Pet Questions from Around the World, from Kitten Classes to Pet Beetles


Pet questions from readers around the globe, suggesting our world is getting smaller every day, from my national Tribune Media Services newspaper column.

Q: I am a feline/canine behaviourist in France. I am examining the idea of nursery school for kittens, which I believe you have helped to create, called Kitty-K. Can you say how the idea for these classes came about? Are these classes popular? A. R., Alsace, France

A: I can’t take credit for creating the kitten socialization classes, that honor belongs to Dr Kersti Seksel, a veterinary behaviorist in Sydney, Australia, While  others offered these classes before I did in the U.S., I will take some credit for spreading the word.

I can’t speak for France but in the U.S. veterinary visits are on the decline, particularly for cats. As a result a long list of preventable illness is on the rise. Many cats go for years without seeing a veterinarian, so early detection of illness becomes absolutely impossible. What’s more, these visits – which the cat is not accustomed to – may be incredibly stressful. Without acclimation to the carrier, getting a cat to the vet may be a challenging task to put it mildly.

In order to attend a kitty socialization class, a veterinary exam is required (to clear kitties of potential disease). At this young age, encouraging a kitty to hop into a carrier is easy. And the destination turns out to be fun, as kitties receive attention and treats. Often kitty classes are held at veterinary clinics (in thoroughly cleaned rooms, or far better, a place where cats wouldn’t have been – such as an office), so the association is a positive one.

While kitties do get some time to socialize with one another, and even with a cat friendly dog – kitten classes (like puppy classes) are all about communicating to the pet owner – topics include, a lesson in “litter box 101,” encouraging scratching in all the right places and why declaw doesn’t need to be considered, and basic care from how to brush the coat to how to brush teeth.

Feeding cats is an important topic, since in America obesity is an epidemic in cats. There’s a discussion about appropriate play. And a demonstration on clicker training, so cats can learn to “sit” on cue or even jump through a child’s arms. This isn’t only for fun, it seems to bond people with their pets.

The problem is that unlike puppy classes, kitten classes are only absolutely for kittens only from about eight to 15 weeks. So, it’s way too late for a six-month-old kitten. So, the challenge can be getting enough kittens to attend a class to make it worthwhile to offer. Increasingly, shelters are offering programs for their resident kittens, and invite members of the public with young kitties to participate too.


Q: I am a faithful listener to your radio show, though I have no pets. I wondered for a long time about people who ride their bicycles with a dog running alongside. It seems that this would stress the lung capacity of the dog. Do you think it’s a good idea?  D. E., St. Catherines, Ontario, Canada

A: When listeners without pets tune in, I’m particularly complimented – thank you. Of course, should you choose, I can help you find a pet.

Naturally, exercise is a good thing for our generally under-exercised pets. Having said that, of course, you are right – there may be too much of a good thing. The answer is incredibly variable depending on the type of dog, the fitness level of the individual dog, how far and fast the bike is traveling, and the weather. I cringe when I see people pushing Labrador or Golden Retrievers much over a mile; their hips just aren’t meant that kind of stress. Also, when young dogs (generally under 16 to 24 months) run.

However, an adult fit Weimaraner or Dalmatian can easily be trained to run several miles, these dogs were bred for longer distances, and their long stride allows them to more easily keep pace with a bicycle. A Vizsla is also a good choice.

Still, they are dogs and dogs aren’t as efficient at cooling themselves as people. Many water breaks are necessary, and on very hot day those runs must be at dawn or dusk or eliminated all together.

Clearly, a Pug or Pekingese, may barely make it one block running alongside a bike. And if you could coax brachycephalic dogs (with short-muzzles and pushed in noses), like a Pug or Pekingese, they could suffer serious breathing issues.


Q: I relocated here from the U.S. and am glad to see that many people have dogs, and seem to love them. But there’s a trend here to dye their coats different colors. It’s not supposed to be harmful. What do you think? V. S., Hong Kong

A: From what I’ve read the dyes used for this interesting craze aren’t harmful, though I twinge just a bit knowing that dogs do groom themselves (and therefore could ingest). Assuming it’s true that these dyes are safe, I don’t really mind the practice of coloring dogs’ coats if it means that somehow people feel more connected to their canine pals. I’m all about keeping pets in homes, with happy pets and happy people. If this is what makes people happy, who am I to say it’s wrong? I doubt that dogs look in the mirror and text their friends about how ridiculous they look.


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 that? C.J, Chicago, IL

A: While you can’t very much cuddle with a pet beetle, I must say they take up little space and they’re quiet apartment pets – important in crowded Tokyo. However, I don’t like the vending machine idea. Even a beetle is a living thing that requires appropriate care. While I have no issue with beetles born on beetle farms (yes, there is such a thing), smuggling endangered beetles from other countries is very wrong, and sadly superficially enforced by Japanese officials. Mostly stag and rhinoceros beetle species are pets.

©Steve Dale, Tribune Media Services