Declawing your cat…should you or shouldn’t you?

If you’re a cat lover, I’m certain you have an opinion about the declawing controversy.  Although I don’t own a cat, I have many friends who do.  And we’ve talked about it.

I’ve heard opinions on both sides.  I imagine you have too.  So let’s talk about why declawing is so hotly debated.

What is declawing?

Declawing is an amputation of all or part of the end bones (distal phalanges) of the cat’s toes to permanently remove the claws.

They don’t just remove the claw.  The little piece of bone that the claw grows from has to be removed too.  This prevents the claw from growing back.  It’s NOT simply a cat manicure.  Declawing is major surgery.

Declawing

Usually, only the front paws are declawed and there are a few different methods that vets use.

There’s the guillotine method that cuts a straight line through the joint between the little end bone and the next piece of bigger bone.

With the guillotine method, the pad gets cut in half too because it’s right below that joint.  That’s where a lot of the pain comes in.  Cutting the pad is like cutting the tip of your finger off. With this method, it can take weeks for your cat to fully recover and walk comfortably.

Then there’s cosmetic declawing, which uses a tiny curved blade.  The vet goes inside with the blade and cuts away the bone keeping the pad intact.

This method is not as easy as the guillotine method. Because it’s time consuming, few vets use the cosmetic method.  But the recovery is easier.  The cat can walk right away.  And cosmetic declawing takes only about a week to recover from.

Either way, declawing is a painful procedure and pain management is an important part of the after care.

If a cat owner declaws their cat, the vet will suggest doing it when the cat is young.  Often they’ll do it during the spay/neuter procedure to avoid anesthesia twice.

Why do people declaw their cats?

Unfortunately, most people who declaw their cats opt for this procedure because of destructive scratching.  It ruins furniture.

However, legitimate reasons to declaw your cat do exist.  If a claw is severely damaged and can’t be repaired, it may need to come out.

If there’s a tumor in the claw, that’s a legitimate reason too.  In both cases, only the affected claw would need to be removed.

Also, a person who is immune compromised but would like to own a cat may have concerns about getting scratched.  The bacteria on the cat’s claws could be dangerous. And elderly people on blood thinners could be at risk of bleeding if they were scratched.

Some might say in these instances that the cat owner can avoid behavior that might provoke scratching.  But only a person in this situation can decide with their doctors, what’s an acceptable level of risk.

What’s the downside of declawing?

The consensus is that declawing is inhumane.   It’s painful and takes away a cat’s ability to do what comes naturally to them.  Cats have claws for a reason. They should be able to use them to scratch and stretch.

In fact, 22 countries ban the procedure and many more have said declawing can only be done if a vet deems it medically necessary.

Remember too, that declawing is surgery. With surgery, comes risk…like infection.  They can’t sterilize the paw so declawing is not a sterile procedure.  Infection is a real possibility.

Also, if the declawing isn’t done right the claw can grow back.  And it won’t grow back the way it’s supposed to.  This can lead to abscesses and other serious paw problems.

Another downside of declawing is the cat’s inability to defend itself without claws.  Once a cat is declawed, it must be kept indoors for the rest of its life.

It’s not a bad thing for a cat to be an indoor cat because indoor cats live longer than outdoor cats.  But sometimes cats get out by mistake. And that can be deadly for a declawed cat.

Are there alternatives to declawing?

Scratching is a natural behavior for a cat. They do it to remove the dead husk from their claws, to keep them sharp and to mark territory—visually and with scent.  Cats also scratch to stretch their muscles.

They need to be allowed to scratch.  So what’s the alternative to declawing?

Ideally, someone who wants a cat would get a young one and train it to scratch appropriately.  Most cats start scratching at 8 weeks old.  That’s the time to teach them how to use a scratching post.  An adult cat will have a harder time learning this.

As part of the training process, the kitten is given several proper scratching vehicles like pieces of fabric or carpet attached to a stationery object that’s an acceptable item to scratch.   The cat is and praised for using these items for scratching.

A cat that’s 8 weeks old can be trained to tolerate nail trimming.  Trimming every week can help if scratching people is a concern.

