Despite frequent discussion, feline onchyectomy (declawing) remains a source of confusion for many. This article will examine this controversial procedure and the implications facing a cat, on which it is performed.
Scratching behaviour is a normal and natural part of a cat's existence. It is used to condition the claws, as a territorial mark and as a mechanism for stretching and toning the back and shoulder muscles. A cat's claws are also their primary defence and provide good traction, allowing rapid acceleration and sharp turns while running and bestowing climbing ability.
To best examine the issue of declawing it is essential to understand the procedure as it is applied in practice. First, the cat is given a general anaesthetic and the fur surrounding the cat's paws is shaved off. A tourniquet is placed around the leg, and the nail area is rinsed with alcohol. The actual amputation is performed by making a cut across the first joint (possible involving the foot pad) using a laser. The area is then tightly bandaged to prevent haemorrhage. The bandaging can be removed two to three days after the surgery.
Two fundamental statements provide the basis for this discussion. First, that it is morally wrong to surgically alter any being, without his/her consent, unless for medical necessity, or to provide a health benefit when consent is impossible. Second, that all species are equal in their right to be treated with respect and compassion, thus obligating us to provide this respect and compassion to anyone under our care.
Since scratching is a natural behaviour of cats we must be prepared to accept this behaviour along with the cat. Despite the fact that most cats will use designated scratching posts when provided, we must accept that occasional damage to our material belongings may result. The solution to this is not to mutilate the cat but to learn acceptance. If scratching is a problem for people, it is their problem and not the cat's.
Proponents of declawing defend this procedure with several common assertions:
1 "Declawing does nothing to harm the cat".
The failing of this argument is that without question, declawing certainly increases the risk of long term harm to the cat - and most definitely causes short term harm. Phallangial amputation of cats is used by pharmaceutical companies to test pain killers as it is one of the most painful procedures that can be performed. Just consider that it has been (and still is, in some places) used as a form of torture with humans.
The surgery, if not performed correctly, can result in many detrimental effects. Any general anaesthetic puts a living organism at risk. If the bandages are put on too tightly the foot can become gangrenous and necessitate amputation of the leg. In many instances one or more claws will begin to regrow causing extreme pain, or if either the trimmer is dull or the cat's nail is brittle, the bone may shatter. This is called a "sequestrum" which becomes a sight for irritation and continuous drainage from the toe. This can only be corrected by another surgical procedure.
Some chronic, physical ailments including cystitis and skin disorders have been traced to the period immediately following this surgery. Theories also suggest possible effects to the cat's weight bearing and movement kinetics.
There is no evidence either way as to the long term behavioural effects a declawed cat may or may not experience, and much anecdotal evidence exists to support both viewpoints. However, as they have been deprived of their primary source of defence - their claws, declawed cats often resort to biting when they feel threatened. Many groomers and veterinarians agree that they are far more difficult to handle, both because of the increased incidence of biting and due to a lack of self confidence resulting for the loss of their favoured defence mechanism. Shelters are also often forced to euthanize declawed cats that have been surrendered because of this type of behaviour.
With all these risks, one would like to compare them to the benefit that the cat experiences - unfortunately there are none.
2 "If I do not declaw the cat I would have to surrender it and it will likely be euthanized."
This argument is used by many, but when considered in depth is simply countered with the old adage "Two wrongs don't make a right." Amputating a cat's toes is just a wrong as surrendering a cat simply because he/she no longer fits in with his/her person's lifestyle or having a cat euthanized because it was acting as a cat should. It is easy to justify one inhumanity because is may be better then another inhumane option, but both are unnecessary, and neither is justifiable.
3 "How do you justify neutering if surgical alteration is supposed to be so bad, it is only done for human convenience - to avoid spraying and annoying heat periods anyway."
