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Pets Q&A: Adopted dog is not playful

Q: We just adopted a “shepherd-mix,” Gracie. She is about a year old, though we’re not sure about that. Our veterinarian says she’s healthy. Gracie is very patient with our kids, ages 8 and 14, but she refuses to play with them or with us. She’s just really serious. Do some dogs never play? – K.J., Portland, Maine

A: Give Gracie time to settle in. Some newly adopted or rescued dogs will immediately integrate themselves into a family as if they’ve been there forever. However, most newly adopted pets – be they dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets or parrots – take anywhere from a week to a month to truly feel comfortable. Some newly adopted animals are slow to trust people based on their past experiences. I’m referring primarily to animal abuse, but being given up to a shelter is traumatic enough. Also, some dogs are more serious. Others simply might not think your idea of a game is entertaining. If Gracie enjoys treats, you could start with a game of “chase the cookie.” Simply toss a morsel along the floor and encourage her to chase it. Like anything else, of course, some dogs enjoy these activities, some don’t.


Q: Ever since I began traveling for work, our cats have been upset with me. I know this because they urinate outside the litter box when I’m gone. My husband tells me that when I leave Ranger and Tonto, they also mope around. What should I do? – G.O., Tampa, Fla.

A: There are many possible explanations for your cats’ indiscretions, but spite is not one of them.

Cats don’t like change, and it may simply be that the change in your schedule upsets them. While it’s quite plausible that they miss your presence, Ranger and Tonto have no way to rationalize that “If I pee outside the box, she’ll stop traveling.” More likely, they’re anxious as a result of your new hours, and unhappy about not seeing you.

A pair of tools that can help ease anxiety are Anxitane (L-theanine, a green tea extract) and Feliway (a copy of a calming pheromone). Also, play is a great stress-buster. When you’re gone, ask your husband to use an interactive (fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric) to play with the cats a couple of times a day. He could even do this between TV shows; cats do fine with five-minute play sessions.

It’s also possible the problem is more complex. Perhaps one or both cats had an underlying medical or behavior problem before your schedule changed, and the new stress has unmasked the issue. For example, perhaps one cat has hyperthyroid disease or is diabetic, but still managed to hit the box. Now that the cat is more anxious now, he can’t hold it together any longer. With one cat stressed, and thinking outside the box, it’s not unusual for the second to follow. Anytime there’s a change in a pet’s behavior, a veterinary visit is wise.

Another possibility: The cats weren’t getting along so great but still managed to cope. Now, the added stress is just too much. Aggression in cats may be obvious, but it also can be so subtle that pet owners don’t notice. Litter box location may exacerbate these issues.

It’s also possible the problem is incredibly simple, such as the litter boxes not being scooped often enough. Also, note I said “boxes.” With two cats, three litter boxes (located in three different rooms) is ideal.


Q: If our cat had been the goalie in the Minnesota Wild net, we could have made it to the Stanley Cup. I throw pretty hard and I can’t get a squishy cat toy past Oliver. Is this cat seriously special? – S.H., Saint Paul, Minn.

A: I can believe your cat is speedy, indeed, but so are all felines. Their reflexes are quicker than ours. Also, even with a feline in the net, the Wild was bound to lose its playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. But then, you’re writing to a Chicago-based columnist!