Save The Paw!

The question is not, “Can they reason?” nor, “Can they talk?” but “Can they suffer?” ― Jeremy Bentham, The Principles of Morals and Legislation

declaw my cat_why not to declaw your cat

Have you had an experience that changed the way you once viewed something? Have you ever known in your gut that something you were watching unfold or helping with seemed ”so right” to everyone else, but it felt so wrong to you?  I’ve had this experience more than once, and I would like to talk to you about it today.

This is not a feel-good story, but it’s one that needs to be shared.

From the age of 14 to 17, I worked and volunteered at local veterinary clinics in Orlando Florida, where my family lived at the time.   I worked closely with pets that people brought in for boarding, minor procedures, and major surgeries.  Even though I was young, the staff let me work alongside of them for many of the procedures.  This was in the 90s, so veterinary staff were much more lax about safety procedures than now.  Some of the procedures were fascinating.  Some were bloody and heart wrenching.

As a teenager, and later as an adult, I had an all inclusive pass and a front row seat to participate in tail and ear dockings and amputations.  Tail and ear docking was considered “minor” surgery, but what I witnessed as a post-op staff was not “minor.”  The harmless-sounding term “declawing” was used to hide what amounted to an amputation procedure.   You might raise an eyebrow reading that because these procedures are something we hear about often, so they seem rather innocuous.  I am here to tell you from first hand experience: declawing is not a minor, harmless procedure.  Onychectomies (declawing of cats) is quite controversial, and quite complicated.

declawing cats procedure

Experience Changes Perception

During my teenage veterinary life chapter and my post college veterinary school chapter I witnessed and participated in many things involving or resulting from decalwing.  It always felt wrong to me, despite the docs who quickly dismissed my questions and concerns.  None of what I saw was positive.  I saw cats in pain, cats sick from the procedure, cats later euthanized due to major complications post-surgery, and I saw cat owners devastated because of the uninformed decision they made for their cats.  I have even known cougars who had been declawed out of safety for humans, but ended up living a life dominated by physical pain and discomfort.  Fast forward to today.  Now I help people who made the decision to declaw their cats (either out of convenience or because of a veterinarian’s recommendation to solve undesirable scratching behavior), but now they have more issues because of declawing their cats.  I share this with you today because tomorrow is Declaw Awareness Day.  This is your chance to spread the word and become involved.   

Educations spreads Awareness. Awareness breeds compassion


WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT DECLAWING

 Declawing is NOT a “Kitty Manicure” 

People often are often misled to believe that declawing is a harmless procedure.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Declawing is the surgical amputation of all or part of a cat’s third phalanges (toe bones) and the attached claws.  If this surgery was done on a human, it would be like cutting off each finger or toe at the last knuckle.

declawed cat claws

Onychectomy is an amputation and should be regarded as a major surgery. ~ AVMA American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)

cat declaw like human amputation

Feline Fact:  Cats claws are NOT like our fingernails.

Cat-Declawing

How Declawing Is Performed 

The standard method of declawing is amputating with a scalpel or guillotine clipper.  The wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue, and the feet are bandaged.  I had the job of doing the “kitty super glue” when I assisted veterinarian staff as a teenager.  Laser surgery is another way this procedure is done.  I helped during the post-op procedures for this technique at the Louisiana State University Veterinary Teaching School.  A beam of light cuts through tissue by heating and vaporizing it.  This procedure still amputates the last toe bone of the cat and carries the same long-term risks as the other method.

declaw_what happens when cats are declawed_the truth about declawing_amputation

 Feline Fact:  At least 22 countries have banned declawing.


A Cat’s Anatomy Matters

Did you know that cats are digitigrade, which means that they walk on their toes?  As a cat walks or runs, he/she will usually retract their claws into sheaths, leaving behind just the smooth, small toes and footpad.  Humans and bears are plantigrade mammals.  We walk on the soles of our feet, with the toes only touching the ground briefly toward the end of each step.

Declawing Complications

Once a cat is declawed, it changes the way a cat can move.  There can also be a regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage, and bone spurs.  A cat’s leg muscles and back muscles can weaken over time. This can lead to back and joint pain.

Clawed-vs-Declawed-Toes _cats Declawing

Removing claws changes the way a cat’s foot meets the ground and can cause pain similar to that which humans experience when wearing a very uncomfortable pair of shoes

Medical Complications of Declawing:

  • pain in the paw
  • infection
  • tissue necrosis (tissue death)
  • lameness
  • nerve damage
  • bone chips that prevent healing
  • postoperative hemorrhage
  • regrowth of the claws inside the paw pads.

