Declawing Cats – Why I’m Stopping

Declawing Cats – Why I’m Stopping

It is highly unlikely that there is a more controversial or debated topic amongst animal lovers even in the veterinary community.  I personally had not given it much thought until I met my colleague at the Kingston Veterinary Clinic, Dr. Jaime Buchanan.  She mentioned that I should watch “The Paw Project” (which is readily available on Netflix).  I watched it this past weekend and here’s my thoughts on onychectomy (the proper name for declawing).

my sweet cat Gremlin

my sweet cat Gremlin

I’ve been in practice as a veterinarian for almost 9 years now and I’ve declawed a number of cats.  I’ll admit, I even had my own cat, Gremlin, declawed almost 14 years ago.  Like many other people, I didn’t give it a second thought as I had a waterbed and lived in a rented apartment where my roommates dog had already torn out a chunk of carpet.  Also like many other people, I didn’t really know what declawing was.  In actuality, it is the amputation of the third phalange of each digit (toe) – basically from the tip of your finger to the first joint.

paw-project--600x375

Paw Project movie poster

Watching “The Paw Project”, I was baffled why anyone, let alone who, would declaw a lion, panther, or other wild cats.  There were visible physical deformities that when watching, I attributed to a very poorly done surgery.  Namely, nails regrowing which is often the result of incomplete amputation of the bone the nail grows from.  Then they turned to domestic house cats as the focus.  This is not to say that house cats do not have any problems after a declawing surgery.  Undoubtedly, there is always a risk for complications such as open wounds, infections, remainders of bone left behind, damage to paw pads, or residual pain despite analgesics (pain meds).

pic from www.gopixpic.com

pic from www.gopixpic.com

What about the psychological or behavioral implications?  Well, this is part of the major dilemma.  Cats are typically declawed to avoid unwanted behaviors, namely furniture destruction.  Declawing a cat doesn’t remove that behavior…I see Gremlin making the same motions on a step stool all the time.  Opponents of declawing argue that declawed cats have more instances of biting and can be more instances of inappropriate elimination. Personally, I can agree with the biting aspect but find difficulty accepting the inappropriate elimination aspect as I see that almost daily in non-declawed cats and find the causes are infections, stress, or bladder crystals.  Yes, there are studies out there that discuss this but they are primarily retrospective studies involving asking pet owners.  Several of these are cited on pawproject.org under the FAQs.

Now Gremlin does not harbor any ill-will toward me because I had her declawed; she is bonded to me and very rarely is social with other people.  But for many people and their cats, the relationship may change.  That relationship is what leads owners to elect for a declaw procedure in the first place.  They think that by removing the cat’s ability to destroy furniture or scratch people that all will be good in the house.  Unfortunately, some cats who do begin to bite more as a way of defending themselves or communicating are very likely to end up outside, in a shelter, or euthanized.  Outside, they are even more helpless against other animals.

Plenty of color choices! pic from Wenn.com

Plenty of color choices! pic from Wenn.com

Nowadays, there are alternatives to declawing aside from nail trims though trimming a cat’s nails is much easier than black nails of a dog.  I always recommend to new pet owners to start playing with their kittens feet to get them used to being handled and also to start trimming every couple of weeks while they are young.  Soft Paws are plastic coated nail covers which can be applied with an adhesive and will last for several weeks.  The old standby is scratching posts.  Cats can be taught to go after the scratching post instead of your furniture by rubbing catnip into the material.  It’s best to let your cat choose the post, so give them a few options – carpet covered, rope, cardboard, etc.  Another product I became aware of is called Sticky Paws which is a double sided adhesive that can be stuck on objects you don’t want scratched and when the cat goes after that object the material will be unsatisfying to them and they can be taught to avoid it.

Let’s briefly look at the other pets in the house – dogs.  Dogs have been known to rip up carpets, chew couches, scratch up doorways but nobody ever considers taking off the dogs toes or removing all their teeth.  So why have we gotten into this acceptance of declawing for cats?  When I think about it this way, it becomes clear to me.

We have to start to make a change somewhere.  As of today, I am declaring that I will cease to do elective declaws on cats (this includes another type of procedure called a tenotomy).  The only situation that I would still do such a procedure would be if a medical reason for the cat to have a toe amputated was given (such as a tumor).  Next time you’re in to your veterinarian, maybe ask them how they feel and maybe it will make them step back and think.  As of 2014, declawing was banned in at least 30 countries and at least 8 US cities all in California (per The Paw Project).  The State of New York is also currently considering a law to join in the ban.  Someday maybe this procedure will be illegal elsewhere but until then, inform yourself and bond with your cat.

paw project bumper sticker

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of my blog you can now subscribe so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!

Helping Pets But Not in the Exam Room

Helping Pets But Not in the Exam Room

I’ll let you in on a little secret…  I’m not in the office this week.  Heck, I’m not even in Canada – I’m in sunny Florida!  Now before you all get upset, let me assure you that I’m not lounging on a beach.  I don’t even like the beach nor do I have the body for bathing suit season.  I’m actually helping your pets and other people’s pets from 3000 miles (4800 km) away.

