DEAR DR. FOX: At the proper time, our four cats were declawed, as we were in favor of intact furniture and zero cat scratches.
These cats spent their lives happily doing what cats do, even scratching their front paws on whatever met their fancy -- instinct. They lived to the age of 18, never being allowed outdoors, and passed within two weeks of each other (11 years ago).
That leads me to the question: It’s not OK to declaw cats, but perfectly OK to cut off dogs’ tails and operate on their ears for purely cosmetic reasons? I also disagree with the breeding of both cats and dogs that leaves them with pushed-in faces, making it difficult for them to eat properly; it can bother their breathing, too. -- H.O., West Palm Beach, Florida
DEAR H.O.: I have addressed these issues -- cropping dogs’ ears, docking their tails and deliberately breeding dogs with extreme facial and other physical abnormalities -- many times in my column, as well as in the articles on my website entitled, “Don’t Let Them Mutilate Your Dog” and “Recovering Canine Health.” Breeding Persian and other cats with deformed faces and others with abnormal limbs is also very inhumane.
I appreciate you sharing your experiences with declawed cats, but this is a wholly radical procedure that can have lifelong adverse physical and behavioral consequences. More details are available in my review of this issue on my website (drfoxonehealth.com). In many countries, declawing is considered an unethical practice for veterinarians to engage in.
DEAR DR. FOX: Come Thanksgiving, I will host my extended family at my home: siblings, spouses, in-laws, nieces, nephews, etc. We have lots of room and they will bring their dogs.
I do not have any pets, but I like animals, especially dogs. Most dogs cozy up to me almost immediately, often far more quickly than they do to other people. Most of the dogs who will be here are great and well-behaved.
However, my sister’s family has two German shepherds: a female about 8 years old and a male about 4 years old. The last two times they came to visit, the male dog took to barking at me, almost incessantly. He did not bark at other people, just me. I ignored it as much as possible. My sister tried to give me guidance on how to behave so that the dog would not bark at me. However, this was a 100-pound dog acting aggressively towards me in my own home; I would have no part of “acting” a certain way to minimize the dog’s behavior.
My sister and her husband have only ever had these two dogs, and while they have gone to some sort of obedience school, it does not really seem to have made a difference. They have had to crate the dog on more than one occasion while visiting, since he acted so erratically. The female German shepherd has no such issues.
The other dogs who’ll be visiting are a Rottweiler, a Shih Tzu and a shepherd mix (a rescue that used to be very anxious, but has really calmed down in the last couple of years). All the dogs get along with each other, whether in the house or outside on the lawn. Do you have any advice for this Thanksgiving? -- E.Z., Walkerton, Indiana
DEAR E.Z.: You are a good host, inviting so many dogs and their human families!
This German shepherd is probably not being aggressive so much as fearful and defensive when you are close and make eye contact, trying to reassure the dog. Yelling to make the dog be quiet is too late in the behavior-shaping process, and remote-controlled electric anti-bark collars are unacceptable -- very inhumane in the wrong hands.
I would ignore the dog and avoid eye contact. If the dog just will not settle down, he should be put in the owner’s vehicle (only if the weather is good), or outside with the other big dogs. I would advise against giving the dog any sedative drug prior to the visit.
This does sound like an unstable animal, but extend him some special understanding: German shepherds are very bright, and bark for attention, especially when people are ignoring them and are engaged in conversation.
When we had a “pack” of three rescued dogs, their response to us having visitors was to play together on the floor in front of us, after greeting and sniffing everyone. Also, one of our dogs would often bring a gift -- anything she could find, even a leaf from the porch -- with no other intention than to give it to our visitors. (She wasn’t looking for a game of fetch, because she would never respond to or retrieve a thrown toy.)
About Thanksgiving, visitors and in-home animals: This time of celebration can be marred by a cat or dog slipping outdoors as visitors come and go and then getting lost. Be sure collars and tags are on, and maybe consider keeping your animals in a separate room while guests are coming in or leaving. Keep them there if they are very shy or fearful, or if there are children coming. Also, do not give many treats: Many cats and dogs given meaty, fatty holiday leftovers go into emergency care with acute pancreatitis.
Best for all is to make it a compassionate and environmentally sensitive time of celebration by making the meal meat-free, vegan or vegetarian. I think we need a special day of Thanksgiving for all creatures great and small. Some people choose the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi, Oct. 4, for this purpose.
(Send all mail to email@example.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Andrews McMeel Syndication, 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.
Visit Dr. Fox’s website at DrFoxOneHealth.com.)