Translate This Blog

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cats Walking On Their Nails?

Back to my backlog of reader questions, this one from Paul....

Can a cat walk on its claws or does a cat have really tough pads on its feet?.  I ask because a neighbour's cat is a nuisance; it regularly kills birds in our garden and for us, the last straw was when it badly mauled a pigeon and left it so badly injured that its feathers were pulled out and its neck badly bleeding.  I rescued the bird (and as the vet was closed -  wildlife rescue said to take it to a vet as a vet is obliged to take the bird and treat it if possible), I put the bird in a warm, dark shed with some grain and water and hoped that at least it would be safe from the cat, rain and cold and I could get it to the vet early the next morning. (I was afraid to put anything on the bird's wounds as it was clearly very scared and I understand that a bird can die from stress of being handled and to be honest I did not know what to do with the animal - the rescue people said just keep it quiet in the dark and with water and some food and get to vet asap next morning).   To cut a long story short the bird died a long and painful death (I checked on the bird regularly in the night hoping it would make it till the morning when vet would be open at 8 - it was alive at 6am and dead at 8am).  I appreciate that cats are hunting animals but I don't own the cat and don't want one or its kill.  The cat has killed several birds in my garden in the last few weeks alone and I am tired of it.  The neighbour won't put a collar on the animal so that birds would be alerted to it and have made their own garden impossible almost for the cat to access it by growing all kinds of plants and climbing roses etc so cat cannot walk on the perimeter wall.  So I decided that I would grow  Pyracantha which is now over the fence and I have secured it to the fence in a way to prevent the animal from walking on it but it still does - its as if the nails and the huge thorns on the plant (which I can tell you would take the hand off a human were you to touch it without padded gloves) make no impression on the cat whatsoever.  I don't want to hurt the animal I just don't want it in my garden and don't want it where the birds are because of the huge carnage that it is causing.  I am convinced that the only way the cat can walk on the fence is because its pads are not being used ie that the animal is walking on its claws otherwise it has pads of cement!.  I have also tried cat repellent nothing works but the animal's feet have me baffled.  (any other suggestions to keep the animal out are welcome).

It's actually impossible for a cat to walk on its claws/nails.  They are simply not structured that way and will not support a cat's weight.  While a cat's pads are fairly tough, a thorn can certainly puncture it.  However, look at the spacing of the thorns on the pyracantha plant.  A cat is extremely agile and dexterous and their paws are typically no larger than two of our fingers put together...sometimes smaller.  So it is possible for one to step around the thorns and still walk on the plant or wall.  Sure, it takes more careful steps and some time, but it's not impossible.  I would also look around your fence to make sure there isn't a small hole or crack that the cat is using as an entry point, completely negating the need to climb or walk on the plants.

Now we can talk a bit about how to keep a cat out of your yard.  First, you need to make the yard unappealing.  By providing bird feeders, houses, or plants that make good nesting you are encouraging birds to come into your yard.  Predators follow their prey, so the birds are a good incentive for the cat to come in the area.  If you want the birds there it becomes a little trickier.  

One of my favorite tricks is a motion-activated sprinkler.  They stay off until something triggers the motion sensor and then they spray harmless water.  A cat is NOT going to want to go into a yard where this keeps happening!  There are also ultrasonic devices you can use that are similarly triggered by motion.

Below are a couple of links that may help!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Interview On Ethical Issues

Yes, I'm still around, and yes, I know I haven't been blogging much.  I'll admit that after five years of regular writing I'm starting to lose some motivation.  But I'm not out of the game yet.

I recently received a series of questions from Amy, who is doing a report in college on ethical situations vets face in everyday practice.  I agreed to answer them and found them very interesting and challenging.  I hadn't thought of some of these issues to a great degree, so it made me think hard about my answers.  I thought it would be interesting to share them in this blog.

What do you believe the veterinary oath is trying to convey?  Does it say that veterinarians have a duty to animals or to their owners?