This week, I’m joining over 15, 000 veterinarians, technicians, practice managers, and industry representatives at the Ryan Jennifer NAVC 2015North American Veterinary Conference.   One of the largest conferences in the world, I am learning about new techniques and skills that I can bring back to help the pets in the Kingston community.  But don’t worry, if you’re not in Kingston, your family veterinarian might also be here or maybe they’re attending a different conference.

This brings up a good point about what makes the veterinary profession so awesome.  We are continually updating our knowledge to be able to provide your pet with the best care possible.  Not every state or province requires it though but most of enjoy the chance to learn new things and stay up to date on medical advances.  It’s something that you should be aware of when you visit your veterinarian or if you happen to be looking for a new one.  Does your vet discuss options with you?  Do they just want to give a shot or send home some pills without reviewing diagnostic options?  Is the veterinary team able to answer your questions right away or at least know where to get the info?

Being a veterinarian is an amazing opportunity and even better when we get to help you & your pet have a strong bonded relationship and healthy life.  Sometimes there can be real medical value in the “old ways” but it isn’t the only way.  Do your pet a favor and make sure that your veterinarian is staying current with their continuing education.  I’m doing my part and can’t wait to bring back the things I’ve learned this week to the patients I see!

Five Common Reasons Pets Visit Veterinarians

Five Common Reasons Pets Visit Veterinarians

It’s the new year! 2015 has arrived and it’s time for New Year’s resolutions…not just for you but for your pets!  Thinkinghappy-new-year-cat about the most common reasons I see pets, it’s a good idea to share these points so that your pet can have a happy & healthy year.  There are some things you can do yourself to help your pet reach these goals.

Reason #1: Bad Breath/Teeth Issues

dog breathEveryone knows what doggy breath is…but what can you do about it?  I’m definitely an advocate for tooth brushing and you should start your pet when they are young to at least get them used to the idea and the feeling.  You’ll want to use an enzymatic pet toothpaste as human toothpastes can damage the enamel of your pets’ teeth.  You can find this at most pet stores but also your veterinarian where they often have a free sample to try the flavor and can show you some proper techniques or tips.  It’s also best to use a real child’s sizewebmd_photo_of_brushing_dogs_teeth2 soft bristled toothbrush.  When it comes to dental cleanings, yes it can be expensive because your pet needs an anesthetic.  It’s better to have a prophylactic cleaning done before the teeth get so bad that extractions are required.

Reason #2: Limping

Typically limited to dogs, this can also be a problem for cats.  Very commonly, the problem can be traced back to a sprain/strain and may recover with time.  As pets live longer, we are seeing more cases of limping dogarthritis which can be addressed from an early age by starting your pet on a glucosamine supplement.  Other medications, along with keeping them at a good body weight, can also help alleviate discomfort.  Under no circumstances should you give ibuprofen or Tylenol (acetaminophen) as they can be fatal.  Another common cause of limping can be a torn ACL (cruciate) ligament in the knee.  If your pet starts to limping, you should certainly have them checked out if the signs last more than a day but until your appointment, be sure to keep them on a leash so they don’t over-do it and make things worse.  But be kind and if they are still limping after 24 hours or crying out, get them in to be seen as soon as possible because they are likely in pain.

Reason #3: Urinary Issues

So you’ve got an adult dog or cat who is past the housebreaking or litter training phase…and then they decide to startblocked_cat urinating on the laundry, the kitchen floor, or in the sink.  Or maybe it’s that you’ve been seeing blood in the urine with your dog or your cat is making frequent trips to the litterbox.  In almost every case, this is a sign of a problem and is going to mean a trip to your veterinarian.  For infections, females are predisposed and for bladder crystals or stones, issues are more problematic for males.  To try and help stave these things off, it helps to do a couple of things.  First off, it’s always a great idea to keep your pet at an ideal body weight as obesity has been shown to make these problems worse.  Secondly, with females, if they have an inverted vulva (again worsened by obesity), it can be beneficial to keep the skin folds clean using baby wipes or just a soft cloth and making sure the folds are dried out.  Third, particularly with male cats, I recommend feeding some canned food (in addition to dry) to help urine production and to also keep it more dilute so that they can do their best to prevent accumulation of crystals.

Reason #4: Gastro-intestinal Problems

upset stomach dogThis is a broad category I’ll touch on briefly that includes vomiting, diarrhea, and not eating.  I see many pets being rushed in if they miss one meal or have 1 episode of vomiting or diarrhea.  It’s good that you as an owner are concerned about your pets health.  What I don’t want to see is pets that have been waiting 4-5 days before being seen.  If you ever see blood in the stool or vomit, they should be seen right away.  If your pets doesn’t want to eat dinner one night, you could tempt them with a small amount of boiled chicken and rice or maybe a small amount of tuna for cats.  You can lower the risk of vomiting and diarrhea by sticking to a regular diet and avoiding table food.  Pepto Bismol should never be given to cats due to toxicity issues and it won’t solve every problem with your dog’s intestinal system.  Pancreatitis, parvovirus, and foreign bodies are both life threatening and delaying treatment can only make things worse for your pet.  Bottom line, if they still won’t eat, are lethargic, vomiting or having diarrhea for more than 24 hours, then it’s time for a check up.

