Archives for January 2012

Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Meredith Stepita Answers YOUR Questions!

This past week, we opened up our Facebook page for any questions you may have for our behaviorist, Dr. Meredith Stepita. You can read the questions below and Dr. Stepita’s answers too. We plan to do this again so be sure you like our Facebook page to stay in the loop and get your questions to Dr. Stepita in the future.

PLEASE NOTE: Although the veterinary medical information contained within this site is brought to you by a professional, qualified, practicing veterinarian of many years’ experience, the information is not intended to replace the advice of your own veterinarian or doctor. This website can not see your animal – your local vet can.

Q from Natalie Walker: My pit bull is white, and loves sun as she has gotten older she has black spots everywhere. why??
A: Hi Natalie. Thank you for the very first question! I would definitely recommend having your dog examined by your veterinarian as I am concerned that the black spots could actually be a medical problem.

Q from Kristine Larson: My Westie puppy (1 yr old) has a habit of licking and smacking his lips before he goes to sleep at night. Is this b/c he was pulled from his mother too soon (he’s a puppy mill rescue and was taken from his mother at 5 weeks!) or could it be something physiological, like acid reflux? I think he is self-soothing, but if I give him a bit of food before bed, he doesn’t do it as long or as badly. It’s borderline obsessive…

A: Thank you for the interesting question Kristine. Recently, we have been making the connection between licking and gastrointestinal disease. There was a study looking at this and all the dogs that licked excessively had a medical gastrointestinal problem (found on biopsy of their intestines), whether or not they had any other clinical signs of gastrointestinal disease. I would absolutely recommend following up with your veterinarian, especially since you notice that he is better if fed before bed. Other medical problems related to excessive licking include oral disease, metabolic disease (for example, liver or kidney disease), toxins, brain disease (for example, hydrocephalus or water on the brain), and electrolyte imbalances. It is more so in cats than in dogs that we have seen abnormal oral behaviors due to a behavioral cause in those that were weaned at an early age, but it could be possible in dogs as well.

Q from Megan Soriano: Why does my dog bark all the time? My other one is fine and only barks when people are coming up to the house, or when the mail man comes “normal” things. How can I get the other one to stop?

A: Thanks for the question Megan. Dogs do hear differently than us and there are many reasons your dog may be barking. For example, a territorial response, fear, alarm barking (when they bark a few times to let you know, for example, someone is at the door), stimulus response (barking in response to any sort of stimuli, for example, noises, people or other animals), or as an attention-seeking behavior. It’s important to figure out your dog’s motivation for barking in order to tailor a treatment plan to him. The first step is always to avoid the triggers that cause your dog to bark. For example, play white noise or music to drown out any noises. Then, a specific behavior modification plan is made based on his motivation for barking. Your veterinarian may be able to help you with this behavior modification plan or they may refer you to a veterinary behaviorist.

Q from Tootie Tatum: Why is my seven year old male both scared of and threatened by my 11 week old puppy? Along the lines of being an odd dog, why does he occasionally forget how to walk on smooth or tile floors? Some days he’s fine and others are apparently downright horrifying on the same surface.

A: Good to hear from you Tootie 🙂 Can you describe what you mean by the older dog being threatened by the puppy? A fearful dog may become aggressive when cornered and there is no escape. Also, bringing a new dog into the house may come with some amount of stress and the hierarchy of the dogs in the house may become unstable – this can also lead to increased aggression.
Regarding smooth floors the first thing that comes to mind is to have him checked by your veterinarian for orthopedic problems. These floors can be slippery and conditions such as osteoarthritis can be more painful as they walk on smooth, slippery floors.

Q from Cheryllynne Bush: my 4 year old Doxie loves everyone she is very friendly, and she loves to give kisses almost obsessively, she will give kisses to the people in the car next to us or if she see’s someone walking down the street she will kiss the window, she will lick the air if she cant get to the person. we got her when she was 8 weeks old she is now 4 she has always done this. we have 2 others and they also love everyone but do not show this behavior. i just tell everyone she meets its better than biting.