When approached form a purely logical standpoint, this becomes a difficult question. First, one must accept that keeping companion animals is not inherently bad in itself. If this is taken as a truth, then we as humans, become responsible for the wellbeing of their species. This includes providing birth control as is necessary to preserve the health of that species. For animals, three possible birth control options currently exist: castration (neutering) or vasectomy for males, ovariohysterectomy (spaying) or tubal ligation for females, or forced abstinence. Castration and ovaiohysterectomy provides birth control, but it also shapes a cat through a surgical means to fit better into our human society as the entire reproductive organs are removed and the hormone flow, which governs sexual behaviour, is ceased. Vasectomy and tubal ligation provides birth control while leaving the reproductive organs as intact as possible, and therefore not altering the cat's natural behaviour. Although this alternative is not recommended in every case, it is by far to infrequently - if at all - considered. Forced abstinence should only be chosen as a short term solution. Intact tomcats are compelled by physiological changes to mate. Forcing them not to mate causes them undue stress and discomfort. The eggs of an intact queen who is not permitted to mate, and therefore can not ovulate, become encysted in her ovaries, which may lead to cancerous tumours. Unlike declawing any form of sterilisation provides a net benefit for the feline species' and is therefore justifiable.
For many cat lovers declawing is unconscionable, many veterinarians will not perform the procedure, it is outlawed in some countries, and there is currently no animal welfare organizations that condone the practice. Despite the nonsurgical alternatives that exist, many people still view this as a preventative procedure that is necessary for a cat to be a "good pet." It is this last viewpoint that so many cat lovers find infuriating. Cats are already wonderful companions. They do not require any surgical modifications to become the loving companions they are known as worldwide.
As many, who have authorized having their cat declawed, will freely admit, it was done to prevent damage to their furniture. Cats represent a living, thinking, feeling, entity; how can we ever place their welfare on the same balance as that of our furniture.
Declawing is inhumane. Although, scientifically, there have been no decisive long-term studies to research the behavioural effects, declawing represents a clear and undisputable risk to the cat. No one has the right to mutilate another, for their own personal gain.
Cats Spay and Neuter
Because of the pet overpopulation problem, more people are spaying/neutering their felines now than ever before. Over 10 million dogs and cats in the United States alone are being put to death by euthanasia each year in animal shelters because there are no homes for them. And, the great majority of these animals are perfectly healthy, friendly and young. Because of this, great care should be taken to prevent pets from unplanned breeding, or breeding without homes available and waiting for the babies. The best solution to this problem is to spay your female pets and neuter your male pets.
There are additional benefits to the pet owner for having this procedure performed on their pets: these benefits include the pet having, for the most part, a longer and healthier life; improved behavior and more responsiveness to their human family; increased safety as spayed and neutered pets are less likely to want to roam the streets outside and become injured or lost in search of a mate; no unwanted kittens; less tendency of the spayed or neutered pet to "mark" or damage household furnishings, and a marked decrease in many medical problems such as mammary cancers and uterine infections which are fairly common in unaltered cats.
Simply put, spaying or neutering removes an animal's ability to reproduce. Spaying of females involves removing the female's uterus and ovaries surgically. Neutering involves the surgical removal of the male's testicles. Both surgeries are performed under general anesthesia, and are considered relatively safe, routine and painless. Usually, the animal is up and about within a day of their operation.
There are many benefits to having your pet spayed or neutered. For females, having them spayed will prevent them from going through any more heat cycles. Un-spayed females normally come into heat several times a year, and these cycles can last from several days to several weeks, and include such behaviors as spraying of urine (yes, females can spray, too!!), marking with urine, howling, and some other obnoxious behaviors. Neutering a male before he reaches puberty almost always prevents completely the development of all mating behavior, which includes spraying urine and marking territory with urine, and the desire to roam outside searching for a mate. This in itself puts the cat at great risk for injury or even death from being hit by cars; being the object of human cruelty; infection and disease from other cats; death from natural predators, and cat fighting.
Most frequently, it is recommended that female kittens be spayed at six months of age, or preferably before their first heat. The surgery, called "ovariohysterectomy", involves anesthetizing the animal, and the veterinarian makes an incision through which the cat's ovaries and uterus are removed. The surgical incision is then closed by either non-absorbable stitches (which must then be removed in approximately 7 to 10 days); or by sub-cuticular stitches, or by sutures that are placed below the skin and that gradually dissolve on their own in the body. There is another procedure that can be performed on female cats, and that is called a "tubal ligation", which is the surgical procedure which makes the female sterile, but does not prevent her from coming into heat and attracting males. Obviously, tubal ligation is not very popular for that very reason!!
