THE BLOG

Cats Scratch and Dogs Sniff, What's the Problem With That?

12/07/2013 12:54 BST | Updated 11/09/2013 10:12 BST
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I was asked the other day if we had ever taken in a cat fitted with cat claw caps. We hadn't, but intrigued, a quick search led me to images of claws in soft plastic covers - available in a range of pretty colours (including glitter) which are apparently 'easily' attached with adhesive. The manufacturers have clearly not met my cats.

Joking aside, these caps are supposed to be a short-term measure used to prevent a cat scratching at a wound or skin condition. They are meant to be correctly fitted by a vet or vet nurse and they fall off after a few weeks when the cat sheds the outer layer of the nail as normal.

But unfortunately judging from my search, they tend to be used more frequently for non-medical reasons and are even billed as 'the humane alternative to declawing'. For information, 'declawing' is the surgical removal of the cat's nail and the last bone in each of the toes. Such practice is illegal over here but allowed in the US where some indoor cats are declawed in order to protect the furniture.

While I don't for a whisker think declawing will ever become legal over here (thank goodness), the use of cat claw caps for non-medical reasons is disturbing.

Everyone knows that cats have claws - at what point was it decided that a cat needs this sort of modification in order to live in our world?

And sadly it's not just cats. I recall the story of a woman who desperately wanted to rehome a cute-looking Yorkshire Terrier from us who had a nasty habit of attempting to sink his teeth into any hand that came near him, no doubt due to some rough handling in a previous home. One of our animal carers spent some time with the prospective owner explaining the training programme needed to build up the little dog's confidence to overcome his fearful reaction. The response: 'Can't you just remove his teeth?'.

Two examples of how the 'I want, I get' mentality continues to extend to our pets. The quick fix is far more acceptable than investing time in training, no matter what the impact may be on our animals' welfare.

We already ask a huge amount of our pets by expecting them to live in the human world. Remember the first time your cat or dog met the vacuum cleaner? Some animals are forever fearful of the noise. Or their quiet resignation or fierce reluctance to having paws or fur cleaned when re-entering the house on a wet day. We should accept they need outlets for their natural behaviours, like cats scratching to lay scent and slough off old claws and so we should modify our homes accordingly by providing a scratching post.

And there is no more natural behaviour than dogs needing to sniff each other's bottoms as part of the greeting ritual. I see way too many owners telling their dogs off for bottom sniffing, but it is like telling a child not to smile and say hello when they greet someone. Our misguided repulsion is preventing a dog from learning how to greet another member of its own species correctly. I am convinced it is one of the reasons why there are more aggressive dogs around today than ever before. For dogs a face-to-face meeting down the local park is the equivalent to humans squaring up to each other on a Friday night.

Dogs greet sideways on - face to bottom. The sniffing is data gathering. Your dog is finding out about gender, sexual maturity, hormone levels, general health, stress levels as well as what the other dog had for breakfast! From this information, your dog makes a judgement on whether this animal is one they want to get to know or walk away from. Meeting face to face is like the blind date from hell - no wonder dogs are on edge.

We invited pets into our world for their gifted skills such as rodent control, guarding, herding, retrieving and latterly for companionship. But what right do we have to then decide we don't like some of their natural behaviours? Scratching is part of being a cat - and as for bottom sniffing - get over it!