Tag Archives: animal welfare

If there’s a veterinary “procedure” that tends to gets people all wiggly, it might be the declawing of domestic cats. Declawing is the amputation of a cat’s toes (with scalpel, laser, or even with claw clippers), usually performed to prevent furniture scratching.

“It saves lives,” “it keeps cats out of shelters,” “banning medical procedures is a slippery slope…” we’ve heard it all. Those of us who work professionally with cats have also seen repercussions – the declawed cats surrendered to shelters with behavior issues, the cats who have been hobbled with arthritis from years of walking unnaturally, cats who can no longer engage in natural behaviors like scratching and stretching.

People get up in arms easily over tail and ear docking of dogs, but it feels like declawing is still treated like a fringe issue. I’ll be upfront with you. I don’t think declawing is necessary EVER, I don’t think it’s a humane choice, and honestly, I feel like if you can’t live with a cat with their claws, you shouldn’t have a cat as a companion animal. So now that I’ve gotten that out of the way – let’s talk about some new research that provides strong evidence for the negative effects of declawing.

In a study just released in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, “Pain and adverse behavior in declawed cats,” researchers studied 137 declawed cats, with a control group of 137 paw-intact cats matched for age. Each cat was given a physical exam, including a common test for back pain, by palpating areas of the spine and noting reactions. As cats are digitigrade, or walk on their toes, removing their toes changes their posture, which is hypothesized to cause long-term physical effects, including the risk of arthritis.

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What? Last Friday Faves of 2014?

Did Santa leave an assault course for your backyard squirrels?

One of my fave blogs, GrrlScientist, proposes a squirrel maze as a lovely alternative to the chemistry set as a family science project. I couldn't agree more!

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Science still hasn't totally solved the mystery of why cats love boxes so much. Photo by Walter Smith via Creative Commons License.
Science still hasn't totally solved the mystery of why cats love boxes so much. Photo by Walter Smith via Creative Commons License.

The cats-box thing is a bit of a joke (and internet phenomenon), I mean, why DO cats love boxes so much? Even science has tried (sort of) to tackle the question. We get a range of answers, from predation advantage (a great place to stalk prey from), to fun (think of Maru), to perhaps the most important reasons: safety and security.

But for one group of cats, cats in animal shelters, boxes aren’t just frivolous additions to the environment, they may be critical to reducing stress. Boxes may save lives. Yet another study, recently published in Applied Animal Behaviour Science, demonstrates that having an appropriate hiding space reduced stress in shelter cats, and helped them adapt better to being in a new environment.

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It may not be your veterinarian.

All pets have needs - food, water, comfort, attention, stimulation. But how do we know that we are meeting a cat's welfare needs? Behavior problems can be one indicator that a pet's needs are not being met (although a lack of overt behavior problems should not be assumed to mean that all needs ARE being met). Another way to get at the question is outright ask people what they know about cat behavior and welfare, which is exactly what some scientists in Portugal did. The study, "Comparison of interpretation of cat’s behavioral needs between veterinarians, veterinary nurses and cat owners" was recently published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior.

Scratching is a basic need for all cats.  Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/
Scratching is a basic need for all cats.
Photo by Mr. TinDC via Creative Commons https://www.flickr.com/photos/mr_t_in_dc/2287537534/in/photostream/

In the study, there were three groups of participants: 226 veterinarians, 132 vet techs and 582 cat owners who were bringing their cat to the vet. All participants were asked to what extent they agreed with several feline behavior/welfare related statements, such as "Scratching behavior is natural and needed for all cats" and "Some forms of play by the owners can lead to aggression."

The 11-item questionnaire statements broke down into three general categories related to either Elimination, Stress-Releasers or Human Stimulation. The development of the questionnaire is rather glossed over (all we know is that it was previously "pre-tested" on 50 people), so you may be thinking there are some categories or questions missing, and you may be right. But let's get to the findings.

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Wild animals run for fun

Do captive mice run in their wheel because they are neurotic and stressed? Or is it a natural mouse behavior? Well, it turns out that if you put a running wheel out in the wild, the mice will come. And they will run. Turns out frogs and other animals will join in too. Pretty cool. Read more about the study here, or download the open access paper here.

Note: this does not "prove" that mice in captivity aren't running in a wheel due to stress!

Best video from this story: a slug in a running wheel. Please watch.

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