Celebrating the fact that June is American Humane Association Adopt a Cat Month, this column is devoted to your cat questions.
Q: I don't believe in declawing. My husband wants me to declaw a kitten we recently adopted from a shelter. For starters, the shelter contract specifies that we never declaw. My husband says, 'How will they know?" What do you think?
A: Legal issues aside, simply show this column to your husband. No doubt an open-minded and smart man, after reading it he will agree with you.
A declaw (called an onychectomy) is an irreversible surgical procedure. A cat's toe has three bones; the claw grows from the end of the last bone. In declawing, the veterinarian amputates the end section of that last bone, which contains the growth plate, along with the nail. Simply put, a declaw is an amputation.
Ask your husband to bend his finger at the last joint. This is where a declaw surgery is done.
We know that people who've lost limbs "feel" phantom pain for years, or even a lifetime. No one knows if the same is true for cats. Some studies do suggest declawed cats are more prone to behavioral problems (though other studies disagree).
As for your pet, while any cat can be "taught" how to scratch in all the right places, this is an especially easy (and fun) task with kittens. All you need are a few sturdy scratching posts and an interactive cat toy. Dangle the feather or fabric at the end of the toy at the tree, compelling your kitty to paw at it, depositing its scent on the tree in the process. Most kitties will soon go back there for a good scratch. You can also teach a cat to scratch on a post using a clicker. For more about all of this, check out a free document (which I co-authored), "Think Twice Before You Declaw," at http://www.stevedale.tv. Click the Kitty K tab on the left.
In my opinion, there's absolutely no reason to declaw this kitten. While shelter staff may never know you violated the terms of your contract, is that really the point? Consider why they included a "no declaw" clause in the first place; the procedure is simply not in the best interest of the kitten.
Q: My 16-year-old cat acts like he's drunk, unsure, unstable and slow. When he's done in the litter box, he falls over. He's on medicine for hyperthyroid (disease) and pancreatitis. Our veterinarian doesn't know what's wrong with Joseph, and neither does a veterinary neurologist. Could the problem be dementia? Or maybe he's dizzy. Joseph is affectionate and alert. We want the remainder of his life to be healthy and happy. Can you help?
— R.F., Clearwater, Fla.
A: It sounds like you're doing all the right things. It's likely good news that the veterinary neurologist couldn't determine the cause of Joseph's problems.
Dr. Susan Little, editor of the textbook "The Cat: Clinical Medicine and Management" (Elsevier, St. Louis, MO, 2012; $151), notes that you mention Joseph is alert and reasonably active. If he isn't confused and doesn't yowl overnight, it's unlikely that the problem is feline Alzheimer's (feline cognitive dysfunction syndrome).
If your veterinarian hasn't already done so, consider having your cat tested for low blood potassium and anemia, Little says. She adds that it may simply be Joseph is weak due to muscle wasting, which sometimes occurs in elderly people and pets. Unfortunately, they don't make walkers for cats.
Q: One of our cats is a new mother. She's an inside/outside cat, but prefers to sleep indoors. Should we try to keep her kittens inside and basically make them "inside only" pets? By the way, we also have two caged birds, who sometimes leave their cage. Rascal is pretty good about them, knowing the birds are off limits. But what about the kittens?
—C.L., Concow, Calif.
A: It's a fact that cats live longer, healthier lives when they stay indoors. Certified cat behavior consultant Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of "Think Like a Cat" (Penguin Books, New York, NY, 2011; $18), says when cats never develop a taste for the outdoors, they're happy living inside. "The trick is to create a stimulating environment indoors," she notes.
You'll be a better neighbor by keeping your cats indoors, as well as a more responsible steward to the environment. Roaming cats may use your neighbor' gardens as toilets, and kill songbirds and other wildlife.
Create lots of places for the kittens to climb, hide and watch the world outside. Alleviate potential boredom by hiding treats in unexpected places (so the kitties have to "hunt" for them), and rotate toys, even creating your own -- everything from a mouse toy in an empty tissue box to a wine cork.
Johnson-Bennett does suggest having "Mom cat" spayed.
Further, she suggests moving your birds. Leaving them where they are is "an accident waiting to happen with the adult cats, and now, with unpredictable kittens, it's not a good idea. Cats are predators; birds are prey. Don't risk it. Keep the birds in a separate room when they're out of their cage. Even when the birds are in the cage, make sure it's in a place the cats can't reach. I worry about the safety of the birds, and also how stressful it may be for them to be stared at by cats, even if they mean no harm. Do the birds really know that?"