Unfortunately, trimming won’t preserve your furniture. Cats scratch to sharpen their claws.  If their claws are trimmed they’ll just want to sharpen them more…probably on your couch.

Vinyl nail caps called Soft Claws can be applied to the claw with surgical adhesive. But these must be glued on correctly for them to be effective.  You have to trim the cat’s claws before you use the vinyl caps. If your cat doesn’t tolerate nail trimming, this may not work for you.

Soft Claws last about a month and then have to be reapplied.  These work well for outdoor cats that need to be inside for a short time, maybe to recover from an illness or a weather emergency.

There’s a special tape called Sticky Paws that can be attached to your furniture to deter your cat from scratching.  But this could be impractical.  If your cat is determined you’ll end up taping your whole house.

If your cat has a favorite chair for scratching, you might be successful using the tape on that one chair.

So, should you or shouldn’t you?

According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats that have destructive scratching behavior are more likely to be euthanized, relinquished, released or abandoned.  No one wants to see more homeless cats.

Declawing is better than giving up your cat. And it’s better than making the cat live outside because it won’t live as long.

It seems to be the consensus that if all other attempts to get the cat to stop using its claws destructively have failed, or if scratching is an above normal health risk for its owner, declawing is better than euthanizing or abandoning the cat.

What’s your opinion about declawing? Share your thoughts in the comment section at the top.

 

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The intersection of human and animal medicine…do our pets hold the answers to our health?

Like many of you, my dogs are an integral part of my life and have been since I’m 3 years old.  I’ve always viewed the human/animal bond as, not only remarkable, but downright moving.

When I was young and worked in Manhattan, I can remember a particularly profound experience I had on the Long Island Railroad. I was sitting on the train when a man got on with his guide dog.

They sat across from me.  I watched, transfixed, how they communicated…how they performed as a team.  Their language was subtle, but they understood each other.

That dog gave this man independence.  The dog was intent on his work and appeared proud.  He seemed to gain such immense satisfaction from his role guiding his handler through life.

As they exited the train, I got emotional. Tears welled in my eyes. Of course, my husband and children would tell you it doesn’t take much for that to happen.

But witnessing this interaction affirmed what I know to be true.  We need dogs in our world. We need animals in our world.  They play an important role in our lives, even if we’re not dependent on a service dog.

And just last week, the significance of the human/canine relationship was validated again.   In my mailbox was a copy of TGen Today, a glossy publication of the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen).

TGen is unlocking the mystery…

TGen is a non-profit biomedical research institute. Their work focuses on the role of genetics in diagnosing and treating diseases, not only in humans but in dogs too.

In their mission to help people and pets, TGen launched the Dog and Human Precision Medicine Initiative in 2009.

What is it about a Golden Retriever’s DNA that makes them more likely to get osteosarcoma than Poodles, or Doberman Pinschers more likely to suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder than Labrador Retrievers?

Scientists at TGen know that the answers to these questions will help in the diagnosis, treatment and prevention of these and other diseases in people.

Cancer is one area that holds great promise.  So much so that there’s a field of study called “comparative oncology”—the study of cancer in both humans and pets.

A lot more time and money is invested in the study of cancer in humans than in animals.  That means a lower standard of care for our beloved pets.  There’s a need for more research to help our dogs.

But even beyond the importance of helping our dogs, how this research can help humans is mind-boggling.

Take melanoma, for instance.  In humans, almost half of all cases are related to a mutation in a specific gene, the BRAF gene.  There are promising treatments for people who have this form of melanoma.

But for the other 50%, there are no treatments. And the most common melanoma in dogs is that kind.  The one that lacks the BRAF mutation.  TGen is studying these tumors to find treatments for both humans and dogs with this type of melanoma.

Here’s another one… lung cancer.  Only some human lung cancers are smoking related. How about all those nonsmokers who get it?  Many dogs get lung cancer too.  And I don’t know too many dogs that smoke.  TGen is looking at canine lung cancer for the answers to lung cancer in humans that don’t smoke.

The benefits of using dogs…

According to TGen, there are 3 main reasons studying dog DNA helps inform human treatment:

1)   Dogs and people have about the same numbers and types of genes, so health conditions in dogs and humans resemble each other.

