"I really like people who really like their animals, and so doing the radio was an extension of just helping people make the best medical decisions for their pets."
For the last two years, Dr. Clayton Greenway has been offering GTA residents one hour of free veterinary advice every week on his newstalk 101 radio program Animal House. In early April, he took some time out of his rather full schedule (which includes three young children and work at Scarborough's West Hill Animal Clinic) to give me some tips on making your home as pet-friendly as possible.
First of all, what do we have to bear in mind when moving with pets?
"Well, certainly going into new environments is a bit scary for them." Greenway told me. In fact, even moving preparations such as packing may upset some cats.
"It's just when you start to change the environment" he explained, " when the boxes come out and you start putting your stuff away, or packing up stuff in the hall. I see this happen all the time. The cats get quite stressed out because that's their whole world; that's their environment and all of a sudden it's changed. And your routine's often off when you're doing that..., you're not coming home and settling down on the couch, you're packing all this stuff up. It kind of freaks the cat out."
This means that any big change to its landscape can upset an anxious cat. Renovating is another biggie, and in case you're wondering about how to spot signs of feline anxiety, Greenway said that they include "urinating and defecating around the house", as well over-grooming to the point of hair loss.
Fortunately for those with moving vans (or renovator's trucks) in their driveways already, there are ways of lessening such environmental stresses.
Your routine's often off when you're moving. You're not coming home and settling down on the couch, you're packing all this stuff up. It kind of freaks the cat out.
"There's basically anti-anxiety treatment that you can do for pets." Greenway told me.
"There are natural products to decrease anxiety, and then there's medication as well. There's even hormone products that you plug in the wall and they emit a hormone into the air. It's called a pheromone, and it will really calm animals down, and that will make a big difference. So I recommend that when people are moving, or when they're introducing a new baby to the house. Because it really upsets the pet's life."
While dogs aren't usually as bothered by moving as cats are, they have other problems. In fact, according to Dr. Greenway, the biggest cause of canine stress isn't moving, it's not moving enough.
"I see a lot of anxiety issues in dogs, and behavior problems when they don't have that outlet for energy." He told me.
The biggest cause of canine stress isn't moving, it's not moving enough.
Of course, not all dogs need the same amount of exercise. Big working breeds are probably a bad idea in Toronto – especially if you don't live near a convenient open green space. For city dwellers, Greenway recommends medium-sized dogs, especially West Highland Terriers and Schnauzers, whose exercise requirements are modest. And if you do settle on a large dog, then keep their needs in mind when choosing an abode.
"If you've got a large breed of dog, you might not want a tall, thin house because of all the stairs. They'll really give them a lot of trouble. And I see a lot of dogs having a lot of trouble with hardwood [floors] when they get a little older. A lot of people put runners in their home, and stuff like that so they have traction."
If you've got a large breed of dog, you might not want a tall, thin house because of all the stairs. They'll really give them a lot of trouble.
In fact, a dog who does lose traction and slip may blame their fall on their surroundings, and develop an anxiety about that part of the house (I am not making this up. I listened to Animal House before I talked to Dr. Greenway, and this very phenomenon came up). Old, overweight, or arthritic dogs are particularly in danger of falling, so keeping their nails short and covering up slippery floors are good ideas. When it comes to pet safety in an outdoor environment, Greenway gave the usual warnings about cats fighting over territory and falling out of trees, but then went on to discuss accidental poisoning.
"There are of course toxins or poisons that they can get into, like car antifreeze, or any sort of mouse poison or things like that that might be around."
I tend to think of dogs as being the creatures who stick their noses (and tongues) into dangerous substances, but apparently cats can get in trouble this way as well.
"Something like antifreeze actually tastes quite sweet, and a lot of animals will be quite attracted to it. So if there's a spill in the garage or outside, that's a bit of an issue."
Although it has nothing to do with animal-proofing a home, I had to ask Dr. Greenway about some of his more exotic patients. As I suspected, he's had a few.
"Before I graduated I worked at the zoo, where I neutered a kangaroo... I removed a tumor from a fish... I did some volunteer work in Thailand and treated elephants. As a veterinarian, you never know where the training will take you. And what you end up seeing is really pretty spectacular sometimes."