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My Pet World: Ways to deal with a timid stray kitten and company

May 03, 2011

Question: My daughter planned to take in a stray kitten, but her two cats weren't friendly. 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.

Answer: "Probably this kitten was never appropriately socialized. Besides, some cats are just shy, as some people are," says cat behavior consultant Darlene Arden, author of "The Complete Cat's Meow" (Wiley, New York, NY, 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).

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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. Also, when she acts more outgoing, playful and demonstrative, click the clicker and offer a treat. (Don't overdo the treats or you'll have an overweight cat.) Once your kitty gets the idea, have someone else use the clicker, such as your daughter.

As for the hiding, if you place an empty box or two in the room, your kitten may jump in there 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: I liked your recent column on Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (Doggy Alzheimer's) and stressing the importance of walking dogs. On your advice, I take my dog for about a mile walk every day. At 77, I feel better and so does Lady (black Labrador Retriever), now 10-1/2. I think exercise helps her brain; she learns as fast as she ever has. Also, I think going up and down the stairs in the house keeps both of us in better shape. — J.M., Cyberspace

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