benefits of declawing surgery absolutely outweigh the risks.”

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Basic Grooming

Dr. Mark Stickney, a clinical associate professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine, was recently mentioned in the article, “Extreme Groomers Give Dogs Dazzle,” regarding creative and eccentric grooming for dogs. Everything from Mohawks, flower designs and temporary paint tattoos are created on the animal for “bonding” between a person and their pooch. Harmless yet extravagant, this extreme grooming fad is becoming increasingly popular among dog owners. While Dr. Stickney admits in the article that this type of grooming is not for him, he does agree that you should always be sure to keep up with your pets’ basic grooming.

“Just bathe them whenever they need a bath,” said Stickney. “You don’t want to give them a bath more than once a week unless told to do so by your veterinarian for some sort of skin condition, any more frequently than that will only serve to dry out their skin.”

If you have an unruly pooch that doesn’t enjoy getting wet, then some positive reinforcement should usually do the trick. “One way to encourage them is to use a positive reinforcement, such as a treat, whenever you put them in a situation where they’re going to get their face or paws wet,” said Stickney. “Also, don’t go overboard the first couple of times you bathe them. Easing them into the routine by only putting them in toe deep in the tub is a great way to start.”

Giving your cat a bath can provide a whole new meaning to the word unpleasant. Lucky for us feline lovers, cats do a good enough job of keeping themselves clean without our intervention. “Unless your cat is just filthy, it’s best not to struggle with routinely cleaning them,” said Stickney. “If they do need to be cleaned, the easiest way to do so would be to buy a waterless shampoo that you can simply rub into their skin and then rub out.”

As far as which shampoo to use, any type that is formulated especially for animals should work just fine.  “Assuming that your pet has healthy skin, you’ll want to use a shampoo specifically formulated for dogs or cats, “said Stickney. “Human shampoos and conditioners have pH levels that can harm your pets’ skin and cause irritation.”

If, however, your pet has a certain skin condition or irregularity, then consulting your veterinarian about which shampoo to use would be your safest bet. “One thing that you see commonly with animals that have a lot of loose skin and skin folds is that they will get yeast or bacterial infections in those folds,” said Stickney. “In that case, you’ll want to consult with your veterinarian, as they will probably recommend bathing them more frequently and with some type of medicated shampoo.”

While it may not be necessary to sculpt your dog’s fur into exotic jungle scenes, as mentioned in the “Extreme Groomers” article, basic grooming and upkeep is vital to your pet’s health and happiness.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Howl-Oween Safety

dog wearing costume with a bowlCobweb covered doorways, porches lined with glowing pumpkins, and miniature visitors draped in white sheets can only mean one thing: Halloween is right around the corner. With the holiday rapidly approaching, it is time to start planning your favorite traditions. In addition to the pumpkin carving and costume parties, keeping your pets safe during this holiday is an importation tradition to uphold.

Whether they are your child’s faithful trick-or-treating companion, or the Toto to your Dorothy costume from the Wizard of Oz, pets can be an integral part of your Halloween celebrations. “It is more than okay to dress your pet up in a Halloween costume, as long as the costume fits them appropriately and isn’t too tight,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “A good rule of thumb is to make sure that you can easily slip two fingers underneath whatever bands are in the costume and to not leave the costume on them when they are unsupervised.” Just keep in mind that while a costume may be cute and funny to you, your pet may disagree.

When your pet is accompanying you on your trick-or-treating route, or helping to welcome your sweet-toothed visitors, make sure they are constantly under close supervision and on a leash. “There is definitely some mischief that goes on during Halloween, and it is highly recommended that you keep your pets inside the house,” said Stickney. “If they are indoor/outdoor animals, this is the night to keep them indoors.”

Stickney also recommends that outdoor-only pets be kept in a safe and secure location, such as a fenced-in backyard with the lights on, so you can routinely monitor their whereabouts. People with black cats should be extra certain to keep them safe and indoors, as they are, unfortunately, the target for many pranks on Halloween night.

You should also make sure that your pet has proper identification, such as a microchip or a collar with detailed contact information. It isn’t unusual for pets to slip through the frequently opened front door, and if spooked by noisy groups of small goblins, run too far to find their way back.  If Scruffy is helping you greet trick-or-treaters at the door, make sure he is comfortable with the intrusion of strangers. Some animals can become overwhelmed with all of the chaos, and growl or even snap at the overzealous guests.