We are often asked whether or not female cats can still be spayed even if they are in the middle of a heat cycle. While most vets prefer to perform the surgery in cats not currently in heat, most surgeons will still spay a female kitten or cat when in heat. There is often a small additional charge for this, as there is more time and attention needed during the surgery due to the increased blood supply to the uterus during a heat cycle. But, spaying a kitten or cat in heat is far better than waiting and perhaps having other serious consequences to the feline occur, such as unwanted pregnancy, disease or illness contracted from other cats she may be seeking to mate with.
Another name for the neuter surgery performed on male cats is "castration".
Male cats are usually neutered between 5 1/2 and 9 months of age, before habits such as spraying urine are started. Neutering involves the removal of the source of sex hormones and sperm cells, which is the testicles. The two incisions are usually so small that stitches or sutures are not even needed. And, normally, the cat is sent home the very same day.
There is another procedure available for preventing fertility in males, and that is a "vasectomy". While a vasectomy renders a male cat sterile, it does not affect testosterone levels as long as the spermatic artery is kept intact. A vasectomized cat, in other words, can mate, but cannot father kittens. This procedure is rarely used for domestic male cats, because a vasectomized male cat would still have territorial issues, still perhaps be prone to fighting other cats to protect that territory, still wander and try to get outside in search of a mate, and still spray urine that has a very strong odor. Vasectomy is still a valid alternative for population control in feral cat colonies, however.
The best time to alter your pet is before the animal reaches puberty. Many experts feel that six months of age is an ideal time to spay or neuter. However, there have been numerous studies done that show that healthy kittens spayed or neutered as young as six months of age do quite well. The recovery of such young kittens is very quick, and to date, no negative significant concerns have been found. Spaying and neutering kittens and puppies that are healthy at a very young age is becoming a growing trend that has been endorsed by major humane organizations including the Humane Society of the United States, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the American Humane Association, and the Cat Fanciers' Association.
Some people still feel that a kitten should be larger and stronger before undergoing the general anesthesia required to perform the surgery, and to allow more time for the urinary tract system to develop. Consult with your veterinarian and other veterinary health professionals that you trust to help you determine the right age for your kitten or cat. And, speaking of cats, unless your cat has a health problem, spaying/neutering is considered safe at ANY age!! Most of the time, the owners of mature cats -- as well as the cats themselves -- enjoy all the benefits of the spay/neuter surgeries also!!
Many families think they would like their children to experience the miracle of birth by having their beloved female kitty have "just one litter". However, when millions of families do this, we see the number of cats euthanized due to pet overpopulation continue to increase. Your library and public television are great sources for this sort of education, and also, locate reputable breeders in your area, and see if they will allow your children to visit when there are young kittens. Be sure to follow any instructions you are given by the breeders as to washing your hands, taking off your shoes, etc. Great care must be taken to protect the health of small kittens and the valuable animals in a breeding program. Professional breeding of purebred animals is a very expensive science involving a great commitment of time, effort, emotion and money. While many people may think that breeding animals would make a great second income...the reality is that little money, if any, can truly be made when the mother cat is properly cared for pre-pregnancy, during breeding and pregnancy, and post-pregnancy, and the kittens are all kept healthy, well fed, wormed, vaccinated, advertised and sold (this is assuming you are lucky enough to have healthy kittens in the first place, and a mother cat willing and able to care for them). The home must be thoroughly kitten-proofed, and even then, there are always going to be some "accidents" on the rugs and furnishings while the kittens are young and learning.
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Dogs Spay and Neuter
Spay and neuter surgery to sterilize dogs and cats has been hailed as an expedient method of pet population control. The idea, obviously, is that sterilized pets can’t breed and produce puppies that end up in animal shelters to be adopted or euthanized. Many shelters and virtually all rescue groups sterilize dogs before making them available to buyers, and many shelters that do not do the surgery before the animals leave do require that the new owner do so.
Some advocacy groups have gone so far as to demand laws that require spay and neuter of all dogs and cats unless people buy permission to keep their animals intact. Others seek to require shelters to spay and neuter all animals that leave their premises to avoid unwanted litters in the future.
Many pet owners consider a spay and neuter requirement to be an infringement of their rights.
Many think that sterilization is cruel; they project their own feelings about loss of reproductive capacity on their pets. Many men have a difficult time dealing with neutering of their male pets.
And many pet owners and welfare advocates say that the cost of surgery keeps many families from having it done.
There are many myths about canine reproductive needs. Chiefly among these are the suspicion that neutering turns a male into a sissy and spaying causes a female to get fat and to lament her lost capacity.