Behavioral and Physical Complications of Declawing:

  • Many cats are less likely to use the litter box due to pain after being declawed.
  • Most cats are more likely to bite because they no longer have their claws for defense.
  • There are long lasting physical problems for your cat.

 Feline Fact: Declawing changes the way the cat’s paws function, and this creates stress on the joints of the paw, wrist, elbow, shoulder, and spine.


Why Cats NEED Their Claws

1. Offense and Defense – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her arsenal for offense and defense. Did you know:

  • Cats use their claws to capture prey (toys or real prey)
  • Cats use their claws to settle disputes among themselves, other animals, and with people who are hurting, threatening, or annoying them.
  • Cats who need to climb to safe place use their claws to grip onto the surface and pull themselves up to safety.

2. Health and Habits – Your cat’s claws are a vital part of his/her daily rituals.  Cats instinctually pull the claws on their front paws through surfaces that offer resistance (trees, logs, rugs, scratching posts, etc.) They do this to mark territory, exercise and stretch muscles, relieve stress, and to remove worn sheaths from the nails.

declaw_why cats need their claws

Scratching Serves Many Purposes.

Despite what you may believe, cats don’t’ scratch your furniture or other personal items to “get back at you”.  Cats have a biological (physical and emotional) need to do this behavior!  Scratching is a very normal and healthy behavior.   There is another popular misconception that cats scratch to sharpen their nails.  This is not true.   Cats scratch for a variety of very important reasons:

 Why Cats Scratch:kitten-with-scratchpost

  • To communicate; scratching on surfaces deposits pheromones that send messages to other cats.
  • To condition the claws by removing aged cuticles
  • To serve as a visual territorial marker
  • To defend themselves
  • To stretches the muscles of the limbs, thorax, and back
  • To express joy, excitement, frustration, stress, and as a displacement behavior

Experts Weigh-In on Declawing

Read what the respected feline veterinarians and animal welfare organizations have to say about this declawing:

The ASPCA is strongly opposed to declawing cats for the convenience of their guardians. The only circumstance in which the procedure could be condoned would be if the health and safety of the guardian would be put at risk, as in the case of individuals with compromised immune systems or illnesses that cause them to be unusually susceptible to serious infections.

 The Humane Society of the United States opposes declawing except for the rare cases when it is necessary for medical purposes, such as the removal of cancerous nail bed tumors.


Feline expert Dr. Margie Scherk shares her experience and thoughts on the issue:


Some people feel it’s unnatural to remove a cat’s claws, and it’s done for the owner’s benefit and not for the cat’s benefit. There are many other arguments you can make for this — the pain they go through, the complications after declawing. But I think it really boils down to cats are born with claws and they should keep them. ~ Drew Weigner, Atlanta veterinarian and president of the Academy of Feline Medicine

The American Association of Feline Practitioners statement on declawing (PDF) 

The AVMA’s Policy on Cat Declawing and what’s actually Involved (video)



Is declawing bad for cats AND YOU?  You bet.  Jackson Galaxy sets the record straight:



Alternatives to Declawing

Sometimes, people feel like there is no other option but to remove a cat’s claws.  Thankfully, many progressive and humane veterinarians are now teaching their clients about other humane and respectful methods for managing destructive clawing and to prevent injury from cat scratches.  Here are just a few alternatives to declawing:


Facts Aren’t Enough

I was going to simply share the facts about declawing along with the humane alternatives and just keep it at that, but as I write this I am moved to share more.  I have three cats laying around me right now.  All of them have their claws intact.  Have we had issues with scratching in the home before?  Sure. It’s what cats need to do.  But I didn’t chop off their toes because of unwanted scratching.  I taught my cats where and what to scratch on.  I took the time to learn my cats’ individual preferences and thresholds so they would never feel the need to scratch me, our house guests, each other, or the dog.  I teach my clients, family, and friends how to do this as well.  It’s humane. It’s fun. And it works.

The Bigger Picture

Those of you who have been following my blog for some time know that I steer on the positive side of things.  I do my best to not judge, and I focus on compassionate education.  But I have to ask: Who do we think we are to do this to cats?  Why do we think it’s perfectly acceptable to amputate an animal’s body part because it makes our lives easier?  How did we get to this point with the animals we invited into our lives?  Will we continue to do this procedure without exploring other options?  How did the disconnect happen between caring for our cats and fully honoring them for who they are?  When did we choose to overlook their emotional and physical needs?  Who are we to decide that this procedure is justifiable? We would never consider doing this to a child if there was a behavioral issue; we would look into every other option available. Are cats considered less than deserving of the same treatment?

I understand these are tough questions, but they need to be asked, and we need to take an honest look at all of this.

Before you make the decision to amputate your cat’s toes, try humane alternatives.  There are too many available to ignore.  Choose wisely.  My cats are family.  Are yours?

