Q: Can you settle an argument I'm having with my husband? I'm pregnant and he's concerned that Magi, our 7-year-old cat, is going to scratch the baby. Magi has never scratched anyone, at least not intentionally. I got Magi three years before I married my husband. Do you think we need to declaw our cat?
A: Please don't declaw your cat. A declaw (onychectomy) is an amputation. A cat's toe has three bones, and the claw grows from the end of the last bone. In a declaw surgery, the veterinarian is amputating the last bone, which contains the growth plate for the claws.
I'm scratching my head as to why your husband believes declawing is necessary. Each year, thousands of babies are born into homes with cats and grow up unscathed.
Sometimes, cats (or dogs) never previously exposed to the smells and sounds of a newborn can get nervous. To avoid this in your case, have a friend with a baby visit a few times before your delivery. When your cat comes around, offer tidbits of salmon or tuna, especially if the baby fusses. The idea is to associate fussing babies with incredible snacks. Also, take an interactive toy (fishing pole-type toy with feathers or fabric) and play with the cat while the baby is nearby.
Another technique is to download the sound of a baby crying off the Internet. Play the sound at a barely audible level as your cat eats. Assuming the cat isn't disturbed by this, gradually pump up the volume. Also, assuming your cat enjoys her food, hopefully she'll associate the sound of a baby crying with an enjoyable activity — chowing down.
Many new parents with cats are determined to keep their pets out of a baby's room. I agree that no pet should be with a newborn or toddler without adult supervision. However, cats are curious, and it may be futile to try keeping your pet away. This also sends the wrong message to the cat. I say, instead make the baby's room cat-friendly with hiding places, cat grass, toys and more.
Q: We have three indoor cats, and we don't want to vaccinate them for rabies. I know it's the law in our state, and veterinarians must support the law. But it's ridiculous because we live in a high-rise and the cats never go outside. Also, I've read that rabies vaccine can cause skin cancer. What do you think?
A: Several years ago, it was determined that the incidence of vaccine-associated feline sarcoma (cancer at the site of vaccines) was 1 to 10 in every 10,000 vaccinated cats. Due to changes in veterinary guidelines, vets are now supposed to be vaccinating cats. For additional reasons that have experts stumped, the odds today are that even fewer cats will get this type of cancer.
Dr. Richard Ford, professor of small-animal medicine at North Carolina State University College of Veterinary Medicine-Raleigh, says rabies vaccines are effective and very safe.
Ford says that when a pet not current on its rabies vaccine gets into a tussle with wildlife, most animal control officials consider the pet potentially exposed to rabies. Therefore, any people interacting with that pet are also considered exposed.
"It's the domino effect," Ford says.
In a fairly recent example, a young girl brought a kitten she had just found to show-and-tell at her school. The cat soon got sick and died of rabies. The girl's teacher and all of her classmates had to undergo shots to prevent rabies.
Back to your high-rise cat, what if a bat flies into your home? If there were an altercation between a bat and any of your cats, all three pets would have to be quarantined (without proof of up-to-date rabies vaccinations). Now, what if you're so high up that windows don't open? In this case, your veterinarian might agree to offer a dispensation.
Tuesday was World Rabies Awareness Day. Ford say that worldwide, there are about 60,000 people diagnosed with the fatal disease every year, but only one person is usually from the U.S. Before the current rabies vaccines came along, many more people died in the U.S. The vaccine for rabies not only prevent death of our pets, but also prevent human fatalities.
Q: My 10-year-old Maltese has sebaceous cysts on her tail, back and shoulder. The largest is at the top of her tail near the spine. My vet says they aren't hurting anything and we should leave them alone. Our dog is otherwise healthy and I don't want to cause problems for only cosmetic purposes, but the cysts are ugly. The dog tries to bite the one on her tail but she can't reach it. Any advice?
A: Dr. Sheldon Rubin of Chicago says these are probably sebaceous gland adenomas (oil-producing glands create these growths in some dogs as they age). "Treatment" may, indeed, mean doing nothing. These growths are almost always benign and do no harm. However, sometimes they clearly annoy the dog.
"I'm in favor of removal if the dog is bothered," Rubin says.
The downside is, the dog will have to undergo surgery. Rubin says the growths can be removed with traditional surgery, laser surgery, cryosurgery (using extreme cold) or electrosurgery (applying a high-frequency electrical current to destroy cells). Aside from easing the dog's discomfort, the growths can be biopsied so you'll know if they're cancerous, and your pet will no longer be "ugly." When removed properly, such growths don't return in the same place, although new ones might pop up.