A: Thank you for posting this comment Cheryllynne. I agree- much better than biting! In wolves and dogs licking can be an appeasement behavior where the subordinate dog licks the dominant dog in order to diffuse any aggression and puppies lick the mouth of adults in order for them to regurgitate food (although the latter does not happen in very many domestic dogs). It is thought that these juvenile behaviors as well as certain physical traits have been selected for in our dogs today.
What is the response of the person being licked? I am guessing that she may have been rewarded (even negative attention is rewarding for many dogs) for this behavior in the past. Dogs actually learn best when they are intermittently rewarded, similar to playing slot machines in Vegas. As in the above post keep in mind that excessive licking can be a sign of a medical problem which you can follow up about with your veterinarian.

Q from Nancy Hartford: “I have 5 cats, 4 adults and 1 kitten. We just brought in a stray maine coon cat who is just over a year old and she is licking the hair off of her back around her tail. She is also scratching jer neck raw. It is not contagious because none of the others are this way. I have been treating her neck with neosporin but not sure what else to do for her. She is getting along well with the other cats. Any suggestions?”

A: Thank you for your question Nancy. First, I would see your veterinarian to make sure there is not a medical cause. In a study performed by a dermatologist and a behaviorist, 76% of the cats that were licking themselves bald had a medical condition only with no behavioral component ( As for behavior, we want to decrease stress by adding resting areas, litter boxes (at least 1+ the number of cats in the house), and feeding areas distributed throughout the house so that the cats do not have to interact if they do not wish to. I would also recommend using Feliway (a plug in that releases cat friendly pheromones which helps keep them cool, calm and collected). A good resource for cat behavior is on the website Keep us updated!

Q from Jane Adams: I have a little pomashitz 6lbs everytime my lab comes near my chair she trys to eat her how can i stop this because my lab got mad once and almost ate her,but this really scares me my lab ignores her but i think momo bit her nose once is why she got mad

A: Hi Jane. Thanks for the question. This is a very serious situation. There may be a hierarchical issue between the dogs, your lab may have a possessive motivation, or there may be another motivation for your lab biting your pomashitz. It is important to get to the bottom of why your lab is biting your pomashitz in order to create a treatment plan and modify the behavior, especially before your pomashitz is hurt. Avoid the situation by not allowing the dogs near your chair and I strongly recommend that you find a veterinary behaviorist (see the website or certified applied animal behaviorist ( immediately. There is also a veterinarian at Tuskegee, Dr. Carloine Schaffer, that may be able to help you.

Q from Prunelle Lolote: Here is a question for your behaviorist doctor, my brother’s old cat keep piing everywhere in our house since he went to his college. And she is not very nice to the other younger cat and the dog. But she used to get along with any pet we had.

A: Thank you for the question Prunelle. The first thing I would strongly recommend is to visit your veterinarian to rule out a medical problem. As for behavior, there are 2 types of urinating outside of the litterbox: marking (small amounts of urine usually on vertical surfaces) and normal elimination or “toileting” behavior (large amounts of urine usually on horizontal surfaces). There are different treatments, so it’s important that the correct diagnosis is made. In general there are some things that most cats like including a very large litterbox (I usually recommend an under the bed sweater box), fine and clumping non-scented clay litter (I usually recommend Fresh Step (r) ), an uncovered litterbox without a liner, scooping the box at least once daily, completely cleaning the litterbox every 1-2 weeks with mild dish soap and water, and multiple litterboxes easily acceptable and distributed throughout the house. It is important to clean up the urine outside of the litterbox with an enzymatic cleaner. I would also recommend using Feliway and if the cat is marking anti-anxiety medications may be recommended by your veterinarian as well as behavior modification for sources of anxiety. It is best to avoid any situations in which your cat will not be very nice to your other cat or dog so that she does not continue to practice the undesirable behavior and see a veterinary behaviorist ( or a certified applied animal behaviorist ( to help devise a behavior modification plan. For more information on conflict between cats and cats urinating in the house visit the problem solving section of the website

Thank you to everyone for submitting questions! If you would like to ask a question for yourself, please LIKE us on Facebook at to stay up to date on upcoming question submissions.
If you are in the Bay Area of California and would like to meet or schedule an appointment with board certified veterinary behaviorist, Dr. Meredith Stepita, please give us a call at (925) 937-5000 to schedule your appointment!