New pet problems

dogBe it a new puppy, kitten or rescue pet, an addition to the family can take a bit of getting used to and sometimes it’s hard to know how best to help them settle in to your home. So, on National Pet Month, here we provide expert advice on some of the teething problems that can arise during the first few months, to ensure they are as trouble free as possible…

We’ve been trying to toilet-train our ten-week-old puppy, but he just doesn’t seem to be getting the hang of it. What can we do to help?

If you want him to go to the toilet in your garden, you need to keep taking him outside, especially after meals or if you see him sniffing around. When he goes to the toilet outside, immediately give him lots of fuss and praise and a small healthy treat (a reward). The reward has to be given within seconds of him going to the toilet, so that he knows he is getting it for that reason. Eventually he will realise that he gets a reward because he has gone to the toilet outside. Before long he will start waiting to be let out at which point you can add a command such as “Go now” as you’re giving the reward. Once he’s learnt this you can stop giving the reward and just say, “Go now”. You can reward him occasionally to remind him that he’s doing the right thing. For more information on training, visit the puppy and dog behaviour pages at

Why does my eight-week-old kitten try to suckle on anything from earlobes to tassels on cushions?

She may have been weaned from her mother too early and is still showing suckling behaviour. She will probably grow out of the problem. However, the kitten needs to develop its normal adult behaviour. Stalking, chasing and pouncing are part of a cat’s normal activity; these actions can be encouraged by using toys that mimic prey – like fishing rod-type toys. It’s unlikely to solve the problem but is an important aspect of normal behavioural development. If the problem persists, talk to your vet.

Should you smack a puppy? What’s the best way to deal with them when they get too boisterous and start nipping?

You should never smack a dog or any pet. The kindest and most effective way to teach a puppy is by using a method called ‘reward-based training’. This means when they do something right you give them a reward straight away (such as praise and a healthy food treat).

If you keep repeating this, they will learn that good behaviour means a reward. If you smack them, they will be scared, won’t understand what you’re trying to teach them and may forget the task in the future.

With regard to bad behaviour it’s important you follow the same premise – reward good behaviour and don’t punish bad behaviour. If he attempts to snarl or nip, ignore him and don’t give him attention in any form. It is also essential that you enrol in dog training classes.

Our new Springer Spaniel pup doesn’t look fat, but he has a really big tummy. Is there something wrong with him?

You need to get your puppy checked over by your vet, as it sounds like he may have worms. These are parasites that sometimes live inside the intestines that can cause vomiting, diarrhoea or poor growth. They can also cause a pot belly.

There are many different species of roundworm and tapeworm and there are different ways in which they infect dogs. For example, a dog may eat worm eggs when grooming its fur or if they eat a rodent or bird that has eaten some worm eggs.

Some worm larvae can be passed to an unborn foetus or through a mother’s milk. Worms, their larvae and their eggs are found in many places that your dog is likely to go such as pavements and parks. Flea and worm treatments bought from shops may not be as effective as those from veterinary practices, so ask yours to advise you about which products will work best for your pet. Even after worming, dogs may pick up more worms, eggs and larvae from the environment, which is why regular worming is important and some worms can be passed to humans, so this is another reason to get him checked out. Your vet will discuss a worming programme with you to keep your puppy protected.

We recently took on a rescue puppy and I’ve noticed he doesn’t react to noise and doesn’t come when he’s called. I’m wondering if he may be deaf. Can it be treated?

Your vet would be the best person to test his hearing for you. There are many possible reasons for why your dog might not be responding to you. He may have ear mites, blocked ear canals or his hearing organs may not have developed properly.

If ear mites are the problem, this is treatable, but any problems he was born with might not be. However, deaf dogs can adapt well to normal everyday life, and can easily be trained to respond to hand signals instead of spoken words.

Our new kitten has taken to peeing behind my TV in the lounge. How can I stop her?

In the first instance, try to find out what type of cat litter she was using before she came to you. Kittens can develop a strong preference for a certain type of litter. You should also make sure her litter tray isn’t placed somewhere that makes her feel vulnerable or scared of using it. You should also get her checked over by your vet to make sure there isn’t a medical condition, like cystitis, causing her to pee in unusual places. Your veterinary practice will also be able to give you further advice on the problem if you need it.

My new Boxer pup has chewed through a chair leg, damaged the skirting boards and even ate my husband’s mobile phone! I’m worried she’ll make herself ill.

Chewing is very normal behaviour for puppies, but it can be dangerous if they swallow things. PDSA vets commonly have to operate on puppies that have swallowed things they shouldn’t, and prevention is always better than cure. Make sure she has access to plenty of puppy-safe toys – don’t give them all at once; instead alternate them every few weeks to keep her interested. Often puppies chew out of boredom, so it’s important to make sure she has plenty of exercise and toys to play with. If she chews something she shouldn’t, ignore her as giving her lots of attention might make her do it even more!

Top tips for healthy pets


Pets should receive a ‘primary’ vaccination course early in life, followed by ‘booster’ vaccinations two to four weeks later. The first vaccine for cats, dogs and rabbits can be given as young as six weeks old. Booster vaccinations are needed yearly, depending on the vaccine, because the body’s immune response fades over time.


Dogs should be walked daily; the time, length and frequency of walks depends on their age, breed and health. Your vet will be able to advise you on your dog’s requirements. Dogs can also be exercised through running, swimming and playing games like fetch. Outdoor cats should, in theory, get plenty of exercise when out and about, but indoor cats can miss out. Owners should play with their cats using toys that encourage their cats to chase and pounce – fishing rod-type toys are very good for this.


The PDSA strongly recommends neutering pets to prevent unwanted pregnancies and to reduce the risk of illnesses. Pets usually benefit most by being spayed or castrated within their first year. Your vet will be able to advise on the right time.


It’s best to stick to a ‘complete’ pet food. The best ones are those that have different foods for different life stages, as these match the nutrient content to your pet’s changing needs. Home-made diets are an option, but it’s difficult to make sure these contain the right amount and types of nutrients.


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