Reason #5: Vaccines

Sometimes the only reason I see a pet are when they need “shots” which in some cases might only be every 3 years. feline physical exam That being said, we still do more examinations and vaccinations than anything else.  What I want to stress here is that vaccines are important but not the most important part of these visits.  The actual examination is the most critical part of the visit as it allows us to assess your pet’s total body health and possibly find problems before they become more serious.  It also gives us a chance to discuss the things you should be watching for especially as your pet gets older.  To understand more about the annual exam, visit my previous blog post about it here.

Summary

The one thing missing from this list is skin problems but given the number of facets to that area of the body, it will be addressed as a separate post at a later time.  So start the new year off right and do your part to keep your pet healthy.  Whether it’s brushing their teeth, stopping giving them table food, keeping them clean and at a healthy weight, or just getting a check up even if they aren’t due for a vaccination this year, these are all simple things you can do for them.  And though you think they might resent it, I’m sure they’ll be thankful for not getting sick and having to visit the veterinary clinic later.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of my blog you can now subscribe so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!

Holiday & New Years Greetings

Holiday & New Years Greetings

I’ve been taking a few days off and didn’t want everyone to think I had vanished.  This is a special time of year for family and friends, as well as pets.  Speaking of, I hope that all your pets and family are having a safe time.  But in case your pets do have an accident or illness and your veterinarian is closed, this can mean a trip to the emergency clinic.  The staff at an emergency veterinary clinic (along with first responders for people) are really unsung heroes at this time of year, typically volunteering time away from their families to be there for you.  I’ve been there myself and I want to thank them personally for what they do and I ask that you do the same if you know them.  If you unfortunately end up at the clinic yourself, please remember they are there to help you and are giving up their own pet or family time.

As we get ready to start a new year, I want to thank you for joining me here and sharing in my corner of the veterinary world.  I started this blog as way to help share information about pet health and also a look into veterinary medicine from my perspective.  One of the best parts of my job is being able to interact and help people with their pets to make that happy bond last for a long time.  I look forward to a great 2015 and hope you have a great year as well!  Check back starting next week (or subscribe on the right!) for the first topic of 2015 and many more interesting discussions we will have here!

As always, feel free to leave a comment here or on my Facebook or Twitter pages if there’s something you would like to learn more about or hear my perspective on!

Happy holidays & a happy New Year from our family to yours!

Happy holidays & a happy New Year from our family to yours!

Do Pets Catch Colds?

Do Pets Catch Colds?

This is one of the questions I have been asked numerous times, oddly more so since I’ve moved to Kingston.  With winter upon us, as well as cold & flu season for people, I thought I would do my best to answer this and shine a little bit more light on coughing & sneezing in pets.  Specifically, when you should head to your family veterinarian versus when you can monitor them at home before possibly taking them to the veterinarian.

sneezing kittenSneezing in many cases may not be a problem, yet I still see some patients who have sneezed “just a few times” and nothing more before being brought in.  There’s nothing wrong with having your pet checked if you’re concerned.  In cases where there is discharge, pets should be seen.  By discharge, I’m looking for blood or mucoid material (yellow, green, whitish-grey).  These are typically indicative of infection, foreign body, or in older animals particularly, I mightpotpouri be suspicious of cancers.  Sneezing without discharge leads me down the road of investigating allergies or other things in the home that might trigger such a response.  Things such as plug-ins, potpourri, scented candles, and treacherous dust bunnies living in closets or under furniture have all been culprits that have been identified before.

coughing_dog cartoonCoughing in most forms is a sign of something more serious internally.  In dogs, a cough can simply be a sign of Bordatellosis, more commonly referred to as kennel cough.  Coughing can also be a sign of more serious conditions such as heart failure, heartworm disease, pneumonia, or asthma.  These can all be difficult things to manage or potentially life threatening so getting your pet checked out is always a good idea.  One thing I’ve noticed personally in the winter is that with very dry environments, the airways can also get dried out and cause some irritation.  A simple recommendation I have to try and confirm this is to increase the humidity level in the home but if that doesn’t help it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian.

So the question on everybody’s minds…do pets get colds?  I would say it’s certainly possible and if your pet only has an kitty resp maskisolated sneeze or cough it could be the case.  We probably don’t see too many of these cases in practice.  Cold & flu season primarily exists among the human population and those little types of “bugs” won’t be transmissible between you and your pet.  My best recommendation is that if your pet is sneezing or coughing for more than 1-2 days, or if you see discharge, labored breathing, or lethargy, it’s time to get your furry family member seen before things get worse.

Don’t forget to follow me on Facebook or Twitter to see more events in my day & more shared info!  And on the right side of this page you can now subscribe to my blog so you can always get the updates when a new post is published!

« Older posts