DEAR DR. FOX: My husband and I adopted a 10-week-old rescue domestic shorthair kitten, who was the runt of the litter. She has just turned 4 years old. We love her; she has very dear little ways about her.
Her problem is she doesn't like to have her nails clipped. The groomer who had it down pat is no longer employed at the place where we take her. Our cat needs her nails clipped every other month. She spits, growls and sometimes screams, and she has every groomer frightened. We don't want her nails surgically removed. When we bring her home, she rubs up against her carrier and us as if to say, "I got away with it again."
Can you give us any suggestions? We know those nails have to be clipped. She doesn't claw the furniture because she has a carpeted scratching post. -- L.W., Toms River, New Jersey
DEAR L.W.: Generally, cats do not need their claws trimmed if they regularly use a scratching post. However, when the nails do get long, they can get snagged on materials, and struggling to get free can damage the claw. One of my cats has this issue, and I regularly massage his paws so he gets used to having his nails squeezed and exposed. Then I can easily snip his nails with regular human clippers when needed.
Some of the guillotinelike clippers used -- especially on dogs -- actually squeeze the entire claw, which could be painful and make the animal afraid. Dogs and cats who are afraid of these devices often accept regular human nail clippers, and others will habituate to the sound of claw grinders, which put no pressure on the claw.
Sometimes it takes two people to manicure a cat. One holds the cat on a table or sofa, grasping the cat by the scruff of the neck. This has a partially paralyzing, immobilizing and possibly tranquillizing effect on the cat; is not painful; and inhibits struggling while the cat's nails (or teeth or ears) are being seen to. A light muzzle and firm scruff-hold can help keep dogs still for similar purposes, but they are less profoundly subdued than cats.
"The Soul of All Living Creatures: What Animals Can Teach Us About Being Human" by Dr. Vint Virga.
After reading some glowing reviews of this book, I requested a review copy from the publisher. I expected more accounting of treatments and resolutions of animals' distress and abnormal behaviors from a veterinary practitioner of behavioral medicine. Describing a few case histories with elaborate prose and interspersing them with folk tales relating to human values, actions and morality did not, for me, accomplish the promise in the subtitle of this book.
Anthropomorphizing and zoomorphizing aside, the current notion that animals can be our teachers needs to be tempered by the fact that our relationships with them reveal the best and the worst qualities of human nature. You can read more about that in Dr. Charles Danten's book, "Slaves of Our Affection: The Myth of the Happy Pet." With all respect to Dr. Virga, who undoubtedly has helped improve the lives of many animals in homes and zoos, his book falls short by seeking to apply some understanding of animals to the human self-help movement, essentially turning two separate books into one.
Minor quibbles: Virga attributes Chief Seattle's famous quote to someone else. He rescues a mouse by picking it up by its tail rather than scooping it; mice can "slip" or "deglove" their tail skin to break free when held by the tail. Regardless, he clearly documents that the emotional and behavior-impairing suffering of nonhuman animals is very similar to our own, which can help enhance empathy and acceptance that like us, animals are living souls. I hope that his next book will offer more from his wealth of knowledge, practical experience and deep heart, especially with regard to animals "who have somehow surrendered their spirits."
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
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