Declawing is mutilation

Cats developed claws as they evolved to hunt. Domesticated cats no longer hunt for their food in most cases and their claws may become too long, requiring frequent trimming and/or provision of a means to wear them down. If they are not provided with scratching posts, then they are likely to express their natural behaviour (clawing) on your furniture. Some owners prefer not to risk their furniture and elect to have their cats declawed (onychectomy). However, a cat’s claws are not only used for hunting. Unlike most mammals that walk on the soles of their feet or paws (plantigrade stance), cats walk on their toes (digitigrade stance). The claws are used to aid balance and are particularly useful for climbing and stretching. A cat’s claws help the paws contact the ground appropriately to maintain the alignment of muscles in their legs, backs and shoulders, as well as tendons and ligaments that support the limbs.

Declawing is not just removing the claw, equivalent to the human nail, but actually involves removal of the last bone of the cat’s toes (distal phalanx); this is equivalent to cutting off your fingers at the last joint. This is because, to prevent the growth of a vestgial claw, the vet must amputate the entire distal phalanx including the bone, nerves, joint capsule, ligaments and tendons in that region.

When a cat is declawed, the paws meet the ground at an unnatural angle, causing strain on their limbs and back. Declawing is not without potential physical and behavioural complications, ranging from pain, damage to nerves of the limbs, haemorrhage, infection, painful regrowth of deformed claws inside the paw (not visible externally) and chronic muscular pain. Some cats may become withdrawn, fearful or aggressive when no longer able to exhibit their natural behaviour, others may be unwilling to use a litter tray because they are no longer comfortable covering their excrement.

Declawing is not permitted in the UK or most European countries, however it is permitted in most US states.

 

 

‘Cuddling cats is bad for your health’ – huh?!!!

This week has seen articles in several UK newspapers claim that ‘cuddling cats is bad for your health’, referring to the risk of  contracting ‘Cat Scratch Fever’. What is the evidence for this?

There is limited data available on the prevalence of cat bite or scratch injuries. One study, based on emergency room records, found an incidence of 17.9 cases of cat bites/scratches per 100,000 admissions. Cat bites usually cause a penetrating injury and 28-80% result in an infection that more often involves pasteurella multocida or staphylococcus aureus. Human facial injuries due to cat bites are particularly serious, as surgical repair cannot be carried out until  infection is eliminated and damaged tissue removed. Injuries to the hands and feet can result in serious complications, such as osteomyelitis (infection of the bone). Another factor is the rising incidence of sharing of methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) between animals and their owners, with infection cycling between the animal and its human slaves, which could become a significant problem in infected cat bites.

Cat scratch disease is a common and mostly benign condition caused by post-scratch infection with the gram negative bacteria Bartonella henselae or Bartonella quintanaSymptoms are usually seen within 7-14 days of being bitten, but can take up to 2 months to appear. Symptoms include headache and joint and muscular pains, but severe cases can result in meningioencephalitis (infection/inflammation of the lining of the brain and spinal cord)  or endocarditis (infection of the heart valves). Cats are generally less likely to cause injury to people than dogs, as their primary response to threat is escape and avoidance. The greatest risk of injury is when handling cats, but some cats will actively seek out and attack people. The cat becomes infected with Bartonella by flea bites, therefore the bigger issue is really surrounding appropriate flea prevention for cats.

Key points:

  • Cat bites are not trivial, they often become infected and can cause disfigurement
  • Aggression in cats is usually predicable, based on the stimuli that precedes it, unless the stimuli are not obvious (such as pain)
  • Cats should be receive regular parasite prevention

References

Ostanello, F., Gherardi, A., Caprioli, A., La Placa, L., Passini, A., Prosperi, S. (2005) Incidence of injuries caused by dogs and cats treated in emergency departments in a major Italian city. Emerg Med J 2005;22:260–262

Davies, H.D. (2000) When your best friend bites: A note on dog and cat bites. Can J Infect Dis. 11(5). 227-229

Oehler, R.L., Velez, A.P., Mizrachi, M., Lamarche, J., Gompf , S. (2009) Bite-related and septic syndromes caused by cats and dogs. Lancet Infect Dis. 9.439–47.

Klotz, S.A., Ianas, V., Elliott, S.P. (2011). “Cat-scratch Disease”. Am Fam Physician. 83(2). 152–5.