Kitten classes offer valuable socialization training

Q: I'm a feline and canine behaviorist in France and want to know more about Kitty Kindergarten classes for a report. Can you tell me more about these classes, and how they came about? -- A.R., Alsace, France

A: Just as dogs go to puppy classes, some veterinarians and certified cat behavior consultants offer similar socialization classes for kittens, which when I offer them, I call "Kitty-K." Enrollment is far more limited than for puppy classes. Kittens must be between 8 and 15 weeks old. Classes generally meet over two consecutive weeks (while puppy classes typically continue weekly for at least a month).

Eight years ago, I first heard about the kitten socialization classes offered by Dr. Kersti Seksel, a veterinary behaviorist in Sydney, Australia. She'd been teaching the classes Down Under for several years. Even then, veterinary visits for cats had begun to decline. However, I instantly realized that when owners enroll in a kitten class, they must first take their pets for a veterinary exam. At least that's one veterinary visit!

Also, since instructors teach clients how to train a kitty to use a carrier and to enjoy travel, when classes are conducted at a veterinary clinic this creates a positive association. How different is that compared with the response of most cats, who run and hide when a carrier appears? If visiting a veterinarian is less traumatic, the hope is more people will take their pets to a veterinarian for preventive care. Preventive veterinary care saves lives - period.

While puppy classes are hugely important for socialization and to help teach dogs (and their people how to teach dogs), cats don't generally need to learn how to act in public. However, as in puppy classes, kitten classes offer an opportunity for owners to ask questions -- from where to position scratching posts to how to clip a cat's nails and how to use interactive toys for play.

Happily, puppy classes are offered everywhere. While kitty classes aren't nearly as common, in my opinion they're just as important.

Q: Whatever happened to that dog who starred in the silent movie, "The Artist"? -- C.G., Chicago, IL.

A: Few (in America) may recall that the 2011 Oscar for Best Actor went to the film's star, French actor Jean Dujardin. However, many remember Uggie the Jack Russell Terrier, who arguably upstaged all the actors with two legs. ("The Artist" also won the 2011 Oscar for Best Picture.)

Uggie enjoyed a distinguished show biz career, including his breakthrough role as Queenie in "Water for Elephants" in 2011. No doubt wanting to leave while on top, Uggie officially retired last year. However, he did do a cameo, playing himself, earlier this year in "The Campaign" with Will Farrell.

In June, Uggie was immortalized when he placed his pawprints in cement outside Grauman's Chinese Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard. His biography "Uggie: My Story" (Gallery Books, New York, NY, 2012; $15), is due out in mid-October. No doubt, Uggie will be making all sorts of appearances (with his trainer and best pal, Omar Von Muller) to promote the book.

Q: We moved recently, and ever since my 14-year-old cat has refused to use the litter box. We do have training mats around the house, which she uses half the time. My father is sick of the mess and wants to get rid of this cat, but I'7ve had her since I was 8. Our other cat, who's 15, uses the box correctly. I know the younger cat is healthy. What should we do? -- T.M., Louisville, TN

A: I understand your frustration, and your dad's anger, but please don't relinquish this lifelong friend. After all, who's going to adopt a teenage cat who's missing the box?

You mention that this cat is healthy, but how do you know that? Some cats can deal with change (such as your move to another home), but many cannot. Stress can uncover underlying disease, which is more likely in older cats. Unless you've already had this cat checked out by a veterinarian since the move, kidney disease, diabetes, hyperthyroid disease, arthritis, and/or cognitive dysfunction (a sort of kitty Alzheimer's) are among many possibilities.

If your cat has been seen recently by a veterinarian, add at least one more litter box. Make sure you scoop both boxes at least once daily. Placement of boxes is always important, but even more of an issue for elderly cats. For instance, going downstairs to use the litter box may be a problem if this cat is even mildly arthritic. For older cats, in general, I like the idea of using plastic storage containers (like you'd use to store sweaters under the bed) as litter boxes; with their low sides, the boxes are easy for cats to step into.

After a move, another way to help a cat adjust is to shrink its space. Limit the pet to a single room, or only a small part of the house. Of course, visit the pet often and provide food, water, toys and a litter box or two.

Q: What exactly are fleas? My son needs to know for school. -- H.H., Las Vegas, NV

A: Isn't asked me cheating? Still, I'll bite: Fleas are insects. There are over 2,000 species. Ironically, a species called the cat flea (Ctenocephalides felis) most often infests dogs (as well as cats). Here are a few more flea facts:

A single flea can lay up to 50 eggs daily and 2,000 eggs in a lifetime.

A flea can suck more blood daily than a vampire bat.

If you happen to see one flea, there may be more than 100 offspring or adults looming nearby in furniture, corners, cracks, carpeting, or on your pet.

A flea can jump at least a foot -- equivalent to a person jumping about a half a block.

Do I get an A?

(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 e-mail to PETWORLD(at)STEVE DALE.TV. Include your name, city and state. Steve's website is http://www.stevedalepetworld.com; he also hosts the nationally syndicated "Steve Dale's Pet World" and "The Pet Minute." He's also a contributing editor to USA Weekend.)

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Dream Home takes readers into the houses of Baltimore area residents who have found their ideal home

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