My 6-year-old nephew once told me that he is more of a cat person than a dog person. Mind you he’s never had a cat or a dog as a pet, but I found it interesting that even at 6 he is taking sides in the great divide between pet owners. Eddie was much too young to see Meet the Parents, but I was reminded of the exchange between the actors Robert DeNiro and Ben Stiller in the movie where DeNiro’s Jack slyly (and hilariously) judges Stiller’s Greg for his preference of dogs over cats. I don’t agree with Jack, but I can’t argue with the fact that the scene is well written and hysterical.
For the record I don’t identify as either. I love dogs and cats equally for their unique characteristics. In many ways, cats are lower maintenance pets than dogs. Dogs are pack animals by nature and therefore they are hard-wired to interact with us. Cats are more solitary but able to form small social groups – if their ‘rules’ are adhered to.
By some accounts we have been keeping domestic cats as pets for over 10,000 years and yet largely due to their solitary nature, they remain mysterious to many of us. How many of us have ever wondered whether our cat was happy? A happy healthy cat might seem like an oxymoron to some of us. Can a cat be happy or are they perpetual malcontents who just tolerate us because we feed them? I have shared my life with many cats throughout my adult life, and while I still feel they are a mystery to me in many ways, I am no stranger to the ways in which our cats convey their ‘love’ for us.
Jack: Greg, how come you don’t like cats?
Greg: I don’t not like cats. I-I just – I just prefer dogs. I mean, I’m just more of a dog kind of, you know – Come home, wagging their little tails, happy to see you kind of –
Jack: You need that assurance? You prefer an emotionally shallow animal? … A dog is very easy to break, but cats make you work for their affection. They don’t sell out the way dogs do.
from Meet the Parents, 2000 Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg
After our first cat turned our new leather couch into a pin cushion, we took him to the vet and asked them to declaw him. This was nearly 30 years ago, and I had no idea what the procedure entailed. I naively thought it was just the removal of the claw in a way that ensured it doesn’t grow back.
In actuality, the procedure known as onychectomy (declawing) involves the amputation of the last bone of each toe of the cat’s four paws. In human equivalency, it would be like cutting off each finger at the last knuckle.
Using a scalpel or guillotine clipper the last knuckle of each toe is amputated and the wounds are closed with stitches or surgical glue and the feet are bandaged. There are other methods involving lasers which only differ in the means of amputation (lasers cut and simultaneously cauterize the wound) but the toes are still amputated. There is another method which involves severing the tendon to each claw so that the claws can’t be extended or controlled, but this is no better for the cat’s overall wellbeing.
I have heard people say that declawing is a controversial decision. I was once blissfully ignorant about the long-term negative consequences it has on cats and had all our cats declawed to save the furniture. Had I been aware of the constant pain in the paw, infection, tissue necrosis, lameness, and back pain (it changes the way the cat’s foot meets the ground when they walk and can have consequences on the cat’s spine) I would have stopped worrying about scratched up couches. Regrowth of improperly removed claws, nerve damage and bone spurs are all far more common with declawing than we once knew. By removing the first knuckle of their feet, we are forcing cats to walk on soft cartilage that was previously a part of their joints. The chronic pain can cause cats to chew the stubs of their paws habitually for the rest of their lives (as it did with at least one of our cats).
Researchers have found that declawed cats are 7x more likely to pee in inappropriate places, 4x more likely to bite people, 3x more likely to be aggressive, 3x more likely to overgroom themselves and 3x more likely to be diagnosed with back pain and/or chronic pain in their paws.
The use of shredded newspaper in the litter box after surgery- accompanied by pain when scratching in the box – may lead to some cats to stop using the litter box entirely. Not to mention that it is less painful to urinate on soft surfaces because the gravel in litterbox irritates their sensitive paws.
I once believed that scratching was a bad cat behaviour but now understand that scratching is a natural impulse that you can help direct to more appropriate areas than couches. Cats begin scratching at around 8 weeks old and do this to remove dead husks from claws, mark territory and stretch their muscles. If you have a young kitten, you should get a head start to train them to use a scratching post and tolerate regular nail trims.
Even the most domesticated of cats have a strong drive to get outside and explore. If you’ve ever tried to turn a cat that previously had free reign outdoors into a strictly indoor cat you will know how difficult this can be.
The best solution for a happy healthy cat is to never let your cat get a ‘taste’ for living outdoors. Allowing your cat the freedom to roam the neighbourhood is a lose/lose for not only your cat but for the wildlife they will inevitably hunt and kill. Conservative estimates are that at least 4 billion birds and 22 billion mammals are killed each year by domestic cats that are allowed to live outside. If this isn’t enough to deter you from letting your cat roam freely outside, keep in mind that the lifespan for outdoor cats is much less than for indoor cats as outdoor cats face threats from predators, cars, and diseases that indoor cats don’t.
As much as your cat may try to convince you otherwise, it is better for your cat to remain a strictly indoor cat. Of course, this begs the question of how can you ensure that your indoor cat is as happy as it can be?
Keep them stimulated and challenged. There is a saying that a happy cat is a tired cat. Cats are naturally athletic and require stimulation. Even an indoor cat can be provided with stimulation and exercise.
There are so many more options available to us nowadays to help make our cats happier and healthier. More important than anything you can build or purchase for your cat is your love and attention. Provide your cat with as much love and attention as you can. You will find with a cat that a little goes a long way.