An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Overcoming Trauma - Thoughts on The Four-Paw Declaw

Today (November 11th) is Remembrance Day in Canada and my purrsons went to City Hall to attend the ceremonies that honour those killed in by war. Herself, who is a bit of a softy, said she wondered about  all the animals who have died in wars -- the horses used by the cavalry in WW1, the dogs who find landmines, the pets who are maimed and displaced along with their humans. When humans go at it, it is amazing that we (and they) manage to survive!

Herself saw some amputees in the crowd (veterans whose legs or arms were taken off) and when she started to talk about that it got me to thinking about Molly.

Those of you who read my most recent blog entry know about Molly and the challenges she faces. For those who are not familiar, let me briefly recap: Molly has a history of abandonment and being picked on by other cats. She has very few defenses: no claws and almost no teeth. She was picked on by other cats in the shelter that was her temporary home. Now in a new and loving home, she kept good company with an older Persian until his death. The Persians I've met tend to be laid-back and this one was older (i.e., less energetic) and had a heart condition. No threat there! I assume they could both adopt a philosophy of live and let live and this allowed Molly a large measure of comfort. Her new home continues to be great except for the presence of a new arrival -- a confident, energetic cat called Ivy who won't take no for an answer when Molly tells her to back off. Confronted with a hiss (which any cat knows means keep your distance; I'm afraid, but if I need to I WILL fight), she continues forth and gets a bite or two in return. After that? Ivy bounces back. But Molly is even more scared -- hiding, crouching, and becoming more anxious. Holy tuna! What an kettle of fish.

As I was perched on the deck railing this morning, taking my dose of Vitamin D from the morning sun, I wondered, why it is that some cats are more resilient than others? There are, of course, catsonality factors at play: some of us are shy while others are more outgoing, some of us have a stronger curiousity than others. And depending on our past experience, some of us have a hankering for humans while others do not, some of us like dogs (not me, that's for sure), and on and on it goes. Obviously Molly is one of those more fragile cats who, having suffered a great deal of stress (and perhaps bolstered by her catsonality), is less resilient. This means that when she is in circumstances she finds stressful (largely, it seems, the presence of curious, confident cats) she gets anxious and scared.

Molly has a lifelong challenge -- her lack of claws. While I am opposed to any declawing, I don't have the energy to deal with that fully right now -- I'd need to chow down on at least three grasshoppers and have a good swig of water from the toilet, first. Those readers who feel compelled to contact me with the story, "I was a kitten when I was declawed and I'm purrfectly fine," can save their views for a later blog entry when I will address the pros and cons of declawing in full. Now back to the matter at the tip of my paw . . .

A four-paw declaw? I know of NO circumstance in which it would be in a cat's best interest, but I know of several humans who think it is a good idea. Like those who live with Bobbie and were indignant that their new leather sofa was being damaged. Did he scratch it? No! But when he landed or took off from it, he needed to dig his back claws into the fabric and that left marks. The veterinarian refused their request and they had a behavioural consultation instead. Three cheers for this vet! I sometimes fantasize that I'm an advisor to humans and will tell them to cut off the first part of every finger on all their children who are pulling their cats' tails or otherwise being bothersome!)

If you are a cat like Molly then you know what it is like to have all your first digits amputated; of course, now you have no claws. You may have phantom pain.Your sense of balance is disrupted and you have to adjust your gait accordingly, just like a human who is missing part of a leg. And woe betide you if you have to navigate on smooth surfaces (like floors or sofas) because you have no traction. To keep from slipping and sliding like a tom snoggered on catnip, you have to scrunch your paws and tread carefully -- just like a human trying to carry groceries on an icy sidewalk. That scrunching can take its toll -- introducing a dull soreness and possibily disturbing your gait even more. Need I say that this would do nothing for your self-confidence?

And then there is the matter of defense. Obviously without claws you are at a big disadvantage. And if a lot of your teeth are missing (as in Molly's case) what then?

I'm about to have an attack of the vapours. If I continue on in this vein I'm going to need a large dose of catnip and an exuberant go-round with the feather wand. So let me, instead, focus on making the best of an unfortunate situation.

If you are a cat like Molly, then choose your home carefully. You will need purrsons who have patience and compassion, who will be sensitive to your special needs. Under your direction, they will have to create an
environment you can trust. This includes the following: 1) Easy, non-competitive access to valued resources (food, water and litterbox) placed in such a way that ambush is not possible -- if you live with other cats. 2) Place(s) of safety -- like a safe room where you can be undisturbed when you are not feeling your best or need to sleep in complete security. 3) A hiding box and/or cat tree depending on your prefurrences. The former is simply a cardboard box turned on its side into which you can retreat -- protected from above and on three sides, you only has to guard access from the front. It can be made even more private if a cardboard box (large enough for you) is taped shut and then an entrance hole carved into one of the short sides -- obviously since you have no claws you cannot make this hole and will have to really on your purrson to do so; such a hole allows you to see out without being seen. A cat tree (and I will blog more on this wonderful invention later) or strategically-placed shelf, offers the protection of a view from above, where any invader can easily be spotted well in advance and you -- the percher -- has the advantage. It also helps multi-cat households by allowing each cat a different level of space -- some will prefurr the ground, others higher up and still others near the ceiling (if they can manage it).

To alleviate anxiety I have two recommendations: 1) Exercise/stimulation-- that is, interactive play. Engage your purrson in the game of your choice -- using a laser pointer (NEVER aimed at the eyes), fishing pole toy, or very soft rubber balls. Alternatively, if you have SAFE outdoor access, you may find that the environmental stimulation it offers will more than suffice. 2) Relaxation delivered through purrsonal touch. Some of you are fortunate enough to live with a purrson who has a gentle touch -- who knows exactly how to stroke your furs with the right amount of pressure for the right amount of time that your muscles relax. If your purrson is so inclined, feel free to try out any of a range of gentle touch therapies: Therapeutic Touch, Tellington T Touch, or Reiki -- again the subject for another blog entry.

But I hear the refrigerator door opening! They are probably taking my wet food out to warm it up. Gotta go!