2)   Dogs age faster than humans (every 1 dog year is 7 for a human) so canine clinical trials can be completed faster than in humans.  This allows for a faster and more cost-effective path to treatment.

3)   Purebred dogs have greater genetic uniformity so locating disease-causing genes is easier than in humans.

A human study of a particular illness may need thousands of participant samples.  But a parallel study of dogs might need less than 100 animals because of the uniformity of each breed and their genetics.

As I’m writing, I’m feeling a groundswell of anxiety brewing amongst you over the thought of dogs being used for research. But there’s no reason for concern here.

The research TGen is doing is noninvasive and no dogs are being kept at their facilities for study.

Dog owners can volunteer to take part in the research.  TGen will use saliva, blood and tumor samples from your dog.  It’s simple for you to get a saliva sample.  And your vet can get the blood and tumor samples.

If you’re wondering what TGen is researching now and whether your dog might be a good study participant, you can visit their website for more information.

They’re researching several diseases including valley fever (common in the Southwest), a few cancers, OCD, and epilepsy.

Putting it all together…

TGen scientists are studying the genes of healthy dogs and dogs suffering from a particular disease.  They look for mutations in the genetic makeup of the diseased dog and compare it to the healthy dog to find the offending gene.

Dr. Matt Huentelman, Professor of Neurogenomics at TGen, hopes breeders will use the results to eliminate inherited diseases in their bloodlines.

This research can also result in preventative treatments according to Dr. Huentelman.  “If your dog is at a high risk for a disease that usually doesn’t present until age 5, we’d like to start giving him medicine at age 3 to see if we can prevent it.  If this disease has a correlate in humans, and the same medicine has been used but had minimal effect, then we could ask about starting to use it earlier in humans. It works because dogs have an accelerated life span.”

The science is not only fascinating, it’s inspiring… man’s best friend is so much more than that.  He may be a lifesaver!

And there’s even more…

If this topic interests you the way it interests me, you may find Dr. Barbara Natterson Horowitz’s work thought-provoking. She’s a Professor of Medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCLA.

She’s developed programs to bring together the fields of veterinary medicine and human medicine.

Dr. Horowitz is a cardiovascular consultant to the Los Angeles Zoo, and she’s on their Medical Advisory Board.

Years ago, the zoo called her in to consult on the health of an elderly female chimp with a facial droop.  They thought she had a stroke and wanted Dr. Horowitz to evaluate her.

This led to an ongoing relationship with the zoo and Dr. Horowitz’s enthusiasm for cross-species work.  She realized that animals of different species have many of the same disorders as humans.

Horses suffer from post-partum depression. Self-injury is often found in birds that pluck their feathers and stallions that bite their flanks until they bleed.

Shouldn’t ob/gyns and pediatricians get with veterinarians to see how they’re handling these difficult to treat conditions in their animal patients?

Dr. Horowitz has done just that.  She’s developed programs at UCLA to bring physicians and veterinarians together to share treatment protocols. And she’s the chair of the Zoobiquity Conference, a national education program that facilitates interdisciplinary discussions between physicians, veterinarians and other health professionals.

She co-authored the New York Times bestseller Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health.

I watched her TED Talk and found her work fascinating. I think you will too.

What are your thoughts on the human/animal health connection? Share your comments in the section at the top.

 

 

What is canine flu and should you be worried?

There have been rumblings for several months now about the canine flu. An outbreak began in Chicago in April 2015. It spread to 23 states in 5 months.

Are you wondering if canine flu is still on the radar? Do you know what it means to your dog’s health?

What is canine flu (CIV)?

Canine influenza virus (CIV) is an infection caused by one of 2 main viruses; H3N8 and H3N2. H3N2 caused the Chicago outbreak. This H3N2 is very different than human H3N2 seasonal flu.

Canine H3N2 began as a bird flu that mutated into a canine flu. It’s been circulating in China and South Korea for years. How H3N2 came to the US, we don’t know.

H3N8 caused a 2004 outbreak of canine flu and came from an equine flu. It still causes sporadic flu infections, but it’s not associated with this recent outbreak.