The oath is trying to emphasize that our focus is on helping animals and the public health, and if we can't help them we need to at least relieve suffering.  It also emphasizes the need for ethical behavior and life-long learning since medicine is constantly changing.  The oath itself does seem to indicate that our primary responsibility is to the animal, not the owner.  However, the oath is a starting point and isn't meant to be the only thing we consider with deciding responsibility, and is also not legally binding like a law.  So there is room for interpretation.

Do you believe that veterinarians should meet the needs of the furry patient first or to the owner?  

This is actually not a clear-cut issue.  Personally I believe that our first responsibility is to the patient, but we also cannot remove the owner from the discussion.  If the owner cannot afford treatment we cannot proceed with a surgery or even diagnostics.  Yes, we feel that we should be able to just treat the patient as would be best, but the owner has primary decision making and we can't supersede their right.  But when making the recommendations to the owner we should always state what is best for the animal and not consider the client's financial situation ahead of time.

In real life, do veterinarians try to meet the needs of the furry patient or the owner?

This varies between situations and doctors.  I'd like to think that we always put the patient first, but sometimes we do think of the client when making recommendations.  In the end, the reality is that we can't meet the patient's needs if we haven't met the owner's.

How do you handle patients that cannot afford to pay the medical bill?  Is there any sort of health care or insurance plan for pets?

Unless heavily subsidized through grants or donations, veterinary practices have to make money in order to pay their staff, buy supplies, cover rent and costs, and otherwise stay open.  If we give away too many services we will end up going bankrupt and closing our doors.  It may be a harsh reality, but that's the way things are.  Looking at this business aspect most vets treat clients like any non-medical business.  If a client can't pay but they agreed to treatment, they may face being sent to a collections agency for non-payment.  Most vets don't do payment plans because of the risks of losing money, which happens more times than not.  However, some vets will work individual deals with a good client.  There are several companies that sell pet insurance, though they vary widely in what they cover.  Many vets also accept credit cards or Care Credit, something specific to human and veterinary medical fields.

What are possible cases where you step in for the patient instead of the owner? (When do you say that a patient needs a treatment instead of listening to the owner, if ever?)

We as veterinarians have no legal right to make decisions for the pet if the owner is present or able to be reached.  Legally an animal is considered a special category of property, not a legally separate individual.  A vet deciding to treat a pet without consent would be like a mechanic deciding to repair an engine on a car without the owner's permission.  Without the consent of the pet owner we can only make decisions for the pet in rare circumstances.  That may be in cases of verifiable abuse where the client is potentially legally liable, or in situations where immediate therapy is needed (such as life-threatening cases) and the client can't be reached.  If a client declines a truly necessary treatment and decides to leave the office, there really is very little that we can legally do to stop them or otherwise intervene.

Do you personally report cases of abuse when you see them?   What cases do you consider abuse?

This is actually something that can be tricky to determine.  A vet might suspect criminal abuse or neglect, but proving it can be difficult.  The animal can't tell us that they were abused and the client can easily tell a lie about what happened.  If we don't have a witness or other record of the abuse, it is difficult for us to report a case.  Some of them may be obvious, such as severe malnourishment or repeated bite wounds consistent with deliberate animal fighting, but not all of them are.  If it is truly abuse I feel that we do have an ethical responsibility to report the case to authorities.  However, sometimes we will give the client an opportunity to fix the problem with the understanding that if they don't or if it happens again they will be reported to police.

Are there conflicting culture views on how pets should be treated, both in everyday care and health care?

Absolutely!  Sometimes it is a different attitude based on non-native cultures, such as someone of Asian or Arabic origins who moved to the US.  Sometimes it's age-related, such as older generations who aren't used to extensive pet care and grew up just keeping pets in the yard and putting out table scraps for them to eat.  Sometimes it's a personal background where someone grew up believing "it's just a dog".  All of these differing views can make it challenging to talk to some clients when they have a bias of some sort against treatment that might be necessary.