Declaw awareness_why not to declaw cats
Me and Knox

 When we understand that all animals are our relatives, perhaps then we will treat them as our brothers and sisters. ~ A.D. Williams


Recommended Reading

Read This Before Declawing Your Cat

Think Twice Before You Declaw

Declawing: Another Veterinarian’s Perspective

Physical Consequences of Declawing

Declawing Cats Required to Rent?

Paw Project Movie on Netflix

Relief for Declawed Cats

Chronic Pain of Declawing

The Paw Project

Welfare Implications of Declawing of Domestic Cats

don't declaw_save the paw_Conscious Companion_Declaw awareness day

Celebration of All Things Felis sylvestris

“As every cat owner knows, nobody owns a cat” ~Ellen Perry Berkeley

National CAT DAY 2013

2013

Today, cat lovers all over the world celebrate and honor the felines that have touched their lives.  We also come together to encourage their adoption.

This national day of feline adoration and acknowledgment started in 2005.  Eight years later, the organizers hope to find at least 10,000 shelter animals new homes.  Why?  Well, because cats are amazing.  They are so misunderstood and highly underestimated.  They deserve our love and respect, and no animal deserves to live and end their life alone and scared in a shelter. And, as many of us know, rescued cats are by far, one of the best things in life.

Despite many of the myths about people who love cats, we are not “crazy”.  In fact, we are some of the most sincere, loving, devoted and kind-hearted people in the world.  As the Susan Easterly quote so perfectly explains, “People who love cats have some of the biggest hearts around.”

It takes a very special someone to understand a cat, to listen to them, and to take the time to figure out the puzzles they are.  Mysterious, warm, playful, affectionate, warrior-like, and wise; these are the traits of the wild and domestic cats that Conscious Companion has been blessed to have known.


 


In ancient Egypt cats were worshiped as gods. Cats have not forgotten this.


Dating from 664 B.C. - 395 A.D, Egyptians mummified their house cats. The ancient Egyptian reverence for cats is well-known—and well-documented in the archaeological record: scientists found a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan brimming with 300,000 cat mummies. (National Museum of Natural History)
Egyptian cats were associated with the goddess Bastet, and were revered and immortalized in many forms of art, like this one.

Cats and humans have enjoyed a mostly symbiotic relationship for thousands of years. A study published in the journal Science secured more pieces in the cat-domestication puzzle based on genetic analyses.  They discovered that all domestic cats, are descended from a Middle Eastern wildcat, Felis sylvestris lybica, which literally means “cat of the woods.” Cats were first domesticated in the Near East, and many scientists speculate that the domestication process began up to 12,000 years ago!

A genetic study in 2007 revealed that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica). I had the honor of working very closely with this species in captivity at the Audubon Zoo
A genetic study in 2007 revealed that domestic cats are descended from African wildcats (Felis silvestris lybica). I had the honor of working very closely with this species in captivity at the Audubon Zoo

 


Cats not only are an incredible source of affection, love and healing for us today, but they have always been useful to people in other ways.  As humans began to settle down, till the earth and store surplus crops, mice entered the picture. And when the first wild cats wandered into town, the stage was set for what the Science study authors call “one of the more successful ‘biological experiments’ ever undertaken.” The cats were delighted by the abundance of prey in the storehouses; people were delighted by the pest control. The symbiotic relationship was born.

Opus vermiculatum in the National Museum is a floor mosaic with a cat and two ducks from the late Republican era, first quarter of the 1st century BC. House cats were considered to be both useful and reverent to Roman society.
Opus vermiculatum in the National Museum is a floor mosaic with a cat and two ducks from the late Republican era, first quarter of the 1st century BC. House cats were considered to be both useful and reverent to Roman society.

You can view more images from the Smithsonian Museum’s A Brief History of House Cats here


Cats are the most popular animal companion, with over 95 million domesticated cats sashaying and sauntering around 34 percent of homes in the US alone!  Check out these house cat stats:

  • 95.6 million —  Estimated number of companion cats
  • 46 percent of guardians live with one cat
  • 31 percent of homes live with two cats
  • 24 percent of guardians live with three or more cats
  • 26 percent of companion cats were adopted from an animal shelter

Source: 2013-2014 statistics, contact the American Pet Products Association Pet Owners Survey

Top Ten Countries with Companion Cats
Top Ten Countries with Companion Cats

Cats are one of evolution’s most charismatic creatures. They can live on the highest mountains and in the hottest deserts. They are extremely adaptable and are now present on all continents except Antarctica, and on 118 of the 131 main groups of islands—even on sub-Antarctic islands. ~ Geneticist Stephen James O’Brien

wild cats desert and snow
Cats can live in forests, grasslands, tundra, coastal areas, agricultural land, scrublands, urban areas and wetlands. Their habitats even include small oceanic islands with no human inhabitants. Pictured here are the domestic shorthair cat (left) and The Sand Cat (Felis margarita) — “Desert Cat Extraordinaire”  on the right