Can humans get CIV?

As of now, there’ve been no reported cases of a human getting the H3N2 canine flu. And it’s not likely there will be.

It’s uncommon for viruses to jump species. But it’s not impossible.

Influenza viruses are constantly changing. CIV could change and infect humans, which would be a real problem. Humans have no immunity to new viruses. If people were infected with canine flu, the virus would spread like wildfire.

H3N8 jumped from horses to dogs. And H3N2 jumped from birds to dogs and has also infected cats. A human mutation is not out of the question.

Because of this, the CDC is closely monitoring both H3N8 and H3N2. But CIV is considered a low threat to humans.

Is your dog likely to get the flu?

Although we may not be hearing as much about canine flu now as we were last year, the virus is still around.

It’s still possible for your dog to get CIV. If your dog goes to doggy day care, a kennel, a dog park, a groomer or any place with a lot of dogs, they’re at risk.

Do you travel with your dog? Even with few reported cases in your hometown, your dog can pick up the virus from a dog in a different state.

Did you recently rescue a dog? Rescue dogs are at risk because the virus spreads quickly in shelters. Homeless dogs come from different parts of the country and bring the virus with them.

Can you prevent CIV?

A vaccine exists for both H3N8 and H3N2. If your dog is social and spends time with other dogs, talk to your vet about the benefits and risks of the vaccine.

Many shelters are vaccinating their dogs, and more and more kennels are requiring the vaccine too.

According to Merck, the maker of one of the CIV vaccines, 1 out of 5 facilities they surveyed are requiring the flu vaccine in addition to the Bordatella (kennel cough) vaccine.

As in humans, the vaccine is not a guarantee that your dog won’t get the flu. A vaccine just helps prevent the spread of the virus and lessens the symptoms. Since canine flu is a new virus, all dogs are susceptible because they have no natural immunity to it.

If your dog doesn’t come into contact with other dogs, and people in your home don’t either, there’s probably no need for the vaccine.

What are the symptoms?

Some dogs will show signs they’re sick and some won’t. Some dogs’ symptoms will be severe and some won’t. But you’ll be surprised that the flu looks the same whether you’re a human or a dog.

Your dog might have watery eyes, coughing, fever, loss of appetite and energy, and sneezing just like you would. But not all dogs have the same symptoms.

And sometimes that cough your dog has is just kennel cough and not the flu. They’re often mistaken for each other.

Should your dog get the flu, their symptoms will most likely be mild. But in some cases they can be very severe. The most serious situations can turn into pneumonia… and this can be fatal.

If your dog is showing signs of the flu, see the vet. There’s a simple test requiring only a throat or eye swab. But this needs to be done early on because the virus doesn’t “shed”—get excreted from the body—for long.

Most dogs will get better on their own, but your vet may prescribe medication to make your dog more comfortable. They’ll suggest lots of fluids and other measures to help boost the immune system.

Only if a secondary infection, like pneumonia, takes hold will they prescribe antibiotics.

How is CIV spread?

CIV is spread by direct contact between dogs when they kiss, lick or nuzzle. It can be spread through droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze. If your dog comes in contact with contaminated food bowls, doorknobs, or clothing they can catch the virus.

The hands of veterinary clinic staff and shelter workers can all spread the virus, and so can you if you’ve touched an infected dog.

You should know what canine flu looks like, particularly if you have a social dog that’s at greater risk of getting it. But the flu is not something to be overly concerned about.  Just be sure your dog gets the medical care they need if you suspect the flu.

Has your dog had canine flu? How severe were the symptoms? Share your experience in the comment section at the top.
 

 

 

 

 

 

Running with your dog? 5 things to consider

We’re all guilty of it… hibernating in the wintertime. We’re content to do more sitting around when it’s cold outside. And, as a result, our dogs take on the same bad habits.

So here we are in April. In parts of the country, daffodils are blooming and the nip has left the air. In other areas, the wildflowers are glorious and temps are bordering on downright hot.

One thing’s for sure though, no matter where you live everyone’s getting out more and thinking about their bathing suit bods. What better time to get back into that running routine… or to start a new one.