Do you think society looks down on people who cannot pay for advanced medical care for their pets? (Advanced medical care being major surgeries and expensive treatment plans for diseases)

At this point, no I don't.  It's still uncommon for people to spend thousands of dollars on a single surgery or course of treatment and society doesn't yet hold the standard of "treatment at all costs" for pets.  It's acceptable in society and veterinary medicine for a person to decide that they can't afford treatment and elect euthanasia as a humane option.  But as animals are seen more as family members and not just pets, I anticipate that expectations will change, especially if people are able to sue for pain and suffering rather than just financial loss or damages.  In the future there may be more societal pressure for people to go further with treatment.

What are society's expectations of veterinarians and do veterinarians compete with this view?

I believe that society expects vets to be compassionate, have extensive knowledge, provide fast, skilled treatment, and do all of that at a low cost.  For the most parts I and other vets would agree with the first part, but disagree with the last.  High quality doesn't come cheaply and we have huge loan burdens to repay.  The profession as a whole is trying to move away from the "cheap" idea and focus on the compassion and quality.

I hear the word "client" used very often on your blog.  Why do you (and others I have read) use "client" even though you are in a medical setting?   

It's a common convention that has to do with who our patient really is.  In human medicine the patient is generally the person giving the information and making the decisions.  In most situations the patient and "client" are the same.  But in veterinary medicine our patients do not tell us what has been happening, do not make treatment decisions, and do not pay the bills.  We have a distinction between "client", meaning the owner, and "patient", meaning the animal.  Our relationship with our patient is a more traditional medical one, and the relationship with the pet owner is closer to one seen in business.

Do you think people who can afford basic supplies and medical care for their pet(s) but not advanced treatment like serious medical injuries or accidents should own pets?

That's a tough one.  Personally if a client is unable to do treatment for a broken leg, bite wound, or ear infection they shouldn't own a pet.  But that's hard to say to people.  Most pets will only need vaccines, heartworm prevention, dental cleanings, and other routine preventative care.  Truly serious medical conditions are uncommon in an average pet and so many people feel that they only need to prepare for basic preventative costs.  But injuries or serious illnesses happen often enough that clients absolutely need to be prepared for this eventuality.  While I can be understanding about someone who can't afford extensive cancer treatment, being able to handle an average injury is something every owner should be able to do.  When someone accepts a pet they are committing to handling certain responsibilities and care.  If they can't do so, they shouldn't take on the care of that animal.

If the owner refuses medical care other than for financial reason, is that considered animal abuse?  Is that person considered a "bad" person and pet owner?

That's difficult to answer based on the question.  There are legitimate reasons for declining care other than financial.  Maybe the owner won't be able physically provide a certain treatment because of physical limitations or an aggressive pet.  Sometimes the pet simply doesn't allow treatment and and a client risks injury in the attempt.  I've had cases where a client isn't going to be home often enough to consistently treat a condition.  Simple refusal to treat isn't automatically "abuse" or neglect as it depends on the case, condition, and other factors.  But there are clients who just don't want to do any treatment and the pet suffers.  Depending on the nature of the problem and degree of pain or illness, this could potentially be considered criminal neglect.  The difficulty comes when the client wants a different option for some reason, especially one that may not be the "best".  If they are wanting to pursue some form of treatment even if we don't agree completely with their decision we can't consider them as being abusive.

How do you handle strays that people find off the street?  Do the people who bring them in pay or are there other means?

We're not a shelter or rescue group and so we are not set up to handle and adopt out strays.  Most of the time the person bringing the stray in will pay for initial exams and treatment, even if they don't plan on keeping the animal.  For more long-term solutions we maintain contact information for local organizations that provide this service and will refer people to these groups.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Wednesday Addams, You've Met Your Match

My daughter is a rather unique little girl.  She's 10 years old, but isn't typical for a girl her age.  Yes, she likes My Little Pony, anything colored pink, shoes and clothes, and lots of sparkles.  She's silly and cute and for all the world often seems like the little princess.