The truth is that male dogs are usually better pets if they are neutered. They have less desire to roam, to mark territory (including furniture), or to exert dominance over family members. They are also healthier pets: no testicles means no testicular cancer, which is not uncommon among aging intact male dogs.
Females also tend to be better pets if they do not experience oestrus every six-to-nine months. Heat cycles bring hormonal changes that can lead to personality changes. Repeated heat cycles subject the reproductive system to uterine and mammary cancers and uterine infections. Some bitches experience false pregnancies that can be a bother to deal with and uterine infections that can be fatal.
Dogs and bitches do not get fat simply as a result of sterilization surgery. Like other mammals, they gain weight if they eat too much and exercise too little or are genetically programmed to be hefty. Weight gain that seems to follow spay or neuter surgery is most likely a result of continuing to feed a high energy diet to a dog that is reducing his need for energy as he reaches his adult size. Excess energy in the food becomes excess fat on the body.
As far as we know, dogs do not lament their lost capability to reproduce. This is a different species than ours; they reproduce to ensure survival of their kind, not to nurture a pup for 18 years, watch it go off to college, marry, establish a career, and produce grandchildren. Bitches nurse their pups for a few weeks, teach them to behave like dogs, and go on. Males know nothing of fatherhood; they do not recognize pups as their own.
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Many animal population control proponents say that veterinarians should reduce the cost of spay-neuter surgery or should offer it for free so that dog owners will sterilize their pets.
In the attempt to increase the numbers of dogs that are sterilized, some folks on all sides have cultivated the perception that an ovariohysterectomy (removal of the ovaries and uterus) is quick and easy surgery that can be done on an assembly line, especially since a surgical protocol of puppies has been perfected. In recent years, some national organizations and local shelters have held marathon sterilization clinics, often at low cost, and issued press releases about the number of pets that underwent the surgery in a 24- or 48-hour period. Actually, however, most veterinarians consider the surgery to be major: although it can be quick and easy on young bitches, it can be difficult and time-consuming on bitches that have had several heats or have been bred.
The spay protocol should include a pre-surgical exam followed by injections of a muscle-relaxer such as Rompun and a short- acting barbiturate to allow insertion of a tube into the dog’s airway for air and anesthesia. When the dog is incapacitated by the barbiturate, a clamp is used to hold the mouth open and the tube is installed. The dog may be initially anesthetized with one gas and switched to another (such as isofluorine) for the surgery.
Preparation of the surgical area is done by a technician while the veterinarian dresses and scrubs for the surgery. The technician shaves the surgical site, expresses urine from the dog’s bladder, and uses betadine scrub to clean and rinse the site. The veterinarian uses a sterile scrub pack and scrubs his hands and arms just as a surgeon does before an operation.
The anesthetized dog is placed on her back on the operating table or in a tray that is placed on the table. The tray keeps the dog from sliding and gives the doctor clearer access to the abdomen. The needle used to inject the barbiturate is left in the vein in case more drug is needed.
The anesthesia is switched to isofluorine, which can be increased or decreased if necessary to lighten or deepen the dog’s anesthetized state. Injectable anesthesias can be stopped but cannot be reversed; if the dog gets in trouble on the operating table with an injectable anesthesia, she can die.
The dog is hooked to a heart monitor. The sterile surgical pack of instruments is placed within the doctor’s reach.Then the surgery can begin.
The surgery starts when the veterinarian clamps the skin to stretch it taut and begins the incision with a scalpel. The incision must be done carefully to minimize muscle damage.
The dog’s uterus is a Y-shaped organ with two horns and a body. The uterine body and horns and the ovaries and the tubes connecting the ovaries to the horns are removed in a complete ovariohysterectomy. The doctor uses disolvable sutures for the cuts at the ovaries and the cervix, checks for any abnormalities, bleeders, etc., and closes the incision with layers of stitches.
Time elapsed from start of surgery to the last stitch that closes the incision is about 25 minutes on bitches that have never come into oestrus. Bitches that have had one or more seasons or one or more litters and bitches that carry a lot of abdominal fat can take much longer. Add to this the time for pre-surgical exam and preparation, post-surgical observation, a post-surgical exam if necessary, and removal of stitches, and the cost to safely spay a beloved pet to prevent unwanted litters, reproductive cancers, and uterine infections is a bargain.
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