Running, or doing any exercise, is more fun with a friend. But sometimes friends are unreliable—unless your friend’s your dog. They’re always happy to spend time with you.

If you’re thinking about making your dog your running buddy, there are 5 very important things to consider first. And know that having a running buddy who can run as far as you won’t happen overnight. There’s planning and training involved.

Here are 5 things to give serious thought to before you lace up your running shoes.

1) Would your dog make a good running companion?

If you have a Bulldog, a Pug, or a Chihuaha, the answer’s no. But if you have a Lab, an Australian Cattle Dog, or a Pointer, they would.

Dog’s with short legs and/or short noses are not good running companions.   A short nose means a less efficient respiratory system. And a dog with short legs will have to work a lot harder—too hard—to keep up with you.

Medium to large breed working or sporting dogs make the best exercise partners. They have lots of energy and desire.

Consider your dog’s health. Your dog should see the vet before starting a running program, just like you should see your doctor before you start any exercise program.

The age of your dog is also important. An old dog that’s been inactive most of its life is not the best dog to run with. Nor is your obese dog.

But a dog can also be too young. Dogs need to finish growing before they take on any intense exercise regimen. If they start running before their growth plates close, you could be asking for orthopedic problems down the road.

The right age depends on the size of the dog. Smaller breeds finish growing at younger ages than large breed dogs.

But no dog should run long distances before they are at least 7 months old. And most big dogs should wait until they’re 2. If you have a young dog, ask your vet when it will be ok to start running together.

2) What’s the best way to start?

If you and your dog are new to running, you’ll both need to start slowly.

If you’re a runner and only your dog is new to the sport, you must be patient. Your dog needs to start with short outings, only a 10 minute run at first. You can add another 10 minutes each week if you’re running several times a week.

But you should never expect your dog to run more than 10 miles. It’s just too much wear and tear on their bodies.

Always remember that your dog needs to warm up just like you do with a brisk walk or slow jog. And give them a chance to sniff and do their business before you speed up.

And don’t forget the cool down at the end of your run. A brisk walk for a few minutes works. Slow down gradually and hydrate slowly.

A 3 to 6 foot leash, along with a collapsible bowl for water, is all the equipment you need. And you’ll want to bring a poop bag if you think there’s a chance of that happening.

For safety sake, never use a flexi (retractable) leash when you’re running with your dog. It’s easy for the dog to get too far ahead of you and beyond your control. If they see something they want to pull towards, they can snap the leash.

Which leads me to behavior. It’s a good idea to be sure your dog knows some basic commands and is well behaved before you go running together.

They should walk well on a leash with no pulling. When you’re running, their nose should be at your knee.

If your dog likes to sniff or mark their territory every few feet, you’ll want to break that habit before teaching them to run with you.

They should know the “leave it” command in case something crossing your path or on the ground interests them.

When you have to wait to cross the street, “sit” and “stay” are helpful too.

3) Where’s the best place to run with your dog?

Some surfaces are harder on your dog’s joints than others. It may not be possible to get a good run in on grass, which is the best surface for your dog’s bones… and your’s too.

But trail running is the next best thing if that’s available to you. Running on a dirt trail is better than asphalt or concrete because the surface is softer.

If you’re going to run on a trail, you should first be sure the park or trailhead where you’ll be running allows dogs. They may not and you could be fined if you don’t obey the rules, and in some instances, the law.

If you run on a trail in a natural area, be aware of your surroundings, know the wildlife in the area, and be cognizant of rocks and ruts.

Running in nature can also mean ticks. Take precautions if you live in an area where they’re a problem.

And always always keep your dog on a leash. I can’t stress this enough.

Even if you think your dog is well trained, the wildlife isn’t. If an animal attacks your dog, you have no control, and no way of getting your dog back if they run to flee the attacker.

And a dog is a dog. Even the most well trained canine can decide to chase an animal they see in the wild. It’s new to them and interesting.

A wild animal can kill your pet! Keeping them on a leash gives you the greatest chance of protecting them.

A track is also a good place to run with your dog, but many schools with tracks don’t allow dogs.