There is nothing like an emergency trip to the veterinary hospital to spoil your Halloween fun, so be certain to keep the candy bowl as far away from your pet as possible. “Candy, especially dark chocolate, is extremely toxic to dogs,” said Stickney. “If they do get a hold of it, call your veterinarian immediately and tell them what exactly they ate and how much of it they consumed.” There are plenty of pet-approved treats to give them other than the leftover Kit-Kat bars they keep eyeing.

There are a few tips for decorating your haunted house as well. “One thing to potentially watch out for are any decorations with streamers or artificial spider webs,” said Stickney. “If cats try to catch and eat these, they could contract a linear foreign body which would require emergency surgery to remove.” Keeping open flames, like a candle inside a carved pumpkin, out of reach is recommended as well. Curious puppies or kittens can easily knock them over, getting burned or inadvertently setting your house on fire. Opt for a battery-operated candle instead.

Parents take extra precautions so that their children’s Halloween experience is safe and enjoyable, but it is important to extend the same care to your beloved pets. As long as you follow these general safety guidelines, Scruffy and Fluffy are sure to be in for a howlin’ good Halloween.

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Adopting an Older Pet

There’s no mistaking it, baby pets are adorable and many grow up to become magnificent companions. Unfortunately pet owners often forget the trouble involved with raising a pet from infancy, and overlook the countless mature dogs awaiting adoption from shelters and rescue organizations.

“Consider adopting an older pet if you want to skip the house-training and want an animal that may already be obedience trained,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Science (CVM). “Another benefit with older pets is that their personality is set when you meet them, and any health issues or special care needs may already be evident.”

Within the first week of bringing home an older pet, schedule a visit with your veterinarian to identify any health concerns and to update vaccinations, heartworm prevention and parasite prevention.

“When selecting a pet to bring home make sure their behavior and activity level will fit into your lifestyle, which is much easier to determine when you meet an older pet,” said Stickney. “For example, a pet that is calm and relaxed for a smaller house versus super-active pets that need room to move around and a large yard. You should also have it meet all of the family to make sure the pet will get along with the children, males, and females living in your home.”

It is also important to ask the shelter or rescue organization about any known health or behavior issues, or if the pet has been around other pets before or not.

Preparing your home for an older pet is not that much different than a younger one, with a few exceptions that many find easier. “When bringing home any pet, it is important to have things such as the appropriate food, bedding, bowls, and the appropriate toys like chew objects for dogs or a scratching tree for cats,” said Stickney. “It is also essential to have a carpet cleaner around for a few accidents until the pet understands your house’s routine, and to make sure your yard is fenced with no breaks where the pet could escape and get lost. If your pet has arthritis and has trouble moving and jumping, you may need a ramp to help it maneuver steps.”

Older pets can also be easier to train because they do not get distracted as easily as puppies.  However, if they have already learned certain commands you will need to stick with the same command words and gestures instead of trying to use new commands for the same trick.

To view adoption services and to adopt an older pet of your own, check out services such as petfinder.com or visit the local Aggieland Humane Society.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Understanding and Overcoming Your Pet’s Fears

While many of us would like to believe our little puppy is fearless, the truth is that there are many things a pet will
experience that may frighten it at first as it attempts to understand more.

“Pets can be fearful of all types of things,” says Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at the Texas A&M College
of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM). “Thunderstorms, fireworks, cars, and even children can all
potentially be sources of fear for a pet.”

Pets become scared because they, like all animals, have evolved to recognize threats. Animal’s fear physiology is similar
to that of humans with the heart rate, blood pressure, and body temperature rising when frightened.

Dogs, bred as pack animals, need to be with their owners when afraid. Cats, being more solitary, hide when scared and
may be less destructive.

The critical socialization period‐ 8 to 12 weeks of age‐ is an important factor in shaping the behavior of both puppies and
kittens. During this time, the pet should have its first vaccinations and then exposed to all sources of stimuli including
people, things, and sounds.

“If you plan to have the animal accompany you while horseback riding, take it to a place where it can see and smell
horses. If you plan to take the animal along during hunting, take it to the field where it can see and hear gunshots,” said

Crate training is also imperative from the first day the pet comes home. This gives the pet a place to feel safe when you
leave the house.

“The crate should always be a safe and happy place. The pet should never be put in these crates to be punished or for
any negative experience,” said Stickney.

One way to overcome fear is to expose the pet to the source of its fear and reward them for when they are brave.

“Some dogs experience anxiety and become distressed when they hear keys being picked up. One way to desensitize
them is to frequently pick up keys and then sit back at home or leave the house for a minute and then come back. The
pet will slowly recognize to ignore these cues,” said Stickney.