But she also has a rather creepy, darker side.  Over the years she has shown a growing interest in monsters, zombies, and other things that go bump in the night.  This year we began watching episodes of The Walking Dead together, and she loves the show.  She's really into the Monster High line of dolls and Vamplets stuffed creatures.  She has a pet rat and loves snakes, spiders, and other creepy-crawlies.  Nothing seems to phase her, including monstrous costumes we see at Dragon*Con every year.  So we decided to really put her to the test.

Near Atlanta is one of the country's biggest and scariest haunted attractions, Netherworld.  Each year it ranks in the top haunted houses in America, and has amazing special effects, animatronics, and Hollywood quality makeup.  Adults will run screaming in fear through this attraction.  I've always kind of liked haunted houses and have been eager to visit it, but had never been able to.  For the last year I've worked on my daughter, eventually convincing her to try it.  We did a minor haunted house last year and she wasn't scared or impressed.  So I thought that surely Netherworld would make her tremble.

There was no fear in her as we drove to the attraction, and when she saw some of the actors in costume she became more excited.  She had already thought it through, planning on dressing in her cutest pink outfit so that the monsters would expect her to be frightened.  

Does that look like someone worried about seeing some of the best that American haunts have to offer?  Yeah, that's what I thought.

None of the characters outside bothered her at all.  Two of the creepiest actually were her favorites and she deliberately went to talk to them when she saw them from a distance.

So we went into the two sections of Netherworld.  One was smaller ad dealt with the Bogeyman and primal fears.  The other was a pretty standard haunted house with mirror mazes, monsters, dead bodies, and plenty of people jumping out to scare us.  Yes, there were moments that she and I were startled, but at no point were we really scared.  I think she threw most of them for a loop because when they came out at her she would just give her brightest, cheeriest smile, wave, and say "Hi!"  One of them leaned over her with claws bared and a menacing growl, twisting his head back and forth in an effort to intimidate her.  She just calmly looked up at him and twisted her head to mirror his motions.

I really think she surprised the actors, all of whom are used to teens and adults screaming and running in fear.  But then this cute, petite blonde comes through, bedecked in pink, and they can't make her jump.  After failing to frighten her, some of the characters would give her a high-five or fist-bump, impressed by her bravery.  One of them told her that she was braver that most of the adults that came through.  Netherworld had someone going through taking videos, and he followed us for a short distance.  At one point he came closer to me and commented that he couldn't believe how brave and unfazed she was.

By the end I realized that she simply couldn't be scared.  In fact, she was fully in her element!  She kept talking about wanting to work there and was describing how she was planning on creeping up to people and scaring them.  In fact, she became "pinky buddies" with the troll!  

I can imagine that some of the actors may have gotten together after it shut down for the night and started talking about how things went, especially since this was opening night for this year......

"Okay, good first night, everyone.  Let's talk about how things went.  Anyone have anything strange to report?"

"Um, yeah.  There was this little blonde girl in pink.  I'm not sure what happened, but I jumped out and growled, and she just smiled and said 'Hi'!"

"Dude, yeah, I saw her too!  My best growl and howl and it didn't phase her!  She just grinned and waved.  Maybe I'm losing my touch."

"Okay, so how many of you saw her come through?"

A few dozen hands raise.

"And how many of you were able to scare her?"

All hands lower.

"....Well....Pretty awesome little girl!"

While my daughter is not typical in any sense of the word, I'm proud of her.  She exudes self-confidence and revels in her weirdness.  She has figured out her own style and way of being, and doesn't want to march to the beat of anyone else's drum.  That's hard to come by in this world, and I really hope that she continues to defy convention and peer pressure to become her own person.

And yes, we'll be going back to Netherworld again next year.