In all my years of writing about pets, I can recall only one discussion with a person so impassioned that I thought I was going to get a drink thrown in my face.
The topic? Declawing cats.
The would-be drink thrower was so against it that she said anyone who'd do such a thing should have the last digits of his or her fingers surgically lopped off just to teach them a lesson in how declawing feels to a cat. In fact, she seemed quite willing to do the deed herself, without anesthesia.
Although I have never been in favor of declawing, I told the woman that in my experience the procedure has saved many a cat's life by keeping the pets from becoming homeless. Which means I am not totally against it.
"You call yourself a cat lover?" hissed the angry woman, her drink shivering in its tumbler as her knuckles turned white from the force of her grip.
My own fingertips are probably lucky she didn't have a knife handy, but I still stand by what I said. Sometimes declawing is the lesser of two evils when it comes to keeping a pet in the home of people who love their furniture and want to love their cat.
Mind you, I am dead-set against declawing kittens -- in case they might one day scratch -- nor do I believe the procedure should ever be the first option when faced with a destructive cat. I shudder when people ask me to recommend a veterinarian to declaw their kitten, as if amputating the tips of their pet's toes is an automatic part of the new pet startup kit.
But I'm also realistic enough to know that in a battle of spouses over shredded furniture, or when new furniture arrives in a household with a scratching cat, declawing may be the only thing between a cat and a trip to a shelter where the animal can face long odds against ever finding a new home.
You can argue that people who would choose furniture over a pet shouldn't have one, and you'd have plenty of company. And I'm not sure I'd disagree. Some experts also argue that declawed cats are more likely to bite pre-emptively , since they've been deprived of their tools for self-defense. All these arguments are strong against the procedure, and I won't deny them. As I've said, declawing is not something I recommend.
But I also know people who declawed their pets reluctantly and were in every other way possible the most loving and caring of owners for the lives of their cats. Do you have a cat who's tearing up your furniture – and maybe, your relationship with your mate? Before you consider a declaw, offer your pet some options (it's a natural behavior to him). Provide places to scratch such as posts or trees covered with rough material and discourage scratching elsewhere by deterrents such as double-sided tape (or the commercial product Sticky Paws), foil or carpet runners with the points out.
You can also try trimming the claws or capping them. Clipping the tips of your cat's claws on a regular basis makes them less efficient at shredding, and you can take it a step further by gluing Soft Paws nail caps over the trimmed tips. The product is available though veterinarians, or through some pet-supply catalogs.
What if none of that works? Then you have a decision to make.
I never recommend declawing, and never downplay the risk or pain of any surgery, or the long-term problems associated with the procedure. But in some situations, I still believe the procedure to be a last-ditch alternative that’s preferable to a cat who ends up abandoned or euthanized for lack of a home.
PETS ON THE WEB
Sugar gliders are marsupials popular with those who want a small and exotic animal companion. Glider Central (www.sugarglider.net) is a well-designed site offering plenty in the way of both information and entertainment on these unusual animals. Especially impressive is the listing of scientific articles relating to these animals, and the effort to keep veterinarians up-to-date on the latest information regarding their care. Great collection of links, as well as a bulletin board for asking more experienced glider-keepers questions. Lots of cute images, too!
Winter weather can make people and pets crazy. But if you're creative, you can come up with indoor fun and games to keep everyone happy until longer, warmer days return. For dogs, find a book or Web site on trick-training, get some treats for incentive, and get busy! Every dog can learn a trick or two, and most love showing off once they've learned their crowd-pleasing new behaviors. A perfect new trick is fetch, which can be played in any house with a hallway of decent length. Cats can learn tricks, too, but they also appreciate a new toy or two to break up the boredom. Try anything stuffed with fresh catnip, or maybe one of those cat-fishing toys that are so perfect for getting a cat moving.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Would you share more information concerning keeping a clean house and pets? With 12 cats, I find that falling behind in the daily chores spells s-t-i-n-k-y. To keep tray odor to a minimum I sponge-wipe the walls of the litter box each time I scoop. I also scrub weekly with soap and hot water and change the litter completely at the same time.
For the inevitable litter tracking no anti-tracking mat is perfect. I keep a hand broom and dustpan set next to the tray so I can easily sweep up tracked or spilled litter. My thoughts on carpet -- who needs it? Carpeting is hard to clean and attracts hairballs. Throw rugs can be easily disinfected, as can tiled floors. -- M.C., via e-mail
A: Amen to you on carpeted floors. I've just moved into a home where the previous owners carpeted the master bedroom in ... white! I looked at it when I moved in, looked at my four dogs, three of them with black fur and thought, "Oh, this is this going to be a mess!"
Needless to say, that carpet will be coming out soon.
As for your cleaning protocol, I admire your dedication. I must admit that I do the best I can and figure visitors will just have to be a little understanding when it comes to the cleanliness of the home of someone as involved with animals as I am.
I'm far more fastidious with sanitation than with pet-related clutter. I wash my hands constantly and sterilize pet dishes after each of their meals. But a little pet hair on the rug or furniture? I'll get around to cleaning it, but not this instant.
Q: My veterinarian has recommended getting my dog's teeth cleaned of tartar, and I would greatly appreciate your opinion on this procedure. Is it really necessary? He claims it is preventive health, but it involves putting Fido (yes, that's really her name) under anesthesia, and that always worries me. Do you do this with your dogs? -- J.M., via e-mail
A: Yes, my own dogs are subject to periodic dental cleanings, and I am a believer in them as important preventive medicine for three reasons.
First, your pet needs to eat. Broken teeth and rotting gums make eating very difficult and painful, and anything to prevent such an outcome is desirable in my book. When I was doing animal-rescue work, I can't tell you how many pets came in with mouths that caused them a great deal of pain, the result of years of dental neglect.
Second, when gums get infected, your pet is constantly showering internal organs with some nasty bacteria. Over time, this is a grave challenge to your pet's immune system and may lead to some serious health problems.
Finally, there's the cleanliness issue. I live with my pets inside the house; they are family who share beds, furniture and lots of affection. Bad teeth and gums smell awful, and make close interactions less than pleasant.
Anesthesia is indeed a concern, but it's a lot safer than it used to be. You can make it even more safe by following your veterinarian's instructions exactly, especially when it comes to withholding food and water before anesthesia. Older pets may require some tests beforehand, such as a blood workup and possibly a chest X-ray.
Once your dog has had her teeth cleaned, you can keep them that way -- and extend the period of time between cleanings -- by brushing her teeth regularly.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to writetogina(at)spadafori.com.
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