A current market trend is tight‐fitting pet jackets to aid in behavior. While these may help, they are shown to mostly aid
in modifying mild behavior problems.

“The idea is that animals feel safe and secure when they are compressed, just like babies when they are swaddled,” said
To aid in more severe fears, specialized veterinary behaviorists prescribe a combination of behavioral medication and
pharmacological treatments.

“Pharmacologic therapy only serves to help the behavior modification, there is no such thing as a single solution to fix
the problem,” said Stickney.

“The sooner you address these issues, the better it is because these fears do not go away on their own,” said Stickney.
“Nothing is easy about rearing a puppy. It’s a big responsibility, but there are incredible benefits if you put in the time
and effort early on.”

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.

Potty Training Your New Pet

The day your new puppy first sees its new home is a special day for any new pet owner. Playing with them, caring for them, and watching them explore every room of their new home is heartwarming and fun. Regrettably, many people forget that cleaning up your little bundle of fur’s mess in your home is a responsibility that can quickly become irritating. That is why it is crucial to have a potty-training plan ready for your new pet as soon as you bring them home.

“It’s important to start young with potty training, because what we don’t want to do is establish bad habits in our pets,” said Dr. Mark Stickney, Clinical Associate Professor at  the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences. “Once they learn one way to do something it’s hard for them to unlearn it, and any change can confuse them.”

“Begin training your dog as soon as you bring it home,” said Stickney. “Take it straight outside and give it plenty of time to go potty. Stay out there with it, but ignore it until it is done. Then, as soon as it is done, give it a treat and ‘ooh and ahh’ over it.”

While this progression may be irritating and time-consuming, it will be well worthwhile when you no longer have to pick up messes inside your house.

When your pet is inside the house, one of the most effective ways to train it is by crate training.

“When you are not at home you should keep your pet in a crate inside your house,” said Stickney. “This becomes their safe place, or den, and thus crate training takes advantage of their natural instinct not to make a mess in their own den.”

As soon as your home instantly take your pet out of its crate and outside to do its business.

“It’s not realistic to leave a puppy in a carrier for eight hours straight and not have an accident,” said Stickney. “If at all possible you should try to come home or arrange for someone to come by and give it a potty break in the middle of the day if you work full-time.”

It is important to never use your pet’s crate as punishment. Your pet sees the crate as its safe-place, and if they are put in one as punishment the pet will develop a negative view of it and will no longer see it as their den.

“This also goes for punishment of accidents. Never negatively reinforce their behavior,” said Stickney. “If you swat or scold them when they have an accident they not only don’t connect their accident to the punishment, but it can cause anxiety and lead to slower potty training.”

If you have followed these training recommendations and are still ineffective, there are professional dog trainers who can help with the development. You should also check with your veterinarian to make sure the animal does not have an underlying problem.

Potty training is significantly different for cats and dogs. While dogs need time attention to train, cats are quite a bit easier.

“Litter training is instinctive for cats,” said Stickney. “All you really need to do is put your kitten in the room with the litter pan and keep it in there when you are not playing with it or paying attention to it.”

While there are a number of diverse litter-boxes available for your kitten, the most important aspect to look for, at least initially, is that your kitten is comfortable and can easily get in and out.

“You have to remember that when you bring home a kitten it is just a little baby, and if you get a really high box it may have trouble getting into the box and therefore will not use it,” said Stickney. “It’s also good to remove anything in the room that may resemble litter such as potted plants, or they may become your pet’s bathroom.”

When choosing a litter for your box it is important to remember that, while there are many varieties available, they are mostly marketed for human preferences. Find one that your cat will use and that works for you as well.

“Although all cat-litter brands are ok to use it may helpful if you know what kind of litter your kitten was using before it came to live with you and start with that if possible,” said Stickney. “Cats can be texture and odor specific with their litter so if you start with that you can gradually transition them to another litter later if you prefer.”

“If your dog or cat is already housebroken and suddenly starts having accidents it may be a sign that it has a health problem,” said Stickney. “In this case you should definitely take the pet to its veterinarian for a check-up.”

No one wants to deal with pet messes in their home. If you have a potty-training plan in place and are adamant about it, you can have both a healthy, happy and potty-trained animal and a clean, fresh smelling home.

About Pet Talk

Pet Talk is a service of the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, Texas A&M University. Stories can be viewed on the Web at vetmed.tamu.edu/news/pet-talk. Suggestions for future topics may be directed to editor@cvm.tamu.edu.