For most people running on asphalt is the only option. So it’s important to know the potential pitfalls of running on a hard surface.

4) What problems can running cause?

When running with your dog, no matter the surface, watch out for signs of overexertion or heatstroke. Your dog can’t tell you they’re too tired to continue—and they will keep going until they drop, just to please you. Look for:

Weakness

Drooling

Dark red gums

Vomiting

Excessive panting/unable to catch breath

Lethargy

If your dog stops, and refuses to continue, they’ve had enough. Get them in the shade, and let them rest and cool down before you WALK home.

How about the hard surface? It can damage your dog’s joints and ligaments. They can tear an ACL just like you can. They can strain and sprain something just like you can. Watch out for limping.

Always start off slowly by warming up and stay consistent with your running regimen. Neither you nor your dog should be a weekend warrior. That’s how injuries happen.

Try to work a few running sessions into your weekly routine, and hopefully you’ll avoid a serious injury.

If you notice your dog limping, it may be an injured pad or toenail. The pads will toughen over time. Starting off gradually will toughen the pads before you get into longer running sessions that can injure them.

Dysplasia and arthritis are chronic problems. If your dog has either of them, ask your vet if running is advisable. It can exacerbate the problem.

If you notice your dog limping after you run, talk with your vet. They may be developing dysplasia or arthritis.

Another risk associated with heavy exercise is gastric torsion (bloat). Read my post on the subject to learn more about it. But know that it’s life threatening. You should never feed your dog less than an hour before or after running.

And do NOT let them gulp water after a long run. They should drink small amounts at a time to avoid an excessive build up of air in their stomachs.

But hydration is super important for you and your athletic dog! So don’t be afraid to give them water.

Stop every 10 minutes for a water break, at least until you know how much water your dog needs on your run. Teach them to drink from a water bottle or use a collapsible bowl. But always, always offer enough water throughout your run.

If your dog is thirsty and they see a puddle, they may try to drink it. Never let them do that. The water is contaminated and dangerous.

5) Are there better times to run than others?

Run when the temperature is comfortable for you and your dog. Don’t run in the heat of the day. In warmer months, early or late in the day is best.

Even if the air temperature isn’t too hot, the ground may be if the sun is strong. Asphalt, black top and sand heat up quickly from the sun.

Test it first before you let your dog run on it. Place your hand or bare foot on the surface for 10 seconds. If it’s too hot for you, it’s too hot for your dog’s sensitive pads.

And remember that your dog will overheat faster than you do. They don’t sweat like people. Dogs pant to cool off, and that’s not as effective as sweating.

Dogs are close to the ground, which radiates a lot of heat. And they have fur coats. So avoid a midday run when it’s warm out.

And if it’s sizzling hot, skip the run. Or at least leave your dog at home.

Sometimes we don’t realize it’s too hot out until it’s too late. If you go for a run and it’s hotter than you thought it was, your dog can succumb to heatstroke.

If you suspect they’re struggling, get them into the shade; give them small amounts of water, and poor cool water on their head and body. Those dark red gums are telling you something. Heatstroke can kill your dog!

Although temps are warming up now, you may want to continue your running routine into the winter. If you live in a cold climate, the snow can present challenges too.

The salt that’s used to deice the roads can damage dog’s pads and upset their stomachs if they ingest it. Avoid salted roads if possible. If unavoidable, try canine booties, petroleum jelly, or Musher’s Secret Wax. This will prevent irritated pads, and minimize licking the paws and swallowing the salt.

It’s a good idea to clean your dog’s paws after a run, no matter the time of year, with warm soapy water. Get between the toes to wash away salt and any other dirt they may have picked up.

Besides washing those paws, inspect them to be sure they haven’t damaged their pads or toenails.

And inspect your dog for burrs, ticks, lameness and general exhaustion. You want to be sure you’re not overexerting your running partner.

Don’t forget lots of love and affection. Praise them for their achievement— but love on them only. No food rewards for at least an hour.

Hopefully, running will be not only the exercise both you and your dog need, but also a fun bonding experience.

Do you run with your dog? Share your do’s and don’ts in the comment section above.