 

Fascinating Feline Facts and Folklore: 

  • Dating from 664 B.C. – 395 A.D, Egyptians mummified their house cats. The ancient Egyptian reverence for cats is well known and well documented in the archaeological record: scientists found a cat cemetery in Beni-Hassan brimming with 300,000 cat mummies.
  • Ancient Celtic lore speaks of Grimalkin, a grey cat with magical powers. Many works of art have been dedicated to the Grimalkin. While magical cats are nothing new, it is interesting to note that even the Great Bard, Shakespeare spoke of Graymalkin in Macbeth. In Act I, the first witch says, “I come, Graymalkin,” when her feline familiar calls.
  • The religion of Islam speaks of cats as being clean, useful animals. (Which, all cat guardians know this to be true!) In the Islamic world, the cat was respected and protected at least in part because cats were loved by the prophet Mohammed, the founder of Islam. According to folklore, Mohammed’s cat Muezza once fell asleep on the sleeve of his master’s robe –instead of disturbing his beloved cat when he had to leave, Mohammed cut off the sleeve of his robe.
  • Due to Papal influence in the 13th century, horrible acts of atrocity were carried out on humans and felines, all in the name of The Church. Black cats in particular were believed to be agents of the devil, especially if owned by an elderly woman and were burned alive with their human.
  • In Japan, there is a myth that cats turn into super spirits when they die. According to the Buddhist religion, the body of the cat is the temporary resting place of the soul of very spiritual people.
  • When God covered the world with water, and Noah set his ark afloat, the ark became infested with rats eating up the stores of food. Noah prayed for a miracle, and a pair of cats sprang to life from the mouths of the lion and lioness. They set to work, and quickly dispatched all the rats — but for the original two. As their reward, when the boat reached dry land the cats walked at the head of the great procession of Noah’s animals. Which is why, the legend concludes, all cats are proud, to this very day.
  • Some people believe that cats engage in astral travel even in life. They also believe that if a cat adopts you, it will stay with you forever, even after death.
  • The Druids thought black cats were human beings. These humans in cat form were punished for evil deeds.
  • In ancient Poland, Ovinnik, who appeared in the form of a black cat, was worshipped by many farming families because he watched over domestic animals and chased away evil-natured ghosts and mischievous fairies. Like most creatures of Slavonic mythology, they were great until you didn’t appreciate them or give them what they needed — then they made mischief that could have tragic results.
  • King Osorkon, of the twenty-second dynasty, placed a white cat in the center of a magnificent temple and ritually endowed it with supreme power.
  • The Romans respected the vermin-catching abilities of the domestic cat, but also saw them as exotic pets and sacred animals. They associated the cat with liberty and divinity and so the cat was the only animal allowed to walk freely around their temples. Libertas (the goddess of liberty) was often depicted with a cat at her feet
  • Fisherman’s wives kept black cats while their husbands went away to sea.  They believed that the black cats would prevent danger from occurring to their husbands.  These black cats were considered so valuable that they were often stolen.
In Norse mythology, Freyja (Old Norse the "Lady") is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. Freyja is the owner of the necklace Brísingamen, rides a chariot pulled by two cats
In Norse mythology, Freyja (Old Norse the “Lady”) is a goddess associated with love, sexuality, beauty, fertility, gold, seiðr, war, and death. Freyja rides a chariot pulled by two cats

The cat, it is well to remember, remains the friend of man because it pleases him to do so and not because he must. ~Carl Van Vechten


Since cats are known for bringing laughter into the home, World Cat Day wouldn’t be complete without some humorous feline facts.  To help educate us about our furry feline friends in a comical way, check out these humorous 17 Things Worth Knowing About Your Cat.

Click the Image Above
Click On the Image! 


But if you really want to get to know cats of all shapes, sizes, and species, check out our Feline Resources and Support pages HERE.


 

egyptian cat gods

“O sacred cat! Your mouth is the mouth of the god Atum, the lord of life who has saved you from all taint.” ~ 4th Century B.C. Song of Praise from Egypt


 

References:

http://www.terriwindling.com/blog/cats-cat-lore/

http://www.nationalcatday.com/index.htm

http://theoatmeal.com/comics/cat_know

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history-archaeology/brief_cats.html

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/pet_overpopulation/facts/pet_ownership

http://www.mapsofworld.com/world-top-ten/countries-with-most-pet-cat-population.html


Feline Articles and Must-Know Info!