Q: My daughter planned to take in a stray kitten, but her two cats weren’t friendly toward the newcomer and she ended up giving the kitten to me. At first, he spent most of his time under the bed, but now he’s very loving toward me. If I sit down, he’s in my lap. However, if a stranger comes in the house, the kitten disappears under the bed. He hides even when people he knows visit. Any advice? – J.P., Goldsboro, N.C.
A: “Probably this kitten was never appropriately socialized. Besides, some cats are just shy, as some people are,” says certified cat behavior consultant Darlene Arden, author of “The Complete Cat’s Meow” (Wiley, New York, N.Y., 2011; $19.99).
Don’t force your kitty out from under the bed. Visitors (starting with those she knows) might be able to coax her out with bits of tuna or salmon. If your kitten is playful, and your guests like cats, they might be able to draw her out using an interactive cat toy (fishing pole toy feathers or fabric, or a Cat Dancer toy).
Arden, of Framingham, Mass., also suggests clicker-training your cat. First, offer treats each time you use the clicker (available online and at most pet stores). Your kitty will soon associate the clicker with something positive. Once you have her trained to the clicker, whenever she acts more outgoing, playful or demonstrative – even just a tiny bit – click the clicker and offer a treat. (Don’t overdo the treats or you’ll have a chubby cat.) Once your kitty gets the idea, have someone else use the clicker, such as your daughter or a visitor.
As for the hiding, if you place some empty boxes around the house, your kitten may jump in these and not feel a need to hide under the bed.
“It would be nice if the cat learns to accept at least one other person, in case something happens to you,” says Arden. “However, it sounds like your kitten is perfectly loving toward you, and that’s what matters most.”
Q: Our 15-year-old Basenji-Labrador mix eats well, and seems lively in the morning, but he becomes sluggish later in the day. I’m also concerned that he’s losing gobs of hair. What might be causing this? – J.M., New Haven, Conn.
A: “It’s hard to say for sure what’s going with this dog, but definitely ask your veterinarian about a thyroid panel,” says AAHA board member Dr. Aman Sukija, of Ormond Beach, Fla. “Hypothyroid dogs may lose hair, as you describe, and often do slow down during the day. Other possibilities include diabetes or kidney disease (which blood tests can also help determine). The sluggishness could also be attributed to arthritis and/or cardiac disease.
Q: I just spent an extended period of time in Tokyo and learned that pet beetles are popular. They even have vending machines that sell beetles. What do you think about this? – C.J, Chicago, IL
A: While you can’t cuddle with a pet beetle, they certainly don’t take up much space and make quiet apartment pets – important in a crowded city like Tokyo. However, I don’t like the vending machine idea. Even a beetle is a living thing and requires appropriate care.
While I have no issue with beetles born on beetle farms (yes, there are such things), smuggling endangered beetles from other countries is wrong, and sadly only superficially controlled by Japanese officials. Mostly stag and rhinoceros beetle species are sold as pets.
Steve Dale welcomes questions/comments from readers. Although he can’t answer all of them individually, he’ll answer those of general interest in his column. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Include your name, city and state. Steve’s website is www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated “Steve Dale’s Pet World” and “The Pet Minute.”